Leeds United 0 Reading 1
After another lack lustre performance, this time in front of almost 34,000 expectant fans at Elland Road, I find I’m once again ratchetting down our potential for the season. After the early games, I felt we looked good enough to easily grab one of the automatic promotion spots, so fluent and efficient did we appear to be. I'd reasoned without giving thought to the quality of the opposition though. As time has gone on, the sides we beat in August and September have typically struggled, and four of them - Bolton, Sunderland, Burton and Birmingham - remain in the current bottom four places. After 12 games there can be no doubt they are poor sides (although judging by Blues win on Friday night under new manager Steve Cotterill even they may now be on the up).
We then failed, as we usually do, to win at Millwall, another side struggling at the wrong end of the table when we played them and then at Cardiff where we self-destructed and Hillsborough where, well, I'm still not sure what happened there. So I then assessed that automatic promotion was no longer a realistic ambition. There now look to be far better sides than us pushing up towards the top of the table - teams like Wolves, Villa, Cardiff and Sheffield United. But I was as confident as the rest though that we were still a good bet for the play-offs, although for that confidence to have any real basis I knew we had to beat the likes of Reading at Elland Road. TC told us that would happen of course; after all, we’d been strong at Elland Road even while our away form deserted us.
Well, we've now witnessed yet another very poor performance, a fourth defeat in five games and, despite probably just edging the game according to the match stats, we allowed Reading to nick a goal and all three points. Had Pablo converted the penalty at the end we'd have got a point but I do wonder if that would then have masked the fact that it was actually another woeful performance from Leeds against a very ordinary looking Reading side.
Nothing much appears to be working well anymore; the defence looks far less certain than it used to although TC’c introduction of Andy Lonergan today did at least make the goalkeeping position more secure-looking. But in midfield, every side now appears to know how to stifle Samu Saiz’s magical talents, usually by ensuring three or four players track him everywhere he goes, and if Samu isn’t creating, Leeds aren’t creating. He is our piano player while the rest are merely the hod-carriers. Our other little Spanish genius, Pablo Hernandez, tries hard but has a poor ratio of brilliance to mediocre and maybe his penalty miss was a sign that his confidence is not great at the minute. We have too many players that are now looking merely average – the likes of Phillips, Roofe and Lasogga just aren’t contributing enough during the game – while there are also a few who still don’t look fit for purpose at all, like the big man Grot and Hadi Sacko. Having said that, we did start to look more potent with Sacko on the pitch albeit we know his final ball still frustrates more than it satisfies.
So, I’m now of the opinion that even a top six place is not a foregone conclusion and if TC can’t come up with a different approach we may once again be looking at mid-table. The biggest current issue of course is confidence and without that every game is going to be difficult. As we’ve seen recently, the Championship constantly throws up surprises like Birmingham beating Cardiff last night, Wednesday going down at Bolton and Burton grabbing a point from their visit to Bristol and my guess is that if we had to play those bottom four sides again now, we’d struggle to win any of them such is the way our confidence has ebbed away in the last month. We have to find a way to break the circle of defeat, blow to confidence, more defeats and I’m guessing we will only achieve that with some more personnel changes. In the same way TC was prepared to throw Andy Lonergan in today, he must surely start Stuart Dallas next week, go back to using either Anita or Borthwick-Jackson at left back and, if fit give Ronaldo Vieira a chance; after all, we saw last season that the lad has the cohonas the size of a randy bull elephant. He may be just the tonic we need.
One final thing; I do believe that our chances of success against the likes of Bristol, Sheffield United and Derby are, strangely, better than when we play the Millwalls, Cardiffs and Readings. Teams that tend to have a go will hopefully leave Samu and Pablo a lot more space in which to do their damage and in turn that will provide more opportunity for the rest to shine. Here’s hoping anyway!
Leeds Utd Reading
Possession 56% 44%
Shots 15 10
On Target 3 4
Corners 6 5
Fouls 16 10