AFTER witnessing another home victory at Elland Road, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from the 2-0 defeat of Burton Albion.
Souleymane Doukara can play a big role for Leeds
Doukara made quite an impression during the 81 minutes that he was on the pitch during the EFL Cup clash with Norwich City last mid-week. Back on the bench for Saturday’s league hosting of Burton, the French-Senegalese striker played just 17 minutes plus injury time at the weekend but made even more of an impression than he did last Tuesday evening. As against Norwich, the 25-year-old proved a real handful for the opposition’s defence, showing pace, enthusiasm and determination throughout. Doukara had a wonderful through ball from Pablo Hernandez to thank for ultimately winning Leeds an 83rd-minute penalty but it was Doukara who produced the neat turn that led to Ben Turner putting him on his backside for the spot kick. Chris Wood’s pass in the 96th minute was another gem but again Doukara showed real determination and energy to outstrip the Burton defence and the forward then showed fine perseverance to bundle the ball home at the second attempt after appearing to have been fouled. His goal was his first for Leeds since March, hence the corner flag took a pasting through his fired-up celebration. On this evidence, more goals will follow for the forward who admitted he was not fit at the start of the season and was told to work on his fitness by Garry Monk. Doukara has done just that and now gives Monk a very welcome different option, be it upfront or out wide.
Luke Ayling is unlikely to lose his place in the side
Ayling’s arrival from Bristol City in the summer came as a bit of a surprise with Leeds not exactly looking light on right backs given the presence of Lewie Coyle and Gaetano Berardi, who admittedly had just injured his hamstring in United’s opening game of the season at QPR, shortly before Ayling’s arrival. Ayling settled in quickly at Leeds but there was still a strong feeling that Berardi would soon win back his place once he was fit. But Ayling has continued to get better and better and Saturday’s display against Burton was probably his best yet since joining the Whites. You can’t pretend that the 25-year-old is an absolute rock as a defensive force because he’s not and Burton did have plenty of joy down the left wing at times. But Leeds ultimately kept a clean sheet - again - which is job done as far as Aylng is concerned in that department. Moreover, the former Arsenal youngster looks excellent going forward and the combination of Ayling and Hado Sacko combing on the right can soon put teams in trouble. Ayling also produces some quality passes at time and he is proving a very shrewd purchase indeed. Berardi finally returned to the bench for a league game on Saturday and the Swiss international is now totally over his hamstring troubles. The passionate, no-nonsense 28-year-old has a legion of fans at Leeds and is an excellent player but Berardi really does have his work cut out to replace Ayling in the side.
Without highlighting every single player from Saturday’s win - in which Leeds did not actually play particularly well - it should also be said that should he stay injury-free, Chris Wood is surely sailing towards at least 20 goals for the season. He already has ten and the New Zealand international was Mr Reliable at Elland Road on Saturday. Hernandez also has to start as no 10 for Leeds because even after a fairly quiet game, the Spaniard is capable of producing a moment of magic like his superb volleyed pass into the path of Doukara which ultimately led to Burton’s downfall. Leeds were, though, slightly overrun in midfield in Saturday and the Whites definitely miss captain Liam Bridcutt who will return after the international break. Monk must surely be tempted to play Ronaldo Vieira at Norwich on Saturday and it will surely be a toss up between Vieira and Kalvin Phillips to partner Eunan O’Kane in centre midfield.
Leeds have every right to think they can finish in the play-offs
Best to go careful with this one as all of the old cliches can be rolled out - the season doesn’t finish in October, one game at a time, let’s not get carried away. It’s also very true to point out that Leeds have a very hard run of games on the horizon with next Saturday’s trip to fourth-placed Norwich City followed by the league hosting of title favourites and leaders Newcastle United. After the Yorkshire derby at rock-bottom Rotherham United, the Whites then welcome Aston Villa on Saturday, December 3 before visiting second-placed Brighton on Friday, December 9. Even after that, Leeds then welcome fifth-placed Reading to Elland Road on Tuesday, December 13. That is a very hard run of games. But the facts are that Leeds are now only one point off the play-offs in ninth and to be honest there’s no reason why the Whites cannot get a positive result at Norwich on Saturday - with the Canaries trounced 5-0 at Brighton on Saturday.
Garry Monk is understandably keen to avoid talk of league positions and it is down to his sterling efforts that United find themselves so close to the top six. But Newcastle, Brighton and maybe Norwich aside, the Championship looks an unspectacular division this year and with Leeds still improving under Monk, there is no reason whatsoever why Leeds cannot finish in the top six. It could, of course, all go wrong, and United would be in big trouble if Chris Wood got injured. But it’s so far so good with Leeds now down to 11-2 to make the play-offs having been 9-1 with Bet365 before the Burton game. Even 11-2 looks a fair price with the bookies still preferring the chances of Newcastle, Brighton, Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town, Aston Villa, Bristol City, Reading, Bretnford, Derby and Fulham as far as a top six finish is concerned. Eleven teams ahead of Leeds in that particular pecking order, meaning, based on that theory, United will finish 12th. After picking up 19 points from their last possible 27 - the third best in the division over the last nine games - there are strong reasons to hopeful of a much higher-placed finish than that.