AFTER seeing Leeds United fall to a 2-0 defeat at promotion-chasing Fulham, the YEP’s Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from the Tuesday night defeat at Craven Cottage.
The gulf in class
Tuesday night’s clash at highflying Fulham was always going to provide a far more accurate assessment of United’s merits than Good Friday’s 2-1 defeat of a relegation-battling Bolton Wanderers.
United did enjoy some decent spells of play against one of the division’s best sides and the Whites had several decent goalscoring opportunities with Caleb Ekuban and Jay-Roy Grot in particular both missing sitters. Leeds were also not helped by some questionable refereeing decisions.
But Fulham were guilty of squandering even more opportunities themselves and the difference in class and quality between the two sides and in particular upfront was clear.
The Cottagers could well be a Premier League team by this time last year but the Londoners clearly provide an example of what sort of team is needed to challenge for promotion.
Leeds are still well short of that and for all the coaching in the world, there appears only one way to solve that gulf in class - through significant investment in the side through quality over quantity in the summer.
Caleb Ekuban’s finishing
Ekuban’s missed one-on-one and Fulham’s ability to counter attack and score some 15 seconds later rather typified United’s season.
The 24-year-old’s pain and frustration at the whole episode was clear to see with the striker pulling his shirt over his head and several of his team mates making an effort to console him.
Ekuban is certainly getting into decent positions at present and he is clearly still learning about the English game but strikers and teams simply cannot afford to keep squandering the opportunities he is passing up on a regular basis with the forward also failing to convert two one-on-ones against Bolton.
Whether Ekuban can learn to be more clinical remains to be seen but United will get nowhere fast by continually squandering such sitters and there is no doubt that the benched Pierre-Michel Lasogga is a considerably better finisher which should surely put him above Ekuban in the striking pecking order at present.
But whether Hamburg loanee Lasogga will be at Leeds next season is another matter entirely and either way the fact that United need to improve their striking options upfront over the summer is crystal clear.
Late substitute Jay-Roy Grot also squandered a golden opportunity when sending a close-range free header over the bar, finishing not befitting of a team with designs on the top six next year.
United’s latest injuries
Leeds were already missing seven players through injury for the trip to Craven Cottage and United picked up two more casualties at Fulham with Eunan O’Kane hobbling off with a groin injury and Matthew Pennington limping off with a calf injury at the end, leaving the Whites to finish the game with ten men.
There must be big doubts about both featuring in Saturday’s Championship clash with Sunderland at Elland Road and with the season basically over, now is surely the time for Whites head coach Paul Heckingbottom to blood some more youngsters as a result.
Leeds are now looking particularly light at centre-back and in centre-midfield which is all the more galling with Yosuke Ideguchi and Mateusz Klich both on loan.
Centre-back Paudie O’Connor, centre midfielder Oriol Rey and strikers Jack Clarke, Sam Dalby and Ryan Edmondson appear among the more obvious players from the under-23s who may be given an opportunity to step up and Tom Pearce may now be looking at a second start at left back against Sunderland on Saturday if Pennington is out injured and Heckingbottom opts to move Gaetano Berardi to centre-back.
If O’Kane is crocked, Kalvin Phillips and Ronaldo Vieira look certain to start at centre-midfield with Adam Forshaw still sidelined.
Continued strong showings from Bailey Peacock-Farrell
One definite positive for Leeds was the performance of 21-year-old ‘keeper Peacock-Farrell who appears to be thriving having been handed his chance as first choice ‘keeper at the expense of Andy Lonergan and Felix Wiedwald who failed to even make the bench.
Fulham would have at least doubled their tally but for some smart saves from Peacock-Farrell who is doing his best to advertise his claims to be first-choice ‘keeper next term.
That said, Leeds clearly need to bring in another shotstopper over the summer, be that as competition for Peacock-Farrell or as first choice.