Norwich City 2 Leeds United 1
The more I see of this Leeds United squad and team the more I’m certain that it was never made of the right material to compete at the top end of the Championship in the first place! Yes we looked pretty good in those opening few games of the season against Bolton, Sunderland, Forest, Burton and Birmingham, but, as I've said many times before, the highest any of those sides reached this season was Forest in 17th! OK, we got a couple of goalless draws at Elland Road against Preston and Fulham too, but I think we can all remember that we could have lost those just as easily and they’ve both beaten us recently in the reverse fixtures. It is as clear as day now that this group has never actually been that well equipped.
Folk are complaining about Heckingbottom being a rubbish coach and that he’s changed very little in his short time with us, and although I have to agree that it would have been nice to see that ‘new manager bounce’ I’m still happy to see what he can do when (if) he is given a complete package to work with after the summer recruitment. We saw yet another game this weekend where I didn’t think we looked too bad a side for most of the game against a team that the table tells us is pretty much on a par with us and Hecky, in his post-match interviews got it pretty much spot on for me with his assessment. It isn’t heart and passion that is missing, despite many fans (and Noel Whelan of course!) suggesting it is, or even work rate; it’s simply that some of the key attributes a top side in the Championship needs are missing, and they have been missing all season. Hecky himself pointed out how few 50 – 50 challenges we win, how few balls in the air we win, how we are so poor at game management. I’ve been writing about all those failings all season – even under TC we had these problems and they are so fundamental that I don’t care who the coach is, they will never get much more out of this group of players than either TC or Hecky is getting.
We all know this of course if we are honest about it; how many times have we all had that conversation about how the strong spine of the team we had last year was taken away so early in the season – the experience and safe hands of Rob Green was replaced by the nervy weakness that was Felix Wiedwald; the calm, organising, clear thinking Kyle Bartley was replaced with a whole series of young centre backs who just don’t have that leadership and dominating presence that Bartley brought us and which Pontus needs alongside him for him to function well; and of course in losing Chris Wood we lost big bloke who, though not the best striker in the country, at least knew the Championship (or had learned it after a difficult start) and seemed to know where the target was. All that was gone and not replaced.
The players that have come in are not all bad but they are not experienced in the Championship and they don’t seem to be learning very quickly either! We have no leaders (another conversation we’ve all been having all season) we are, in the main a small, light team that easily gets bullied and pushed off the ball all over the pitch and hence why we win so few of those 50 50 balls or balls in the air. Hecky knows all this and if he can work with Orta to find a few players with these missing attributes and if we can keep the best of the rest we already have, then I am still confident we can have a much better go at the Championship next season. I still don’t think we have any strong evidence that Heckingbottom would not be able to do this job.
So, we went to Norwich and got ourselves into a great position, a goal up with 6 minutes of the first half to go and we’d looked OK. But that game management, the ability to know when it’s safe to linger on the ball and when it’s not (and 6 minutes from half-time it most definitely is not!) , caught us out again. Vieira dallied, Norwich robbed him and broke away and the football gods contrived to provide them with one of the most outlandish pieces of good fortune I’ve ever seen as the ball looped up off a Leeds boot, kissed both posts, and somehow spun into the net!
Second half we again started well but it was clear the young players were desperately looking for some leadership and there was none and eventually the physical weakness we have told as Norwich consistently and fairly easily won the ball back and attacked both flanks almost at will. Sooner or later we were going to concede and we did and that was another game lost that most other sides would have won or drawn.
There are some aspects of Hecky’s approach that confuse me on occasions – the constant replacement of Alioski by Grot confuses the hell out of me! Small as he is I felt Alioski had been one of our more “terrier” like players, one of the few who was getting in the Norwich players faces and winning the ball back… Grot just can’t do that and that change for me consigned us to defeat more than any other aspect. Why Grot wears 11 and plays on the wing I can’t fathom at all!
But I still am not clamouring for Heckingbottom to be sacked and will not until I can see him work with something better than he currently has – all you folk who want him out now may have better insight than me and you may one day be proved right…. But for me I want more evidence than we’ve had so far before ditching yet another coach!
Norwich C Leeds Utd
Possession 51% 49%
Shots 18 15
On Target 5 5
Corners 9 3
Fouls 9 15