‘You have brains in your feet, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose’
Those are the inspiring words of Dr. Seuss, his message being that if you’re equipped with the basic tools and have the necessary drive and ambition, anything’s achievable. It’s pretty difficult to believe this of the current Leeds United team, so something must be missing, right?
Well, taking a step back to reflect upon yesterday’s game at Ewood Park, you’d be hard pressed to isolate the players’ inability to put on football boots correctly as a root cause…even in Luke Varney’s case. That leaves us with a team that either lacks brains or drive; on the basis of the 90 minutes, a combination of the two seems to be the case.
It was a game where Leeds turned for up en masse in the stands, but barely at all on the pitch. For the opening half hour Leeds matched their hosts without ever imposing themselves, they had an air of expectation about them, rather than determination, as if a three game winning run almost entitled them to goals. As such, Leeds didn’t once trouble the goalkeeper in the first half hour. However, when they finally did, Jake Kean should’ve been using his hands to retrieve the ball from the back of net, as opposed employing his legs to block it from reaching its intended destination.
A long punt upfield from Lees was nodded down by Varney in the direction of McCormack, a deft flick later and Danny Pugh was clear on goal 12 yards out…some say putting the ball in the back of the net is the hardest thing to do in football – here we had Exhibit ‘A’ in the case for the prosecution. Awful, awful miss.
And that was it! The sum total of Leeds’ attacking threat for the half. Reprieved, Blackburn stepped up the tempo and Leeds began chasing shadows. Much like the Middlesbrough game, the only functioning part of the Leeds team was the back five; while the midfield saw the enough of ball, they had little clue how to use it, the wing backs found touch rather than team mates running the channels, while the forwards found themselves shackled and frustrated.
Blackburn in contrast were becoming more fluid and Chris Taylor (yes, that Chris Taylor) was causing problems, constantly finding himself space between the Leeds midfield and defence. Both he and David Dunn stretched Paddy Kenny as an opening goal loomed ominously, in the depths of injury time it duly arrived. It came courtesy of more careless play from Leeds, Rodolph Austin found himself caught in possession when a simple pass to Peltier would’ve left Blackburn exposed in their defensive third, instead Rovers broke forward and by the time Leeds were next able to register a significant punt forward, it was having retrieved the ball from the back of the net, Tommy Spurr losing Tom Lees to drive the ball home. More set piece misery.
Promotion winning sides have a steel and cohesiveness about them, Leeds lacked it in the first half, too many individuals expecting things to happen as opposed to trying to make things happen. At the moment, this is the story too often.
Come the second half, a little more determination was evident; it shouldn’t have taken 45 minutes to surface, but it was at least reassuring to welcome that infuriatingly unreliable beast back to the fold. If only it could be made to stick around all the time. Sadly, greater possession served only to highlight the collective lack of imagination in the side. Dr. Seuss might’ve been good for the odd inspirational soundbite, but I can’t help thinking he’d struggle to be so ebullient about the possibilities for those whose brains were in their a**es.
Leeds laboured, and laboured and laboured some more. Quantity of possession was up, quality of possession, not so. The change of system to 5-3-2 has helped Leeds win games, but with Peltier and Pugh as wing backs it appears an uncomfortable fit when chasing a game. On 59 minutes a double substitution saw the introduction of Byram and Smith, the former in an attempt to provide greater attacking width down the right, the latter an admittance that as a creative unit, Leeds were failing miserably.
So the die was cast for the final half hour. Leeds players looking for options, finding few options and instead deciding to ‘hit the big man’. Smith for his part did what he could and but for an uncharitable refereeing display, peppered with double standards, may have even gotten Leeds a barely deserved penalty. As it was, the closest Leeds came was a shot that Austin screwed into the side netting from 8 yards out.
Leeds went into this game with three consecutive wins under their belt, buoyed with the breaking news of fresh investment and backed by almost 7,000 supporters, yet played the game as if they were going through the motions, until the point at which it was too late.
The fact that the team kicked-off the game in the play-off positions, despite clearly not being one of the six strongest sides in the division, is clear evidence of where concerted hard graft can take you. Past seasons are littered with numerous examples of teams that have heeded the words of Dr. Seuss and steered themselves in the direction that they chose. Leeds are still capable of doing so, especially should this new investment materialise, but it’ll take a hell of a more than they showed at Ewood Park.
When the final whistle came it was met with shrugs of indifference and a few half hearted claps. Not the legend of promotion campaigns. More quality, more thought, and as an absolute minimum, more hunger is needed from the off. 6727 fans started the game full of passion, there’s little excuse for the 11 players decked in Leeds colours not doing the same.
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