I drove away from Pride Park thinking we’ve had far worse defeats than that this season.
Unlucky? It probably was in the end, although I’d find it difficult to argue with any Derby player who thought they did enough to deserve their win.
Derby had a lot of the game, especially in the first half, and I don’t think there was ever a point at 0-0 when Leeds took the game by the scruff of the neck. But to dominate the last half-hour and hit the crossbar and a post makes it a missed opportunity in my eyes. I’d have been very happy with a point at full-time but even so, I can find some positives in the performance.
Let’s start at the back. Defensively it was another decent day. The goal was cheap, there’s no denying that, and the players will see it as a lapse that cost them. That’s the Championship unfortunately and while you don’t get punished quite as ruthlessly as you do in the Premier League, give a player a free hit from 18 yards and you’re most likely going to concede. Forget about questioning Rob Green’s goalkeeping – no keeper was doing anything with that. Johnny Russell absolutely smashed it.
But apart from that, the shape and the organisation of the team was very good defensively. It can’t be said that the midfield played well – Leeds could probably have done with Liam Bridcutt in there – and because of that, the defence were asked to do a hell of a lot of work. I thought Luke Ayling fought a good battle with Ikechi Anya. Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson were their usual selves. It really wasn’t a game where the system failed from front to back.
Going forward there were clear issues. Yes, the last half-hour belonged to Leeds and Marcus Antonsson was so unlucky to see his shot come back off the post but Derby were digging in deliberately. They were tense, they were nervous and they needed a win. They pretty much camped behind the ball as Leeds went at them and they got the rub of the green when it mattered.
Overall, there was no supply for Hadi Sacko and no supply for Chris Wood. They were both very quiet and in the circumstances, it was hard to expect too much more from them. Sacko, in truth, has played better and he’d probably concede himself that he was poor. Wood was just too isolated to make an impact. It’s easy to hammer a striker when a game passes him by but to be fair to Wood, you have to see the balance of the game for what it was.
Like a lot of people, the position which stuck out like a sore thumb was the left wing. Garry Monk went with Alex Mowatt and in a way I understand why. Mowatt’s more solid than Kemar Roofe and you probably get a bit more out of him defensively. Away at a ground like Pride Park, that’s going to be something you consider.
But Mowatt didn’t get into the game in the first half and in the second, he spent a lot of time cutting inside. As it happens, he’s at his best in the middle but on Saturday it meant that there was no real balance to the team in attack. We’ve seen Leeds with far more cutting edge this season and even though there were chances at Derby, they felt a bit few and far between.
Losing Stuart Dallas is a blow. I know he’s not always the devastating winger you want him to be but he’s extremely reliable and when I look at the squad I’m not sure I see an obvious replacement. Perhaps it’s time to give Roofe a go from the start. I’ve been a bit disappointed with him so far but when he came on towards the end on Saturday, he was busy, he got involved in the game and he put himself about. Monk will want to dominate Wigan Athletic tomorrow – it’s a home game after all – and Roofe might be a more positive choice than Mowatt. But really, the sooner Dallas is back the better.
What Saturday also highlighted for me is the need for a proper plan B. Could we have gone 3-5-2 after Derby’s goal? Luke Ayling’s played in that formation before so there’s scope to use it. Would it have given us a bit more bite? I think it would. But in truth, these things develop over time and I don’t lose sight of the fact that the team have taken some good steps forward since the end of August. We’ve had some terrible defeats – but this wasn’t one of them.