In terms of positives, the spirit was admirable and defensively I thought Leeds really stuck at it. We rode our luck at times but, most importantly, we got something out of the game.
It wasn’t pretty - it was pretty ugly at times, in fact - and I think there were certainly two sides of the game and one - defensively - we did quite well, the other - attacking - we really did give the ball away for fun. It was a strange old game but, at this stage of the season, what it is that you’re after is points and we put another one on the board.
Before the game, I thought three might have been an option simply because of their FA cup exit, their loss to Newcastle United and their 37 points made you wonder where they might be, mentally. When it started, it was so scruffy, no one was in control and I thought if we could have got on top and played to our capabilities, then we could have gone on and done something, but neither side did. In the second half, we had to hold on for large periods and we had precious little in the way of attacks or chances and herein lies the problem - when you first come into a football club, you’re trying to get your ideas across and you always start defensively. That’s where I think we have looked well organised, particularly at set-pieces.
However it’s when you get the ball, when you take that extra little half a second or that extra touch because you’re waiting for a certain movement, it’s too late in the Premier League.
It’s so quick and, when you get teams closing down, that extra touch or two and that extra half a second disappears and you’re in a world of trouble. That’s what we’re seeing because the options for players on the ball weren’t plentiful, and everything that we tried was kind of a secondary movement, a secondary thought, rather than absolutely knowing what they were trying to do with the ball. That is clearly something that needs to be greatly improved upon. And the boys know that. The manager knows that.
Marcelo Bielsa’s system took away a lot of the decision making, in that you basically stayed with your man and made those movements when we had the ball and that was it - players knew without looking where team-mates would be. Now the options and how they play is very different, which will be a part of the issue, but I’m sure the players and the coaching staff would still have expected to play with a lot more cohesion. The 16 days between games might be something to do with it as well, yet I would have thought it would give the lads and the coaching team a lot of time to try and ingrain certain things.
It was a strange performance, one of those where we might look back and think it was a heck of a point, but not one where we’ll remember the performance. The points on the board were always right at the top of the priority list, though, and now we have two clean sheets in two games.
Another positive is the return to full fitness of Kalvin Phillips. At Palace, with Conor Gallagher going here, there and everywhere, Phillips had a job to do like everyone else. When he got the ball, he was rarely in areas of space and couldn’t really control things as he would have liked. He can only play when there are options, remember, but at least he could contribute defensively and put some telling challenges in. Liam Cooper, meanwhile, continues to play really well. Considering how long he was out, he has been fantastic in the last two games, returning with a bang. With Phillips, in a new position and an unfamiliar system, he’s likely to get better as he goes on.
And we’ll need him to be very good on Saturday. There’s no sugarcoating it when you face Manchester City.They are a fantastic side and Marsch will have plenty to concern him, but he’ll come up with a game plan to be even tighter defensively and start from a solid base. The spirit needs to be there, as well as the defensive organisation we’ve seen - even when you’re not playing well that can help you grind something out. It’s hard to see how we can get something from the City game, but you just never know in football, as we proved last season with a minor miracle at the Etihad.
Unfortunately, I’ve had to add to my tally of points that will keep us safe because, at one point, I thought 36 would have been fine. Now I think we’re probably going to need a little bit more, maybe 37. Teams down there were bound to at least put a result or two together, but can they keep doing it? Everton are now in the bottom three and the mental challenge will be huge because the pressure just ramps up. How everyone handles it will be key. We have three very difficult games and, if we get something from them to go into our last two games with a lead over the four below us, we can be a little more confident. This time of year calls for nerve and spirit and we’ve been good at showing ours. I expect our togetherness to see us through; I just don’t expect a comfy ride.