As he wheeled away to celebrate his fourth goal at Pride Park, Mateo Joseph knew he had sent out a real statement with his performance for Leeds United under-21s. The Whites weren’t short of impressive performers on Friday night as they saw off their Derby County counterparts 5-2 to start their Premier League 2 Division 2 campaign in style.
Archie Gray, Sonny Perkins, Darko Gyabi, Jeremiah Mullen and Dan James, who featured as captain due to his first-team suspension, all managed to catch the eye during in the win. However, Joseph was undoubtedly the best player on the field on Friday night, notching a first-half hat-trick and adding another in the second half to cap a tremendous display.
The 18-year-old had a pre-season to remember as he bagged a goal in the club’s friendly win over Blackpool at the LNER Community Stadium and that seemed to have him flying high in confidence come kick-off against the Rams. From the off Joseph was lively, harrying defenders and showing for the ball at every opportunity as Leeds’ front four grasped control of the game.
It took just 11 minutes for Joseph to notch up his first, following a smart piece of skill from James, who managed to beat two before slotting the ball through to the striker. The Spaniard took a touch, pushing the ball into the area and behind Jake Rooney, before producing a finessed finish into the corner of the net.
It was a move that underlined how easily Leeds were able to slice Derby open for much of the night and it wasn’t long before the number nine was celebrating his second. This time, Joseph displayed his knack of being in the right place at the right time by nodding home after the Rams’ custodian failed to effectively deal with Mullen’s low effort.
The referee gave Joseph the opportunity to seal his hat-trick after recognising that Gray had his legs taken from beneath him in the penalty area. There was no doubt about who would take it and there was no doubt about the outcome, either, as the striker beat Harry Evans for a third time just before the half an hour mark.
Despite scoring three goals, though, new U21s boss Michael Skubala kept pushing the forward from the sidelines, demanding him to lead the press and push high up the field to make life difficult for the home side. His energy forced mistakes, too, as Derby found the time and space needed to play at the back impossible to come by.
Joseph had more chances to get on the scoresheet but it was the impressive Perkins, fresh from his switch from West Ham United, who capitalised on an error from Evans to finish Leeds’ fourth. But, when Kris Moore nodded Sean McGurk’s free-kick back across goal, Joseph was able to nod home a fourth at Pride Park from short-range.
For a youngster aiming to catch Jesse Marsch’s eye and push his way into the first-team picture this season, Friday’s opening day performance could not have gone much better. The head coach has shown he is more than willing to hand out opportunities to those who deserve a chance and he’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on his progress.
For now, though, it seems Joseph has started the campaign as he means to go on.