Brentford 1 (Benrahma 25)
Leeds United 0 (Cooper 38)
The only problems Leeds have had during this poor run of results (I hesitate to say 'form') since Christmas has been a rash of silly mistakes and poor defending at set pieces and a lack of a clinical finish here and there. For the most part we’ve continued to play well in the middle third of the pitch and we’ve always dominated the possession. On Saturday at the City Ground the game went exactly to the recent template; the mistakes gave two goals to Forest and our poor finishing meant we couldn’t get back on terms and three points went Forest’s way. Tonight at Griffin Park the error was still there and the poor finishing was still evident too but we got a break this time to get the draw our play deserved. This is a division of fine margins. The big question remains though as to how long Bielsa will keep flogging the same horse when most sane people would agree we really need to make some personnel changes to try to address the obvious shortcomings we are seeing every week. Bielsa keeps talking of finding solutions but that doesn’t appear to include trying different players.
Tonight the spotlight fell on Kiko Casilla. After being beaten at his near post on Saturday and with the statistics telling us he is stopping all too few of the shots coming his way this season, most fans reckoned he’d had enough chances and should’ve been dropped. Bielsa said prior to the game he had no problem with Kiko and had confidence in him but he’s gone out and committed another howler tonight that , on another day, could well have cost all three points. Surely now the time has come, before Kiko makes a complete fool out of Bielsa as well as himself, to leave him out? We saw a masterful display of goalkeeping from Illan Meslier at Arsenal in the cup that showed he clearly is not affected by nerves, OK he’s young , but let’s give the lad the chance to show he’s ready, and take Kiko out of the firing line – both physically and metaphorically.
Up front our options are more limited; today the best chances fell to our wingers – Costa and Harrison – and both have been guilty of missed chances before in the recent past. Today again neither particularly excelled in crossing the ball either but, of the two, Helder Costa looks the one who could do with a spell on the side lines. Is Ian Poveda ready to step up? I’m not sure, as we’ve not seen enough of him yet. Could we move Pablo out wide again to try to ignite his fire? We have the option of Big Kev too but his little cameo tonight was similar to the one he gave at Forest, he looks the part but it’s also hard to disagree with Bielsa’s assessment that, with so little football under his belt this season, he’s probably not ready to start a game any time soon. That’s a pity as we are still missing that clinical finisher everyone knows we desperately need in the side to up that damn conversion rate, either in place of, or alongside, Patrick Bamford who was again hardly involved in this game just as he struggled to make an impact at Forest. His two goals (against Millwall), in eight starts, is not enough for the number 9 in a promotion chasing side and his fabled “hold up play” has become a rare and not always perfect thing in recent games.
So, we got a point at Brentford, a rare thing in itself at a ground where we have not won since 1950, but in essence nothing has changed from Saturday or any other recent game. OK we had the stabilising influence of Kalvin Phillips back tonight and that helped us control the defensive side of midfield better, but the stats showed the game was very similar; overwhelming possession, 13 attempts – almost double the home side which is acknowledged as one of the best attacking sides in the division – and another ten corners, one of which did lead to the equaliser. I think what I’m cautioning is that we have not yet altered the fundamental dynamic of our side; we have a confidence lacking goalkeeper, we have the same defence that will still look as dodgy at corners next week as it did last week, and we still don’t have a clinical finisher in the side. Until we address those issues with new personnel we cannot automatically assume we have “turned a corner” as many were saying straight after this historic final game at Griffin Park (assuming we don’t come back in the play-offs!). it was a decent result but I don't see that it gives us any more or less confidence that we'll win next time out.
We face Bristol City, another promotion hopeful, on Saturday at Elland Road and, if we start with the same XI as tonight why would we expect our problems to magically disappear? Just because we got a point at Brentford? Does that really make any sense? If we still change nothing there is just as much chance of a mistake costing us the game as there is of us sneaking a win. We still need to change something to increase the odds in our favour.
Brentford Leeds Utd
Possession 33% 67%
Shots 7 13
On Target 2 6
Corners 3 10
Fouls Committed 8 8