The extension of Liam Bridcutt’s loan so early in the transfer window was the start to January I was looking for.
Bridcutt alone won’t make us a side who are fighting in amongst the top six, but Leeds United have plans for this month and those plans would have taken a big hit if he had gone back to Sunderland.
We’ve lost one game in eight with Bridcutt in the team and that’s not a coincidence. He’s made a difference to our structure and our organisation, and experience tells me that the younger players around him have been better off for having him in there.
Everyone wants to watch fresh talent and there’s nothing better than seeing academy players thrive, but you always have to be realistic about the pressure you put them under. Basically, a very youthful line-up is fine when things are going well; it can be a problem when things are going wrong.
Bridcutt joined us at a time when the club was under the cosh. I’ll be honest, at that stage I was seriously worried about being down in the bottom four or five at Christmas. Fair enough, his debut at Queens Park Rangers wasn’t great but he’d had about 48 hours to get ready for that match and he was thrown in cold.
Since then, he’s found his best position and he’s dictated our play. I know Steve Evans said he had other alternatives if Bridcutt had chosen to move elsewhere this month, but he’d have been massively disappointed if this signing had slipped away from him. We’ve done really well in the past month and it wouldn’t help to lose someone who’s been key to that run.
What we need now is more Bridcutts. More players who have the character and the class to move the team forward. We do lack experience, there’s no doubt about that, and I felt the 1-1 draw against MK Dons showed again why we need another centre-back.
Seven matches unbeaten is an impressive run but it has to be said that the performance at Elland Road on Saturday was shocking.
It’s bizarre that the players can raise themselves so much against the likes of Hull City and Derby County and yet come up short against sides like Rotherham and MK Dons.
When you play a struggling club, or a club you’re expected to beat, it’s vital that you get stuck into them from the first whistle. In the first few minutes on Saturday we had passes going astray – simple, five-yard passes played straight to the opposition – and that did nothing except worry the crowd.
MK Dons probably took a bit of confidence from that and they looked like they fancied their chances straight away.
What we saw again, however, was the way in which our defence struggles to cope with pace. When high balls are coming straight at the backline it’s not an issue, but teams seem to know that if they get the ball down and knock it around, they’ll get us on the back foot.
The fashion these days is to play with pace up front and pace in wide areas and that’s something we can’t deal with.
It showed in their goal and it showed in the tackle by Charlie Taylor on Rob Hall which in all honesty I thought was a penalty. We didn’t look like scoring ourselves and I’m still not sure quite how their centre-back conceded that own goal. To be fair to him, it was quite a finish.
After a very good run we can call Saturday a bad day at the office but I think if you’re honest about the performance there are things in there which have to be addressed.
We’d have been in serious trouble had Bridcutt not been tidying up so the extension of his loan is massive. It shows as well that we do have clout in the transfer market – that when Steve Evans says he wants a player, he’s going to be backed. Generally I’m happy with where we’re at. We’re doing well and we’re making progress. I just feel that when it comes to the play-offs, we’re missing something.
We need to take that next step and I’d guess that Steve is thinking exactly the same.
He’ll be delighted with the form but knowing him, when he looks at the table, he’ll be frustrated.
To go seven games unbeaten and still be nine points back shows what a mountain he’s trying to climb.