I noted before the Sunderland game that it would be rather telling how “Leeds” we were intent on making this season. A very “Leeds” thing to do would be to have beaten Fulham and lost to Sunderland. Though we’ve perhaps been more predictable by losing to Fulham and struggling to draw against second-bottom-Sunderland. Before we dig into another poor performance it’s worth reflecting on how long ago September feels. We were top of the league and performing well, yet fast forward a number of months and we’re hurtling towards 15th, entirely dissatisfied with the squad and we’ve sacked Christiansen. From thinking we were getting promoted to being unsurprised that we can’t beat Sunderland. It’s been emotional.
Credit where it’s due, Sunderland have not been as bad as their results would suggest since Coleman has taken over. Though it’s clear to see that the players aren’t confident and while there are some good players there, they’re fragile. A bit of confident swagger and footballing authority would subdue an unsure opposition, but Leeds have their own problems and it became an exercise in seeing which cripplingly anxious entity would fold first. We did, of course. Perhaps the most damning reflection I can have on Saturday’s game is that Leeds and Sunderland are in the same bracket now, only we have the fortune of being propped up by some strong early form. September saved our season.
There is a degree of sympathy allowed for Leeds with regards to injuries, but (again) insufficient recruitment meant that Leeds encountered Sunderland with a winger at right back, a right-back at left back and an Academy lad making his debut alongside Jansson. Even BPF in goal was behind Wiedwald and Lonergan not too long ago. This setup is prime for abuse and sides like Sunderland who are rightly fighting for their very survival could so easily exploit it.
Yet again a lapse in concentration undid Leeds as the defence failed to track a runner and McNair volleyed a shot into the roof of the net. For all the commentary about Leeds hitting the woodwork and some nice phases of play, it was typically lacklustre defending that put us on the back foot. Were it not (yet again) for the individual brilliance of Pablo Hernandez, Leeds would be red-faced and needing to justify how they had failed to compete with a side so poor that they’ve been rooted to the bottom of the table for much of the season. It’s telling that our MOTM was BPF. You tend to only give the goalkeeper the man of the match award when you’ve kept your side in the game, so that’s a depressing accolade against a side as poor as Sunderland.
A red card for Berardi at the death underlines how little Leeds have progressed. For all his humility in acknowledging that Leeds probably need a better player than him to progress, and for all his passion and bravery, poor disciplinary records will shadow any future he has at the club. His 5-game ban now means he misses the rest of the season giving Heckingbottom yet another problem to solve with an inadequate set of puzzle pieces. This also means that he will have missed 10 games this season through dismissal which is beyond excuse.
But it transcends Berardi. Leeds have looked incompetent since Christmas and a shift in head-coach has done nothing to stem the flow of poor performances. We joke (with heavy hearts) that Leeds must be one of the only clubs in the world to avoid the “new manager bounce”, as it felt very much like replacing one broken part with an identical broken part. Or perhaps, more aptly, replacing a totally unrelated component and expecting the fault to be fixed. There’s something much bigger broken at Leeds and it’ll be up to Heckingbottom, Orta and Radrizzani to address it in the Summer. It’s one thing for the owner to publicly moan that he has given the players everything they have asked for, but another entirely to accept that inadequate recruitment has exacerbated whatever cultural/chemistry problems exist in this squad. There must be a reason why Monk’s Leeds collapsed in its final run of games, and it’s sensible to suggest that whatever frailty was exposed then is magnitudes worse now.
The only shining lights in our performances of-late have been BPF in goal and Pablo doing literally everything else. Though with Hernandez’ contract situation heavily implies that he’ll be leaving at the end of the season (with his other half returned to Spain already due to impending child-birth) so it’s even more important that we take recruitment seriously this Summer. You get very little good-grace with Leeds fans as an owner because we’ve endured so many poor ones, so if Andrea concedes that mistakes were made this year, he needs to demonstrate an ability to learn from them.
So what next? Nothing. We’re mathematically safe from relegation and (realistically) mathematically out of the playoff running. So we just need to twiddle our thumbs and hope for better things.
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