Jesse Marsch's nagging Leeds United argument still seeking a winner - Graham Smyth's Verdict

Leeds United and Jesse Marsch left the Elland Road pitch to applause after a draw with Brentford, because they played well.
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Not well enough to win, as the 0-0 scoreline showed, but well enough to be applauded. Well enough to avoid boos or calls for the manager's head. Those were last heard at Villa Park, where they also played well, but the crucial difference against the Bees was that they did not lose and they did not concede a silly goal, or two.

Having controlled large parts of the game against Brentford and drawn the best of goalkeeper David Raya at least a couple of times, Marsch's men were disappointed to take just a point. He, though, saw it as a continuation of the momentum he's been talking about since the 'most complete' performance at Villa.

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"For me, it's clear, it's very, very clear that we're moving in the right direction," he said.

"The group is coming together, there's momentum, and I know it doesn't feel necessarily so strong because we're not having a bunch of wins lined up in a row but this is a little bit what the league is, and you know where we're at, we have to earn everything right now. We're not afraid of it."

The players believe it too, he insists, and because some of the evidence behind his arguments is strong - they created plenty of danger against Villa and were defensively sound against the Bees - you can understand why.

Performances breed results and momentum can gather from small steps.

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The nagging questions that linger are these - if not Brentford at home, then who? And if not now, then when?

ONGOING ARGUMENT - Jesse Marsch's Leeds United played well enough to draw with Brentford and earn Elland Road applause. Pic: GettyONGOING ARGUMENT - Jesse Marsch's Leeds United played well enough to draw with Brentford and earn Elland Road applause. Pic: Getty
ONGOING ARGUMENT - Jesse Marsch's Leeds United played well enough to draw with Brentford and earn Elland Road applause. Pic: Getty

Leeds hadn't won in the league since November prior to this one, which in reality is only five games, but the bigger picture is that 19 Premier League outings have brought only four victories.

And a glance at the fixture list lying in wait does not an easy three points readily reveal. After a banana skin FA Cup tie, Leeds will travel to Nottingham Forest for a huge bottom half clash. Then it's a potential double header against Manchester United, a colossal trip to Everton and a home game of equivalent size and stature against Southampton.

The problem with close proximity to the bottom - Leeds were a point off the drop zone on Sunday evening - is that each and every game against a struggling side or near neighbour in the table takes on the kind of seriousness that engulfs you in pressure and that thing Marsch has spoken of to such great lengths, stress.

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Games against teams at the top end should be relatively free of consequences, but no meeting with Manchester United can be described as a free hit because even with low expectations, Leeds fans crave performances and results against their bitter rivals.

Even when March rolls around, bringing with it an encounter with a midtable side, that side is Chelsea. Doing a 2022/23 double over the extravagant spending, if underachieving Blues, is a big old ask.

If things are coming together to the extent that Marsch believes, then perhaps everything will be fine and the necessary wins will materialise, but what he needs to avoid is a situation where it doesn't click until such a time as opportunities are scarce. What he needs to avoid is a tension riddled tooth-and-nail relegation scrap, because the tactical clarity he's asking for requires a certain measure of calm. As he knows better than anyone, the second half of last season was anything but.

At least, though, the Brentford game provided him with ammunition in his fight to win hearts and minds. Ivan Toney's sixth-second sighting of goal aside, the dangerman was kept relatively quiet throughout as Leeds proved they could cope with a dangerous counter-attacking outfit and their set-piece strength.

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Max Wober and Robin Koch were key, the former stepping in to replace the injured Liam Cooper and showing all of his aggression and intelligence.

The back four in general did a good job in the early stages of staying on the front foot, nipping in ahead of attackers to stop the out ball and keep play in Brentford's half. Wober, Koch and Pascal Struijk all made important interceptions, while Ayling busied himself bombing up and down the right flank and producing another display that should keep Rasmus Kristensen out of the side.

It wasn't a flawless first half, the spectre at the back post threatened to jump out and shout boo on a pair of occasions, once when Toney touched on a cross to the arriving-alone Rico Henry, before Koch cut out the next pass, and once for a stoppage time free-kick that found Toney, before Marc Roca shepherded him out of play.

In possession during the first half Leeds were smart and tidy but not clinical. Looking after it between both boxes wasn't an issue, it was composure and quality in the final third that eluded them. Balls were lumped into the channels on occasion, giving attackers something to chase but nothing to feed on.

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The second half was brighter and Leeds were a bit braver. Ayling got forward well, Brentford got pinned in and Raya had to hold a Brenden Aaronson shot then palm away a better one from Rodrigo.

Brentford were pinned, struggled to get out and survived because with Leeds' attacks coming almost entirely through the middle of the pitch, they could get bodies in the way or ensure Raya had little in the way of close range danger to deal with. The only time he did, when Rodrigo broke to free Willy Gnonto, the goalkeeper was more than equal to the Italian's drive from the right side of the area.

Leeds were so much in control that with the game in its final 15 minutes and the substitutes board going up, Gnonto was visibly beseeching some higher power that it would not display his number. Rodrigo evidently had the same thought because when 19 appeared, he gave it the thousand yard stare before walking off to let Patrick Bamford come on.

That swap brought some nice link-up play but it did not yield the goal Marsch was after. The result, a point, could easily have been better. Marsch could not afford for them to come out with something worse. What this momentum will amount to will become clear in time, which is something the American is going to get at Leeds. Eventually, though, only wins will ensure that it doesn't run out.