On a cold October evening, Leeds’ bogey side Leicester were the visitors and with the form book firmly favouring the away side in previous meetings, it wasn’t long before 22,000 Leeds fans knew the miserable record would continue.
Somewhat surprisingly, Simon Grayson named the same side which beat Middlesbrough on Saturday, despite knocks to Sanchez Watt and Amdy Faye. We all know Grayson keeps his cards close to his chest over injuries to his players but after just half an hour, it was evident Watt shouldn’t have been on the pitch.
It was a difficult start; Leicester immediately set about exposing the Leeds midfield and Amdy Faye was a mere passenger. After his promising display against Boro he had completed the transformation from dominant to anonymous. I’d like to be generous and put it down to the knock he picked up on Saturday, but the very fact he stayed on the pitch for 70mins suggests otherwise.
The particulars of the match.. well, put simply, Leicester dominated. We let them, honest. They came to attack, with an organised formation and with a determination to take every advantage of any space allowed and mistakes pounced on. They may not have expected Leeds to have been just so generous.
After 10mins it was evident that Leeds needed a ball player, say Neil Kilkenny as ball after ball was hoofed over the midfield and over the Leicester defence to nothing. It’s not unusual for such tactics but nothing was sticking, Davide Somma and Luciano Becchio were left with the thankless task of aerial challenges as the midfield offered nothing in support. Scoring was the least of the worries though as Leicester bore down on Neill Collins and Richard Naylor with menace.
It was only a matter of time before they scored and make a mockery of the defence and time and time again, attacks down the left past an absent George McCartney saw shot after shot against the home goal. Most on target were comfortable for Jason Brown although a save low to his left seemed to take an eternity to materialise.
Overall the match was immensely frustrating; it was clear from the outset that a five man midfield (with Somma dropping to left wing) wasn’t working; even with the introduction of Bradley Johnson – Leeds’ man of the match, Leeds struggled to gain even so much of a foothold in the centre of midfield. Even having three central players in the shape of Johnson, Jonny Howson and Faye, it was slightly incomprehensible how none of them were to be found in the aforementioned positions.
Not taking anything away from Leicester who were patient, effective and full of confidence; their passing accurate and crisp, their movement exploiting every space and lax attempt at marking. I hate that.
The most infuriating thing – nay person was without doubt our leader and inspiration, step forward Mr. Naylor. Now read back through any of my previous copy and you’ll not see me giving him a glowing reference; today was simply a continuation of the widely known fact that he is not good enough to a) play and hold down a place in defence for Leeds b) continue to hold the captains armband. Every manager has their favourite and I’m sure Grayson is no different but whenever Naylor is left out of the side, it is followed by words such as ‘rested’, never dropped.
For Leicester’s second goal, Naylor inexplicably misjudged a high ball, which bounced over him. Leicester went on to seal the result but this is nothing new. The very fact Collins managed the same mistake just minutes later might’ve served Naylor with a warning, but shockingly, it did not.
It is time for Grayson to show that even his captain is not above being dropped for being well below par and that when you play well, you retain the shirt. Mind you, going by that mantra, he’d have less appearances for Leeds in years than Kasper Schmeichel has in a few months.
The truth is that Leicester are a good team and were in need of someone to bring the best out of the potential they showed last season but for Leeds, too many players are not good enough to consistently perform in the Championship. Even with the leagues unpredictable nature, Leeds cannot afford passengers as survival is the minimum the club needs to achieve.
The players who have been available, defenders namely, who have gone to other Championship clubs while we’ve been screaming out for one is frustrating, especially when we can apparently get any player we’re in for and that the club – with the biggest conference centre between Newcastle and Manchester is apparently the most attractive club for most prospective players. So where are they? Are we really not in for any better players than Collins or Naylor?
Personally I think Grayson got the tactics wrong tonight, Leicester were always going to be a well organised, fluent passing side but to go defensive at home was the wrong way to go.
His players let him down though, while Somma and Becchio worked tirelessly, Howson and to a greater extent, Faye were pretty anonymous while Watt was completely ineffective and Rob Snodgrass was very hit and miss. Johnson was by far the most imaginative and industrious player in a Leeds shirt, box to box and with a willingness to attempt to cover the cracks in midfield, he was one of very few to emerge with the right to hold their head high, or higher than the rest.
It’s a frustrating league, there are games we’ve not won but played well in and have matched opponents well but for most teams, the league is an inconsistent one but after the steely resolve and organisation at Boro to tonight… That is inconsistency the players and Grayson can ill afford.
Onwards and… sideways.