After the bitterly disappointing result at Swansea, Leeds finally got the play-off push back on track, beating Doncaster Rovers in a match which served mostly to highlight the utter lack of defensive abilities of both teams.
Bradley Johnson came back into the side after his suspension cost Leeds dear at Swansea, while Leigh Bromby replaced Alex Bruce who was dropped to the bench, alongside Davide Somma.
The decision to play Bromby was an interesting one; on the one hand, we are struggling badly in defence and something had to give and this time it happened to be Bruce. The obviously problem though was that if Bromby wasn’t good enough to displace Richard Naylor at the height of his defensive ineptitude, so has that actually changed now? The answer was evidently ‘no’, as after 44mins Billy Sharp scored with Bromby no where in sight. But more on that later.
The match itself attracted an impressive 27,027; a small travelling support from South Yorkshire only serving to highlight that Doncaster is of course, just a town full of Leeds fans.
Leeds should’ve taken the lead when Max Gradel’s jinxing run brought a save from Gary Woods after a few minutes, but the rebound fell to Jonny Howson who got it all wrong with the goal gaping as his effort went high and wide.
Just 12mins into the match, the ever-lively Gradel spun away from the Donny defence and unleashed an unstoppable drive past Woods and Leeds were deservedly ahead.
Bradley Johnson, Lucciano Becchio and Neil Kilkenny all squandered efforts as Leeds looked to impose themselves on Donny but the 2nd goal just wouldn’t come. Robert Snodgrass then missed a guilt-edged chance to give Leeds some breathing space but after weaving his way through the Donny defence, his legs couldn’t quite keep up with his thoughts and having beaten the keeper, he fell over and the ball went for a goal kick.
The whole half was just one way traffic as Howson, Becchio, Kilkenny and Snodgrass all linked up with some slick passing but as the half wore on, Leeds’ increasingly profligacy in front of goal would be punished again. There was no doubt that Donny were there for the taking but once again, profligacy and shambolic defending looked like it might rain on the parade.
John Oster’s long diagonal ball was picked up by Billy Sharp, who ran in on goal unchallenged and despite Kasper Schmeichel’s best efforts, Sharp converted at the 2nd opportunity and right on the stroke of half time, Donny had somehow drawn level.
Now I’ve ranted pretty much every week about our defence. The inability for our defence to defend is no less infuriating than it was last week, or the week before, or the week before that. So to see Bromby no more able to master the basics was no great surprise but no less annoying.
Oster’s ball was a long punt more in hope than expectation but the fact that Sharp managed to waltz past Andy O’Brien and Bromby was disgraceful. Let alone that Schmeichel saved the first of Sharp’s efforts and neither defender bothered to anticipate that he might do so.
Anyway, half time. Simon Grayson no doubt went to town on both of them but the cloth-eared pair obviously didn’t pay any attention; just after half time, Franck Moussa was the grateful recipient of another long punt which he received nicely before finishing past Schmeichel.
The lead wasn’t to last though as the clearly fired up Howson took it upon himself to beat most of the Donny team before firing home from 20yards out to bring Leeds level. It was a real captains moment, if you’ll excuse the cheese. Just what Leeds needed.
Schmeichel was called into action shortly after as Sharp tried his luck but Leeds had a steely determination about them now, lead by the rather peeved looking Howson. Gradel again went close after pouncing on a hashed clearance from former Leeds youngster Paul Keegan, he was one on one with the keeper (part 1) but Keegan recovered well to put Gradel off and his shot went wide.
Minutes later it was one on one part two and again, Gradel failed to convert after being played in by Howson as Woods made the save. It was all Leeds. Then came the real breakthrough, Snodgrass’ cross was knocked down by Bromby for Becchio to eventually side-foot home. On first viewing, Becchio looked offside, the Donny defence certainly thought so but the goal stood and the relief rippled through Elland Road.
For a moment, the match had a Barnsley feeling about it; Gradel was taken out by the keeper at one end before Donny won a freekick down t’other. As the wall lined up, one had visions of it parting like a butter from a hot knife but the freekick went over and we breathed again.
Snodgrass and Kilkenny combined to put Paynter in on goal, and after his effort was parried, Gradel fired home the rebound to seal the points before Howson showed Gradel how to finish a one on one to put gloss on a deserved victory.
So, three welcome points and given the other results across the top six, a vital victory which gives us some breathing space inside the play offs.
That’s 57 goals conceded now, in 35 games. 31 of those goals have been conceded at home and that, rather alarming sees Leeds carry the most unwelcome record of the most home goals conceded in the whole of the Championship. Even Preston North End in 24th have conceded less at home.
It’s more than a worry, our transfer policy is well and truly coming home to roost. Why we haven’t brought in anyone, let alone spent money on is beyond me; Bromby hasn’t been good enough – and certainly didn’t do himself any favours today, else he wouldn’t be getting splinters up his backside every week. Even more worryingly, if no new faces are brought in before Tuesday, will Naylor get a start? His cameo at the end of the match today was an all too real reminder that our defensive frailties will see us fail in the play offs, if we are indeed still there, come May.
Looking at the positives, of which there were plenty, it is beyond clear that Johnson has become a vital cog in the Leeds midfield. The 4-4-2 which was trotted out against Swansea to accommodate Somma saw Leeds embarrassed; 4-5-1 is by far our most effective tactic and today, Johnson and the excellent Howson bossed the midfield while Kilkenny looks to be finding a grittier attitude.
Snodgrass was again, excellent and tireless, if not wasteful on occasions but he is constantly getting into positions to create and to score. The same can be said of Gradel who really at the top of his game. He didn’t have as much success in skinning full backs today but his forward play was excellent. At the back it seemed Bromby, for the first half at least, was given the job of covering on the left to assist George McCartney which gave Gradel more freedom to get forward.
In truth, Gradel should’ve had at least four goals today and part of me hopes he is kicking himself that he didn’t at least get a hattrick.
Becchio had a hit and miss game for me, it looks as though he is all too aware that Somma and Billy Paynter are in the wings, ready for their chance to stake a claim for a starting place and despite his goal, he is less imposing week after week. That said, with Paynter still unable to register a goal and Somma unable to fulfil the lone front-man role, I don’t think Becchio should be overly concerned.
The full back situation doesn’t seem to be overly positive, Eric Lichaj seemed to struggle today – and did pick up a knock while McCartney had a decent game getting forward but sometimes struggles for position at the back.
Looking ahead, the next three matches are all winnable – starting with Preston on Tuesday, Ipswich next Saturday and Sheffield United the following week. That’s not to say I expect us to win. Preston may well be propping up the table but after their point today at Norwich, it won’t be easy. The match does promise goals aplenty. Ipswich have just beaten Cardiff so again, no means a banker but the chance to finally beat Sheffield United can surely come at no better time. They can’t buy a win and I won’t lie. I would quite like it if we put at least one of the nails in their relegation coffin.