It goes without saying that Jonathan Howson’s departure to Norwich City leaves Leeds United shy of another of their ‘main men’ – the sort who opposing players would immediately look out for on a team-sheet.
While his exit has unquestionably diminished United’s attacking potency from midfield, particularly when employing a 4-5-1 system, it has also had a deprecative effect in terms of something not quite so quantifiable – experience.
The United line-up which laboured for over three-quarters of Saturday’s home encounter with Ipswich Town is not deficient solely in terms of just quality after the midfielder’s departure.
Just one player who started the clash with Paul Jewell’s hapless Tractor Boys, Robert Snodgrass, had featured over 100 times for Leeds. Three of the line-up were loan signings and another trio were aged 23 or above.
It would be wrong, however, to suggest that many of the players in United’s large squad haven’t been around the block but many of them are currently out of the first-team picture for differing reasons, including the likes of Paul Connolly, Leigh Bromby, Billy Paynter and Andy O’Brien.
Others, such as Luciano Becchio and summer signings Michael Brown and Finnish striker Mikael Forssell, could hardly be described as first-team regulars and ‘shoo-ins’ this season.
This has heightened the calls from many supporters urging the club to bring in some more experienced, permanent, full-time signings this transfer window. People who know what this level is all about and can be relied upon to deliver as opposed to targeting ‘project’ players and loan captures.
YEP pundit Brendan Ormsby is one who has bemoaned United’s lack of authority, especially at the back and in midfield, on a consistent basis.
And while the arrival of Fabian Delph may have softened the blow in some respects, following Howson’s surprise transfer, the former Whites captain feels the side needs a few ‘guvnors’ and still has a discernable void, which needs addressing before the close of the current window on Tuesday night.
Reflecting on the current situation Leeds find themselves in, he commented: “For me, in a January transfer window, you don’t want to see your best players sold, but experienced ones going in.
“Simon’s got to replace Howson and somehow bring others in to work with and who will improve the squad still.
“He’s got to replace Howson permanently, while also pick a new (permanent) captain. And he’s got to bring in the right players because if he doesn’t, it’s going to backfire on him, big time.
“For me, it’s no good bringing kids in, or loads of loan signings, because they ain’t going to get you up.
“Simon needs some experience in there and people who have been around and done a bit, especially now we’ve lost our main midfielder and captain.
“Someone texted me when they heard about Fabian Delph coming back, but I don’t think it’s the whole answer.
“I have to say I think Fabian is too young and not good enough to lead the team out of this division, which is what we want. There have got to be more people in there now that the players look up to.
“If I was in the team and the captain was sold and then a young lad comes in from someone’s reserves, it wouldn’t give me the boost I was looking for, I’ve got to be honest. I wouldn’t be thinking: ‘We’ve lost Jonny, but got so-and-so – great.’
“I’m not knocking kids, it’s just that they’ve no experience. There are also quite a few loan players at the club and that doesn’t really solve anything in the long term.
“In a sense, being at Leeds won’t mean that much to many of them at the end of the day because many loan players just want to get back in with their mother team or put themselves in the shop window.
“And at the end of their loan period, they are away and gone.”
The departure of Howson has led many supporters to openly speculate one question: ‘Who’s next?’
And while United have done their level best to reassure supporters they won’t be selling any more of the family silver this month, it’s fair to say that an amount of cynicism remains in some quarters.
The crown jewel currently in United’s possession is wingman Robert Snodgrass, boss Grayson vehemently denying in Saturday’s after-match press conference that the Scot had withdrawn from contract negotiations with 18 months left on his deal.
Ormsby admits himself he is surprised the club have managed to keep hold of the 24-year-old, subject of a failed £3.5m bid from Norwich last summer, and while the Scot issued a rallying cry to fans this week in the wake of Howson’s exit, his medium and long-term future remains nothing less than unclear.
Ormsby added: “I’m surprised the club have held onto Snodgrass for so long, as he had a great season last year.
“He will have seen some of his mates leaving and the captain, one of the established players, and he might start to think: ‘Maybe, it’s about time I moved on as well.’
“A few will be looking at each other and thinking to themselves: ‘What’s happening?’
“There were rumours a while ago about Luciano Becchio not being happy at not being in the team and questions about whether he would be leaving.
“Some will be sat there thinking: ‘We’ve sold our captain, he’s gone’ and looking around the changing room, seeing it’s getting a bit depleted, in terms of the more established senior players leaving, and questioning whether they should stay themselves.”