Leeds United 0
Preston North End 2 (Johnson 2, pen, Barker 45+1)
As irrelevant as our exit from the Carabao Cup is in the context of this season’s main mission, it was still painful to suffer it in the manner we did. Leeds made 9 changes from their starting XI at Norwich while Preston made 7 from their side that lost 2 – 0 at Derby. Before the game I’d have bet money on our 2nd XI being better than theirs and quite possibly it is. But, for one reason or another, we didn’t prove it last night.
To concede a penalty within the first 60 seconds was always going to take some recovering from, whatever side we had out, but the truth is we didn’t recover. For the first 45 minutes we had plenty of ball but actually did little with it and that despite the fact that Preston were down to ten men for the last 15 minutes of the half. The two Norwich starters, Jansson and Phillips, looked comfortable enough, but the rest did nothing to suggest we’ll be seeing them in a Championship fixture any time soon. If they can't cut it against Preston's reserves then they sure as hell can't do it in the CHampionship. Stuart Dallas had the excuse of a long lay-off, as did Conor Shaughnessy, and that’s perhaps why the pair of them caused the first minute penalty; Dallas giving the ball away cheaply, too close to his own goal, and Conor being just a tad clumsy and getting the wrong side of Louis Moult. For the next 45 minutes, first against eleven and then ten, we toiled but to no avail; the likes of Shackleton, Baker, Roberts, Harrison and Bamford just don’t look precise enough in their work to cause any team too many problems. Maybe the best that can be said is that maybe, if any one of them gets the chance of playing with the rest of our 1st XI, then they may look much better as one cog in a more efficient machine.
The less said about the second Preston goal, in added time at the end of the half, the better; Brandon Barker running from his own half following a Leeds attack, evading a Kalvin Phillips attempted tackle and then escaping the attentions of Jansson and Shaughnessy before rifling the ball past Blackman into the top corner. The ring rusty Shaughnessy should probably have made more of an effort to get closer to Barker before the Preston man got the chance to shoot.
For the second half, Bielsa turned to the silky skills of Samu Saiz and Mateusz Klich, hoping they would unlock the Preston rear guard but, just as we saw at Norwich with Samu, despite constantly being on the ball, it is too rare that anything decisive follows from his possession. Compare that with say, Pablo Hernandez; when he is on the pitch his every touch seems to create danger for the opposition. It is not always the fault of Samu of course; it is often just that his team mates are not thinking as quickly as him. We know what Samu can do, but Bielsa has to ensure the rest of the team can profit from his work. We saw a similar problem at the start of last season, notably at Hillsborough when, for twenty five minutes, Samu was running the show, yet we failed to capitalise on all his possession and went on to lose the game and, some would say, our momentum for the rest of the campaign.
Later in the game we saw Alioski on for the very ineffective Tyler Roberts and at that point we had half of our outfield 1st XI on the pitch, yet still our “efficiency” in delivering the ball into the middle or hitting the target with our shots remained poor. During the course of the game we amassed 26 goal attempts and yet I can only remember a couple that troubled the Preston keeper Chris Maxwell – a tip over the bar from Shack’s and a decent low save from Bamford in the first half and another low drive late in the second. The only other close shave was when a Jansson header was blocked by a defender on the line after a poor punch by Maxwell. The rest of the 26 efforts were either high or wide and never handsome. Some of our crossing of the ball was befitting a junior school team.
So, this year’s Carabao Cup adventure is shorter than we have grown accustomed to in recent years and it is a shame because it is hard to see how these fringe players can now get the match experience they obviously need. We have already shown this season how our best 11 or 12 players is a match for the best the Championship has to offer but I do worry that injuries or suspensions to more than one of them at a time and we might struggle to achieve the same sort of cohesion in any side we can then muster and if we happen to lose Pablo Hernandez for any length of time goodness knows how we will fair. As sign as to how wafer thin we still are is in the fact that we had to resort to playing Pontus and Kalvin in this game at all. Things have been going really well recently but it all still feels fragile to me.
Leeds Utd PNE
Possession 58% 42%
Shots 26 10
On Target 8 7
Corners 15 3
Fouls 13 12