By Mike Courtney
The euphoria which surrounded last weekend's win against Boro was short lived as Leeds were brought swiftly back down to earth Tuesday night, as they were turned over fairly easily at Elland Road by a Brighton team that were goalless and pointless coming into the match.
The performance by Leeds was so far removed from the battling win against Boro that it was hard to believe it was the same set of players, with just a couple of changes. Hockaday stated today in his press conference that there was a virus going through the squad and this might go someway to explaining the flatness of the performance in front of the home fans. A bit like in the Millwall game the goals came early and late and what went on in between was not pretty. There is a hint of Deja Vu about the whole thing really as Leeds again failed to win midweek and have also failed to score in the first half of any League game so far. I know we are only 3 games in but 1 goal scored and four conceded doesn't make good reading. I wouldn't mind if we were creating the chances but that's not the case as Dave Stockdale had very little to trouble him on Tuesday.
The signing of Mirca Antenucci late yesterday evening will, we all hope, go someway to addressing the lack of firepower. He comes into a squad littered with strikers, I make that 7 front men in the first team squad and I'm not counting Ajose in that. We will be without Doukara for the next 4-5 weeks so one would hope that Antenucci's International clearence will be through before we visit Watford on Saturday. But strikers need service and this is where the problem lies. I'm not a big fan of the Diamond Formation that Hockaday appears to favour. I've always struggled to find any positives in it to be honest, remember Venables tried this too when he came in 2002. There is very little width in this system and with midfielders who can't seem to be able to keep hold of the ball we are not creating anything going forward. Like Tueday night we are being overrun in the middle of the park, our full backs are getting isolated and our attackers are not being provided with any opportunities. Matt Smith was sacrificed at half time on Tuesday and he was far from the worst player on the park.
We have been saying this for years, under Warnock, McDermott and now Hockaday; we need a creative midfielder and some decent wide players to provide the ammo for Sharp and Co. It's not easy to get these types of players on the budget that is available. Not since Gradel and to a lesser extent Snodgrass, have we had a winger with genuine pace to frighten full backs and create chances for the strikers. I know Snoddy didn't have pace but he had the skill to create from out wide. This is what is lacking at the moment.
I think Hockaday needs to bite the bullet and abandon the Diamond midfield formation and try to create some width with the players he has until he can get a genuine winger into the squad. He will have to make changes for the Watford game and I expect Bellusci to come in to the back four possibly in place of Cooper, who hasn't done much wrong but I feel that the Italians experience will give him the edge. There needs to be changes to the formation for one and possibly the personnel. Ajose should come back in to the starting eleven. He showed some passion and desire to work having come off the bench on Tuesday. Austin and Murphy are underperforming and I expect one or both to make way. Bianchi should hold his place and Tonge is doing ok although at his age he may not have the legs to chase around when we don't have possession. Sharp should hold his place up top but he needs better service to get the most from his talents.
I think Hockaday needs to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Austin and Cook playing behind Ajose, Bianchi and either Tonge or Antenucci with Sharp up top. This will give the side a bit more balance and stability without the ball and it can revert to a 4-3-3 when in possession with Ajose and Antenucci pushing on to support Sharp. It may make us harder to break down and not get the run around from teams in the possession stakes.
Major surgery is needed to the squad and the tactics if we are to avoid the fight for survival. I know its a cliche but this league is a marathon not a sprint and every team is capable of beating everyone else. Fans can accept defeats, it's part and parcel of the game, but we can't accept the manner of a defeat like Tuesday's loss to Brighton. There was no passion, spirit or desire shown and this is either down to the tactics, the manager or the players or a combination of all three. Questions will be asked soon enough of the manager and his ability to coach at this level. One must wonder do the players have confidence in him and his systems?.. Time will tell.
We all know about Cellino's track record when it comes to managers and a few more defeats like Tuesday's could see Mr Hockaday join Mark Robins at the job centre. There is still time to do good business in the window and get in players that should be automatic first choices and not just add to the depth of the squad. I don't believe that the manager has a solid first 11 in mind when he goes to pick his side before each game. There are 3 or 4 places up for grabs and it will either be the young guns like Cook, Mowatt and Taylor that grab them or it will have to be new quality signings because what we have at the moment won't do.
I am not looking forward with much confidence to the Watford game. They are no world beaters that's for sure. I would hope that the starting 11 on Saturday will battle harder then what we saw Tuesday but we need to retain possession and create more if we are to get something out of the match. As it stands I can't see that happening and it could be a long journey home to Leeds for the travelling faithful. Watford to secure the 3 points with a 2-0 victory. I hope I'm wrong, like I was with my prediction for the Brighton match, but based on performances so far I can't see beyond a Watford win.
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