Leeds United 1 Sunderland 1
These reports are getting more difficult to write by the game! If I was merely trying to write a blow by blow account of the match it would not be so bad but I’m trying to give my interpretation of what is going on with the side and how we are developing … and to be honest I’m struggling!
The backdrop to this game today was again a growing level of discontent from many fans who are beginning to ask the question: “What exactly has changed since Paul Heckingbottom has arrived?” Answering their own question, these fans are convinced nothing has changed and that the malaise we witnessed under Thomas Christiansen since that 2 -1 win at Burton, has merely continued unabated. The Burton victory was the 5th win in a run of 6 games but in the 18 games since then – 11 under PH and 7 under TC - we’ve won just twice.
Those fans defending PH will tell you that he began his reign with 6 games against the cream of Championship sides, that he came into those games without Berardi, Cooper and Saiz due to suspension and that he’s had to reshuffle his side virtually every week due to injury after injury, particularly to defenders. Then, when we finally came up against the so called weaker sides, blow me down they were all fighting for their very lives to maintain their Championship status – the likes of Reading, Wednesday and Bolton - while we had little to focus on as a challenge other than pride. We had the tough trip to Fulham in that spell as well and today we faced a Sunderland side buoyed by an incredible 1 – 4 win at Derby that had, at least temporarily, re-ignited their feint hopes of survival and no doubt gave them reason for giving it one last hurrah against us today.
I am swayed to believe that indeed PH has achieved no discernible improvement in either the quality of our play or our results and indeed by my own measure, looking at the results of the reverse fixtures of Hecky’s first 11 games, it is now a fact that TC had a better record than PH winning 4 games and picking up 13 points to PH’s 2 wins and only 10 points. The only question is whether those injuries and suspensions have hampered PH more than TC which I think they probably have. That and the fact that TC had a whole pre-season to get his ideas over to the squad while PH has been doing it "on the job".
So, where does that leave us? Many of those fans claiming there has been no improvement are already calling for PH to be sacked and for someone with far more experience, gravitas and Championship nous to be brought in before the all-important summer transfer window to put his own stamp on it. Despite the facts about PHs recent record I don’t subscribe to that view.
I have actually detected some improvement in our performances in recent games if not in the results, particularly since and including our trip to Reading. I think we were unfortunate (I hesitate to say unlucky) not to win the games v Reading, Wednesday and even Fulham , games in which, had we put away just a few of some very good chances, we would have done. Today against Sunderland I accept was different in that I consider the draw to be a fair result between two teams that shared the good chances and the misfortune of hitting the woodwork whilst remaining solid at the back. I can't gloss over the fact that today's result is a disappointment.
I have no way of knowing how we would have fared under TC in these last 11 games had he stayed but my best guess is it wouldn’t have been much different. The fundamental constant is the thing we have all said for months now; this squad simply is not equipped to succeed in the Championship and particularly without the likes of Luke Ayling and, more recently, Adam Forshaw in the side. My guess is even just those two in the side today might have been enough to swing the game in our favour even without the strengthening we all hope will arrive in the summer – a solid, inspiring centre back, another experienced and wise centre-midfield player and a proven goal poacher hopefully all imbued with some steel and aggression. I don’t think we need much more than that as long as those three players can bring about the expected synergy of improving the whole side by effectively being the final pieces in a jigsaw. That all assumes we will hold onto the best players we have now – I’m thinking of Pontus Jansson (who though not playing well would I believe regain his old Mojo if the team in total was winning more regularly), Pablo Hernandez and Samu Saiz. Samu is another player who, like Pontus, is not actually bringing much to the party at the moment but who is such a clever footballer that I'm sure he wold blossom again once the whole side regained some confidence and momentum and that missing steel in its spine.
I don’t know what is currently in the minds of Radrizzani and Orta regarding Heckingbottom but I do think it is inevitable they will be doubting their latest recruit as much as the fans are so some decent results and performances in these last five games is vital to keep everyone calm. With all the difficulties Hecky has faced we cannot possibly judge him fairly yet but I’m hoping for those good results as much as anybody just to make sure he gets the chance he deserves.
Leeds Utd Sunderland
Possession 55% 45%
Shots 16 20
On Target 4 9
Corners 6 13
Fouls 14 11