By Josh Grainger
Leeds’ defeat at the hands of Birmingham City on Saturday was a sad reality to what has been lacking from Neil Warnock’s side at times this season. Boring, flat and lacking are just some of the words that have been used to describe the underwhelming performance by the Whites on Saturday.
The fixture was a real chance to gain 3 points after back to back draws against teams fighting around the bottom half of the table. However unfortunately it was the away side that played all the quality football, as Leeds were again reduced to the long ball tactic. Birmingham hardly knocked the ball about in Barcalona-esque fashion, however even their ability to pass the ball out of their own half seemed impressive in comparison to Leeds’ dire attempts. Leeds’best players such as Diouf, Becchio and Austin were all far from the best, and it was a jabbing pain to see such players look so poor. The effort from the team was there, it would be unfair to say anyone didn’t try, however their ability as a side must be questioned, if despite putting in the effort, the quality isn’t there to see.
The last few games could have easily gone this way for Leeds, the performances against Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton were all desperately lacking in quality, and it was a string of luck that the team managed to acquire 5 points in total from them. It was inevitable that Leeds’ recent luck would run out soon, the team were on a 6 game unbeaten streak in the league, however could not rely on luck if they wanted this to continue.
The question now is, what is actually going wrong? Far too frequently this season, the Whites have been too slow to start the game, only really coming alive and usually playing their best football after the halfway stage. This slow starting tendency has often resulted in Leeds falling behind and on occasion not having the quality to comeback. Another fault that lies within the side, is the lack of creative players. With Ross McCormack still out injured, the only real player who can consistently make things happen
is El-Hadji Diouf. The fact that the majority of fans were horrified when we signed him, now see him as a hero, is a sign of how desperate we have become. Similar in a way to a bloke who hasn’t been with a girl for a while, and is desperate, we will take anyone. I don’t want to sound like I’m criticising Diouf, he’s been a revelation since joining the club, and has improved week by week, however we can’t be solely be reliant on him, it’s almost a case of, if Diouf has an off day, so do Leeds… One man teams do not get promoted.
Another player who’s had an ‘off day’ or three in the last few weeks, is Luciano Becchio. The Argentine has been in blistering goal scoring form so far this season, however recently has looked a different player to the one we know he can be. His lack of initiative, and technical ability has been dreadful in the last few games. At times it seems like our main tactic is to hoof the ball long up field for Becchio and hope that he will take it down and a chance will arise, however this isn’t the case. Whilst Becchio can be supreme in front of goal, he has never been technically brilliant, if it weren’t for his impressive work
rate, he would have far fewer admirers than he does. Against Birmingham, he won few headers and those that he did win often went to a blue shirt! He kept the ball poorly, and never really brought others into the game like he often does. It is critical that if our game plan is to hit him with the long ball, he is at
his best, and he was far from this at the weekend.
Another player lacking form in the last few weeks, has been Rodolph Austin. He, unlike the others has an excuse in that his fitness isn’t brilliant, due to his recent international exploits with Jamaica, so in theory it should be Warnock we are criticising for playing him, rather than Austin himself. I remember watching games against Wolves, Forest and Everton and thinking what a player we have here, he bosses the midfield physically and at the same time passes the ball about under no pressure. At the weekend however, it was painful to see him lose possession so often, and I can’t remember him winning more than one tackle. Without the ability to hold the ball up in the attacking third, we have no hope of winning games. The defence has been fairly good in recent weeks, certainly against
Birmingham the back four looked solid and Birmingham didn’t really look like scoring unless it was from a moment of brilliance, which inevitably it was. However going forward the full backs desperately lacked attacking ideas. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was surprised to see that Danny Pugh was starting
the match, he impressed me defensively, however looked timid every time he crossed the half way line, which is surprising considering his main position is out on the wing. His shyness however looked nothing compared to that shown by Tom Lees! Again defensively Lees was solid and made few mistakes, however going forward looked like a fish out of water whenever he ventured anywhere near
I’ve written about the faults in the side, now what can we do to erase them. Some people have said that Aidan White should never have been dropped from the side, whilst he at times doesn’t make the best decisions whilst on the attack, his pace can be a real asset to the team. Another pacey winger in the squad, is new loanee Ryan Hall, the 24 year old, like White, came on for the last 8 minutes of the game at the weekend, and had little time to make an impact. Hall gained the most assists in the top 4
divisions of English football last season, and whilst he has never proven himself in the Championship, Warnock now may seriously be considering giving the young man a chance, however this will not be possible against Southampton on Tuesday, as Hall has already been cup tied by Southend.
Another young man out on loan this time from United, is Dom Poleon. The 19 year old scored his second goal in his loan spell at struggling League 1 side Bury, it was quite a goal as well, beating 3 players in a run from his own half, before unleashing a powerful strike across goal into the top corner. Poleon scored on his first Leeds start against Forest the other week, however hasn’t started since and was shipped out on loan a few weeks ago. Whilst the first team experience he is gaining is beneficial, it may be argued he should be starting the games for Leeds. Poleon still has a lot to learn in the game, however no one can deny he lacks flair and energy, and Neil Warnock may need to think long and hard if Bury want to extend his loan spell.
It would be unheard of to write about Leeds United these days, without mentioning the takeover, however it does finally seem as though the talks are in the final stages and a deal should be agreed before the end of the week. Whether GFH Capital can provide the club with the funds to bring in quality players on loan, we will have to wait to find out, however if the money is there, a creative central midfielder, a winger, however most importantly of all, a striker will be on Warnock’s agenda.
Finally, a look to the next week or two down Elland Road way. The Whites will hope to bounce back from the Birmingham defeat, with a win, or at least a good performance against premier league outfit, Southampton in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup, on Tuesday night. Neil Warnock’s men surprised many when they produced a very impressive performance when they knocked high flying Everton out the competition in the last round and will be hoping a similar night will be in store at Elland
Road on Tuesday. It is expected that Warnock will field a changed team to the one that started against Birmingham. Rodolph Austin isn’t expected to start the game as he looks to regain full fitness, Michael Brown or Paul Green could be in line to replace him, regular substitutes Jamie Ashdown and Andy Gray will hope for a starting spot, as will Adam Drury. Ross McCormack is still out with an ankle injury, as is long term absentee, Davide Somma. It’s back to league action on Friday night for Leeds, they travel down to the south coast to face Gus Poyet’s Brighton, in what should be an exciting game.
If you have any questions for me, or would simply like to talk anything Leeds Utd or football related, you can access me on twitter - @joshgrainger16