Ipswich Town, once again, highlighted a problem which I’ve been banging on about for ages.
There are weaknesses in Leeds United’s team – everyone knows that, the owner and the head coach included – but nothing is more damaging than our inability to do the simple things defensively and produce clean sheets.
I watch Middlesbrough’s results and week after week the scoreline against them is nil, nil, nil. They don’t actually score a vast number of goals but they hardly ever concede and that’s the single biggest reason why they’re out in front at the top of the Championship.
Before this transfer window opened and since it began I’ve made the point that something needs to be done with the centre of the Leeds defence. As the Ipswich game proved, in order to win a match we quite often need to score at least twice.
And it’s not a secret that as a squad we’ve found goals a little hard to come by ourselves.
Both of Ipswich’s finishes were relatively simple; crosses into the box which a good, organised backline should be able to read and deal with. I’ve said many times that we don’t have enough pace in that area and we’re not big enough or dominant enough as a unit either. Sol Bamba is a tall laddie but I can’t deny that he’s been making some mistakes recently.
Good teams are built from the back – that’s a fact – and I genuinely feel that until we sort things out at that end of the pitch we can’t expect to improve our league position significantly. On both wings, and especially on the side where Ryan Fraser was playing, Ipswich tore us apart. I thought they deserved their win and they had far too much of the second half for my liking. If you allow the pressure to build like that then the chances are it will tell eventually.
So what should Leeds do now? They can’t give up and they shouldn’t think that the season is dead. Realistically, the play-offs are a massive ask now and the odds are piled against us but if the players decide that there’s nothing to play for, you can say with 100 per cent certainty that sixth place is beyond our reach.
Ipswich was a vital game but you always have to think about the possibility of teams dropping off. Brighton’s season has gone to pot suddenly and they look in real trouble. I’m not being daft about our chances, I know it’s a serious long shot, but at the very least we should be trying to stay as close to the top end as possible.
As for the transfer window, the club need to be thinking now about the future beyond the end of this season. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to be signing players who are only going to be here until the summer. Okay, Liam Bridcutt and Mustapha Carayol came in on loan but I get the feeling that Steve Evans is interested in keeping them further down the line.
The other signings we look for this month need to be made with next season in mind.
It’s a bit of a dilemma – do you invest now or do you keep your powder dry for the summer? Personally, at this stage, I’d only be putting money into players with longer-term potential. It’s highly likely that we’ll be in this division again next season so we need to think about how we can take meaningful steps forward. It’s not that we’re a million miles away but we’re far enough away to need some proper work.
For me, that has to start with improvements at the back. You can do what you like further up the pitch but if the defence cannot deliver clean sheets and prevent simple goals like Ipswich scored on Tuesday then that Achilles Heel is always going to cost us.
I’m not saying we played well at Ipswich but we got the dream start with Souleymane Doukara’s goal after 13 seconds. What more could any side ask for? If we’d held onto that and seen out a victory then the table, the season, would be looking very different. Unfortunately you just can’t have confidence in our ability to do that.