It was not as if Saturday’s game caught Uwe Rosler on the blindside.
Birmingham City played as three scouting trips assured him they would. “Back-to-basics counter attacks” – his own words on Friday – were Birmingham’s route to a result which visiting clubs are starting to anticipate at Elland Road.
Much in Leeds’ 2-0 defeat will trouble their head coach but his gravest concern must be that a full week of preparation for a match which threw no dummies ended in what Rosler called a “bad day in the office”. It was bad enough for the German to start talking about an overhaul of his team, his approach and his principles, a few months into the job.
United are seven calendar months without a win at home and 1949 was the year when they last failed to edge any of their first five home fixtures, long before Rosler and most others at Elland Road were born. Rosler sees cracks in the club’s confidence there, which is just as well because others on the outside do too.
Clayton Donaldson, Birmingham’s lone striker, touched on that subject after counter punches from Demarai Gray and Jacques Maghoma in either half forced Leeds further into their shell. “You can feel the tension,” Donaldson admitted. “They haven’t won here for seven months. It’s every away team’s dream.” Rosler was not inclined to argue with him.
Leeds did ample homework on Birmingham, watching them three times in the flesh, but Rosler touched on an issue on Friday afternoon when he said that he was managing “human beings, not machines.” Where he needs a calculated defence, his defence are making fatal errors. Where he wants imagination and incisive interplay, his players trudge to a grinding halt. Away from home, Leeds compensate for one of those weaknesses with enough goals. At Elland Road, and so often chasing an equaliser, self-doubt invariably sets in.
“When you see our level away from home and then our level at home, there’s a discrepancy,” Rosler conceded. “At home, the amount of points we have is by no means good enough.
“In the last four home games we’ve been 1-0 down and in the modern game you’re dealing with good coaches, good managers, good players. They know what to do when they’re leading 1-0.
“That makes life difficult but our body language, the way we go into duels, it all has to change. You need to fight your way into games, not wait for something to happen.
“Birmingham didn’t surprise us. They were well organised, they packed the midfield and had pace on the sides. They went deeper and deeper, making it difficult and waiting for mistakes.”
Rosler stated outright at full-time that the defeat and the club’s league position – 16th and already seven points adrift of the Championship play-offs – would not lead to further signings in the mould of Will Buckley. The on-loan Sunderland winger, signed on Friday morning, waded through a quiet debut on the right wing, evidently affected by rust and unfamiliarity and negating Rosler’s tactics.
“The game plan was very much to isolate our winger against their left full-back (Jonathan Grounds), to run at him and get momentum, corners, free-kicks, throw-ins,” Rosler said. Jordan Botaka made more inroads after replacing Buckley in the second half and Rosler seems ready to stake his job on the young squad he built during the summer transfer window.
That said, he has patently reach a crossroads after a month of the season which could be gently described as underwhelming. “Inside our dressing room we’re not blaming anybody,” he said. “We stick together and we have to come up with the answers. The answers have to come from inside the dressing room.
“We have to think about it in terms of us wanting to play in the right way. We want to play a passing game, to get the ball on the ground, but in the future we also have to look at it, simplify it and sacrifice some ideas to get points on the table.”
Birmingham’s win on Saturday was Ipswich Town on repeat, and to some extent Brentford; an even game for around half-an-hour, followed by a feeble concession and a scramble by Leeds to take whatever they could from the game.
Rosler’s defence were caught at sea in the 32nd minute when, with numerous players up field and Birmingham lying deep, Stephen Gleeson launched a lofted pass in the direction of Donaldson. The striker tried to break clear but tangled with Liam Cooper on the box, spilling the ball to Gray 20 yards from goal.
“It’s a foul on our defender,” Rosler said. “At the moment we don’t get any breaks. But teams don’t have to work very hard to score against us and when we’re 1-0 down, teams shut up and we don’t find the right answers.”
The tussle between Cooper and Donaldson went unpunished and Gray advanced into the box before lashing a classy finish into the roof of Marco Silvestri’s net. “I told him (Gray) that if he got an opportunity, just go for power and make the keeper save it,” said Birmingham manager Gary Rowett, whose side camped religiously inside their own half. “We showed resolve, determination and fantastic control in the way they kept our shape.”
Only twice did Leeds work that shape out; once a few minutes before half-time when Stuart Dallas’ shot from six yards was brilliantly saved by Tomasz Kuszczak and again in the second half when Kuszczak parried a volley from Lewis Cook. It said much that by the time Cook had turned around, Birmingham were breaking to the other end of the pitch and forcing Liam Cooper to walk the ball off United’s goalline.
Rosler turned to Botaka and Mirco Antenucci, both of whom gave Leeds a little extra spark, and eventually to Sam Byram who made far less of an impression. As the game slipped into the first minute of injury-time, City substitute Maghoma popped up in the pocket outside United’s area, ghosted around Byram and smashed a low shot beyond Silvestri’s right glove. That cut had been coming.
Rosler looked strained afterwards and the international break gives him a fortnight to clean the slate and think about the visit of Brighton on October 17, the Championship’s leaders and the only unbeaten club in the division. This interlude will be longer for him than the last.
“It’s a bitter defeat, I have to say that,” Rosler said. “We have two weeks to come up with the right answers.
“The expectation and demands of Elland Road will not change. That means we have to improve or change our approach. At the moment it looks like the shirt for some players is heavy.”