Leeds United 0 Hull City 2: Run is over but lights out at Norwich; what to do in January and when will Jack Clarke finally start? - Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United's winning run finally ended, the YEP's Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday's 2-0 loss at home to Hull City.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 30th December 2018, 12:39 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 1:53 am
SO CLOSE: Pablo Hernandez sees his effort fly narrowly over the crossbar.
SO CLOSE: Pablo Hernandez sees his effort fly narrowly over the crossbar.

Dominating the stats but not the one that matters

Saturday's game is a hard one to assess as United had 77 per cent of possession but also 22 shots on goal compared to Hull's nine and seven on target as opposed to City's three.

They are not statistics befitting a 2-0 defeat yet it would be hard to say that Hull did not merit their victory and even Whites centre-back Pontus Jansson took to social media on Saturday evening to admit that the Tigers were "well deserved" of their win.

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In short, as is clear from the statistics, Hull simply took their chances through the impressive Jarrod Bowen and ultimately defended better, including when clearing three Leeds efforts off the line.

On another day, the contest might have ended up with Leeds getting at least a share of the spoils but even Adam Forshaw admitted the performance was rather flat compared to what we have seen of late.

Thankfully, United's sterling work over the previous 24 games still has the Whites in a brilliant position as we approach 2019 with second-placed Norwich City falling to a dramatic 4-3 loss at home to Derby County and third-placed West Brom only managing to salvage a last-gasp 1-1 draw at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

Incredibly, the Canaries led 3-2 against Derby until a power cut caused floodlight failure and a 15-minute delay, after which Frank Lampard's side bagged two late goals to turn the game on its head.

Consequently, in effect, the only real damage has been the Baggies closing the gap to five points with Leeds remaining three points ahead of Norwich though the sides in fourth, fifth and sixth in Sheffield United, Middlesbrough and Derby County were also able to close the gap.

Still, there's an argument that Leeds rather got away with one given the results elsewhere though on the flip side of the coin a three-point lead at the top could have become six with Leeds blowing a chance to make the five-point gap back to third an eight-point advantage.

But despite recent progress suggesting otherwise, Leeds are not going to win every game and it should be highlighted that Hull approached the contest on a six-game unbeaten run and having won their last three.

The Tigers are actually second in the Championship form table taken over the last seven games - one point behind Leeds.

That puts things into perspective somewhat and the job now for United is to right the wrongs and produce the perfect response come the New Year's Day clash at Nottingham Forest who comparably have taken just six points from their last seven games.

One eye on January

It would be foolish to drum up any over-reaction to Saturday's setback, especially considering Hull's fine recent form.

It should also be remembered that five key Leeds players remain out injured in Patrick Bamford, Stuart Dallas, Izzy Brown, Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi.

That also puts matters into perspective somewhat and all five are getting close to a return - as in within the next month - though not for Forest - with possibly Berardi looking at being the last man back after rupturing a tendon in his hamstring.

But the new transfer window opens on January 1 and activity within that window could be crucial, not just in terms of the business that Leeds conduct but also in terms of the recruitment made by their title rivals and especially West Brom.

Whites managing director Angus Kinnear provided an update as to United's recruitment plans in his programme-notes ahead of Boxing Day's clash against Blackburn Rovers at Elland Road, saying Leeds would use the January market to "evaluate any opportunities but that the "club's criteria on adding to the squad will be exacting."

“Any new face will need to add significant and immediate capability to the first team, fit within our reasonable wage structure and not destabilise the squad that has served us so well," said Kinnear.

"Identifying and securing this type of player will be challenging and we are conscious that the majority of January purchases fail to deliver against expectations. However, our scouting and analytics capability give us a better chance to beat the odds.”

Essentially, that sounds like Leeds will do business if the right player can be brought in at the right price and on the right wage and crucially only if they improve the squad and the team. Sensible.

United are known to be keen on bringing in another goalkeeper following the injury to Jamal Blackman with the Whites interested in Newcastle United shotstopper Karl Darlow and while Leeds have continued winning ways without Samu Saiz, there is no denying that the Spaniard provided a key option and much needed creativity and flair in the no 10 role, be it as a starter or from the bench.

Looking at the overall picture, the table does not lie and United have been the best side in the division over the first 25 games. Even in spite of Saturday's setback, the Whites are three points clear with a five-point back to the teams outside of the automatic promotion places. Stop the season now and it's thank you very much indeed.

But January allows other sides the opportunity to move the goalposts, to strengthen their sides in terms of recruitment and it will be fascinating to see exactly what United do.

A lot depends on injuries but another goalkeeper option and essentially a replacement for Saiz look to be the minimum of what is in need.

Within reason and without disturbing the equilibrium of a tightly-knit squad and side, the right reinforcements in January might ultimately be rewarded with even bigger riches in terms of promotion next May.

There is, of course, the argument to suggest that the squad as it is might well be capable of achieving automatic promotion and even winning the division.

Leeds are top after all, and having coped with a ridiculous amount of injuries.

But making minimal reinforcements could be leaving matters to chance somewhat, especially given the prospect of injuries, bans and other teams strengthening too.

There will be no further chance to strengthen after the window shuts on January 31 and the first month of 2019 will be a fascinating one to observe.

The winger situation and will Jack Clarke start at Forest?

You could go through the whole Whites team from Saturday's encounter with practically every player putting in a below par display bar Pablo Hernandez who was continually pulling the strings in the no 10 role before being switched to the left wing when Tyler Roberts came on as a second-half substitute for Barry Douglas amid a positional re-shift.

Roberts offered plenty of promise in the no 10 role and that could be worth exploring though key cog Hernandez looks best utilised in that very important role.

The debate as to whether or not Kalvin Phillips would be better off back in midfield also rumbles on - probably yes - and the upcoming returns of Cooper and Berardi might well see that happen.

But once again another Leeds game passed with more strong calls to start Jack Clarke.

Manchester City loanee Jack Harrison was again given the nod to line up on the left wing with Gjanni Alioski on the other side but while nobody is questioning Harrison's work-rate, his first half display failed to really cut the ice.

It was no surprise to see Clarke come on for what was his tenth outing as a second-half substitute with the pacy and skillful teen predictably causing bother on the right flank with Alioski on the left until Hernandez moved there with Alioski then dropping to left back.

Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa is understandably keen to take a steady, gradual and patient approach with 18-year-old Clarke and not just throw him in straight away but surely it is only a matter of time and matter of weeks if not days before he starts.

He and Alioski - who is in a decent vein of form of late - look easily United's best options out wide at present and it might be worth starting Clarke on the left - the position in which he terrorised Aston Villa's defence.

It is also hoped that the very popular Mateusz Klich bounces back with a better display at Forest - a player who has proved a revelation this season but one who needs a goal and to return to his early season best.

Nothing would satisfy the Whites fan-base more than singing about Klich scoring goals after netting one at Forest.