Head coach neil redfearn reckons now is the time for leeds to mix things up a bit in terms of team selections. Phil Hay reports.
Neil Redfearn, like most coaches, knows his preferred starting line-up but the bout of cramp suffered by Stephen Warnock last weekend reminded Leeds United’s head coach that squads make seasons.
Warnock is the club’s most dependable player, an established left-back with no better alternative, and he blamed his substitution during Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Fulham on illness suffered during the game. Redfearn wondered if Leeds’ relentless use of Warnock was actually taking its toll.
The 33-year-old is not the only fixture in United’s team. Since Redfearn’s appointment on November 1, the changes to his side have been fleeting and usually enforced. Redfearn had stability on his mind when in charge of a club which was badly out of form; a settled line-up and points on the board. Seven games on he is well aware that a shuffle of the pack is needed.
Leeds were always likely to be changed in shape and style at Nottingham Forest this weekend, a response to away form which is giving their season no chance to blossom, but defeat to Fulham in a flat contest at home was a red flag in itself. During training on Tuesday, Redfearn arranged an 11-v-11 match between his players with his thoughts and options very much open.
“When I first took the job there’d been a lot of unrest here and too many changes,” he said. “The team wasn’t settled as such and we’d gone quite a while without a win.
“My first thoughts were ‘let’s get a line-up and a shape in place and let’s get a few results behind us.’ We’ve done that, albeit with some poor results along the way, but the time’s probably right to mix it up.
“Steve (Warnock) is fine, he’s not injured, but he’s maybe an example of where a few of the lads are at. We’ve relied on some of them very heavily and I thought we looked a bit off it against Fulham. We still got ourselves in front of goal, we were still right in the game, but I’d be lying if I said the usual spark was there.
“We did 11 v 11 in training on Tuesday and my message to the players was that they’re all in contention. This weekend might be one for them. We’ll be different at Forest – we’ll look different and think differently. It’s the right thing to do.”
Leeds have not won away from home since beating Bournemouth at Dean Court on September 16, a result which looks more and more astounding as Bournemouth’s year flourishes. That game apart, United have not won away from home at all.
Under Redfearn, the club had three points within their grasp at Blackburn Rovers last month but contrived to lose the game with a bad error and a contentious late penalty. At Ipswich Town a fortnight ago, United led after three minutes but caved in rapidly once Ipswich levelled the match. They were beaten 4-1 and beaten easily.
Forest – a club which, like Leeds, faces a Financial Fair Play transfer embargo next month – have been up and down all season but solid in the main.
Their tally of draws is more of an issue than their tally of defeats; the reason why Stuart Pearce’s squad are outside the play-offs. They also have a 12-goal striker in Britt Assombalonga.
“They’ll give us no quarter but I want the players to be ready for what they throw at us,” Redfearn said. “When the pressure comes on, and it’s going to come on, I’d like to see us stand up to it. It shouldn’t be a surprise.
“I do think this is where experience comes in. At Ipswich we got our noses in front and what we should have done from then on was break the game up and cut it into blocks – get through 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there and give them nothing. Let them get frustrated and punish them when you can.
“I want us to play football and that’ll always be the case but common sense comes into it too. We can’t expect to go to places like Forest and play them off the park. We can go there expecting to win, provided we apply ourselves in the right way. We need the penny to drop but I’m sure it will.”
This might have been a weekend for Rodolph Austin, United’s physical, box-to-box Jamaican, but the midfielder cried off with an ankle injury during the warm-up before the Fulham game and is still a doubt. Redfearn planned to use his running power in the latter stages of the defeat to Fulham, a means of keeping Leeds in the ascendency.
“Rudy’s a ball carrier and you need an option like that,” Redfearn said. “With someone like Adryan, he’s all touch, craft and creativity. He’s a massive asset but you can’t have a team full of that sort of player alone. You want a blend and sometimes you’re looking for the dynamic running a lad like Rudy gives you.
“It was unfortunate with him last weekend. To be fair to Rudy, I think he thought he could play through his injury and he’s the sort of player who’ll do that. I’m sure he’s done it in the past. He went out to warm up and realised he had a problem. It’s not ideal but it was a genuine mistake.”
Games between Leeds and Forest tend to be open. They always produce goals. The past seven meetings between the club’s have yielded a remarkable average of almost five a match – a figure skewed by Forest’s 7-3 win at Elland Road in 2012 – but Redfearn is looking for a tighter and more measured afternoon on Saturday.
“We can score goals,” he said. “There’s no doubt that we’ve got goals in the team. And as we showed at Blackburn, we can cause teams a lot of problems away from home when everyone’s at it. But we need to start showing some resilience. We’ve got to be organised from the start and brave if we go behind. I keep reminding the lads that we’re a match for anyone on our day – that’s proven by the fact that we beat Derby County a couple of weeks ago.
“There were no complaints after that result but the last couple of weeks have been tough. This has been a good time to step back and take a fresh look at things.”