Much like a broken record, Leeds’ pitiful defensive record is becoming extremely irksome, one which continued in spectacular fashion against Barnsley at Elland Road.
After the humiliating 5-2 reverse at Oakwell, it was time for revenge. Except Barnsley hadn’t read the script and soon pooped on the party; less than two minutes were on the clock when Leeds failed to clear a ball into the box and Jason Shackell slammed the ball past Kasper Schmeichel.
The goal rattled Leeds, the defence looked shaky and no one was comfortable in possession. Eventually things settled and Max Gradel, he who is everywhere, was unlucky not to score when his freekick came back off the bar, on to the back of keeper Luke Steele, then went wide.
Not long after, Neil Kilkenny’s inswinging cross was perfectly weighted for Lucciano Becchio to steal in at the far post to head Leeds level. Steele simply waved the ball in but it didn’t matter. Parity.
Leeds then took the lead when a slightly generous decision by Mark Clattenberg saw a penalty awarded when Mark Hill tangled with Gradel who was in on goal. The decision was soft and Clattenberg knew it but following the letter of the law, Hill should’ve been off, owing that he was last man.
Gradel coolly stroked the penalty home and the turnaround was complete but things were far from comfortable. And sure enough, just two minutes into the second half, Barnsley were back in it.
This time Rob Snodgrass was caught napping, allowing Hill to steal in at the far post and in absence of any defenders, they were level.
Then came the moment to sum up how immensely frustrating it is to be a Leeds fan, when the ever intelligent Bradley Johnson committed his upteenth foul of the match to earn a 2nd yellow card. Now, firstly, he was asking for it with late challenges and niggles here and there so I’m not excusing him. However. Clattenberg clearly had the look of a man who wasn’t aware he had already booked Johnson and it wasn’t before a close inspection of the names written on his card that he realised. The foul Johnson committed for his 2nd booking was a soft and one can’t help but think if Clattenberg had been on his toes, he wouldn’t have sent him off. Swings and roundabouts, I’ll refer you to my first point…
Advantage Barnsley but the ever lively Gradel wasn’t done yet. Picking up the ball wide left, he ran at the Barnsley defence before curling a beauty past Steele. Elland Road erupted, surely we couldn’t steal the win? Well, no we couldn’t but the feeling was nice till it lasted.
It wasn’t long though before Barnsley were level, despite a mass assembling of the Leeds wall, Kieren Trippier’s free kick inexplicably made its way through the wall and past Schmeichel. After fighting our way back into the match, we’d thrown it all away again through such a basic error.
Schmeichel was beside himself with anger, and unsurprisingly wasn’t the only one.
Looking back, when Johnson got his marching orders, the subs of Sanchez Watt for Snodgrass and Davide Somma for Becchio were perhaps not what was needed. Well, Somma anyway. Leeds spent most the match playing hoofball and seeing as Somma isn’t exactly the bulky type, Billy Paynter may well have been a more productive option. On the flip side though, we were creating chances, but needed someone clinical, in which case Somma fits the mould.
Snodgrass has looked tired for weeks but it doesn’t look like he’ll get a break any time soon. The only change which Grayson will be forced into for the weekend type to Wales will be Johnson’s replacement. The obvious move sees Somma replace him and a revert back to a 4-4-2. Swansea play neat football on the floor, so it’ll be interesting to see how Kilkenny copes with a more demanding defensive role.
The draw almost certainly puts paid to any promotion dreams any Leeds fans were still clinging on to but the manner in which we continually concede goals is fast becoming a joke.
The lack of any defensive organisation and leadership is the main problem, 52 goals conceded overall in just 33 games. A bit of perspective: Middlesboro’ have conceded 44, while Palace have conceded 51, they are 19th and 20th in the league respectively.
It’s not just the CB’s who pose a worry, George McCartney is fast following in the industrious footsteps of former Leeds left backs who have shat their way out of the team. With every match, he looks more unstable, nervous on the ball and increasingly exposed. There’s a Premier League full back in there somewhere, honest.
We’ve had different combinations of centrebacks throughout the season but it seems to be the same problems plaguing the team. The midfield don’t come away completely unscathed; they are often guilty of not providing cover and cheaply conceding possession, putting pressure on the defence but the lack of a clear leader at the back is the main area of concern. Not since Paddy Kisnorbo donned the shirt have we had an organised, well oiled and effective defence. He’ll most likely be a shadow of his former self if he ever does regain full fitness, weeks not months. It’s been about 27 billion weeks now.
On a slightly sideways note, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the subject of whether Schmeichel should be no.1. It’s not worthy of consideration because there is nothing to consider. Schmeichel is a top keeper, there is no doubt in my mind at least that he could easily hold down a no.1 shirt at a Premier League team and those that disagree probably haven’t seen him play week in, week out this season. That’s not to say he’s faultless, not at all. His kicking has been average for the most part in recent months and he has struggled to communicate with Alex Bruce and Andy O’Brien in recent weeks. Although I’ll refer you to my last blog, for me the problem isn’t with Kasper.
So where does that leave us? In 6th, with three points and a superior goal difference on 7th placed Leicester, actually. But in all seriousness, it leaves us with gaps to be filled and one can only pray that Simon Grayson will dabble in the ’emergency loan window’ which opens on Friday. Bargain basement shopping, it’s usually pretty naff, but once every blue moon, you find a real gem. Is that straws I’m clutching at?
We shouldn’t grumble, nay. For we have exceeded expectations, as I keep saying every week. I can’t help getting frustrated simply because we can do better, we will, we must!
Just think though, looking at the play offs, chuck in a few bogey teams and we’re screwed anyway. Haaa.