When you sign a player for £1million, you automatically assume that he’s going to walk into your club and set the place on fire.
I’m sure Luke Murphy would admit that he’s taken time to find his feet at Leeds United and I listened to him talking about the room for improvement in his game at a Lorimer’s Bar event a month or so ago.
But his performance against Watford on Saturday was by far the best we’ve seen of him since he came here from Crewe Alexandra in the summer. Brian McDermott talked about some of his players “coming of age” in a barnstorming 3-3 draw and I’d say that Murphy was one of them.
It seemed to me that the circumstances of a strange game brought Murphy’s true colours to the fore. We were 2-0 down at half-time and in big trouble. Make no mistake, I’d have taken a point at that stage – even though I felt a bit dejected by the final result. In the end it was a match which we should have won. But the commitment to staging a fightback was evident from the earliest moments of the second half and I think Murphy realised that in order to turn the screw on Watford, he needed to play high up the pitch and get himself in and around their box.
His record shows that he’s a goalscoring midfielder but we haven’t seen a great deal of that so far. The criticism I’d make of him – and it’s more an observation than anything – is that he’s been playing too deep this season; hanging back and trying to work the midfield from around the centre circle. He’s got a good enough passing game to do that and some of his distribution on Saturday was excellent but the big difference I saw was in his positioning. He was all over Watford in dangerous areas and their defence couldn’t cope with the relentless flow of passes and crosses into the box. I’d like to see more of that from him because he looks like a terrific footballer in that form.
It might be that the £1million price tag has weighed a bit heavily on him and a seven-figure fee does mean that much is expected of you. But the Championship is the most competitive league going at the moment, a division where you get no time on the ball. He’s come from League One and he’s needed time to adapt which, when you think about it, is fair enough. That’s why he’s on a three-year deal – to give him time to shine.
But also, the first couple of months of this season were pretty inconsistent and there was a bit of sniping at the players and Brian McDermott after that difficult run in September and October.
If you’re new to the club and perhaps a bit unfamiliar with the surroundings or the expectation, that must be quite hard to deal with. Now that everything’s settled down, most of the players look pretty comfortable. Big Matt Smith is another one who I’m increasingly impressed with. He’s big by anyone standards but I think we’re all starting to realise that there’s far more to his game than flicking on high, hopeful balls or roughing up the opposition defence.
He could have had three or four goals against Watford and the header he took was really clinical. He’s one of those guys who if he appears under a cross six or seven yards from goal, you’re pretty sure that it’s heading for the back of the net.
But his link-up play was good and his anticipation, his positioning and his movement were bang on the money in the second half. I can see him getting better as his Championship experience builds up.
Don’t forget that he’s still relatively new to full-time football, despite the fact that he’s well into his 20s. I’ll keep my glass half full after Saturday’s result and take it as a step forward. I think when the dust settled, most of us just accepted that it was a fantastic game between two sides who went at each other like it was a play-off final.
Next up for Leeds is Doncaster Rovers away, a happy hunting ground for us over the years. And then Barnsley at home.
I’m loathe to talk about easy fixtures because the Championship is awash with crazy results again but if our players perform as well as they can in both of those matches, we’ll be heading into Christmas with six more points.
Then the fun would really start.