Leeds United 1 (Bamford 90+1)
Norwich City 3 (Vrancic 5, 78, Pukki 35)
Marcelo Bielsa once again came out after the game and put this defeat down to a failure to put away our chances (we hit the target just 6 times from 21 attempts scoring just one goal) and a loss of ‘defensive solidity’. It is becoming a familiar summary from the great man as he’s mentioned the same failings numerous times since the turn of the year during this run of games that has seen us go down to 4 league defeats in 6 games with just those wins against Derby and Rotherham in that period. In hindsight that scintillating performance against Derby now appears like an oasis of brilliance and I do now wonder how much of that display was brought about by Derby being totally inept that day as opposed to Leeds being that good!
The worry for me is that these key failings were the very same failings we exhibited throughout that disastrous post-Christmas phase last season and with very similar personnel. We Leeds fans have frequently expressed our incredulity at how Bielsa managed to dramatically improve the players we saw struggling at the end of last season under Heckingbottom to become the side that, at one time, looked the best in the Championship this time. Perhaps, the Bielsification of our squad has not been quite as radical as we thought. A sloppy defence and uncertain finishing have been key features in all of the recent defeats and even in those battling victories over Villa and Blackburn at the end of last year. We keep giving away soft goals and, at the other end, we are nowhere near clinical enough in our finishing. Many of our wins have come courtesy of a bit of luck here and there or a major catastrophe for the opposition. As recently as last weekend we got a bit of the rub of the green as that ball bounced nicely off Klich’s boot onto his shoulder and back to ground.
Quite what the great man can do to sort out these problems is hard to see, especially if, after all, they are actually inherent failings of the squad he has largely inherited. We saw a chink of light perhaps in the way Patrick Bamford rose to put away that header for our consolation goal this evening; that may be a sign of better finishing to come if this time Bamford stays fit and he finally gets a run in the side.
Quite what Marcelo can do to improve our “defensive solidity” I’m not sure though, as we thought that once Pontus and Coops resumed together that problem would be fixed too. I have a feeling that we will see Kalvin Phillips resume in front of those two up at the Riverside to try to find the defensive strength that we exuded at the start of the season although actually, our best defensive run came in our 7 consecutive league victories when Kalvin played all bar one of those games at centre back himself with either Coops or Pontus absent for all the others!
One thing is clear to me though; something has to change. Middlesbrough will be fresh from a fine win against West Brom, they will be full of confidence and they will be looking to profit from any defensive slips we suffer. We all still remember I am sure the three defensive cock-ups we suffered at the Riverside this time last season when we all fought through the snow and ice to get there. It was one of Patrick Bamford’s finest hours of course as it was he who pounced each time to end the night with a hat-trick. Football is a funny old game so wouldn’t it be uncanny if he could now do it for us up there?
Leeds Utd Norwich City
Possession 63% 37%
Shots 21 14
On Target 6 5
Corners 4 4
Fouls 16 14