“The path of my life is strewn with cowpats from the devil’s own satanic herd.”
Those were the words once desperately uttered by one Edmond Blackadder while in the midst of a particularly trying crisis, back in his Elizabethan era. It’s also a good way in which to view the challenges of a football season, the cowpats representative of the potential problems to negotiate over the 46 game journey.
I suppose if employing football parlance, the banana skin metaphor would be much more the default choice, but when it comes to discussing the issue of Barnsley, the cowpat seems a far more appropriate option; each encounter with our South Yorkshire foes leaving Leeds fans feeling tainted and downbeat, their psyches indelibly soiled.
Barnsley are of course just one of twenty-two cowpats, each vying to encroach into the Leeds team’s collective path. They just happen to be the most wholly effective cowpat in the Championship, always sneaking in under the radar to smear our season, taking advantage of a Leeds United gaze that always seems to be fixed on ‘bigger’ fixtures on the brow of the horizon rather than what lies in its immediate path.
The Barnsley cowpat is invariably effective; once caught off guard it takes hold in the tread of the shoes, it clings, almost impossible to shake off, yet year upon year, nobody in a white shirt ever thinks to bring the metaphorical twig needed to liberate the team from its captor. Again it was the same yesterday, Barnsley caught Leeds complacent, saw an opportunity, smothered them and then doggedly clung on as Leeds laboured to cleanse themselves of the stigma of more dropped points.
This is the way it has been at Elland Road ever since our return to the Championship (let’s no even go into our Oakwell visits), p*ssed away points and a bitter, lingering stench of an unwholesome afternoon. Only once have Leeds triumphed and even then it took a penalty that never was to secure a wholly undeserved victory: remembering back that the goalscorer that day was a certain Argentinian only served to sully yesterday’s misery further.
The absence of Becchio was something that resonated as the teams trudged off to a chorus of mumbles at half-time; although Leeds didn’t start the game in a blistering fashion, they did have the opportunities to sidestep the imposing excrement splodge by accruing an early two goal advantage. Both chances fell to Matt Smith, both were very presentable, both were frittered; the first time he was denied by the extended arm of the goalkeeper, the second was a rather more feeble strike that apologetically rolled into the hands of Jack Butland.
Had one or both chances been converted, it could’ve been an altogether better afternoon, but then again, we are talking about Barnsley, so who could say? As it was, the pre-match buzz fueled by a 30,000+ crowd, recent form and the prospect of investment trickled away, much in the same manner as Smith’s second effort.
It would be incredibly harsh to be overly critical of Smith, a man who’s still a relative newcomer to professional game and who spent more time warming Oldham’s bench last season, than he did on the pitch. The seven goals he has to his name already this season has probably exceeded the expectations of all but a few, but what Leeds need right now is a more reliable finisher, and have Smith to look upon as an option from the bench when circumstances demand a physical presence up top
What Leeds also need, as proven yesterday is that bona fide wide man; McDermott’s revelation that he was pondering putting the untried 18-year old, Gboly Ariyibi straight on the bench yesterday suggests as much. Barnsley stifled and Leeds struggled; the wing backs offered little going forward and the introduction of a confidence lacking Sam Byram did little to affect matters.
In contrast to second 45 minutes against Watford, the midfield stepped back rather than stepped up, but then again, perhaps grabbing hold of the ball and being brave is easier when a game looks lost, rather than when matters are level and expectation weighs heavily? Once Mowatt had departed, only McCormack seemed big enough to take some responsibility for making things happen, but what Leeds needed most of was similarly minded individuals who could exert a similar influence from behind him.
The result was a spirit sapping stalemate, not helped in any way it must be said by one of the most pedantic, puzzling refereeing displays of recent times which played into the hands of a Barnsley side, increasingly intent with breaking play up as time progressed. Even Tudgay’s premature exit following his crude lunge had a negligible effect on the course of the game. However, that should not mask the deficiencies of a Leeds showing that served to highlight the importance of the transfer window and the foolhardy assumption that Leeds can purely rely on the 3-5-2 system
The wing back system has been a success for McDermott, but the noises he’s been making clearly demonstrate that he feels Leeds need to have more than once option when the opposition is hard to break down; the side needs an individual who will run at players, stretch teams and make things happen, it also needs another regular goalscorer – if Gradel is fit and McDermott is confident he return to Leeds very much the player he left the club as, the desirability of his move is a ‘no brainer.’
As for the front man? The debate over Becchio will run for as long as the rumours persist. Is he good enough to play regular Premier League football? Possibly not, but let’s concentrate on getting there first. Can he play with McCormack? Well, it seems Ross is functioning pretty effectively playing off a target man at the moment, so why not with Luciano too?
There are maybe other, potentially better options out there, and the manager may yet surprise us, but Leeds could do with at the moment is a couple of ‘sure things’ if they are going to stage a promotion charge. Players who we know can cope with the expectations at the club and embrace it, rather than shy away.
The only sure thing that yesterday illustrated is that when Leeds have to produce, they are still that little bit short when it matters.
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