There’s no way to defend Leeds United’s performance at Hillsborough. In every way it was totally unacceptable.
This is a bad spell for the club, make no mistake, and it needs to be nipped in the bud very, very quickly.
It’s amazing how things turn in football. A week or so before Christmas we were talking about a run of seven wins from nine matches and praising the squad for putting themselves right in contention for the play-offs.
We’d have been something like four points off second place if we’d hung on for a win at Blackpool on Boxing Day but if this slump goes on much longer, we’ll be looking at a wasted season – or a league which leaves the players with everything to do.
That’s where we are right now. There’s no point talking about the small gap to the top six or anything like that because the club have been going backwards on the field for a few weeks.
The priority is to arrest that slide with one good result and a victory over Leicester City on Saturday would do just that.
I know how hard it is to stick by a team when things are going wrong but it’s imperative that the support for the players doesn’t dwindle. The last two performances have done nothing to deserve the crowds who’ve suffered them but these dodgy patches only clear up if the fans stay onside.
A lot of our supporters will feel badly let down by the defeats to Rochdale and Sheffield Wednesday and neither game was anywhere near good enough. I’d be shocked if the players thought otherwise. But it’s essential that the backing is there for them again on Saturday. If the crowd and the players are at odds, the only winners will be Leicester.
On the flip side, the team need to perform 100 times better. They cannot expect the fans to keep the faith if they keep turning in displays like Hillsborough. That shocked me, it really did, and it leaves you asking big questions.
So what’s gone wrong? For me, there’s nothing more glaring in the team than the lack of a midfield general. In this of all weeks, who better to hold up as the example of what we’re missing than Bobby Collins?
Every time Leeds concede a goal, I look to see who on the field is geeing the boys up and calling for a response. Quite frankly, as the ball flew in time after time at Hillsborough, no-one seemed to be saying a word.
I’m not for one minute suggesting the players weren’t bothered about the scoreline – the humiliation must have been horrible – but there was a collective shrugging-of-the-shoulders as the day got worse. There wasn’t anyone taking the situation by the scruff of the neck.
Because of that, it’s inevitable that some attention will focus on Rudy Austin. He’s the club’s captain. I like Rudy and when he plays well he’s very good but I’ve been of the view this past month that the pressure of wearing the armband is weighing down on him.
Captains have a couple of different responsibilities. In the main, they’re expected to turn in good performances week after week. You expect only very rare off-days from them.
But even on those off-days, you look to them to keep heads straight and to keep the team on track. I can only imagine what Bobby Collins would have done while all that was going on at Hillsborough. Someone should have read the riot act there and then.
My own view of Austin is that he doesn’t necessarily have the captaincy streak in him.
He’s a good player but I’m not convinced that he’s at his best with the added pressure of the armband. And to be honest, I don’t think we’ve got a natural leader anywhere in the squad.
It probably is the major priority in the January transfer window. But generals aren’t easy to find or easy to prise away from other clubs.
There are problems which blatantly need fixing at Leeds and my hope at the moment is that this spell doesn’t write the season off.
It would be a desperate shame if that happened because these have been pretty good times for the club. A lot of good work was done in the first half of the season and we’ve got new investment coming in shortly.
There’s still plenty to be hopeful about.
But we’re in the doldrums at the moment and only results can pull the team out of that.
The fightback starts against Leicester on Saturday. It’s a tough game, as tough as you could get, but nothing is impossible.
Not unless you give up. And giving up isn’t what our club does.