Preston N E 2 (Browne 57, Millar 89)
Leeds United 1 (Struijk pen 83)
26th December, 2023, EFL Championship.
There is something very predictable about Leeds United this season; every time we look to be on the point of closing the gap to the top two when facing a beatable opponent, we mess up! Once again today, our trip to Deepdale, on the Back of that swashbuckling demolition of Ipswich and with them facing a tough game against Leicester, looked like a great chance to take another step closer to the Tractor Boys… almost guaranteed we thought, as long as we turned up! We didn’t of course.
Daniel Farke has to decipher why we regularly fail to step up to the plate in these winnable games if we are to continue to stay in the race with the top two. There seems no consistent reason for it although the one common denominator is the fact that we didn’t turn up – Birmingham, Stoke, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham and now Preston all fall into this category. There is always a secondary factor, and usually it’s a matter of Leeds shooting themselves in the foot with ever more creative ridiculousness!
And so it was today. No, Leeds didn’t turn up, certainly not in the way we turned up last week against Ipswich. We looked far less aggressive in the press, far less certain with our passing, less mobile and less creative. Preston were no better and the first half was a very forgettable 45 minutes of football. The only slight worry, clear for all to see, was that Archie Gray was being found out again against a very good winger, as he has been once or twice during his otherwise excellent spell as a full back this season. Maybe today was the day for Daniel Farke to pull him out of the action and put a right footed full back in his place; we had two available today of course in Sam Byram and Djed Spence and a left footer on the bench should we have desired to switch Djed. We did nothing instead.
We were getting towards the hour mark and I’d resigned myself to the fact that, it was just one of those days, just dig in boys, don’t do anything daft and let’s get back on the coaches with a point. I should have foreseen though that this was a classic “shoot ourselves in the foot” opportunity. It was a time for sensible, cautious game management, a time for everyone to be disciplined and to guard against controversy. What do we do? We get dragged into a fracas for no good reason. Illan Meslier, our hero earlier in the game when he saved well a rare Preston shot, decides that today he’ll switch to pantomime villain. I don’t care how much he was goaded; Whiteman knew what he was doing and he was certainly not playing the white man. I don’t care that Milutin Osmajic went down holding his face as if he’d been punched by Mike Tyson – we were in the last third of a game in which we were not playing well, for goodness sake Illan, play the odds. If you put your hands up towards the head of an opponent, most refs will feel they have to send you off! DON’T DO IT!, YOU HAVE A PROMOTION TO WIN. As we have seen too often, the Preston player showed far more cleverness, awareness, than Illan.
So, Illan messed up and I hope he gets the biggest bollocking of all time from Farke and I hope he’s given a lesson in game management. It was then oh so predictable that, four minutes later, we’d get done by another age old weakness. We saw it against Coventry; one cross into the box and we succumbed then and now we got caught again. A simple cross, Djed Spence this time beaten in the air and Browne headed home. Argh! It looked like we’d tossed the game away.
And then, we were saved; Dan James went over theatrically, another very weak referee bought it in the same way he bought the earlier Mike Tyson imitation, and our new Captain Courageous, Pascal Struijk strode up and planted a perfect spot-kick into the corner of the Preston net! It was a magical moment of retribution, the football gods had evened up the score! Now, just manage the game out for the final few minutes and run down the tunnel with the point.
We couldn’t do it. The football gods hadn’t yet punished us for not addressing that right back vulnerability. And, hey presto, Liam Millar beats Archie all ends up, glides past Mat Joseph, a recent sub, and curls an unstoppable shot into the far corner. Really, we only have ourselves to blame.
So, what did we learn. Well, nothing new. Archie has often been terrific at right back… but he isn’t a right back. We have right backs available, surely it’s the logical and sensible thing to use one? Ditto a left back. We need to be more disciplined. We need to work on dealing with high crosses. And we need to understand how to close a game out, whether we are leading or drawing, and particularly when we are a man down.
Where does it leave us? Well, as I write, Leicester are beating Ipswich so maybe no ground lost to them, but Southampton’s unbeaten run goes on as they walloped Swansea 5 – 0 today and West Brom are looking menacing too; we go to the Hawthorns on Friday of course in another big game. Do we make changes this time? Freshen it up? Daniel Farke told us he would during this Christmas period yet you’d have thought today was the day for that… not Friday against a promotion rival. Daniel Farke moves in mysterious ways though so watch this space.
Preston N E Leeds
Possession 44% 56%
Shots 13 11
On Target 4 2
Corners 5 6
Fouls 22 12