Tuesday 24 October 2017

Schmeichel's welcome highlights change at Leeds

Leeds United 1 Derby County 2 Rory Smith

Things have changed at Elland Road. The ground may look the same -- three dated stands dwarfed by the colossal, half-empty East Stand -- but much of the bile and brashness have gone.

This is now a place where Derby's players, thanks to Nigel Clough's sense of history, could walk the 500 yards from their bus to the stadium unscathed in homage to their manager's father's old tricks.

It is a place where an opening-day defeat, the first since 1989, in the second tier of English football can still prompt a round of applause on the final whistle from a crowd simply appreciative of Simon Grayson's side's application and dedication.

There were unpleasant echoes of the past in the minor skirmishes after the final whistle, prompting West Yorkshire Police to make "a number of arrests" for public-order offences, and in the vitriol poured upon Robbie Savage, though the Welshman's pantomime-dame act suggests he would have been disappointed had he been invited in with open arms.

But Leeds have learned from their years in the wilderness. They have not entered the Championship at the third attempt intending to inform their opponents that a day trip to Elland Road counts as a cup final.

They do not expect promotion -- far from it -- after a frugal summer's transfer dealings, though owner Ken Bates has committed some £3m in wages to loan players. This club have been forced by harsh reality to come to terms with their new place in the football firmament. How else to explain the warm welcome afforded to Kasper Schmeichel?

The Dane with the Cheshire accent -- signed from Manchester City -- should have to work considerably harder than most to win over his new fans, thanks to the burden of his ancestry, but he could not have hoped for a better start. That his surname will forever be associated with the other United, the ones just up the M62, was soon forgotten.

"There is a history (with his father, Peter), but that was then and this is now," said Schmeichel. "I hope the supporters can respect the fact he was a good player even though he played for the enemy. But I think the fans here are clever enough to accept the player he was. But my dad's career was his and I have my own. I would be honoured to win a fraction of what he won. For now, I am just trying to establish myself and get a good season under my belt."

There is every chance of that if he can keep up the form he showed on Saturday. He could do little about Rob Hulse's opener, or the Paul Green penalty that secured Derby three points despite Luciano Becchio's equaliser and attempts from Richard Naylor and Neill Collins, both of which struck the bar.

But Elland Road knows quality when it is present. One Schmeichel save, denying Hulse with an athletic low stop and springing up immediately to repel Shaun Barker, brought the fans to their feet.

His name rang out around the stands. Things really have changed. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

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