New year, old Leeds United - the lesson the Whites must learn to silence doubt after Sheffield Wednesday defeat - Graham Smyth's Verdict

New year, old Leeds United.

By Graham Smyth
Sunday, 12th January 2020, 6:00 am

The Whites went into their first home game of 2020 on the back of a truly impressive FA Cup showing at Premier League Arsenal.

For 45 minutes they battered the multi-million pound stars of the Emirates and left London with plaudits and confidence, despite a 1-0 defeat.

It was back to Championship bread and butter on Saturday as Sheffield Wednesday came up the M1, but it was also back to bad habits as Leeds allowed the Owls to take three points back down the motorway with them.

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Afterwards, Marcelo Bielsa spoke of a 'sense of doubt' around the team when things were not going to plan, and it's little wonder.

United woke up on Saturday morning nine points clear of the play-off places and went to bed six points ahead.

They do suffer from bouts of nerves in tight games, particularly at home.

And there is a fear around the club that another glorious chance to escape the Championship could go begging.

Leeds United were taught a lesson in ruthlessness by Sheffield Wednesday at Elland Road (Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

So when golden opportunities to score goals are spurned, as they were against the Owls, and an opponent starts to grow ominously into the game, the tension around Elland Road grows.

When opponents take the lead, invariably against the run of play and with one of few chances they've been allowed to craft, fear becomes loathing.

Leeds hate losing and if they doubt it's because Bielsa and his band of super-fit, possession-dominating players have been here before. They worry about disaster because they know disaster.

The scars from last season's wounds are still fresh. They open up, as the Leeds defence did in the 87th minute when Jacob Murphy was played in to beat Kiko Casilla at his near post.

It was the moment home fans had feared for 87 minutes and given the home side's profligacy, few in the ground expected anything other than a Wednesday defeat from that point on,

Atdhe Nuhiu's stoppage time goal just confirming what was already known.

Casilla faced two on-target shots all afternoon and both hit the net.

Leeds had 14 shots, five of them on target, and ended the game goalless.

Bielsa said after that the lack of an alternative option to Patrick Bamford up front, ever since the return to Arsenal of Eddie Nketiah, was not a situation that could be linked with the result.

But it is only natural that the desperate need of a replacement for Nketiah would dominate the minds of United fans after a game like this.

The message from the club is very clear, they want to get something done quickly in order to avoid a Dan James deadline day disappointment again. That's another source of doubt and only the arrival of a forward of some pedigree will extinguish it.

The good news for any goalscorer coming into Bielsa's squad is that he will get opportunities to find the net.

They remain a creative force and showed it in the first half against Wednesday.

With England boss Gareth Southgate watching on from the stands, Kalvin Phillips started like a man with a point to prove, dictating play and ensuring Leeds controlled the early minutes.

It led to chances, but Luke Ayling's trundling shot and a wayward Helder Costa effort set the tone for the afternoon.

It took 10 minutes for the Owls to put together an attack, Julian Borner pushing forward and shooting wide via the head of Ayling.

Massimo Luongo found himself all alone at the back post for the resulting corner but got the header all wrong.

Ben White, another player hoping to catch the eye of the national team manager, showed his ability on the ball with a silky run forward, but when Bamford couldn't hang on to possession, the Owls broke and a poor touch from Jacob Murphy, free at the back post, let Leeds off the hook.

Wednesday were living a charmed life of their own and should have gone behind when Phillips' peach of a free-kick found a goal-side Jack Harrison, yet the winger steered the ball wide from seven yards out.

Harrison came closer with a much more difficult chance, taking a White ball down out of the air and playing a one-two with Stuart Dallas before shooting with his right foot from 20 yards, Cameron Dawson tipping it round the post.

The game went flat, Wednesday stemming the white tide and managing to slow things down. But when they played quickly, they did cause United a few problems, an Adam Reach cross threatening to find Sam Winnall six yards out before Liam Cooper's perfectly timed challenge.

Leeds got frustrated, decisions were not going their way, passes were going astray, but they were still largely in control of the fixture as the half-time whistle approached, White's superb ball over the top finding Bamford who was denied at the near post by Dawson.

The second half began in a similar vein, the Whites on top but failing to make it count.

Phillips' ball over the top was brought down by Costa, he played it across goal and Bamford arrived to scoop over the bar with the goal gaping. It was as good a chance as the striker, or anyone else, would have all day.

The first sign that Wednesday would be a little more adventurous in the second half came when Murphy's ball across goal was just missed by a sliding Sam Winnall.

It was all the encouragement the Owls needed to go on and enjoy a spell of pressure.

They threatened down their right chiefly, getting balls in the box and winning a corner that should have brought a goal, a goal-line clearance falling to Winnall who volleyed over.

Leeds looked toothless in response, Bamford rarely involved, Harrison involved a lot less than he had been in the first half.

But with 10 minutes remaining, Leeds did appear to have got things under control once again.

Gjanni Alioski, on for Barry Douglas, found Bamford with a deep cross, the striker teasing and tricking his way to the byline - opting not to go down over an outstretched leg, before failing to find a team-mate.

The Whites won a number of corners and did very little with the vast majority, but one that was taken short to Pablo Hernandez, back from a hamstring injury, allowed him to whip in a cross for a diving Bamford who could not hit the target.

A minute later Murphy ran into the Leeds area and whacked home a shot that Casilla might look back on with some measure of regret.

As if one lesson in ruthlessness wasn't enough, Wednesday repeated it in injury time and again it followed a Leeds attack.

Alioski's cross was to no one, Bamford tried to win a free-kick from a referee who wasn't buying it and the Owls eventually picked off a pass in the Leeds half, Adam Reach got in behind Luke Ayling and his cut back was hammered in by Nuhiu.

The dominant wasteful side were beaten by the dominated clinical side.

Bielsa, as he made clear in his post-match press conference, will not be throwing the baby out with the bath water and sending his team on smash and grab raids like the one Wednesday pulled off.

What must be remembered is that the Alioski who has been caught too far upfield in recent games is the same player who showed such quality and made such telling contributions during the purple patch before Christmas. And the Casilla who has been beaten by too many of the shots on target he has faced of late is the same Casilla who was excellent during the run of wins and clean sheets. This Leeds United is the same Leeds United who showed over 6m BBC viewers that they can compete with Premier League sides. They'd do well to remember who they are and what they've done this season, rather than who they were and how they ended last season. There is no doubt they are capable of getting promotion.

But they must learn from the mistake made in this game, the mistake of letting a team off the hook, a mistake they keep repeating, if they are to silence all doubt, once and for all.