A lot has changed between Leeds United Under-21s’ meetings with Sunderland this season. When the two sides first played each other, back in October, the U21s were still coached by Skubes, Wilf Gnonto won the game with his first goal in a Leeds shirt, and Joffy Gelhardt played for Leeds, not Sunderland.
That 1-0 win featured a surprise involvement from Charlie Allen, a right footed attacker, coming on for the last ten minutes at left-back. It was in keeping with Allen’s status on the periphery for the U21s. Last season he switched back and forth between the U18s and what was then the U23s, used in various roles and starting only six times in Premier League 2. While we were all getting excited about Joffy, Sam Greenwood, and Crysencio Summerville, Allen was still taking his first steps on The Pathway.
Since his cameo at full-back, eight of Allen’s nine appearances in Premier League 2 have been as a starter, establishing himself as one of the team’s most consistent performers, even if he’s not one of its highest profile names. The 3,000 fans who turned up at Elland Road for the return fixture against Sunderland were there to watch first-team hopefuls Mateo Joseph, Sonny Perkins, Darko Gyabi, and Archie Gray — and they weren’t disappointed, Joseph scoring a brace and Perkins also netting in Leeds’ 3-1 win. But it was Allen being praised by his teammates, Joseph telling LUTV: “Today I have to say thank you to Charlie, and every teammate, because Charlie was giving passes all the time.”
For much of the game, passing was the problem. The change in management of the first-team has had a knock on effect with the U21s, who over the last two seasons have been coached by Mark Jackson, Andy Taylor, Skubes, Michael Pujdak, and now Paco Gallardo. Like the grown ups, it’s hardly surprising they’re disjointed rather than cohesive in possession. While passes regularly went astray, Allen showed his teammates the way forward, bypassing defenders by dribbling on his own so there was nothing for Sunderland to ruin by intercepting. Gray and Gyabi were soon following suit, before Allen twisted past his full-back and played in Joseph, who thumped the ball into the net with a touch and hit reminiscent of Rodrigo.
Unfortunately for Leeds, former United player Niall Huggins was also paying attention to Allen, creating Sunderland’s equaliser with his own surge into the penalty area, Isaac Lihadji scoring after Joel Robles saved Huggins’ initial shot. But Perkins made sure Leeds went into half-time in front, finishing from a cut-back provided by Gyabi’s dance into the box.
Sunderland had the better of much of the second half, giving Leeds’ youngsters the opportunity to experience playing amid the murmur of an underwhelmed Elland Road, at least until Allen chased after a crossfield pass and his low cross evaded two attackers, falling at the feet of Joseph, who showed his teammates how it’s done by finding the bottom corner.
Joseph’s double puts him two clear at the top of the division’s goalscoring charts. He admits he is keeping an eye on his closest competitor, West Brom’s Reyes Cleary, but he’s more bothered about the league table, which Leeds top by three points with three fixtures remaining. “We have three finals to play now,” he told LUTV. “If we want to get promoted we have to win them all.” Given Leeds’ record in cup finals, the kids will be better off treating them like any other game, and keeping on doing what they’ve done all season. If all else fails, they can just copy whatever Charlie Allen is doing. ⬢