Stoke City 1 (Struijk 80 og)
Leeds United 0
25th October 2023, Championship.
There are certain attributes that successful teams have in any division and key amongst them is an ability to minimise poor decisions, make the right decisions, and don’t gamble too much. For the first time this season, I felt we made poor decisions, both before the game and during it, and, for me, we wasted three points tonight. The best teams in this division, the ones that will ultimately be successful come next May, would have seen that game out as a 1 – 0 win even if they didn’t play that well, as we didn’t, certainly in the first half.
The first issue for me was the fact we made three changes to a successful formula, a formula we’d seen be successful as recently as Saturday when, despite going two down we created chances all game and eventually found our shooting boots to win the game. Incidentally, a game where we’d started unchanged after a good win before the international break. In the Norwich game, we had one player who was clearly on fire, at the top of his game; Crysencio Summerville. Why leave him on the bench at the start? I didn’t think Daniel Farke was big on rotation but I’m guessing that was the reason. It felt wrong before the game and by the time he came on in the 70th minute to replace a misfiring and clearly underprepared Willy Gnonto… it still felt wrong. The same goes for the inclusion of Ilia Gruev. I have no idea if he’s a decent player or not but to put him in, out of the blue, just didn’t feel right or sensible for a game that we really needed to and were capable of winning with our best XI on the pitch. It looked on Saturday as if Dan James was just starting to fire on all cylinders too, but we left him out and, again presumably as part of some grand rotation plan, Jaidon Anthony got the nod instead. Yet the positions where it is patently obvious that we are struggling and where we have two players playing out of position, at full-back on either side, we left that untouched. Surely if Leo Hjelde was fit (he played the other night for the U21s) was there not a case for finally getting Sam Byram into that right-back slot or even giving Luke Ayling a run? What do I know? Archie Gray has done brilliantly filling in but is he really our best option there?
Whether it was the changes or whether, as Daniel Farke seemed to suggest after the game, it was just one of those off days all teams suffer from, I’m not sure. No one will ever be sure, but first half we were stodgy and pedestrian and Stoke were the better side creating the better chances. To have got to the break with the score still 0 – 0 was pretty satisfactory in the circumstances.
Second half we were much better and, much like at Norwich in the first half, had we been able to hit the target more often we’d have grabbed a couple of goals. Yet again, we often did the hard bit to get into good positions but then scuffed our shots wide. Only three times all night did we hit the target from 16 efforts on goal. It’s nowhere near good enough.
With the score still goalless and 70 minutes on the clock we made our changes. On came Summerville, Bamford, and Dan James and we immediately looked more potent. Then we won the penalty.
As soon as the penalty was awarded most fans near me started to utter the name of Patrick Bamford. Most were suggesting there was no way he’d be allowed to take the kick…
Did he pull rank and usher away the likes of Summerville? I don’t know. I don’t know if Paddy is sh** hot in training every day smashing penalties home for fun. But I do know that he’d missed the last two he’d taken against Arsenal and Newcastle in pressure situations and he missed them both with appalling efforts and, in the process probably cost us four valuable points. So why would any club allow him to take the next one? It beggars belief to me. It was the wrong decision at a crucial time and it was amateurish. Would any other club in the land have allowed him to take it? And is it a good idea to let a man with his history take one just three minutes after coming on? I’m genuinely asking the question as I don’t know what the logic is but it could have surprised no one that he missed it, and missed it by putting it over the bar when the keeper was already diving away to his left! To be fair, we saw Lukas Jutkiewicz score one just after coming on, the penalty that beat us down at Birmingham this season but Lukas is good at them and he knew in that situation just to blast it down the middle making damn sure he at least hit the target. I don’t believe Patrick Bamford has the technique or confidence to be a penalty taker. The whole situation was unfathomable but we thus wasted three points in my judgment and I don’t believe the sides that will go up this season would make such a poor decision.
And we all knew what would happen then. The Stoke fans were up, their players were up, we were deflated. So it was no surprise to anyone when Stoke, with their prowess at set-pieces, managed to score from a corner in a similar manner to how Norwich did on Saturday; a near post flick, albeit this one still needed the luck of a rebound off the bar and off Pascal Struijk to find the net. As with the penalty, to keep making the same mistake over and over again is unacceptable. You need luck to win games but you sure as hell cannot look Lady Luck in the face and laugh at her or she’ll bite you. If you are offered a chance; take it.
Come on Leeds, shape up. Let’s get professional. We have a decent array of players, better than most, let’s not get all ‘Leedsy’ and keep shooting ourselves in the foot again like we did all last season. Learn the lessons for goodness sake.
Stoke City Leeds Utd
Possession 48% 52%
Shots 12 16
On Target 4 3
Corners 5 3
Fouls 16 11