By Mike Courtney
Following yesterdays 2-1 defeat at Forest which resulted in just 2 points gained over the 3 game festive period, Leeds lie in 7th place just outside the playoff places on goal difference as we reach the half way stage of the season. The New Year is beckoning with hopes of a new and positive takeover and money for investment in our push for promotion. BMAC has a wish list of 4 new players in the January window to supplement the existing squad and when we look in depth at what we have, it is plain to see that strengthening is required in certain areas.
It's not been a bad campaign so far and if you had offered us fans this position at the start of the season most would have taken it. Yes there have been a few disappointing results, Barnsley and Burnley at home and Derby away spring to mind, but in this league you will get that and it's how you recover and move on is what's important.
As we are halfway there and it is the end of the year I've decided to take a look at the squad and assess the individual performances and see who has been fared well and who has disappointed. So here goes:
Paddy Kenny has been ever present in the League and has shown why he is considered one of the top keepers in the League. He has kept us in games with some good shot stopping and with Ashdown injured and Cairns untried he is vital to our promotion push. He is vulnerable under high balls and tends to flap at crosses but all in all he has had a decent campaign so far. 7/10
At the back we have had 10 players featuring throughout the season. Starting with our four recognised centre backs and the ever present Jason Pearce. He has been one to benefit from the change in formation to 3-5-2 and looks comfortable in that role. His lack of pace is not exposed as much as it was in a back four and chipping in with 2 goals he can be happy with his season so far. 7/10
Tom Lees has played in 19 games and was used as a right back at times in the early part of the season but has also revelled in the 3-5-2 formation since BMAC changed to that formation. He is still learning his trade but has upped his performances from last season and is a fixture in the back 3 and will be for the foreseeable future. Good campaign so far with room for improvement. 6.5/10.
Completing the trio is the impressive Marius Zaliukas. Since his arrival from Scotland he has shown what a good defender he is and has marshalled the back 3 from the centre. He is strong in the tackle, good in the air and on the ground and for me is the leader of the three. He can only get better and has settled in well in his 7 appearances so far, it's hard to remember what it was like before he came. A great signing, 8/10.
Scott Wootton has featured in 9 matches and was holding his own until injury sidelined him. He will find it hard to break the trio of Lees, Zaliukas and Pearce at the moment but when he was in the side, he looked composed and strong and it's great to have a player of his calibre as back up when injury and suspension kick in. He can be satisfied with his move across the Pennines and scoring on his debut in The Carling Cup soon put paid to the few boo boys. One for the future 6/10.
We have four full backs/wing backs in the squad so lets start with Lee Peltier. Our former skipper has his critics, me included, but he seems to be another who is suited to the 3-5-2 formation. He has also benefited from the absence of Sam Byram through injury and has featured in 19 games, also scoring his first goal for Leeds away at Blackpool. His versatility is also a help and he can fit in at centre back or left back. He has had a decent campaign so far and on current form deserves his starting place.
Sam Byram has had a difficult second season at Leeds. Last year's player of the year has been hampered by a hip injury and hasn't featured that much this season with just 9 appearances and most of those as a sub. There is definitely more to come from young Sam in 2014 and once he is fully fit we will see him raiding down the right flank leaving defenders in his wake. A fully fit Byram is essential if we are to push for promotion and I can't wait to see him back to his best. 4/10
On the left we have used 3 players, Warnock, Pugh and Drury. Warnock started the campaign and was ever present until suspension and then injury forced him out of the squad. He has played 13 times but since his return to fitness he hasn't been able to regain his starting place. Still a vital member of the squad and his experience could be vital towards the end of the campaign. 5.5/10
The reason Warnock hasn't regained his place is mainly due to the re-emergence of Danny Pugh. He was the forgotten man who hardly featured in over a year but he has taken his chance like the top pro he is. He has been ever present for the last 9 games and has chipped in with a goal and a few assists and seems to be suited to the left wing back role. He deserves praise for the way he has handled himself and the fans seem to have taken to him. He will be a vital cog in our promotion push. 7.5/10
Adam Drury has only played in one game and is well down the pecking order but he could do a Danny Pugh and his experience could prove valuable in the months ahead. 2/10
All in all our defence has improved under McDermott and having adapted to the new formation they can get better in the second half of the season. Moving to the midfield and we'll start with our skipper Rudy Austin. He epitomises what Leeds United are all about. Passion, power, drive and unfortunately inconsistency. Sometimes when you watch him you wonder why he is not playing at a higher level, his performance against Birmingham in the 4-0 win springs to mind, but then there are other times when he fails to perform and goes missing. Thankfully the former happens more then the latter and if he can get that level of consistency aided and abetted by those around him, then he can be the one to inspire us to promotion. With just 2 goals in 22 appearances he is by no means prolific and we do need him to chip in with a few more goals, but his marauding runs, crunching tackles and endless energy endear him to the faithful and he was an inspired choice as skipper. More to come from our Jamaican International in 2014. 8/10
Luke Murphy, our million pound man has played in 20 games scoring just once on his début with a last second winner against Brighton. He is neat and tidy on the ball and can play the killer pass but again is inconsistent and can appear languid at times in possession. He needs to impose himself a bit more and take control of games along with Austin and Mowatt but all in all a decent first half of the season., 7/10
Alex Mowatt is the Sam Byram of 2013/14. He has come from nowhere and apart from the last 2 games when he was rested, has been an ever present since his début playing 12 games. He is composed in possession, has a great delivery from set pieces and has been unlucky not to get on the scoresheet. He is what the future of Leeds United is all about and having signed a long term deal he will be a fixture in the side for years to come. If he can add goal scoring to his repertoire he will be some player. As for now he has done exceptionally well and doesn't look out of place at this level. 8/10
Michael Tonge was one to lose out to Mowatt and hasn't featured that much of late despite his start against Blackpool being his 12th appearance of the campaign. The emergence of Mowatt and Murphy have placed him down the pecking order and he will probably only have a few cameos if they stay fit. A good man to have though as back up but he will be disappointed with the way the season has panned out for him. 5/10
Michael Brown has only played 6 times but has started the last 2 games and when he is in the side he puts himself about and is a great man to have in the squad. Always likely to be booked though but you would prefer to have him on your side then come up against him. Could be vital part of the squad when the going gets tough. 5.5/10
Believe it or not Paul Green has featured in 9 games, mainly at the start of the season. Injury curtailed his progress and not much has been seen of him of late. Another one with good experience but will find it hard to regain his place in the match day squad especially if new signings are brought in. 4/10
Gboly Ariyibi made his first appearance as a sub in yesterdays defeat at Forest and may have some role to play as the season unfolds. Too early to rate him at this stage. Overall our midfielders have been adequate without setting the world on fire and this is an area I think the manager will look to improve during January. There are not enough goals coming from this area with only 3 goals between the lot of them. We won't get promoted unless more goals come from midfield.
Moving up front and we will start with ours and the Leagues top scorer. What can I say about the performances of Ross McCormack. Only for him I shudder to think where we would be. 17 goals in 23 games leaves him just one short of his best tally since he joined us which was 18 in the 2011/12 season. And it's not just his goalscoring that has been exceptional it's his all round link up play, his unselfish running and his work rate that has made him the stand put player of the season so far. If he gets injured then we can kiss goodbye to any hopes of promotion. He has scored half our goals this campaign and at the moment looks like our only hope of getting goals. He needs back-up and I think BMAC will bring someone in to ease the burden on Ross. He tried that with Blackstock who unfortunately got injured early in their partnership. Ross has been the star man so far and we hope he continues in this rich vein of form in the new year. 9.5/10
Matt Smith is our next top scorer with 6 goals. He started the season as an impact sub, but since Blackstock has returned to Forest has nailed down a starting place and he seems to work well as the target man with Ross feeding off him. There is room for improvement though and for a tall man he needs to be more imposing in the air. He has scored some good goals, his header versus Birmingham his best of the season in my opinion. Needs to take some more of the scoring burden off Ross but all in all a good start to his Elland Road career. 7/10
I though this year would be the year we saw Dominic Poleon shine. It hasn't worked out that way for the young lad. He has played 13 times mostly as a sub and has only found the net once in the league. He does possess genuine pace and if he improves his all round game it could happen for him in the second half of the season. Up to this point it has been disappointing for him but who knows what 2014 will bring. Hopefully more game time for Dom and more goals to push us towards promotion. 5/10
Luke Varney was an ever present at the start of the season in a front 3 that featured Ross and Noel Hunt. Injury and loss of form cost him his place and he has only recently returned to the squad. He has bagged 2 goals in his 10 appearances, so could be another one waiting to make an impact in 2014. If BMAC signs a striker though his days at the club could be numbered. 5/10
Another new signing was Noel Hunt who worked under McDermott at Reading and again was a regular starter in the early part of the season making 8 appearances. The goals didn't come, and though he worked his socks off it just didn't happen for him and his form slipped and he lost his place. Injury has curtailed his progress of late but if he can get back to full fitness and regain some of the form he had at Reading, the fans could yet be singing his name come May. 4/10.
The final player I will rate is El Hadji Diouf. His season never got going and was used mainly as a substitute in the early part of the season, playing 4 times but he hasn't featured at all lately for one reason or another and I can't see him having much of a role under McDermott. Still a fans favourite when he does play but we may have seen the last of him in a Leeds shirt. 2/10.
So there you have it. Some of you will agree and more of you will disagree with my assessment of the season so far. All in all it hasn't been that bad. We are still there or there about at the right end of the table. We need to get a few players in during the window and the manager has 4 targets in mind. If we can get 2 or 3 of them and the gel quickly I think we could make a strong push for promotion in 2014. We need to be more consistent and go on a run of 3 or 4 wins on the trot to close the gap on the top 4. We have the right man at the helm and with Ross, Zaliukas, Pearce, Austin and Mowatt we have the players to do just that. We haven't seen the best of Byram yet this campaign and there is more to come from the likes of Murphy and Smith and with the addition of 2 or 3 good quality signings we can be up there fighting at the end of the season.
Happy New Year to Leeds United supporters everywhere. Hope 2014 brings you joy on and off the field.
MOT Leeds Leeds Leeds.