Leeds United 0
Sheffield Wednesday 2 (Murphy 87, Nuhiu 90+4)
That’s a real blow! Not many people thought we’d lose this game – even though we went into it on the back of a run with just 1 win in 6 in all competitions. Even Wednesday themselves had three wins in that period, although they’d lost their last three league games to some pretty ordinary sides in Stoke, Cardiff and Hull City. “Just go out and play like we did in that first half at the Emirates and we’ll be ‘reet!” was a phrase I heard a few times today before the game!
Well, we did go out and play pretty much as we played in that first half down at the Arsenal… too much like it really. Once again we totally dominated the first half and a sizeable chunk of the second too and yet we still lost and we lost because of a problem we’ve been struggling with for far too long. I’m tired of writing about it and I’m sure you're tired of reading it in this blog. It’s actually been going on all season; we fail to score often enough from the many goal attempts we always manage. There, I’ve said it again.
“But hang on” I hear you shouting, “We won 7 on the bounce only a matter of weeks ago, what’s changed?”. What has changed of course is that our magnificent 7 run of victories all came against sides struggling in the bottom half of the table. Since then we’ve almost exclusively played sides in the top half and the only one we’ve beaten just happened to be Birmingham who were the exception… and we only scrapped past them. I’m also conscious that early in the season we beat West Brom and Brentford but I have no theory on that other that they were damn close 1 - 0 affairs!
The relevance is, I believe, that even missing chances galore, against the weaker teams it doesn’t really matter, by definition they are weaker so we would likely score 1 or maybe 2 and the weaker sides, again by definition, are less able to take advantage of the rare sights on goal they do get against us. Hey presto, we can and usually do still beat them. The problem though is once we face the better sides they are much better equipped to 1) weather our storm and then 2) take advantage with their own rare chances as they invariably have better strikers than the weaker sides. We saw today how even a lumbering oaf like Nuhiu, coming off the bench, can at times look like Ronaldo if you give him the chance – and it’s not the first time he’s done it to us; the man can finish and we should have been more aware of him as indeed Ben White acknowledged after the game.
Taking my argument a step further would suggest we ought to still be OK… once we start to face up against the bottom half sides again then our win percentages should, other things being equal, start to rise but it’s that ‘other things being equal’ bit that worries me. In the first half of the season we at least had Eddie Nketiah to weigh in with a few goals and, if nothing else, to keep Patrick Bamford on his toes. Now our sole striker appears to be a misfiring Bamford who has had ten goal attempts in two games and has scored with none of them. Those bottom half sides will all be hoping to strengthen in the transfer window too.
I’m not a fan of Bamford anyway, regular readers will know that, I just don’t think he’s a goal machine – he never has been and, in my opinion, never will be. I accept that the way Bielsa has us set up he performs a role with his hold up play but for me that’s not enough… so does Nuhiu for example but he has a shot like a mule too. Maybe Bamford is also suffering not having that pressure of seeing a possible replacement on the bench, who knows.
For me though, whatever we do we have to find room in the team for an out and out goal poacher, a name recognised for scoring week in week out – yes, someone of the ilk of Che Adams or Dwight Gayle would fit that bill for me. But it’s not enough to bring them to the club… they have to play. I’m convinced that with the number of chances we create such a player would score goals, probably lots of them. If the argument then goes in the direction of, "Well, without Bamford in the side we will not create as many chances… " well, if that’s the case, we may be screwed!
There are other issues of course, there always are; our midfielders don’t score enough, our keeper shouldn’t be letting the ball beat him at his near post (we used to lambast Peacock –Farrell for that!), we don’t make enough of all the corners we win and, finally, we are weak at defending opposition corners. But, having said all that, I still think we are better at most of those things than at least half the teams in the table.
I do worry that this poor run is sapping our confidence and everyone, including the players, will remember this is precisely the scenario we played out this time last season when we lost 5 from the next 7 after also achieving 7 consecutive wins leading up to Christmas. It’s uncanny how similar this season is panning out and we have to make sure we break out of that similarity by making sure this time we get our man in the transfer window. It may not have been our fault that we missed out on Dan James last winter but I'm sure he would have been a game and season changer.
All we can do is hope and pray that we do manage to find that goal poacher and that maybe the return of Pablo will also help to ensure that we don’t follow exactly that gradual decline we witnessed last year. The first big test is to win a game in London… next Saturday at Loftus Road. A win down there would lift so many monkeys off our back but another defeat and we’ll be struggling to keep the demons at bay. For now it has to be: "In Bielsa We Trust!"
Leeds Utd Sheff Weds
Possession 67% 33%
Shots 14 10
On Target 5 2
Corners 7 5
Fouls Committed 8 16