George McCartney insisted today that Leeds United’s back four should not be blamed for Tuesday’s draw with Barnsley, claiming collective failings were responsible for the loss of two Championship points.
The Northern Ireland international spoke out against criticism of Simon Grayson’s defence after a chaotic stalemate left Leeds facing a “must-win” fixture at Swansea City this weekend.
United recovered from an early concession and the second-half dismissal of Bradley Johnson to establish a 3-2 lead over the Tykes with 20 minutes of an eventful Yorkshire derby to play, but Kieran Trippier’s late free-kick – struck directly through a disorganised wall – denied Grayson’s team a precious league win.
Barnsley’s goals took United’s tally of concessions in Championship fixtures this season to 52, an average of close to two a game, and focused fresh attention on a defensive record which is undermining Leeds’ attempt to contest their division’s last automatic promotion place.
The club fell five points adrift of second-placed Swansea on Tuesday, prompting McCartney to admit that a victory in Wales on Saturday was a necessity for United.
But the left-back said specific criticism of Grayson’s back four was unjustified after a game in which Leeds were undone by two set-pieces and a sweeping attack which caught winger Robert Snodgrass out of position.
“I wouldn’t just say it was just down to the defence,” McCartney said.
“Two of the goals have come from free-kicks and, with the other goal, they’ve switched the ball across the field from right to left. You can’t say it’s basically down to the back four.
“When you look at their third goal, it’s gone straight through the wall.
“The back four can’t do much about that. It’s just one of those bizarre moments. But I don’t think any of us were really on top of our game.
“It’s a matches where you want to forget about it quickly and move on.”
Grayson also defended his back four in the aftermath of Tuesday’s derby, echoing McCartney’s claim that the match had highlighted failings in several other areas of the field. Trippier’s 83rd-minute strike stemmed from a rash foul by Sanchez Watt on Jacob Mellis 20 yards from goal.
United’s manager, who made the stark warning that “we need to be more professional if we’re going to do anything this season”, said: “We keep making mistakes as a team and we have to eradicate them.
“When you’ve conceded three goals, people automatically think that the back four have been poor again but it’s down to mistakes in other areas of the pitch too. We gave away too many needless free-kicks and that gives people the opportunity to cause you problems.
“With their third goal, some of our players turned their backs in the wall and the ball went straight through it. If the lad (Trippier) had put it in the top corner then you say ‘well done, good goal’ but we have to be braver – when you’re in the wall, take one in the chest, the midriff or whatever.
“It’s frustrating because this was a game we thought we could get three points from.
“We know that Barnsley are a good team and there was no disrespect in that manner – I just felt that we could win the game.
“We weren’t professional enough to see it through but we’ve got a genuine bunch of players here who are good enough to finish in the top six.”
United’s hold on sixth place in the Championship was strengthened on Tuesday night by Leicester City’s defeat in Cardiff but their visit to Swansea is likely to be crucial in the context of automatic promotion.
Defeat at the Liberty Stadium, where Grayson will be without the suspended Johnson, would cut Leeds eight points adrift of second position with 12 games to play.
“I’d say it’s must-win for us now,” said McCartney. “I hope we play a lot better than we did against Barnsley.
“None of Barnsley’s goals came from good play and they’re goals you can stop from happening.
“To score three times at home and still draw is so disappointing. But Barnsley came here and got in our faces.
“Fair play to them – you can more or less say they deserved their point.
“Swansea’s going to be a different game. They’re more like Norwich in the way they play.
“They pass the ball well and they’ll look for openings whereas Barnsley are a hard-working team who get at you. Saturday’s going to be very tough but Swansea won again on Tuesday and we need to pick up three points down there.”
United’s sole defeat in their last 20 league games came in South Wales, at the hands of Cardiff City on January 4, and McCartney took comfort from Leeds’ highly consistent record amid the disappointment of Tuesday evening.
“We’ve still got momentum with us,” he said.
“It’s one defeat in 20 now and we’ve got 13 games to go. I still think that if this record continues and we go unbeaten until the end of the season, we’ll be near the top of the league.
“But we’ve had quite a few games now where we’ve been in winning positions and ended up drawing the match.
“If you look at the league table, we’re the top scoring team in the league but unfortunately there are times – probably through lapses of concentration – when we concede at the other end. It’s not what you want.”