AFTER witnessing Leeds United’s second Championship defeat in succession, Lee Sobot looks at five issues highlighted by Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Sheffield Wednesday.
1. United desperately need a new striker.
Head coach Steve Evans’ search for another striking option has been well documented, and Saturday’s defeat screamed the need for that recruitment loud and clear. In the absence of Chris Wood who himself has not been prolific, United wasted plenty of goalscoring opportunities in the first half, chiefly through sole striker Souleymane Doukara and Lewis Cook. If the excellent Cook could add a clinical edge to his game that would help United enormously. But Cook is a midfielder and it’s upfront where Leeds badly need strengthening in order to take advantage of such decent opportunities. An example of who would be perfect? Wednesday’s two-goal hero and Norwich City loanee Gary Hooper - the difference between the two sides.
2. The old worries still persist with Marco Silvestri.
Silvestri has shown remarkable resilience this season to go some way to silencing the doubters by producing in a series of consistent goalkeeping displays and smart saves following his earlier sticky spell. But there’s no denying that mistakes from the Italian played a huge part in giving the Owls their two goals. Fernando Forestieri’s effort which Silvestri parried away for the corner that led to the opener looked to be going wide. More obvious was the 24-year-old’s inability to hold Forestieri’s subsequent long-range effort that gifted Hooper a tap in for his second. Silvestri is a superb shot-stopper at times but still badly needs to cut out the errors.
3. Forget the play-offs.
It’s never over until it’s mathematically impossible of course but both Steve Evans also also left back Charlie Taylor essentially admitted after the Hillsborough loss that United’s chances of finishing in the top six appear to have disappeared. Plenty thought those hopes had already been ended with the mid-week loss to Ipswich Town. Leeds have now dropped to 17th and are 13 points off the play-offs with 19 games to go. Crucially, there are also ten teams in between themselves and sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday. It’s no wonder Leeds are now 50-1 for a top six finish with Ladbrokes. United are now a shorter price to be relegated - 40-1 with Betfair - with the Whites eight points clear of third-bottom and fourth-bottom Bristol City and Rotherham United respectively. It’s not quite a six pointer but Bristol City are Saturday’s visitors to Elland Road and it’s fair to say the Whites could do with winning that.
4. Nothing should surprise when it comes to refereeing decisions.
Every team has been on the wrong end of the odd dubious refereeing decision or two but Saturday’s gaffe by Anthony Taylor took the biscuit. Technically, the official had no choice but to wipe out Liam Cooper’s header after Alex Mowatt’s free-kick because Fernando Forestieri had still not left the field of play to be substituted with the referee’s back turned though Taylor did turn around to have a look. Rules state a substitution has not taken place until the outgoing departure has left the field of play. But the point is that Taylor blew his whistle for United to take the free-kick which should not have been allowed to have been taken in the first place until Forestieri had left the field of play. Even worse, the official then awarded the goal before changing his mind after Wednesday’s protests. Steve Evans had some strong words to say about Taylor in his post-match press conference and it’s no surprise. Yes, Leeds were 2-0 down at the time but there were still around 15 minutes left and who’s to say the Whites couldn’t have salvaged at least a point?
5. Leeds could do with offering long contracts to their young stars.
Sam Byram’s imminent switch to Everton has hit everyone associated with Leeds United hard but Steve Evans was keen to stress that United had no choice but to sell Byram who otherwise would have left anyway when his contract expired in the summer. But who’s to say it won’t happen again with a Lewis Cook or Charlie Taylor in the years to come? It could be argued that Byram had been offered a new deal at Leeds but his original new offer was on reduced terms and the lingering thought is that Leeds need to be doing more to encourage their crown jewels to stay.
Taylor and Cook’s current deals are both up in summer 2017 which seems like a long time away but there will quite clearly be major interest in the both of them. The longer Leeds get the duo signed up for the better.