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‘You’re in!’ — Jess Rousseau & Leeds’ new attacking dimensions

Written by: Flora Snelson
Artwork by: Eamonn Dalton
A graphic featuring photos of Leeds United Women players, including Olivia Smart and Carrie Simpson

Leeds United are showing promise. They won’t be promoted to the third tier at the end of this season, but their performance against York City showed that, eight months into his tenure, they’re getting into the groove of the Rick Passmoor way of doing things. Newly-promoted City knocked Leeds out of the FAWNL Cup in September before holding them to a draw in the reverse fixture before Christmas, so a 2-0 win this week suggests an upward trend — in the second half on Wednesday, the Minsterbelles hardly came near them.

Once cup glory has been decided in the FAWNL Plate final next weekend, Leeds face what Passmoor terms a “very, very challenging period”, scrambling to catch up their crazy five games in hand with a congested fixture schedule. Already out of the race for the title, Leeds can use these games as very advanced pre-season preparations for a promotion challenge in 2023/24. Their showing against York suggests they can start that process on a very strong footing.

The collapse of Leeds’ promotion bid is bittersweet for former Whites striker Laura Bartup, who departed the So-Trak Stadium for league rivals Hull City in October. United’s top scorer for the past two seasons, Bartup added four goals to Leeds’ title charge this term before work commitments forced her to pack her bags for Humberside. In four months and nine appearances since, she’s bagged just four more for Hull.

Last week, United were due to visit the Tigresses but the reunion was called off after a pitch inspection. Had it gone ahead, Bartup might have learnt that, in her absence, the Whites’ goals are being looked after very well. Bartup’s permanent place at centre-forward proved effective last season as she scored 22 goals. Nowadays, several players are not so much vying over the Whites’ number 9 shirt as passing it respectfully between them. Abbie Brown and Amy Woodruff have each proven great at attacking through the middle, and now young Jess Rousseau has taken her turn, with some panache.

Passmoor had wanted to nab the teenage talent, last season’s top scorer and player of the year at his former club Lincoln City, for a while before he got his wish in January. Even so, he was managing her expectations by citing the ‘competition’ among the squad in his post-signing remarks. Cup-tied, Rousseau has been forced into a patient start, but given back-to-back starts against Newcastle and York she showed no fear of a tussle for places.

What threatens to be a selection ‘headache’ is kind of a dream come true for the Leeds boss, as the parts of his forward line are flexible. Shifting to the wing, Brown is no less lethal than she is at nine. She and Rousseau had great chemistry on Wednesday night, swapping fluidly in and out of central areas, while Macy Ellis’s pace makes her dangerous from anywhere. Passmoor could hand Carrie Simpson’s gloves to Ellis and she’d still be putting the frighteners in the opponents’ back line.

With flexibility comes freedom, with freedom comes enjoyment — and United were having a good time in the second half against York. City were getting nothing as Passmoor’s players rushed in to close down passes and pin the Minsterbelles into their own half. The energy was high, the mood was peppy. Brown tried an overhead kick and Danielle Whitham twice had a go from not far beyond the centre circle.

Amid early pressure from City, Brown had opened the scoring after eight minutes with a poetic poacher’s finish. Left flank dynamos Ellis and Smart linked up wonderfully, Smart released a wicked cross, and York ‘keeper Rebecca Sidwell cleared it with a diving flap. In the time it took her to climb to her feet, Paige ‘everywhere’ Williams had nudged the ball to Rousseau who, from nothing, discharged a powerful zinger goalward. Sidwell stopped it, but the sheer zing sent her to her knees and as the ball was falling from the sky, Abbie Brown was there, waiting, like a maverick kestrel hovering below its prey. York’s Alice Hughes tried to clear Brown’s header off the line, only to finish more emphatically into her own net.

That goal was an old tale — a brilliant Smart cross creates chaos before Brown makes no mistake of a chance to scrap it over the line. The second was something new, a sign of things to come.

From Leeds’ half, Bridie Hannon hit a long ball first time and Rousseau gave chase, hearing calls of ‘you’re in!’ from the bench. She was quick, her finish composed — though a leggy centre-back and retreating keeper made things far too easy. Bucked by her first league goal for Leeds, Rousseau followed it with a frenzied period of brilliance, shooting, running, wriggling away from defenders and generally being a nightmare. A goal was not enough, she gave us a ten-minute highlights reel to present the full arsenal of her skills — pretty broad for someone of her level of experience.

And she won’t stop there. In her post-match interview Rousseau said, “Every game for me now is ‘what can I do better?’”

Already run ragged, York were not delighted in the 85th minute, seeing Brown make way for Amy Woodruff, who has scored ten this season. Passmoor may have been, though, having so much to admire in attack that he could leave Leeds reserves’ star forward Emily Sykes on the bench. The future of Leeds’ forward line is bright. ⬢

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