Elland Road nerves, form versus the actual table and Pablo Hernandez's timely return - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United fall to a 2-0 defeat against Sheffield Wednesday, the YEP's Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday's clash at Elland Road.

By Lee Sobot
Sunday, 12th January 2020, 4:55 pm
QUICK RETURN: Leeds United's Spanish playmaker Pablo Hernandez makes his comeback after a hamstring injury as a second-half substitute in Saturday's 2-0 loss at home to Sheffield Wednesday. Photo by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
QUICK RETURN: Leeds United's Spanish playmaker Pablo Hernandez makes his comeback after a hamstring injury as a second-half substitute in Saturday's 2-0 loss at home to Sheffield Wednesday. Photo by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The same old problem in front of goal

United's display against the Owls was far from a vintage Leeds performance under head coach Marcelo Bielsa, especially following the stunning efforts in the first-half of Monday night's FA Cup clash at Arsenal.

But Leeds still played some lovely football at times and had more then enough chances to have put the Owls out of sight before Jacob Murphy gave Garry Monk's side an 87th-minute lead en route to their 2-0 victory.

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Gallingly, the Owls scored with their only two shots on target from ten attempts with United unable to net at all from 14 shots at goal with five on target.

Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford had the best of them and the duo have clearly been two of United's best players this term but there is no denying that United's promotion push would be a hell of an easier ride if Leeds were more clinical in front of goal.

The quicker United find a replacement for recalled former Arsenal loanee striker Eddie Nketiah the better and another creative outlet would surely also help United in getting over the line.

Clean sheet woes

United's habit of missing too many chances in front of goal is nothing new - it is something Bielsa often talks about in his press conferences - but United's seven-game winning run also featured five clean sheets.

Yet with the same team, Leeds have now conceded 13 in their last six games and it has been seven games since United last kept out their opposition in the 2-0 win at home to Hull City on December 10.

But for a very good tackle from skipper Liam Cooper in the first half and some pretty wasteful finishing themselves, Sheffield Wednesday might well have netted sooner.

The warning signs were there and there's a definite feeling that Kiko Casilla was beaten too easily at his near post for Jacob Murphy's opener.

In conducting the post match player press afterwards, centre-back Ben White admitted that United quickly needed to go back to the drawing board and start another run of clean sheets.

Form versus league table

A cushion that stood at double figures in the automatic promotion spots is now down to six points with third-placed Brentford very much in form and leading the chase.

Fourth-placed Nottingham Forest would move third and cut the gap further to five points if winning their game in hand at home to Reading a week on Wednesday night but the free-flowing Bees look the biggest dangers.

Brentford are now down to 3-1 to finish in the top two with Forest still available at 33s and behind Wednesday (25s) and Fulham (10s). Leeds are now 1-7 with leaders West Brom who are one point clear of United 1-3.

Even if Forest do win their game in hand, for Leeds, five points is still a decent cushion with 19 games left but equally it can soon go and it's worth remembering that Leeds visit both Forest and Brentford in the space of four days next month.

To avoid those fixtures becoming potentially pivotal, Leeds really need to be looking at something close to a maximum haul from their next three games before that starting with Saturday's trip to QPR which is followed by back to back home games against Millwall and Wigan Athletic.

Once again, the nerves being felt around Elland Road as United struggled to break Wednesday down were obvious and United's fans will be praying there is no repeat of last season's excruciating collapse as the time to finally get out of the division is clearly now.

Ultimately, Leeds remain in a very strong position and still 1-7 to finish in the top two but the Whites had been 1-14 and albeit faced with some tough fixtures Leeds have now savoured victory in just one of their last six via the epic 5-4 success at Birmingham City.

Three of those games have ended in draws with Leeds 17th in the Championship form table over the last six games having amassed just six points.

Brentford sit second over that period with 13 points with 14th-placed Reading actually top with 14.

The table that matters is the one after 46 games not six but the recent form still naturally has to be a concern and bringing in the right recruits in the January window again looks absolutely crucial.

The return of Pablo Hernandez plus Stuart Dallas, Tyler Roberts and Adam Forshaw latest

There were naturally some glum faces in the aftermath of the Owls' 2-0 victory with Garry Monk's record against Marcelo Bielsa now standing at three wins and a draw from two games in charge of Birmingham City and two with Sheffield Wednesday.

But perhaps the biggest positive of the day concerned the comeback of United's Spanish magician playmaker Pablo Hernandez and very much quicker than expected after a hamstring injury.

Hernandez was thought to be looking at a month out after picking up the injury in the defeat at Fulham four days before Christmas yet three weeks later Hernandez was back in business as a 66th-minute substitute for Mateusz Klich.

Hernandez immediately began spraying fine passes about and while he was unable to unlock the door his creativity is clearly going to be key in the remaining months of the campaign.

The sooner that another creative influence in Tyler Roberts is back the better with Bielsa saying the Wales international was still in the recovery process after a hamstring injury.

The only other current absentee through injury - Adam Forshaw - is due back out on the grass on Monday as he looks to step up his recovery from a hip problem though Stuart Dallas was clearly in pain after being injured late on when United had used all three subs.

Testament to his attitude and dedication, the Northern Ireland international still attempted to soldier on despite at one point literally hopping on one leg.

Be it at full-back on the wing or in centre midfield, Dallas has been superb and it is obviously a massive case of fingers crossed that he will be fit for next weekend.