Leeds’ chances of automatic promotion look to have all but disappeared after they succumbed meekly to a valiant Sheffield United, losing 2-0 at Bramall Lane.
Top scorers in the league and confident in the play off places, on paper it looked like a straight forward victory but visits down the M1 have rarely ended in 3pts for Leeds.
Barry Bannan came in for Neil Kilkenny in midfield while Luciano Becchio lead the line. For Sheffield United, Michael Doyle and Shane Lowry faced their former club.
From the outset, Leeds struggled to get into the game. Robert Snodgrass took an early knock as the home side signalled their intent. They may well be sitting uncomfortably in the relegation places but Leeds’ utter inability to assert themselves meant the home side created chance after chance and as the first half drew to a close, only several top saves from Kasper Schmeichel kept the scores level.
With George McCartney struggling down the left where both goals originated, Schmeichel was left to spare his blushes, palmed away two shots whilst also smothering at the feet of Daniel Bogdanovic.
Leeds didn’t work Steve Simonsen in the home goal once in the first half, with Max Gradel particularly wasteful as he looked to take on Sheffield United single handedly. McCartney tried to get forward and Johnson tried to be creative but it is not a role that comes naturally to him. The lack of movement and urgency from the Leeds midfield was unacceptably poor today.
The 2nd half was a continuation of Sheffield United pressure and it was no surprise when they scored. Eric Lichaj in the wrong place as he inadvertently turned Nick Montgomery’s low cross past Schmeichel. It was no less than they deserved and as Leeds’ heads went down, it was clear the match was only going to end one way.
Bjorn Helger Riise, lesser known brother of John Arne, then sealed the points with a low finish from a couple yards out. Substitutions were too late to make a real difference for Leeds and Billy Paynter’s only impact was on Lowry. The full back claimed he had been stamped on and despite the linesman signalling nothing more than a Leeds throw in, a long conversation and furious gesticulations from Lowry resulted in Paynter heading down the tunnel without a whif of a complaint.
There’s not much to say about the game for me in terms of football. The reason we lost was, according to Simon Grayson, that too many players were playing for themselves. He might as well have said Gradel was leading that particular charge.
Sheffield United are on the verge of relegation, after a good few seasons chasing the play offs, a succession of average appointments have left them teetering on the brink of League 1 and being able to reignite pleasentaries with Sheffield Wednesday but today they showed they’re not beaten just yet.
It’s not even the fact that we lost which frustrates me, it’s the manner in which we did so. Second to every ball and seemingly devoid of the ability to carry out the most simple tasks; the midfield was largley absent as Doyle had an uncharacteristically solid match while everyone except Bannan seemed determined to hoof the ball whenever possible. Leeds barely managed half a dozen passes in succession as time and time again, Bromby and Johnson in particular were guilty of some woefully short cross field passes.
The difference was that for today at least, the Sheffield United players recognised their shortfalls but made up for it with bags of determination and guts. Strong in the challenge and dominant in the air, they were rarely troubled by Leeds’ attacks.
Take Schmeichel and Bannan out the side today and the outcome could’ve been far worse; they were the only ones who could claim any moral standing after the game having tried everything to keep and get Leeds into the game. Bannan looks wonderfully composed on the ball and did what Kilkenny normally does in central midfield. Unlike the rest of the team, he constantly had the presence of mind to pick out the pass, to players in space and more importantly, put the ball to feet.
Looking forward, with 2 weeks off owing to the international break, Grayson could do worse than to experiment with another formation. Becchio probably had fewer touches than Schmeichel today and frankly never got a sniff. Now without Paynter for 3 matches, Grayson could do worse than to try Davide Somma up front with Becchio or use Ross McCormack in a supporting role.
In midfield I’d like to see the more tenacious Bannan come into midfield. Baring in mind he only comes up to my knee, he might not carry the physical presence Johnson does but he showed today he is far more capable with the ball at his feet and in the tackle. Regardless, I doubt we’ll see that combo any time soon. Jonny Howson is unlikely to be dropped any time soon and without any tangibly capable replacement, it’s no surprise but when Leeds needed their captain most, he was largely ineffective and absent for most of the match.
Snodgrass and Gradel have had great seasons so far, the latter is certainly a shoe-in for player of the year at this moment in time but when they run into cul-de-sacs, Leeds have very little else in terms of an outlet. They have both looked off the pace and jaded in recent weeks.
A lot of fans across the leagues have been talking about football fans’ fickle nature; football is a fickle game but that aside, I’ve said it often enough; Leeds are capable of more. It wouldn’t be as frustrating if a better team had played us off the park today, if Leeds had made the effort but today there was none of that (minus Bannan and Schmeichel). It felt like the squad turned up today, took one look at the table and just assumed they’d walk it. Unfortunately they took that rather literally. With eight games remaining, there’s no room for complacency, even less so when we face four of the top eight teams (as things stand).
All in all, a rubbish away day. Oh and the pie was horrendous.
On on on.