In football, the right balance between philosophy and results is very hard to strike.
With the odd exception, every manager in the game wants to oversee pleasing performances. There’s no greater praise than being told that your team is a good, attractive, footballing side.
Unfortunately, football being the sport it is means some of those managers are going to reach a stage where they need points on the board by hook or by crook. Leeds United are getting close to that position now – too far down the league to prioritise anything other than results.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that Neil Redfearn should abandon his strategy for the squad at Leeds. It’s no secret that I like him and his approach to the game. He thinks about football in the right way and he’s brave enough to follow his own mind. I genuinely respect that.
But at this moment the club are 19th in the league and five points above the bottom three. Yes, it looks like Blackpool, Wigan and Brighton are stuck down there but we’re 21 games into the season now and we can’t pretend the table isn’t a concern or that these are early days.
At the start of the season I had no expectation of promotion. That’s not disrespectful, it’s just a fair reflection of how many changes we’d seen, how new the squad was and – perhaps more than anything – how young the squad was.
What I felt confident of was a tidy mid-table finish and I still think that’s where we’ll end up. The Championship is taking its usual form – win a couple of games and the garden seems a hell of a lot rosier – but this is the worst time for anyone to be complacent.
We’ve had two wins from 13 matches and if we’re not careful that form will drag us very close to the bottom three, if not into it. The players and the coaching staff will be just as aware of that as any of us. So results are now absolutely vital, starting at Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
The away form has been a big issue for us this season and the problem when you don’t pick up points away from home is that the pressure on your home matches builds and builds. I don’t know if that was a factor against Fulham on Saturday – to be honest, I thought it was a poor game in the main – but it’s a hard job to keep compensating for bad results on the road with good ones at Elland Road. It’s not sustainable. For that reason it won’t surprise me if we see a change of tack from Redfearn this week.
Personally I think something has to change. The way we like to play is fine at Elland Road but it’s a more risky approach at other grounds. Away from home, teams are going to come at you. They’re going to commit more players forward. Our full-backs like to bomb up and down the pitch but they can’t risk doing that so much when the opposition are attacking in numbers.
One thing I noticed at Blackburn last month was how exposed we looked down the right-hand side in particular. And at Ipswich I thought we were quite lucky to get away with a 4-1 defeat. They substituted a few players in the second half and took their foot of the gas. It was a bad day.
It would make sense to me if Redfearn tried to tighten things up at Forest. A different formation, perhaps, and a different line-up – a team with a touch more experience.
He’s got guys like Michael Tonge and Rudy Austin to work with and hopefully Giuseppe Bellusci will be back from his injury. It’s not necessary for Redfearn to rip up the entire blueprint but we do have to be harder to beat away from home.
If that means sitting deeper, being a bit more cautious and surrendering a few principles then in the meantime so be it.
A steady run of form is all that’s needed to get us into a more comfortable position and to make the second half of the season a proper building process.
It’s much easier to put foundations in place when the pressure’s off and more difficult to do that when you’re looking over your shoulder.
So this, for me, is a vital period. Over Christmas and in the early weeks of the new year, we have to get moving. It’s not a case of panicking but a case of being realistic about the position we’re in. Nobody wants to be in a dogfight.