Preston North End 1 (Barkhuizen 74)
Leeds United 1 (Nketiah)
I still maintain that this Leeds United side is better than anything else we have seen in the Championship so far this season and yet, playing as we have done since those wonderful carefree days in August, the spectre of another catastrophic failure is always lurking in our shadows. For the umpteenth time this season we dominated a game and yet a combination of dire finishing and an ability to get caught on the break almost led to another defeat.
People will say that Preston are a good side, that they have a tremendous home record and of course they, like everyone else raises their game when Leeds come to town… all that is true, but Leeds were on top for the majority of the game and made the home side look very beatable so the relative quality of Preston shouldn’t be used as an excuse for us not winning the game.
The reason we didn’t win is that, as in the past 8 league games since August, we have failed to convert match domination into goals and therefore, more often than not a full set of points. A team as dominant as ours should be scoring more goals and yet, in that department, we are just not good enough for some reason. We have scored just 1 goal or less in 7 of the past 8 games and only got 2 in the one exception, at Barnsley. As a point of reference, this Preston side that we comprehensively outplayed, stuck 5 past Barnsley a couple of games ago.
The debate as to why we don’t score more goals has actually been going on since the very early days of Bielsa’s arrival at Leeds and, as we have commented numerous times before, even Bielsa himself often laments our poor conversion rate – 4% yesterday; we scored just 1 goal despite firing 22 attempts at the Preston goal. We do miss, what to me, look like very decent chances but we are also guilty of overcomplicating the process; how many times last night were players in positions where they could have a crack at goal only to pass the ball again looking for the “perfect” chance? Too often.
For me, and you’ll acknowledge I’ve been saying this all along, Patrick Bamford is not, and never will be a prolific goal scorer; he quite simply is not that sort of player. He’s played as the main striker all his career and yet, at 26 years of age, his best goal tally is only 19, coming in the Championship admittedly in the 2014-15 season when on loan at Boro. Many folk are still saying that Bamford is worth his place in the team for his work rate and hold up play… a bit like we used to say of “The Shift”, Steve Morison, who found himself in a similar situation of being very short of goals. I’m happy to accept that point of view but this Leeds team needs a goal poacher in the side, with or without Bamford, and we have one right under our noses who has proved his case with his goals in the white shirt of both Leeds and the England Under 21s. Eddie Nketiah is a goal poacher, he will score goals no matter what the match conditions are; Patrick Bamford will always be more gamekeeper than poacher!
The Leeds fans at Deepdale were as supportive of Bamford as ever last night – at one point late in the game, with a defeat staring us in the face, a chant of “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie” started amongst the Leeds faithful that was clearly aimed towards Marcelo on the bench but, wary that could be seen as a criticism of Bamford and Bielsa, that immediately got changed to “Patrick Bamford da da da da!” There was still mighty relief though when Bamford trotted off and Eddie replaced him. It was no surprise that it was then Eddie, with a towering header that you would not think him capable of to look at his stature, grabbed the equaliser and a point. He is just that sort of player, he’ll get goals, no matter what sort of ball is played to him, we just need him on the pitch and I’m convinced we’ll see more of the half chances we create being converted, with or without Bamford out there as well. It is for Marcelo to decide how to include Nketiah in the XI but to not do it at all seems, to me at least, foolhardy.
To those saying, what’s the problem?, we’re 2nd in the table and playing well and Bielsa is the best thing since sliced bread he knows what he’s doing, I’d just caution that we said all that throughout last season too. Yes we are in a good place (although no one can possibly argue that we should be in a much better place about six points clear had we taken our chances) but as long as we are only scrapping it out in the pack we are always likely to get caught and passed. Sooner or later a couple of teams will get their act together and put a run of wins together that takes them clear of the pack; we need to be one of those teams or we could end up in the lottery of the play-offs again and, as Angus said, “We really don’t want to be dicking around with those again!”
Preston NE Leeds Utd
Possession 37% 63%
Shots 10 22
On Target 2 3
Corners 4 8
Fouls Committed 9 9