Leeds United big-match preview: Ekuban aims to learn from Golden Boot winner Wood

Leeds United striker Caleb Ekuban, recently signed from Chievo, celebrates his first Whites goal, against Port Vale on Tuesday night.
Leeds United striker Caleb Ekuban, recently signed from Chievo, celebrates his first Whites goal, against Port Vale on Tuesday night.
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CALEB EKUBAN is quick to admit that he has already learned plenty from watching new Leeds United team-mate Chris Wood in training.

Today the Italian-born summer signing is likely to get another opportunity to study last season’s winner of the Championship Golden Boot, this time from the bench, despite marking his Elland Road debut in midweek with a goal.

Head coach Thomas Christiansen reverting to his first-choice XI for the return to Championship action is why Ekuban is set to find himself back on the sidelines, and he is determined to make the most of the chance to take another look at Wood.

“When I signed for Leeds, the first thing they told me was that last year Chris Wood scored almost 30 goals,” the 23-year-old told The Yorkshire Post.

“I just said: ‘Wow’. It is why I am trying to learn as much as possible in training from him.

“He knows how to play, he knows how to move. The biggest thing I have learned already from watching him in training is how a smart striker can hide from the defence, but then, in a second, get out. That is what I want to be able to do.”

Ekuban’s debut goal in Wednesday night’s 4-1 victory over Port Vale in the Carabao Cup suggests he is a quick learner.

As Ezgyan Alioski broke clear down United’s right flank, the capture from Serie A side Chievo appeared to be marked by the visitors’ defence.

However, as Samuel Saiz dummied Alioski’s drilled cross, suddenly Ekuban was alone 15 yards from goal and in possession of enough time to fire into the net.

It was an encouraging way for a forward new to the English game to get off the mark and underlined why United hope he can prove to be something of a bargain at £500,000.

He caught the eye of Leeds’s recruitment staff in the unlikely setting of the Albanian Premier League. Loaned out for a fifth time by Chievo, Ekuban knew the move to Partizani Tirana was his big chance.

It was one he grasped with both hands, the striker’s 17 goals helping Tirana finish as runners-up behind Kukesi. Leeds moved quickly to snap up their man this summer on a four-year deal.

“This is a good move for me,” said a striker who had been loaned out to four lower league Italian clubs before spending a year in Albania that included Champions League qualifying encounters with Ferencvaros and Red Bull Salzburg.

“It is a good step up, but I want to settle down slowly, everything coming along as a step. Let’s see if I can make that step.

“Last year at Tirana, we played against top teams in the Champions League who were very good. We competed well, but they were too good.

“I learned something from those games. When you have the ball, you have to secure it in every way – and do the same in every position on the pitch.

“A lost ball can become a goal very quickly, that is what I learned. I will need to do the same here because the defenders in the Championship are top defenders.

“They don’t give you the opportunity to turn around. I am trying to learn this and feel I can move forward in my career at Leeds.”

Wednesday night’s goal against Port Vale was, of course, the perfect way to start even if it was understandably overshadowed by Saiz becoming the first United debutant since Carl Shutt in 1989 to score a hat-trick.

Saiz, despite becoming an instant hit with the Elland Road crowd, may find himself back on the bench today. If that is the case, Preston may be well served to keep a close eye on the pair should they be brought on by Christiansen.

“It is more important than the win (over Port Vale) and what we did on Sunday (in beating Bolton Wanderers),” said Ekuban when asked about taking on Alex Neil’s men in front of Elland Road’s first 30,000 plus crowd of the season.

“We have got to impress our own fans here at Elland Road. If we can do that, it will be another step to show that this can be our year.”

Eunan O’Kane became the second player to sign a new four-year deal with the club inside 24 hours, following Liam Cooper.

Leeds last night rejected a £12m offer for Wood in the first sign of a serious attempt to prise him from Elland Road.

The bid, believed to have been tabled by Premier League club Burnley, was turned down flat by Leeds with the Championship club intent on keeping the prolific forward on their books.