‘Shy, giving, thoughtful, bald 52 year old man seeks young, enthusiastic, creative types for good times. Those not interested in meaningful, long term relationships need not apply. Box no. 4132‘
After looking a little bit short of personnel for most of the season, yesterday marked the first time where frankly, Leeds just looked a little bit awful; in cohorts with a disciplined Burnley outfit, the diamond formation, designed to maximise what we have, served to strangle the life out of any meaningful threat Leeds could muster.
In the middle of the pitch, players stepped on each others toes, but in contrast the flanks remained an abandoned wasteland; tumbleweed danced in the autumn sunshine where once ball players bounded, shimmied and seduced. When the ball did find players in advanced positions out wide, it was typically Varney or Diouf who’d then survey the expanse of the 18 yard box, more often than not to find a dearth of white shirts obligingly queueing up to attack any incoming delivery; McCormack, twitter elected saviour of the masses, remained all too anonymous, offering an option on the edge the box, rather than along the corridor of uncertainty – another player shying away from making things happen in an area where ultimately, most things in football do. The return of Byram (and White, if you’re inclined to still have any faith in him) had too brought with it the promise of greater width, but he was seldom found.
Truth be told, defeat appeared likely from the early exchanges. Leeds despite having much of the ball, looked collectively baffled as a unit in terms of how they could use it. Burnley’s back eight smothered the play with comparative ease as Leeds struggled to find space and stretch play.
Scott Arfield’s 18th minute goal had a touch of inevitability about it. Burnley assumed the mantle of the team ‘most likely’ from the kick-off and it was hard to dispute they merited a lead; the circumstances in which it arrived though were rather less palatable – Paddy Kenny will surely have serious misgivings about how it was possible to concede from such a tight angle.
Yet…yet, it could still have been so different. Just as fine margins decided the destination of three points at the Madejski Stadium, so they could’ve altered the entire mood and course of the afternoon at Elland Road. Only a minute previous, Ross McCormack had made himself some space down the right and swung over a cross for Luke Varney, with time and space both plentiful commodities, there was almost an inevitability about the outcome. A firm header, back in the direction from whence the ball came is all that was required, what Varney produced was something confounding, even by his own standards; a header so harmless and that looped so high, it could’ve afforded him the time to dig a hole on the pitch in which to be swallowed, by time it had completed it’s orbital path and returned to Earth at gentle velocity.
Had Varney’s header not taken on such an unexpected course, then the match could’ve done. Sadly, for all his graft, Varney’s not a natural in front of goal and his chances of converting opportunities appear to recede, the more time he has to think about them. It wasn’t the first time this week I’d visualised the silhouette of a solemn Luciano walking his dog along the beach at Cromer and pondered the futility of club and player’s relative situations.
One more good Varney opportunity apart (a good instinctive turn to get into a goalscoring position, a poor finish once he’d worked the opening), leaving the pitch with just a one goal deficit seemed the best Leeds could realistically aim for, shambolic defending ensured otherwise. This time a throw-in, deep in Leeds territory, Kightly received the ball and delivered it between the two centre halves to an unmarked Vokes, his header was saved by Kenny but Vokes, never the nippiest on his feet still had the time to follow up his initial effort to stroke the ball home.
Where to start? The free header – bad. Kenny’s inability to push away the ball more effectively – very bad. The lack of a reaction to spare Kenny – abysmal. Aidy White, playing at left back took up a reasonable position at the throw-in, on guard to the possibility of the return pass, but once Burnley opted to look infield, where did he go? Back toward a defensive position from where he could cover for Kenny’s aberration? No, when the ball was struck home he was stood 30 yards up the pitch…answers on a postcard.
Minutes later White sought redemption, making a rare positive foray into the opponents box. A hint of a nudge from an opponent followed and White sprawled downward; the Kop cried penalty, I was torn between taking the opportunity to vent at a generally terrible referee and wondering whether White had gone down that little bit too easily. Moments later the whistle sounded, the expected stifled boos for a lame performance giving way to a rather more vitriolic condemnation of officialdom.
The pattern of the first half continued into the second. The introduction of Poleon added a dimension of pace down the left, but the youngster’s profligacy in front of goal and general lack of awareness when better options present themselves ensured Leeds were no more productive in the final third. In the middle of the pitch, the home side were forever more plodding in their play, Diouf and Tonge drifted about in an oneiric manner, their gait and lack of urgency in sharp contrast to what was required; Burnley were able to deal with everything at a canter, rarely stretched.
Matt Smith entered the fray for the final 15 minutes, McDermott’s final throw of the dice and essentially an acknowledgement of a creatively bankrupt showing, passing in harmless triangles was eschewed, route one the chosen option for the final leg of the journey. To a fair degree it worked as Smith won everything launched at him, showing in the process some pleasingly deft touches in laying the ball off to those around him. When his first Championship goal arrived it was wholly merited, as even after a mere 4 minutes on the pitch he’d made a greater attacking impact than any of those present for all 79 had managed.
The goal re-injected a degree of excitement for the final 15 minutes or so of aerial assault, the scale of which would’ve doubtless been enough to have the previous incumbent of the Elland Road ‘hot seat’ self-pleasuring himself at the spectacle. Burnley wobbled and opportunities as came and went, but Leeds failed to snatch a draw that would’ve been as undeserved as the Reading defeat was.
Leeds are really struggling now for goals. We need midfield that plays across the pitch, rather than exclusively around the centre of it, the reinstatement of our only prolific goalscorer to a position from which he can deliver more goals, a partner for him to play off and somebody to provide them both with a degree of service in the first place – on the basis of the last four league games, Leeds really now need a winger and a striker if the momentum created is not to be checked.
Diamond’s aren’t forever.
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