Another day, another depressive period of post-rationalisation after Leeds failed to win in a key top-of-the-table clash. It’s frustrating that we’re having to employ the most British of traditions by attempting to maintain a stiff upper lip, while we’re secretly all dying inside. The Bristol City game made us believe that our stumble was merely a blip, while we may have been embarrassed several times over beforehand, Bristol made us believe this slump was over. Alas, not.
Sheffield United asserted themselves over Leeds like you expect a Premier League side would exert themselves over Wimbledon. The gulf in quality was so vast that it made for uncomfortable viewing. Pennington’s use of the ball was so casual it was plausible a game of football had interrupted a worry-free stroll in the park he had attempted to embark on. Numerous times his laissez faire approach to defending was pounced upon by hungry blades. Though, it’s worth noting that we were already 1-0 down before any football really broke out, as a simple cross met an unmarked Billy Sharp who cheerfully got the whole “scoring against your previous side” thing out of the way nice and early.
Sheffield were first to every second ball, faster, smarter, stronger and more incisive. They played around Leeds, like an overly public game of El Rondo shown in front of 30,000 annoyed people. In possession Leeds were keen to give the ball back to Sheffield, lest they ruin their day. The ball was dinked around at the back in a tactic somewhere between “suicide backpass” and “caught napping”. Midfield had the option of trying to find Lasogga (who was MIA) or give it to Alioski/Saiz. The latter was our most likely source of invention; dissatisfied with his peers, the Spaniard was intent on dribbling past each and every opposition player and his attempt to do this was more effective than anything anyone else was attempting.
An aimless ball into the box was knocked down towards Kalvin Phillips who hooked a volley from the edge of the area low past the towering keeper. Against the run of play. This predictably got Leeds’ tails up and the following period was occasionally good. The inherent fragility in this side’s defence may be bolstered by Andy LonerSchmeichel who prevented the score from being a Rugby one. Twice he stood strong and through superb shot-stopping prevented Sheffield from being out of sight when the defence in front of him had switched off. Though his one-man heroics couldn’t save the game, as yet another easy move allowed the Blades in behind the whites to win the game.
It’s easy to talk about these games as “what if” statements, but the fact remains, Saiz’ shot did hit the post, Sheffield United were comfortably the better side. The problem with this is that they shouldn’t be.
There’s increasingly justified criticism of Leeds’ recruitment as we stumble into the Winter period. Where we had been playing with confidence and aplomb at the start of the season, the dark nights have drawn in and form has dipped hugely. The problem with confidence players is that when things stop going their way, everything stops working. This is where fans are starting to frown in the direction of our recruitment because there’s an arguable lack of “grit”; the kind of player who will pick up a game by the scruff of its neck and try to wrestle the entire team into shape.
Ross McCormack used to do this, as did Lewis Cook in fairness. When nothing is going your way, you need someone who will try to force it. The lack of this character in the Leeds United side is looking more obvious. When you consider the caliber of player who has left (Green, Wood, Taylor) and consider that their replacements are Wiedwald, Lasogga and Anita… It’s impossible to legitimately contest that the new are better than the old. Especially now that Felix is performing so badly that he’s been replaced by Andy Lonergan, Vernun Anita is a right-sided defensive midfielder played at left back when Gaetano Berardi is suspended. Lasogga started well but lacks the tenacious ability to be a match-winner thus far, something we relied on Wood for endlessly.
Much of our endeavour comes through Samuel Saiz, but what Saiz cannot do is the gritty blood-and-thunder stuff we need in the middle of the pitch to lift the squad. This is what peak Pontus Jansson is capable of, and what we’re craving most. The free-roaming leg-breaking, brick-heading machine that boots hoardings and air-punches in-front of the Kop. Too easily are home crowds turning on the players – it must be bad for Berardi (ever the shy gent off-pitch) to make mention of it. But Pontus being peak Pontus would be a big lift for us.
You look at this squad and think “if only we still had…” and it’s easy to end that sentence a number of ways and still be correct. Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor are two obvious ends that would hugely benefit the team. And to those suggesting that Leeds are better off without U20 World Cup Winning captain and #4 shirt wearing Lewis Cook, please choose a different sport.
On to Derby tomorrow night. It’s okay, we always play well against Derby…