Steve morison’s medical involved a scan on a thigh strain sustained at the end of December. In other words, he came to Leeds United injured. Not exactly the rolling start you want when the season’s in full flow and the locker you’re filling belonged to the club’s top scorer.
The solution for Morison was kill or cure; six league starts in 24 days and every one seen through to the bitter end. So if his influence has been muted, as muttering about him this week suggests, then it was liable to be muted. Remember the way in which Luciano Becchio limped back into service after hamstring surgery last season?
Becchio deserves a mention because Morison is resigned to playing in his shadow, for the remainder of this season if not beyond. Jon Newsome, the ex-Leeds and Norwich defender, predicted as much when the pieces of the exchange which sent Becchio to Carrow Road in return for Morison and £200,000 fell into place on January 31. “He’ll be replacing someone who’s done the business for nigh-on five years,” Newsome said. “He’ll need to do a pretty good job.”
In this case, a good job translates as score goals. Say what you will about Becchio – and his career at Elland Road is above petty criticism – but scoring goals is what he did this season. His collection of headers, volleys and plentiful penalties became the saving grace for him and his club. Becchio’s goalscoring was immense but his performances were not. Leeds lay 11th in the Championship when he packed his bags and were going nowhere as fast as him.
Had Morison walked through the door and run riot, Becchio would no longer feature in dispatches. But the points lost cheaply at Leicester, Wolves and Middlesbrough begged the question of the difference the Argentinian might have made.
This despite the fact that Leeds have played with more fluency, purpose and creativity without him. And there’s the fact that Becchio is dragging his heels at Carrow Road. You could pick holes in a forward who has drawn blanks in four games for Norwich. Alternatively, you could give him time.
United’s manager, Neil Warnock, overplayed Morison’s ability when he said that the 29-year-old might become a “Leeds legend” over the course of a three-and-a-half year deal. Legend is a loaded word at Elland Road, rendered unattainable by the standards set in the 1960s, the 1970s and the early 1990s.
But the hallmark of Morison in prior appearances for Millwall against Leeds was that of a strong, mobile and capable Championship striker. He’ll score goals for Leeds and more than likely fair well. The pertinent issue here is the adequacy of the pool of strikers on United’s books. By any measure it is shallow and unsatisfactory. Leeds swapped Becchio for Morison in January but could have done with both players. United reached the window stressing the need for an additional forward – two if Becchio forced the issue over his contract – but signed only Becchio’s replacement. Much as Habib Habibou joined at the last minute, there is nothing in Warnock’s rhetoric or use of substitutes to suggest that he has confidence in Habibou to do what additional strikers should. Habibou has barely played, save two short chances off the bench.
You suspect that Warnock would rather a Nicky Maynard, a Jermaine Beckford or a Craig Mackail-Smith – the names which crossed his radar in the summer, at a time when he had no money. Quite why Habibou is here or how Leeds intend to take a “view” on making his loan permanent is difficult to say. He must wonder himself.
The present scenario is Morison, Ross McCormack or no-one. Morison has scored once in seven games and McCormack once in eight. Forwards are always pulled up in those circumstances and neither will like their statistics but they might ask where the support is coming from.
El-Hadji Diouf is not a regular source of goals and Habibou floats in the background, the archetypal unknown quantity which Leeds regularly deal in. Davide Somma’s body refuses to give him peace. At times like this you recall how the squad at Leeds was pulled together and why it still looks incomplete. Whatever Morison’s strengths, they would have been maximised by the regularity of Robert Snodgrass’ assists (15 last season in league games alone). There is a player who United miss and, sooner or later, must pay to replace.
Fallback options are usually worth their weight in goal. Crystal Palace, United’s hosts today, have relied on the finishing of Glenn Murray all season but Murray’s energy is waning and on Tuesday night, a missed penalty epitomised his tired frame of mind. Kevin Phillips covered his back by scoring a hat-trick and routing Hull City, giving Palace a sniff of second place in the Championship. Phillips was not Ian Holloway’s only reserve; Stephen Dobbie and Aaron Wilbraham were available too. There are enough cards in Holloway’s hand to prevent Palace grinding to a halt.
The cost of United’s recent finishing – four goals from open play in eight games without Becchio – is easy to calculate but the cross is not Morison’s to bear. It is not a feather in Becchio’s cap either. It rather underlines the task Leeds set themselves this season, a season for which they were under-prepared and always fated to fight the odds. What do you think? Click here to register and have your say on the Leeds United stories and issues that matter to you