Leeds United: Brentford defeat proved a real game of two halves
After a shocking first 45 minutes at Griffin Park, United boss Thomas Christiansen was encouraged by the Whites' second-half display. But he admits United's slump can't carry on. Lee Sobot reports.
HEAD coach Thomas Christiansen knows there is no disguising the unacceptable level of Leeds United’s first half display at Brentford on Saturday.
The Whites took 15 minutes to muster their first attack and the Bees could have been out of sight by half-time but for sharper finishing, not least from Ollie Watkins who blazed his penalty over the bar.
The defeat piled more pressure on Christiansen as the Whites slipped to sixth defeat from their last seven games as a fourth loss in succession sent United tumbling down to tenth.
Yet Christiansen insists his players were “ready for the situation” with the Dane vehemently denying that he underestimated the hosts.
Leeds and Christiansen are still licking their wounds following Saturday evening’s latest setback at Griffin Park in which United were ultimately undone by strikes in the final five minutes from Yoann Barbet and Ryan Woods.
The Whites looked to have set themselves up for a potential victory after Gjanni Alioski headed home a 67th-minute equaliser following a first half in which United were completely outplayed by a Bees side who only had a 1-0 lead to show for their dominance at the break.
The performance raised further questions of Christiansen and his side who now have two weeks to right the wrongs in training ahead of the Elland Road clash with Garry Monk’s Middlesbrough side a week on Sunday.
But Christiansen has strongly defended his own approach to the game insisting that 12th-placed Brentford were not underestimated under any circumstances whatsoever, with the Dane having specifically highlighted the dangers of a side on a seven-game unbeaten run.
“I never underestimate anyone,” said Christiansen.
“If I do it, it would be very poor from my side.
“I always explain to the players their strengths and their weaknesses to have the players ready for these situations.
“How can you underestimate a team that comes from five games not losing and having two away games against Birmingham and Preston where they won?”
The Bees were sent on their way to victory after an almighty goalkeeping gaffe from Andy Lonergan who dropped a routine cross from Romaine Sawyers into the path of Neal Maupay who could not miss from barely one yard out.
But Christiansen maintains a strong belief that his United side are close to turning a corner with the Dane believing his men have been simply out of luck at key times.
“It’s disappointing when they approach the goal four times during the game and they score three goals,” said Christiansen.
“But this is the bad situation that it is.
“It’s a little bit of bad luck that we have. And we also had good opportunities to score also in the first half.
“In the second half we had the foul and one header that was just centimetres from the post. When you have a good run that hits the post and goes in and now it goes out.”
Asked if he felt that United were close to getting it right, Christiansen responded: “I believe that you saw that in the second half.
“We dominated. We had the chance to win the game and when we were playing best is when we conceded in one set piece.
“It’s difficult to defend this situation.
“If we had taken one point everyone would have said ‘well, they fought back well back and got back into the game. Good changes at half time and everything nice’.
“We have to recognise that the first half was very bad but the team showed strength that they fought back.
“We dominated the situation and we deserved more much more.”
Instead, a sixth league defeat from seven and a seventh loss from nine has further heightened the importance of United’s clash with former boss Monk’s Middlesbrough in 12 days’ time.
In complete opposite fashion to Leeds, three consecutive victories have propelled the Riversiders into the division’s play-off positions in fifth.
United are now three points adrift of the top six and only two points above 15th-placed Queens Park Rangers.
The Whites are also second-bottom in the division’s form table taken over the last six games.
Christiansen will now have to work the oracle quickly with the Dane needing a positive result both to arrest United’s slide and to ease the pressure on his position as head coach.
In a bid to transform United’s fortunes at Brentford, the Dane took the rare step of making a double substitution during the half-time interval with lone striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga withdrawn for Kemar Roofe and midfielder Eunan O’Kane sacrificed for Pablo Hernandez.
“I was looking for something else,” explained Christiansen.
“I wanted more mobility and I wanted a player who could keep the ball and who could play.
“That gave a very good result and good movement with Roofey upfront.
“And Pablo interfered in many situations and created many good situations in attack.
“We had crosses where we didn’t arrive and there was one in particular where Ali didn’t arrive from the second line.
“I was happy with the second half but I know it’s not good enough.”