By Mark Rasdall
Nottingham Forest completed the double over Leeds United last night with a 2.0 win at Elland Road. You might say that they their players are really fighting to get into the Play-Offs and so were going to be really up for the game with Caretaker Manager, Gary Brazil's game plan perfectly executed and with him urging them on from the touchline.
That opening paragraph really says it all doesn't it? Yet another Home defeat - twenty one defeats in forty four league games this season; a worst away defeat in fifty years and one of the poorest FA Cup exits in recent history. Manchester United have endured a poor season by their standards - with all of the talk of restructuring after Ferguson in the background - and their manager, David Moyes, has paid the price. A proven manager who just could not hack it at a top club.
Were the LUFC players really fighting, as Billy always urged, whatever the odds? Brian McDermott said he couldn't fault their effort. In the second half they certainly tried but what was our game plan? I still do not understand why our defenders were pushed up so high that the centre-backs were exposed time and time again, having proved in many of those twenty one defeats that they are not comfortable on the ball and with that system. Pushing defenders forward is all very well if they have the speed to offer real width but they didn't have that either. As so many times this season we lost the game in the first few minutes. Brian said it was 'no accident.' Correct.
I do not understand why the system was changed and I have to say again here - having been really supportive of McDermott for a very long time - that I think their is a misplaced and unfounded self-assurance at play. His backhanded criticism suggests his players cannot play his system and therefore a summer 'clearout' is required. Surely you play to the strength of the players you have available at the time? Leicester and Burnley have got out of the league with a 4-4-2 their players are comfortable with and have drilled into them week in and week out. If our 'comfort zone' is to play three at the back then select a team that are happy with it; ditto with a 4-4-2. We may not have the biggest squad or best quality but Sean Dyche has managed it at Burnley without complaining about his players not being capable of understanding or worried about their salaries. Forest were missing key players such as Lansbury and Andy Reid who played so well against us at the City Ground, but they re-grouped and played to their strengths.
McDermott also has favourites which I think is hugely dangerous at any football club. Austin - surely little more than a burly pub player - can break up play and protect the defence. Murphy showed against Blackpool that he can create and score when pushed forward. So, as with Danny Welbeck, let's play them out of position and, in our case, the opposite way round: unfathomable. I don't think Austin or Hunt had bad games in the overall way of things but tactically, again, I was mystified and then really angry. When he did come on, Smith caused the usual panic with his height over a relatively average Forest defence but McDermott seems determined to prove that Hunt was a good signing at the expense of us winning matches.
McDermott brought in wingers with 'pace to burn.' Only one of them made the bench yesterday having proved that they don't - though I still have hopes for Stewart. The side was lacking in any kind of pace or energy. Is this because they have given up on the season now that we won't be relegated after all, or because they think Cellino will move them on anyway? Or is it because there is something wrong with the training regime under head coach Brian McDermott?
After Blackpool and Barnsley - two abject teams about to be relegated - a number of people were saying 'there we are: told you so. Give Brian stability and he'll turn it round.' Well he had stability yesterday and we played one-dimensional, pedestrian hoof ball - something we all hate and with little chance of any kind of penetration against Forest's blanket defence. McDermott said we needed more creativity. Murphy and Mowatt have shown they can do this and also that they cannot tackle in the manner of Austin or Brown. So, they were played in defensive roles and Michael Tonge - never forwards in going backwards - was expected to provide the guile until a hamstring pull enabled him to wander off for an early Horlicks.
I am just a loyal Leeds United fan and certainly no football expert. I have no doubt that off-the-field issues have been unsettling to downright corrosive at our club and I do admire McDermott for sticking it out thus far. But David Moyes never blamed the difficulties of starting a new dynasty - he just wasn't big enough for the club. McDermott has blamed everything - in a very nice way of course - but himself. We do have the chance to build a new regime at Leeds United but a big club needs a big, strong man (even a little bit frightening like Pearson or Dyche) and a decent coach at the helm. I'm sorry Brian but I am now certain that this man is not you.