BIG MATCH VERDICT: Leeds United 1 Bolton Wanderers 5
WHEN the Juke strolled into Wanderers’ saloon, not many of the locals looked up from their glass.
This, some said, was a striker who had been firing blanks at Middlesbrough and not the kind of sharp-shooter the club needed to blast their way back into Championship form.
A couple of months later, and there is clearly a new sheriff in town, even if by his own admission he hasn’t quite got the swagger right.
Lukas Jutkiewicz, or “The Juke” as he is now universally known around the Reebok, had already proved people wrong before terrorising Leeds United at Elland Road – but this certainly was something a little bit special.
There was so much to salute about this victory, earned at one of the toughest venues in English football, that it seems harsh to single out the on-loan striker above the others.
But equally, this five-star display would not have been half as impressive had he not beaten the fallen giants into submission well before the final whistle.
On the pitch, Jutkiewicz looks like a battering ram forged from the same stock as another Wanderers great, Kevin Davies.
But off it, the 24-year-old is surprisingly slight, quietly spoken and not at all a player who seeks attention.
“I haven’t quite got that swagger down,” he added in a moment of self-depreciation after the game.
“I’m not really someone who craves adulation, but I appreciate all the support I have got from the fans, though. Hopefully days like this mean we have given a little bit back to them.”
Those same fans, some of whom had been lukewarm, forgive the pun, on his arrival were now calling for Dougie Freedman to “sign him up” at Elland Road.
But just like the other quiet man in the Whites strike force, Joe Mason, Jutkiewicz has got on with the task of slowly but surely changing Wanderers’ fortunes and forging an attacking partnership as lethal as anything in the division. And to that fact, Leeds would surely attest.
There had been little to separate the sides until Wanderers got a bit of good fortune on the stroke of half time as referee Keith Hill waved play on after Mark Davies’ foul on Rodolph Austin.
Seconds later, Leeds had lost the ball and were appealing for play to be pulled back as Neil Danns threaded a pass through for Mason to hold his nerve against Jack Butland and fire his side into the lead.
Wanderers had been quicker on the draw – and from there it proved to be target practice.
But those pinning Wanderers’ return to form squarely on a return to a two-man attack are well off the mark.
Yes, having the movement of both Jutkiewicz and Mason up there has been a massive plus and given the midfield something to play off.
But the improved form of the quartet directly behind the front two – Jay Spearing, Neil Danns, Medo Kamara and Mark Davies – has been every bit as important.
Wanderers have gone from a side unable to retain possession consistently with a five-man midfield to one that is dominating games with a four man diamond.
That resilience is what kept them in a tight game up until the crucial first goal before the break.
Until then it had been tough to watch.
But with the home crowd concentrating their frustration on the likes of Jimmy Kebe and Lee Peltier – conjuring images of some unhappy home moments at the Reebok this season – Wanderers ruthlessly went about the task of picking Leeds apart.
Fans were calling for Medo to shoot at goal when a free-kick was won on the edge of the box but instead, Spearing produced a superb delivery to pick out Jutkiewicz to head home above Scott Wooton.
The same quality was delivered from the captain a few minutes later, this time from slightly deeper, and though Jutkiewicz did not get his header on target – Zat Knight was there to stab the ball into the net for the third.
It was a moment of redemption for the big defender too.
He hadn’t scored since the Premier League days and has suffered more than most in the club’s decline, but a glance at just how much his goal was celebrated on the pitch, in the dugout and, yes, even in the press box, told you how highly he is still regarded.
Brian McDermott tried to respond from the bench, and the introduction of big striker Matt Smith certainly made a difference.
Luke Murphy forced Adam Bogdan into his first save of the day but any chance of Leeds building momentum was wiped out when Davies came up with a quite brilliant fourth goal.
The midfielder started a sprawling move on the edge of his own box, spraying a pass out to Jutkiewicz who had pulled out to the left.
No sooner had the striker manufactured space to swing in a cross, Davies was there again to steer a wonderful header back across goal and inside Butland’s right-hand post.
Davies was out on his feet after that – and quickly replaced by Chung-Yong Lee – but the Whites just carried on looking for more.
Jutkiewicz could, and perhaps should, have added to his one goal.
He was denied a second by Butland with a fine near-post block and then missed by inches with his head after a fine cross from the industrious Danns – still flying up and down the pitch in the 80th minute of the game.
The energy on show was quite miraculous and one wonders whether such levels can really be kept up on Tuesday night at Derby.
The best was yet to come, however, as Andre Moritz, who had replaced Jay Spearing moments earlier, lashed home a left-footed effort at the end that threatened to shift the goalposts out of the ground.
Smith did grab a consolation at the bitter end with a cracking header but it was hardly noticed by the delirious away support who hadn’t seen anything like this on their travels since Loftus Road, Goodison Park or Filbert Street in the Premier League days.
Sure, some are bound to ask why this hadn’t happened sooner, and with just cause.
For now it seems logical to live in the moment and enjoy the last quarter of the season before picking apart the carcass over the summer.
The sunshine poured down on Bolton on Sunday morning as if to reflect a new season. Wishful thinking – but perhaps a new dawn at Wanderers? Who knows?