Leeds 1-2 Barnsley
On a gloomy afternoon at Elland Road, Barnsley emerged victorious from a Yorkshire derby in which they displaced an enviable professionalism in executing Keith Hill’s game plan.
Simon Grayson made the surprising decision to include Luciano Becchio from the start, as well as keeping faith with the continuingly ineffective Lloyd Sam. At the back, the enforced absence of Darren O’Dea meant Tom Lees started in defence.
Despite the fact that Ross McCormack and Andy Keogh’s partnership has experience and, discounting the past half dozen matches… It is a partnership which has proved, above others, it is effective.
Becchio, since a longer than anticipated absence from injury has made no concerted impact to merit a return to the starting line up and it can only be assumed (save for some superhero performances in training) that his return was through reputation alone. His partnerships through substitutions have produced very little and largely consist of him being on the opposite end of the pitch to his partner; whilst winning very little in the air and even less on the ground.
On the flip side, it must be said that Grayson cannot rely entirely on one partnership which has failed to produce enough goals in the last seven or so matches, whilst on the same token, Becchio needs games to attempt to return to the form which had been so influential pre-injury. However Leeds have failed to produce anything in the way of convincing performances in recent weeks, stemming from slow starts and a lack of urgent pressure on opposing sides and gambling at home with the inclusion of Becchio, into a partnership that was in its very infancy, contributed in the large part to the defeat.
To the match and Leeds, after numerous slow starts this season, seemed to have a resurgence about them; defending from the front, harrying and pressuring all over the pitch, with Jonny Howson setting the example but Rob Snodgrass’ shot and run was all Leeds had to show for the early possession.
The excellent Jacob Butterfield had a glorious chance to give Barnsley the lead but his header was off target whilst at the other end, Aidy White was booked for taking a tumble into the box as the referee got his first involvement.
Barnsley set out their stall early on, for all Leeds’ efforts; they couldn’t break through, barely even able to muster a telling attack on the away goal as they sniffed out possession and were comfortable as Leeds looked to attack.
Predictably though, Leeds fell behind with 25 minutes gone; Sam slipped as he looked to deal with a Barnsley throw in and Aidy White was caught as Jim O’Brien capitalised on the space behind White to square for Ricardo Vaz Te. His scuffed shot seemed to deflect up and over the helpless Alex McCarthy who had already gone to ground.
Lees and Kisnorbo both had efforts blocked at the other end as Leeds tried desperately to get back into the game but Barnsley were in control.
Defensive hesitations then allowed Barnsley to double their lead before half time as Butterfield’s fierce shot was palmed to the feet of Craig Davis by McCarthy and with Lees and Patrick Kisnorbo failing to react; Davis had a simple tap in.
The half time whistle went amid boos and jeers from the stands as Leeds faced yet another uphill struggle, to get anything from the game would be a huge achievement but the questions remained. With the mentality now seemingly embedded into the players that Leeds will go behind, Grayson still has it all to do to reverse this frighteningly frustrating trend.
After the break, Leeds emerged with renewed vigour. McCormack came close while Snodgrass curled a trademark shot against the far post with Luke Steele beaten. Sadly for Leeds, it didn’t beat the post and Barnsley escaped.
With 55mins gone, Becchio was hauled down and had a free kick a good 25yards out; Leeds had a chance. The game though, had been devoid of any real class and was crying out for a moment of brilliance; a single effort that would bring Leeds back into the game.
Cometh the man, as they say. McCormack stepped up and whipped an unstoppable shot past Steele to give Leeds hope. For a moment at least, the score-line was irrelevant as the home fans savoured a moment of pure class as McCormack netted his first in seven matches.
Grayson looked to grab the initiative, finally bringing on the lively Ramon Nunez for the ineffective Sam; it gave Leeds a lift as Nunez immediately looked to get involved. Not long after, Becchio was subbed for Keogh and Leeds looked purposeful but before they’d managed any real impact, the game was killed off and McCormack was inexplicably taken off for Danny Pugh.
Barnsley had weathered the worst of the pressure and without the invention and runs of McCormack, Leeds had run out of what little ideas they possessed. Grayson moved Pugh to left back, looking in part to remove the booked White out of any possible risky positions and for the first time since, possibly last season, Leeds set out with a 4-5-1.
It was too little too late though, Barnsley could’ve added to their tally had substitute Nile Ranger got on the end of O’Brien’s shot, while White cleared off the line from Matt Done.
As Leeds desperately sought an equaliser, Nunez hesitated on the edge of the box when he might’ve taken the shot early but Steele recovered and the danger passed. Steele had to adjust well to stop David Perkins heading into his own net. Perkins then cynically brought down Adam Clayton to receive a second yellow.
Despite the scoreline, Barnsley never appeared in real danger of losing this one; executing their game plan, they knew their roles and made Leeds look extremely average.
Again post match, Grayson looked at the positives, it had been a better start with more urgency and Howson had arguably put in his most impressive shift all season but after the smash and grabs at Leicester and Burnley, it was only a matter of time before Leeds would be exposed.
Arguably, the line up today was nearly our strongest:
McCarthy (Lonergran) Connolly Kisnorbo Lees White Snodgrass Clayton Howson Sam (Nunez) McCormack Becchio (Keogh)
Save for Lonners (injury), Nunez and Keogh, the latter of whom will probably (hopefully) start on Tuesday against Nottingham Forest, this is the best we have – in my opinion.
Leeds haven’t had the impact on games in the same manner as last season when a 4-5-1 was deployed. Obviously, the personnel has changed, Clayton replaced Neil Kilkenny whilst no adequate replacement has emerged for Max Gradel who we miss more than ever.
In summer, Grayson continually said he was happy with the strength of the side and despite Gradel’s relatively late sale to St. Etienne, no telling steps into the transfer market – loan or otherwise, have been made. With the events surrounding Andy O’Brien unfolding and the subsequent failure of the club – for whatever reason, be it his or otherwise, means Leeds are left with very little in the way of quality cover; a problem not lost on Dom Matteo
“I looked through their squad and saw nothing to suggest that automatic promotion was possible.”
http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk Nov 24 2011
Even me, with the memory of an amnesic goldfish can remember the amount of times we have all remarked on the lack of any quality strength in depth and even with the closure of the emergency loan market, nothing was addressed.
I don’t like loans, on the whole. Some have been successful, like Gradel’s but more have promised so much and delivered so little and at great cost to the club in terms of points and of course, money. O’Brien probably doesn’t care what happens to his career now, at a suitable age for retirement, his successful loan spell at the club paved the way to the best paid contract at the club despite a subsequently mediocre spell on the pitch.
We’re now left with a dazed and confused O’Dea, a Kisnorbo who, with the greatest of respects is a shadow (and a good few yards off) the player he was before a serious Achilles injury, Tom Lees and Leigh Bromby who seems to shoot himself in the foot whenever he gets a chance in the first team.
With three getting a realistic look in at the back, it leaves little in the way of cover; Connolly can play central defence but frankly, he needs all the time in the world to concentrate at right back.
What I’m trying to get at is there needs to be some serious business in January; Bates has voiced his disapproval at Leeds’ position in the table, which even after this defeat; belies the real problems at the club. (5th we may be, but we’re also just 9pts off the relegation spots and a more concerning 11pts behind leaders Southampton; while 4pts separate ten teams, from Leeds in 5th to Derby in 15th)
There seems to be something festering away in the players mentality which may well be borne off the personal relations within the club, that’s anyone guess but the apathy off the pitch is exacerbated by the problems on it.
Bates is clearly restless; this ‘meeting’ to discuss the problems on the pitch seems to have done less than nothing to solve them, other to publically highlight the chairman’s cooling relationship with Grayson who may well end up being the fall guy before Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong, Grayson is not untouchable in all this; looking at the current squad, most (in bold) are Grayson’s signings.
That leaves academy graduates and Snodgrass and Becchio who joined in the summer before Grayson’s arrival.
Scores of loan players have subsequently come and gone under his tutelage; take money out of the equation and arguably Grayson has done extremely well to guide Leeds to finishes no lower than seventh, the latter of which was Leeds’ first season back in the Championship after promotion the previous season.
The defence have long leaked more goals than one would expect going by the league positions the club have finished in since Grayson’s arrival while the left side of the pitch rarely errs on this side of solid. Against Barnsley, it was the academy players who showed the most passion and urgency but we cannot rely on youngsters to carry a side which is crying out for a leader. But fair play for getting McCarthy on loan; it’s just a shame he isn’t a permanent replacement for the hapless Paul Rachubka who has since joined Tranmere on loan.
Adam Clayton’s early season promise has ebbed away quicker than Gradel’s transfer fee into the East Stand development and the injuries to Davide Somma (remember him?) and Andy Lonergran have knocked the psyche of the squad.
So, where next? Well, Forest away; in lowly 20th place in the league no doubt. Still, they are a force to be reckoned with; inconsistency has dogged their season since the departure of Schteve McLaren however with the pressure of the Elland Road crowd off their backs, the players will look to thrive away from home. Another smash and grab? Probably.