There are few things more ‘Leeds’ than snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, let alone mashing the self destruct button as hard and often as you can. I’m sat here after the Millwall game incredulous at what I’ve watched, unable to accept the result let alone the multiple matches played within that single 90 minute period. It does raise a few concerning points about Thomas Christiansen’s Leeds and cast a light on the same old frailties that simply have never left.
TC picked a sensible side given recent performances, opting to give Lasogga another chance to prove his doubters wrong. Laurens De Bock came into the defence as Leeds started with an actual left-back for the first time since Charlie Taylor left. Vieira and Phillips were reunited in central midfield, with O’Kane suspended from our previous self destruction and new boy Adam Forshaw not deemed fit to make the match-day squad. We started positively, too. In earnest, were Lasogga less rusty we could have had 2 goals within the first 10-15 minutes as he let glaring chances go unpunished.
Millwall then had a goal disallowed for offside as Leeds found themselves in disarray at the back, entirely incapable of clearing set pieces or marking some of the larger figures in the Millwall side. Before we had a chance to wipe our brows from the close call, we went 1-0 down. Cooper was then dismissed for an entirely justified (if debatable) uncontrolled lunge. While there’s a definite argument for it being an extreme decision, I think when you’re making challenges like that in today’s game (with referees sensitive to our poor disciplinary record), you’re asking for trouble. And trouble was what we got.
Not long after, Leeds were sat wondering why they hammered the self destruct button. 2-0 down and with only 10 men facing a long second half, having barely clung onto even the terrible scoreline they were presented with. What followed was an incredible response, as Leeds blasted out of the gates in the second and Lasogga rifled a shot into the top corner in the first move of the game. A goal-line scramble allowed Roofe to equalise and Lasogga scored another incredible strike to put newly confident Leeds back in front. The side had fought and scrapped to assert themselves and deservedly made themselves the leaders at 3-2.
Though, what goes up must come down. Lasogga was struggling to move through fatigue and injury, Roofe was exhausted, so Christiansen was forced into taking both strikers off. Inevitably this became our downfall, as tactically we needed to be more conservative and sit back, inviting Millwall on. The equaliser came, as did the winner. Leeds lost 3-4 and it’s hard to convey how deflating that result really is. But it forces us to ask some very big questions.
Do we need another striker?
Christiansen would say in his post-match press-conference that Lasogga’s performance demonstrated that Leeds have a striker. Which we do, his performance was great. His ability to win most of the balls fired at him, the quality (both in strike and in positioning) for both goals was tremendous. He really put in a superb performance (result aside). He just didn’t have the legs to continue at this intensity for the full 90.
It’s the abject lack of options is what makes me believe we need to strengthen further. With Roofe deployed as a winger and played every game in one position or another, there’s a heavy reliance on that one player. With Lasogga still an uncertain quantity, Ekuban injured and Grot miles short of the quality required, Leeds are very light on the ground for strikers.
It would disappoint me for us to end the January transfer window without a player who can make an immediate impact. I don’t dispute the need to sign players who are suitable for the medium-to-long term, but having slipped as low as 10th after another disappointing result I think there’s a mandate to strengthen. I even asserted recently that without signings in January, Leeds are likely to slip away again.
Is Liam Cooper good enough?
It isn’t without a twinge of irony that my latest piece in The Square Ball came out today, praising the rise of “Captain Coops” and celebrating his growth into a leader we can be proud of. But I noted in the piece how his confident displays are always tempered by silly decisions or the odd disastrous performance – and today was one of those days. It’s not ideal to have a captain with 2 red cards this season. As much as we can argue about the legitimacy of today’s dismissal, it was invited, it happened and it had real consequences to the club.
The confident ever-presence of Pennington was obvious once he was introduced, too, making us ask the question as to whether Cooper is good enough. I don’t have an answer for that yet, because for every few games where I’d say (with some comfort) “yes” is always tempered by a game where I give an assertive “god no”. His 4 game ban will give Pennington a chance to stake a more permanent claim on that spot in central defence.
Are Leeds any better than last season?
A complicated question that can be answered simply. In some positions, yes. In others, no. On the whole? We’re broadly the same.
It’s easy to shrug off cries of under-performance and disappointing results when you can lean on our league position as a reason to disregard concern. After all, how often did we hear after poor results “but we’re still 2nd”, “we’re still 4th”, “we’re still 6th”. Now we have no such luxury, as “we’re still 10th” doesn’t have the same reassuring quality, does it?
Though I expect this will be replaced by “we’re only 3 points off the playoffs”, which is technically true, but upward mobility is something multiple clubs are grasping for and we’ve now cast ourselves into a congested pack of hungry competitors. We need to improve and we need to improve quickly. The downside is that we have very little opportunity to do so. Our next run of games is:
- Sheffield United
- Bristol City
- Derby County
At present you’d struggle to see many more than 4 points out of that run of games, which would put us into a very precarious position indeed. So we not only need to find our feet quickly, but I firmly believe that we need reinforcements. I admire Andrea Radrizzani’s multiple-year mission and his corresponding transfer policy that brings in players who can hopefully benefit the club in the future. But with a seriously challenging next couple of months within a congested pack of clubs clambering for a few playoff spots, apathy now will equal misery later.
I don’t wish to dwell on the game any more. We’ve now got a 10 day gap until the next game and there’s much to be done at Leeds.
It’s also amusing (in a black-comedy kind of way) that when Samu Saiz got sent off, Eunan O’Kane came out as the moral voice of the dressing room, expressing his disappointment at the lack of professionalism and conveying the wider squad’s upset at his actions. In the next game, O’Kane gets a straight red for head-butting. Liam Cooper comes out as the moral voice of the dressing room, criticising O’Kane’s reckless behaviour and irresponsible actions. In the following game, Cooper is dismissed for a reckless challenge. It’s legitimately farcical what we have to deal with at Leeds.
But let me just end on this one note – Millwall hadn’t won an away game yet this season, and we gave them one today. Much in the way we gifted Birmingham points to end their own particular tragic sequence of results. We might not be very good, but we’re certainly charitable.
Leeds 2018 v2. pic.twitter.com/ZcarYdjKl0
— I Hate Leeds (@ihatelufc) January 20, 2018