David Prutton: A reality check for Leeds United – but no need for panic

Sheffield 'Wednesday's Gary Hooper scores his second goal in the win over Leeds.
Sheffield 'Wednesday's Gary Hooper scores his second goal in the win over Leeds.
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Football dictates that no-one is allowed to get too carried away with a good start to the season so I’d hope a few away defeats aren’t pushing people over the edge in Leeds.

There’s a balance to be struck between taking bad results seriously and avoiding any overreaction and I don’t think Leeds United are anywhere near knee-jerk territory. I know from my own career at Elland Road that life as a Leeds fan comes with the permanent expectation of being kicked in the b******s so perhaps everyone was ready for this little wobble.

Liam Cooper

Liam Cooper

I call it a wobble because you shouldn’t exaggerate the significance of the club’s most recent games. There are elements of the performances which need addressing and no head coach is naive enough to look at some pretty glaring mistakes and assume they’ll fix themselves but to anyone who thought Leeds would coast along easy street to promotion I’d simply say ‘welcome to the Championship’. It’s not as if the club don’t know how this league goes.

One of the problems at Hillsborough last Sunday, I felt, was the absence of Liam Cooper. I know he had a bit of a nightmare in the defeat at Cardiff City and his red card was fairly high up the stupid scale – speaking as someone who has been up there myself – but his powers of organisation are a little underrated.

He was something of a surprise choice as captain by Thomas Christiansen, not necessarily the most obvious pick in the supporters’ eyes, but I can understand why Christiansen thought he was the man for the job. He’s not as aggressive or charismatic as Pontus Jansson but when he plays well, he’s good at keeping the defensive line in order and keeping them together. Every defence needs a voice and a leader.

That was one of the biggest failings at Sheffield Wednesday. It’s been hard to find reasons to criticise Christiansen’s defence this season but on Sunday they were all over the place and lacking a dominant personality. Players were guilty of ball-watching, losing their markers and failing to win vital headers inside the box. You can dissect other parts of the derby all you like but when you start giving away cheap goals you’re going to lose games.

Thomas Christiansen

Thomas Christiansen

That’s one reason why managers will sometimes walk in after a 5-0 win and tell the press that the thing which made them most happy was the clean sheet. It sounds laughable but a team’s form and confidence is directly affected by the goals they concede. If the opposition are sticking shots in the top corner from 30 yards, you have to be philosophical and take it on the chin but if the concessions are cheap and messy, or easily avoidable, it becomes difficult to play with much assurance.

Leeds started well and gave it a go in the second half at Hillsborough but I was left with the feeling that Sheffield Wednesday wanted it more on the day. Maybe they did and maybe they were always going to. After all, Carlos Carvalhal was in a bit of trouble and there aren’t many worse weeks to be had than home defeats to Leeds and Sheffield United and an away defeat at a struggling Birmingham City side in the space of eight days. You can’t draw positives from that but a rousing win over Leeds will do everyone at Wednesday the power of good. I haven’t heard anyone question Carvalhal’s future since then.

What I have heard is some chatter about the performance of Christiansen’s goalkeeper, Felix Wiedwald, and I can’t deny that something about him created tension on Sunday. It’s been funny with Wiedwald because for many weeks it was impossible to critique him. Leeds’ defensive record was superb but he was hardly being asked to do anything. To be fair to him, that can often be the mark of a decent keeper – that the defence are stable and organised in front of him – but that was sorely lacking on Sunday. He didn’t look strong enough for the first goal and there seemed to be a lack of decent communication throughout.

Of all the players at Leeds, Wiedwald arguably had the most to prove this season because of the fact that he was replacing Rob Green. That’s not his fault – it was the club’s decision to bring him in from Germany – but it was a huge call and straight away you’re thinking ‘okay then, show us what you’ve got’.

Like the team as a whole, it’s too early to pass a definitive verdict on him but he has to control his box better than he did against Wednesday. To help him with that, the defence need to to get themselves together and give him better protection. I’d expect to see Cooper back after the international break and you’d hope that these two weeks will give Christiansen a bit of time to speak with the players, work with them and establish why things have gone wrong away from home.

There’s no questioning the creativity of players like Samuel Saiz and Pablo Hernandez, or Gjanni Alioski on his day. There’s no doubt that Pierre-Michel Lasogga with the right service will score goals. But between Millwall, Cardiff and Sheffield Wednesday there’s a common theme of Leeds not quite being strong enough to cope when the heat is on. Christiansen has options and players in reserve. He could switch to three in midfield or look for solidity some other way and he can surely see that physical element is where his side have fallen short. This is the time when managers earn their corn and he seems intelligent enough to have been ready for a bump in the road. It comes with the desk and as the saying goes, if management was easy then we’d all be doing it.