Leeds United may have the play-offs in their sights but Peter Lorimer insists the squad, as it stands, probably won’t quite make it.
Great credit to the players and coaching staff at Leeds United. They’ve done better in the first half of the season than I expected them to and they’ve reached the new year with the play-offs right in their sights.
But let’s be honest. The squad isn’t strong enough to sustain a push for the top six. They’re going to go close and you never to say never in football but experience tells you that the respective strength of other Championship clubs will make a difference when it matters.
The problem for Leeds and for Brian McDermott is that they’re playing catch up with rival teams and rival managers. Take Nottingham Forest, our opponents last Sunday. They’ve consistently spent money over a number of years and they’re going to spend more this month. Slowly, the work and the investment is paying off.
The same is true of Leicester City. They’ve been used from time-to-time as an example of why big spending in the Championship doesn’t always pay and there were big doubts about the future of Nigel Pearson as manager after they lost in the play-offs last season but they’re leading the way and looking like a side who are really coming together after a lot of patient work.
On top of that you’ve got Queens Park Rangers – money no object or thereabouts – and others with a bit of cash. So in reality, Leeds are going to have to graft hard to get themselves on a level playing field with the bigger hitters in this league. That’s why Brian has been talking about avoiding quick fixes since the day he walked in the door.
For him, each transfer window needs to redress a bit of the imbalance he inherited. When I look back at the way in which the squad was put together for the 2012-13 season, it seems like a bit of an emergency process. The club put their faith in a lot of very experienced players who weren’t too difficult to sign, and as much as some money was spent it didn’t compare to the investment we’ve seen elsewhere.
Forest on Sunday had Matt Derbyshire and Simon Cox on the bench along with a couple of other very decent players. But what really impressed me about them was their strength in the centre of midfield.
Andy Reid in particular ran the show and our midfielders couldn’t really get near him. In all honesty I thought the final scoreline flattered us and I thought we were lucky to be in the game at half-time. They controlled the match from the centre of the pitch and put us under a lot or pressure. They deserved their win.
So if there’s one position that I’d like to see addressed more than any others this month, it’s our midfield. Watching Forest over the weekend really pressed home the need for us to have a dictator in the middle of the park; a Championship version of Johnny Giles if you like.
With Alex Mowatt and Luke Murphy in there, we’ve got lads who like to get on the ball and move it around. But they really are lads – youngsters who are learning their trade and will only reach their full potential when they’ve had the experience of a few years at a high level.
They’ll shine on certain days but it’s asking too much for them to run the show for 46 games in their first seasons at Elland Road. And among our other hard-working midfielders, I just don’t feel that we’ve got someone capable of controlling matches for 90 minutes and doing to teams what Forest did to us.
Reid’s scored a fair few goals for Forest and he’s got a lot of assists too but what I like about him is his willingness to take a pass anytime, anywhere. He looks for the ball constantly and he’s got the vision and the composure to do something with it. I’m not suggesting he’s a sensational player but Billy Davies has got himself a trustworthy general there. We really need the same – a conductor for the orchestra.
All things considered, to be in seventh place after 23 games is a great achievement. And it’s an important one too. In our present state, we’re a club who need to be building up our strength and signing better players. But try doing that when you’re heading into January in 18th place or somewhere beneath the top half of the table.
In those circumstances you’d basically be asking potential signings if they want to risk a relegation fight. You’d also be asking them to commit to another season in the Championship because gatecrashing the play-offs from far behind is never easy. Most of Brian’s targets might have looked at that situation and said thanks but no thanks.
As it is, I think the players he speaks to will be very tempted to come. We’re right beneath the top six – outside it on points only – and the message from Elland Road is that the squad is about to get stronger. If promotion doesn’t happen this time around, I’d expect more work in the summer and a serious push next season. For me, this is a good time to be getting on board.
People reckon that players are increasingly driven by money and maybe there’s some truth in that but I think what they want more than anything else is to join a club with ambition. We’re gunning for the play-offs and I think that should be our aim from now until May. I’m realistic enough to know that chasing down the top two will be incredibly difficult.
Because of our form so far, Brian can sell a bright future to the targets he talks to and back his claims up with facts and figures. And that, in short, is why our creditable league position is so vital.
A club improves by signing better players but better players only sign for clubs who they think are going in the right direction. If we were a long way down the division after 23 games then this would have the potential to be a difficult, frustrating month.
Instead, I’m fascinated to see what happens.
Festive football fixtures done for benefit of television cameras not fans But at least we get a fair crack of the whip
I’m not surprised that Brian McDermott, pictured, was unhappy about the fact that Leeds United played twice away from home straight after Christmas.
There’s always been an element of chance about the festive fixture list – you win some, lose some – but I found it bizarre how certain clubs were given home fixtures on December 26 and 29 while others were forced to travel on both dates.
In United’s case, the fixtures were extremely tough ones against clubs who have been in or around the top six all season. I know that you have to play everyone at some stage but there’s no doubt at all that the schedule put more pressure on Brian’s squad than it did on many others, Forest and Blackpool included.
The Football League should take a look at the situation and next year I hope we’ll see a bit more common sense. There has to be a fairer way which makes sure everyone gets the same deal. Our run was so tough that I’d actually have been quite happy to come out of those matches with two points.
This goes back to a long-standing argument about fixtures and to be honest it goes a lot deeper than just frustration about the Christmas period. I’m more and more amazed by the lack of consideration shown for football supporters, and the Leeds fans probably suffer more from disruption than any club outside the Premier League.
The pick of this season’s changes has to be Yeovil Town away. Yeovil (managed by Gary Johnson, pictured right) away at 12.15pm on a Saturday in February. It would be funny if you didn’t bother to think about the implications of travelling 250-odd miles to make such an early kick-off but I honestly feel that someone has a duty to ask for a bit more responsibility when it comes to TV games and random starts.
I’m not naive about the money television companies pump into football. A lot of clubs would be in serious trouble without it and the more Sky games you get (especially away from home), the better off you’re going to be financially. The rights are expensive and TV executives who pay for them deserve a certain amount of influence. But in my view, that influence sometimes goes too far.
Leeds are on telly as often if not more than most Championship sides and it’s easy to understand why. We’ve got one of the biggest followings in the league, pictured right, so choosing to televise us means you’ll normally get a good atmosphere inside the ground and a very decent television audience to boot.
Football relies heavily on TV cash, but it also needs the fans. Too often I feel they’re forgotten. This Christmas I’d argue Leeds got the rough end of the stick.