Good defending is about getting the basics spot on. That sounds pretty obvious but the knack of keeping the ball out of the net is not massively complicated.
Of the four goals scored by Ipswich Town against Leeds United last weekend, you’d struggle to call one a good finish.
Okay, Daryl Murphy’s header was really clinical but how did the ball get to him in the first place? How did he have the opportunity to score like that?
For one thing, Leeds made very hard work of cutting out the chances at source. By that I mean stopping crosses coming into the box. That’s the first port of call for a defence and the players in front of them – to make sure that last-ditch challenges are kept to a minimum. Your centre-backs are there to do a job but in an average game, it shouldn’t be necessary for them to be scrambling constantly to get the ball away.
This isn’t just a problem for Leeds. If you watch any amount of football in the lower leagues, you’ll see that defending and the attitude of players towards defending has changed over time.
Back in my day, the duty of a full-back was basically to stop crosses arriving in the box. If you were on one side of the defence, you kept the crosses out. Let too many fly over and you’d have a big, ugly centre-back in your face, telling you to get a grip.
I don’t know whether the art of defending has been lost or whether football is simply changing and becoming more attacking but players don’t seem to treat those situations with the same urgency. There isn’t the same pressure applied in wide areas.
The attacking side get more time and space to swing crosses in and, to my mind, teams suffer as a result. Ask your centre-backs to deal with countless high balls and the chances are that eventually they’ll get caught out.
That said, Leeds were caught out too easily for Murphy’s first goal on Saturday. Jason Pearce didn’t follow his run and Murphy was given a free header.
Fair enough, he buried it brilliantly, but he’s a big lad and if I was his manager I’d be looking for him to devour those sort of chances. That’s why he’s in the team.
This all comes down to training and concentration. I’m absolutely certain that Neil Redfearn will have the players well drilled day-to-day so it falls to the team to remember their jobs and do them properly.
It’s an established fact that if you lack concentration, you’ll have a hard time in football. Focus is a key aspect of the sport.
For a centre-back that means doing the same thing over and over again, and 100 times if necessary. For a striker, it means making the runs you’ve been taught to make – even if you feel like it’s getting you nowhere.
What Leeds need are two hard and nasty centre-halves. I’m not saying the lads there already don’t fit the bill but that’s what Redfearn should be looking for.
Back in the day, a centre-back wasn’t a centre-back unless he’d had his face smashed in; unless his nose looked like a ‘B’ road. To be honest, it was the same with strikers. Over the course of my career I had more than 50 stitches in my face. Hence my nickname.
Championship teams are playing more and more football these days – or certainly trying to play football – but you’ll still find that the most successful sides in the division have a rough edge.
If you drag them into a scrap they’ll be pretty willing. It’s definitely true that good teams need more than one string to their bow.
Where Leeds are concerned, they have to find the right way to play away from home because the performance against Ipswich wasn’t it.
In my opinion, they need to play the percentages and be a bit less ambitious. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t look to win games. It means they shouldn’t be throwing caution to the wind.
As a manager away from home I used to tell my full-backs before kick-off that I didn’t want to see them running beyond my wingers. That was my mantra. By all means get up and support them but if my full-backs got caught a long way out, we’d get murdered by sides who were playing at home and would naturally be trying to sit high up the pitch.
The way to think of it is like this – away from home, you’re not there to entertain. You’re there to get a result.
The home crowd want to see style and finesse but as the travelling team, it’s all about picking up points. It always has been.