So. In case anyone hadn’t noticed from reading my blog/tweets or Facebook updates, I’m a pessimistic person. One of them ‘the glass is half empty ‘ types, one who expects the worst. And again you may have noticed that this is particularly pertinent when it comes to football, or more specifically Leeds United.
I had hoped to resurrect this blog with a more positive opening, don’t get me wrong I’m ecstatic the football league season is under-way but with it and Leeds United, it brings several bones of contention.
Anyway. It felt great to be back at Elland Road – I was there for the Wolves friendly but it wasn’t the same. Despite the relatively low attendance for an opening day fixture, there was an air of expectancy as there often is but it seemed another ‘expect the worst’ moment even if there was a glimmer of ill-judged hope. I say ill-judged because despite the glut of new signings, our defence leaves much to be desired – a feeling I had before the game; one which was well founded as it turned out.
We have a lot of defenders and according to some so-called ‘experts’ who will remain nameless, this means this is our strongest area. We have too many and it is our weakest. It’s a harsh judgement after only seeing two games with this particular back four but we know Richard Naylor and Neill Collins and they continued where they left off last season. Patrick Kisnorbo can’t be fit quick enough.
So I’ll start from the back. Kasper Schmeichel – our best signing by a country mile and lived up to his billing by producing several top saves to keep the scoreline respectable. Unlike our previous Casper (Ankergren) he commands his area, he communicates with his defence and he’s always looking to quickly start moves instead of lingering and missing the chance. It is so refreshing but disheartening almost to know he’ll be a top keeper at a top club which undoubtedly won’t be us (I’m talking Premier League) so we need to enjoy it while we can.
The defence. Yeash. The only concession I give them is how poor the central midfielders were in front of them but that’s being generous. Paul Connolly was the best of a bad bunch, Collins and Naylor barely communicated and were off the pace; late to react and constantly no where near their marker. The hoof ball Collins and Naylor became so accustomed to in League One will not see us comfortably in this division but their wasteful punts forward invited Derby to attack, again and again. To feet guys. To feet!
It should’ve been more than two but a combination of wasteful finishing and expert reflexes from Schmeichel kept them at bay. Aidy White isn’t a left back for me but I’d still have him ahead of Fede Bessone; oh and er.. Andy Hughes as well. (Legend)
Midfield… Well it tells me a lot if I’m disappointed Jonny Howson was subbed. I’m not one of the ‘bandwagon’ haters for our Howson but his token ‘one good game for the season’ repertoire won’t cut it this year. That said, he tried. He didn’t have much to work with but he tracked back, got forward and always looked for that killer pass. The main problem was the for every hoof ball from behind him, Derby attacked. It wasn’t complex tactics from Nigel Clough or his players, it was merely the simplest of tasks to put a ball between the centre backs and through the midfield. No one took responsibility in the middle of the park, or at the back for that matter.
There was no protection for the defence and poor Schmeichel was constantly exposed as Kris Commons et al bore down on him with no midfielder tracking back in sight. Constantly they stood off and let them in and shockingly enough it led to us conceding a goal. In my humble opinion, standing off the attackers instead of closing him down and preventing a shot is not exactly something that’d appear in Lucas Radebe’s guide to great defending. It seems Neill Collins doesn’t have a copy.
Seemingly a 4-3-3 was employed. Whether it was carried out to Simon Grayson’s wishes is another matter. It was more like a 4-5-1, so exposed was Luciano Becchio it is painfully clear we need another striker, and fast. Give Mike Grella a chance maybe? Having said that, the central midfield was often anonymous which led to Neil Kilkenny giving way to Adam Clayton later on but that aside, Grayson and indeed the fans are looking to Bradley Johnson to provide the muscle in midfield. Billed as a box-to-box player with a crunching tackle, powerful headers and a rasping shot (OK I made most of them up) he looked out of his depth. Maybe it is down to lack of experience; as much as it pains me to say it, we need a crafty bugger in that kind of role. Robbie Savage dare I suggest.. Universally loathed but lets face it, if he was at Leeds we’d love him. I digress. Aside from the lovely pass to Howson for our equaliser, he was comfortable; not over exerted in the slightest as he used 20 years of guile and know-how to keep Derby in it. It was a pity it took 75mins for an off the boil Johnson to clatter him..
I digress again. The equaliser was all Howson’s work as his surging run and one-two with Savage presented him with a run on goal and the simplest pass to Becchio who slotted home with ease. It felt no less than we deserved for some reason. Derby attacked with annoying ease; it wasn’t great football but it was easy whereas we, often keeping the ball for long periods, struggled to break down there defence and Stephen Bywater frankly had nothing to do all afternoon.
The first half produced all the goals and the pretty outstanding Kris Commons was at the centre of their second, playing the pass through to Tomasz Cywka who went down under the challenge of Lloyd Sam. It didn’t look like a penalty, a 50-50 at best but it looked like he got the ball but the referee gave it after what seemed like a very long time. His assistant saw nothing wrong but more on officiating later. Commons stepped up and sent Schmeichel the wrong way and endeared himself to the Leeds fans by cupping his ear in celebration. Not cool.
Derby found the space between our wayward midfield and static defence as the game dragged on, but a succession of simply great saves from Schmeichel kept them at bay. In truth it could’ve easily been four or five. At the other end as we pressed in vain for an equaliser, Clayton, Aidy White and Grella replaced Kilkenny, Sam and Howson and White injected some much needed pace. Straight away running at pace at the Derby defence; if he can’t manage a full 90mins, he is certainly a nailed on impact sub.
Whether it’s Grella or a new signing to partner Becchio it is clear whoever it ends up being, it needs to happen fast. Becchio likes to drop deep, he is often a more effective centre half and when he comes deep there is no outlet. Max Gradel will be able to provide that but for now there are gaps. It’s obviously far too early to write anything off now but Grayson’s work in the transfer market is not yet done.
My ‘glass half empty’ feeling says we’ll do well to get to mid-table mediocrity, I’d more than take that but I don’t go for this ‘we’re here for promotion’ outlook. I’m not saying don’t believe, more that we need to be realistic. We have a decent squad but it won’t be pulling up trees; the players with Championship experience are vital but they can’t just rely on that. The gulf between League One and the Championship is not just sizeable in financial terms but even with the basics, Leeds were second best and I mean, little things. Like quick throw ins. Obviously there are bigger things which need addressing first but it won’t hurt to capitalise on the things which are do-able without the need to spend money. Such a result isn’t going to send us down (Watch, we’ll go down by a point.. Ha) and part of today’s outcome owes itself to the poor standard of officiating; it seems the quality of refereeing doesn’t necessarily rise with the divisions. At least the fourth official was generous enough to give us four added minutes.
So next up, it’s Lincoln. As much as such a match in such a competition thrills me greatly, I have other commitments so I shall hopefully be back with something sleep-inducing after the Forest game – TV ratings of course.
(Oh and I’ll put some pics in next time as well, apologies it’s very text heavy)