REPORT: LEEDS 0 ALBION 2
Goals from Joao Teixeira five minutes into the game, and Kazenga LuaLua five minutes from the end gave Sami Hyypia his first win as Albion boss, as the Seagulls produced one of their best displays for some time to beat Leeds United 2-0 at Elland Road.
New boss Hyypia has made no secret of the fact he has spent pre-season working with his squad to instill his ideas, and tonight that hard work paid off with an outstanding free flowing, passing display.
Albion did what they've done well for the last two seasons: possession football - but, crucially, with a purpose, as Hyypia puts it.
It was a brave team selection from the Albion boss, retaining Bruno in midfield and handing full debuts to Danny Holla and Teixeira, and he also brought back Lewis Dunk at the expense of experienced central defender Aaron Hughes - but that bravery brought an early reward as on-loan Liverpool midfielder Teixeira opened the scoring after just five minutes.
The opening goal was typical of Albion's bright, inventive style on the night: Mackail-Smith was clattered in the build up, but not before he'd laid the ball off to Bruno, and the Spaniard's pass sent Teixeira racing clear in the box. He collected the pass and finished in style from a tight angle.
With Hyypia opting for ball players across the team, lose, and he could have been criticised for experimenting in the cauldron that is Elland Road - but his bold faith in his planning throughout pre-season was rewarded as Albion enjoyed 70% of the possession in the opening 45 minutes - and they used it to pen Leeds in their own half for long periods.
Mackail-Smith and Inigo Calderon both had chances to add to the lead, the latter heading over after a wonderful flowing move and pinpoint cross from Adam Chicksen - who bombed forward at will in the first half to link with Teixeira - but it remained 1-0 at the break and the home crowd booed their side off at the interval.
Leeds boss David Hockaday changed things at the break, dispensing with target-man forward Matt Smith, and opting for the trickier Nicky Ajose, and the home side began the second half with more purpose, and the crowd back on side after the half-time break.
Albion lost Kemy Agustien to what appeared to be a nasty twisted ankle, as he rolled his foot on the ball. Kazenga LuaLua came on in his place, but on his first Championship start since last December, the Dutchman gave a timely reminder of his capabilities.
With 22 minutes to go, Michael Tonge had the home side's first real chance of the contest, as he found himself with the goal in his sights after Sam Byram's clever cutback - but Calderon was well positioned to clear the danger for Albion who showed another side to their game with a solid display in the face of the expected Leeds onslaught.
By now Albion were playing a more orthodox looking 4-4-2 system, with Ince coming on in place of debutant Holla, LuaLua out on the left and Teixeira just off front-runner Mackail-Smith. As Leeds pushed men forward in search of an equaliser, that allowed Albion to counter at will - and they did with style.
LuaLua made a dash clear, but his shot lacked the usual venom and was easily cleared; before Ince was sent clean through by Mackail-Smith in the 80th minute, the midfielder raced clear of two Leeds defenders, and slid the ball past the out-rushing Leeds keeper Marco Silvestri, but his effort hit the post, and rolled to safety.
Eventually the second goal came, as Teixeira and LuaLua combined on the left, before a crude lunge on the Portuguese playmaker by Jason Pearce, as he was about to shoot, produced a free kick right on the edge of the Leeds' box.
Albion's players claimed the foul was inside the box, and asked for a penalty, but they needn't have bothered as LuaLua stepped up and smashed a trademark shot, firing the ball past a motionless Silvestri to seal the win.
UPCOMING HOME FIXTURES
ALBION V bolton
saturday 23rd AUGUST, KICK-OFF 3PM
ALBION V charlton
SATURDAY 30th AUGUST, KICK-OFF 3PM
Albion v blackpool
SATURDAY 20TH september, kick-off 3pm