Leeds 1 Wigan Athletic 1
Levels of optimism were still high as we settled down to watch the game last night; the general conclusion was that the single goal defeat at Derby was just a blip, one of those things. Even the best teams will succumb to a narrow defeat away from home now and again when the thickness of a post is all that prevents your side winning the game despite perhaps not firing on all cylinders. We had the memory of those five wins in six games before the international break too, and though we recognised that all five were probably against poor opposition we’d seen assured displays against Ipswich and at times at Cardiff that persuaded us we were actually a pretty useful outfit. Cue the arrival of Wigan Athletic at Elland Road.
Now before we get too downhearted let’s remember that there are few out and out dire teams in the Championship. Wigan had gained just a single point on their travels this season, they languished 3rd from bottom with only Cardiff and Rotherham below them, and they had only won two league games so far. But, their goal tally, both for and against, was identical to ours, they’d only ever lost games this season by a single odd goal and they were unbeaten in three having only conceded once in that run. It should have been clear therefore that they would be no pushovers. Quite why I decided to waste £2 on a 40/1 bet that we’d beat them 4 – 0 I’m no longer sure… perhaps it was that optimism still coursing through my veins.
Leeds can look a very good side, particularly when we can call on our best XI players. That Ipswich display for example was sublime and was only marred by a lack of a few clinical touches in front of goal. But the team that played Ipswich was our first XI with the exception that Kalvin Phillips replaced the injured Liam Bridcutt. Phillips has done OK in that role alongside Eunan O’Kane so Bridcutt has not been missed. But the loss of Stuart Dallas is showing how reliant we are on a group of just 11 or 12 players. Monk tried Mowatt on Saturday and that left us short and last night he tried Kemar Roofe. Both are totally different players to Dallas and hence the inclusion of either leaves the whole team not quite balanced and hence less capable. Even Monk himself commented after the Derby game how he was struggling to find the right way to play without Dallas in the side. A few had suggested maybe we ought to bring back Berardi at left back and give Charlie Taylor another run on the left wing; even Peter Lorimer mentioned it in the Pavilion last night but if it is in Monk’s mind he resisted the temptation this time.
And so I suppose we should not have been surprised that it was so difficult for us to break down Wigan. The annoyance is that we did break them down though and yet still failed to win the game. Through a fine Chris Wood finish we had the lead as early as half an hour in and for the next hour we looked largely comfortable and whilst it was soon clear that my 4 – 0 bet would not be troubling William Hill, few of us thought we’d allow Wigan to escape another narrow defeat. But we did, the memories of numerous games last season came flooding back as Leeds appeared to try to hold on to what they had with a series of negative substitutions removing Sacko, Hernandez and Wood, arguably our three most dangerous players and bringing on Grimes, Mowatt and, late in the game, Marcus Antonsson. The result was that such fluidity as we had in what was a stuttering display anyway was lost and Wigan must have been overjoyed with our changes. They visibly grew in confidence as they could now focus more on their own game and too often Leeds frittered away possession as we grew used to seeing them do last season in the final minutes of most games. We have for many years failed to demonstrate that we know how to close games out and this group of players seems no different.
It was particularly annoying that the goal came from another set piece too. The Bartley Jansson pairing had seemingly sorted our problems over set pieces but this was a reminder that even Pontus is not infallible. As the right wing corner dropped at the back post, Pontus was out of position, wrong side of his man and not picking up the flight of the ball. As a result it was easily headed back into the middle and though an optimistic overhead kick missed the ball it was still a Wigan player who reacted the quickest to smash the ball home.
If Saturday was a reality check that we will not always get the lucky breaks to get the results we deserve this was a reality check reminding us that we are still a long way off a promotion side unless we can be very lucky with injuries to our first XI and unless that first XI can constantly play at their absolute best every game which we know they can’t. Garry Monk will tell us these are still early days and the group is still learning which is undoubtedly true but my guess is that this side will only ever be as good as most of the sides battling in the middle of the Championship and is unlikely to be better than many. As always, a fabulous performance and three points at Wolves would change my mind at least until we see how we fare against the best in class; Norwich, Newcastle, Villa, Brighton and Reading are all on the horizon!
Leeds Utd Wigan Ath
Possession 49% 51%
Shots 13 12
On Target 4 4
Corners 4 5
Fouls 9 5