Bizarre sight speaks volumes for Leeds United at Birmingham City - Graham Smyth's Verdict

Leeds United fell to defeat at Birmingham City at the end of a strange, dramatic week in which want-away players dominated the headlines once again.
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If two goalkeepers on an eight-man bench didn't do it, or Jamie Shackleton filling in as a winger, then surely the bizarre sight of Joe Rodon up front said it all about Leeds United at Birmingham City.

The centre-back came on in stoppage time to partner Georginio Rutter in attack with Leeds a goal down and, perhaps unsurprisingly, could not fashion an equaliser.

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When Daniel Farke arrived at Elland Road this summer he had, on paper, attacking options that would be the envy of the entire second tier. If only they were available to him.

Patrick Bamford is injured. Mateo Joseph is injured. Sonny Perkins was unwell on Friday. Jack Harrison, who could so easily still depart this summer, is injured. Crysencio Summerville, who at the outset of the summer was listed among the possible exits, is injured. Helder Costa is missing because he's going. Willy Gnonto, one Leeds have set out to keep, refused to travel and play in Saturday's game because he wants to go. And Luis Sinisterra, around whom there has been no real transfer noise at all, did not make the trip to St Andrew's.

Sinisterra was 'unavailable' according to Farke, who said there will come a time to speak about the situation regarding the Colombian winger. For fans, that time is right now. They made their feelings on Gnonto clear throughout the afternoon in Birmingham and believe they have a right to know if Sinisterra has acted in a similar way. Time, of course, will tell and when dawn breaks on September 2 we will know definitively who actually stayed to fight, who turned tail and what Farke has got to work with until January.

In the meantime there will be games like the one at Birmingham, where Shackleton struggled to make much of an impact at all, where Dan James got into good positions but could not deliver, where Ian Poveda was marked out of it and where neither Joe Gelhardt nor Georginio Rutter looked remotely close to what is needed in the nine role.

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The need for a striker was matched only by the need for a 10, Leeds getting players into positions in and around the area but lacking a magic man to thread a final pass into a runner. And though Archie Gray stood up to a physical challenge in the middle of the park, Farke has already made it clear that reliance on a 17-year-old is not a reasonable course of action for a club with ambition.

SUMMER ARRIVAL - Ethan Ampadu represents a solid bit of summer business for Leeds United but they need more of his standard through the door. Pic: GettySUMMER ARRIVAL - Ethan Ampadu represents a solid bit of summer business for Leeds United but they need more of his standard through the door. Pic: Getty
SUMMER ARRIVAL - Ethan Ampadu represents a solid bit of summer business for Leeds United but they need more of his standard through the door. Pic: Getty

Defensively there were some shaky moments and Luke Ayling came in for a torrid time at the hands, or rather the lightning quick feet of Siriki Dembélé. Though for all the winger's menace, Illan Meslier in goal was a spectator for the most part. Leeds relied a little too heavily on Birmingham's lack of end product and yet they kept getting away with it.

There wasn't much in it, there wasn't much to write home about and there wasn't much to get excited about. That's how it goes sometimes, even when you field your strongest side. There will be games like this.

The problem is that Leeds cannot afford too many games like this one, performances this toothless that leave the result in the balance right to the end, when a single mistake can lead to defeat. That's how it went when the Whites faced the Blues. James' clumsy stoppage time challenge in the area presented Lukas Jutkiewicz with a chance to win it from the spot and he duly obliged.

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That's when Farke threw on his brand new centre-half, as a centre forward, to no avail as the hosts celebrated victory.

Picking up points in August is important, particularly when the fixture computer shows you a little kindness as it appeared to do for Leeds. Letting opportunities slip to put wins on the board in a division where promotion is so competitively attested is ill advised.

But there was little or no anger directed at Farke during or after the game. There were no holes picked in his game plan and there wasn't even much in the way of criticism of the players on the pitch. At least they were out there trying.

When he sat down with the media Farke spoke openly of his attitude towards those who want to leave. They won't share a changing room with their team-mates. They won't train with the team. They're done with him. That plays well with supporters already so fed up with the readiness with which players have activated contract clauses and skipped town.

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And as the anger simmers among a fanbase craving loyalty, a penny for the thoughts of Stuart Dallas, a hero last time Leeds visited St Andrews. The Ulsterman had to sit out injured and watch last season as players brought in to 'raise the level' in the squad failed to even match the standards he previously set. What might be most galling of all is their failure to live up to the selflessness and dedication Dallas and others embodied, once the club needed digging out of a relegation hole. While all Dallas wants to do is play football again for Leeds United, players around him have made it clear they don’t and off they’ve gone.

Others will almost certainly follow them through the door over the next three weeks, leaving Farke in the unenviable position of having no real clue what his final squad is going to look like.

There is no doubt, however, that a promotion winning squad does not look like the one who stepped off the bus at St Andrew's. It does not look like an eight-man bench or Rodon up top. So Leeds, over the next 21 days, need to look busy in the market. To this point it has felt like want-away players and will-he won't-he exit door business has dictated the summer to an uncomfortable degree. It's time now for Leeds to pull rank and pull focus, show the door to anyone lacking full commitment and replace them with players ready and able to do the club proud.