LEEDS UNITED 2 (White 4, Austin 70) – EVERTON 1 (Distin 81)
Arsene Wenger has said that winning the League Cup would not end his trophy drought; given his team selection last night we cannot be sure if David Moyes concurs. He has always expressed the view that this competition is very important and that he takes it seriously; emphasizing before this trip to Elland Road that he would select a strong team. Prize money for the winners of just £100,000 (compared to £2mln for the FA Cup) plus entry into the Europa League mean it is a valid route into a European competition, but not the Europe that anyone really wants. So for Premier League sides the competition, at least in the early rounds, is used to blood youngsters, provide game-time for squad members and senior players are rested – so it was last night. The nerve-jangling Mucha replaced Howard in goal and surprised by playing well. Bryan Oviedo came in for Leighton Baines, Junior for Osman and Gueye for Pienaar, while further tinkering shoe-horned Naismith into the starting eleven and gave Seamus Coleman another valuable ninety minutes at right-back. Jagielka, Jelavic and Neville, who are certain to start against Southampton on Saturday, were on the bench. Whichever way you cut it this was not “a strong team” – it was about protecting and resting seniors and testing and trying the new. A calculated gamble.
So it was that Bryan Oviedo and Francisco Junior faced that most peculiar of examinations – a wet Tuesday night in Leeds. One came through it, the other did not. Junior was steamrollered out of the game by a hardworking and enthusiastic, but limited, Leeds midfield. Unable to hold the ball, much less make any use of it, he was completely ineffective and was replaced at half-time by Phil Neville. Gueye too was disappointing and was pulled in favour of Steven Pienaar. Oviedo will be a significant player once he has adjusted to the English game. He grew in confidence as the game progressed. For sure some of his play was tentative, a couple of his crosses were over-hit, but on the half-hour he produced a moment of quality when he broke clear down the left and pulled back superbly for Anichebe, who wastefully side-footed the chance over the bar.
It was clear from the kick-off that Everton would have a fight on their hands; in the fourth minute Aidy White took advantage of a mix up between Naismith and Junior and powered forward before placing the ball wide of Mucha, his first ever strike for Leeds. On the hour Naismith missed a chance to even things up when Anichebe picked him out, unmarked, five yards from goal but he put the header wide. The lead was doubled on seventy minutes when Diouf pushed a free-kick to Pugh whose weak shot through a forest of legs was deflected past Mucha by Austin. Sylvain Distin halved the deficit on eighty-one minutes with a header which looped into the net from a Pienaar free-kick. In the dying minutes Jelavic headed straight at the keeper and Pienaar saw a long-range effort screw wide, though in truth any result other than a Leeds victory would have been hard on the home team.
The real trouble with fielding a weakened team is the contradictory message it sends to the players. It is to be hoped that this defeat will not have any lasting negative impact and will serve only to exorcize any complacency which might have been building of late. Given Everton’s frequent inability to put away ‘lesser’ teams at Goodison the visit of Southampton on Saturday will be an interesting test of their ability to remain amongst the top-four for any longer than a nanosecond.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Ashdown; Byram, Lees, Pearce ©, Pugh; White, Brown, Austin, Tonge; Diouf, Becchio
Subs Not Used: Rachubka, Drury, Kisnorbo, Varney, Gray, Thompson, Poleon.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Mucha; Coleman, Heitinga ©, Distin, Oviedo; Junior (Neville 46), Fellaini; Naismith (Jelavic 65), Mirallas, Gueye (Pienaar 46); Anichebe.
Subs Not Used: Howard, Jagielka, Vellios, Duffy.
Referee: Lee Mason