Leeds United and Jesse Marsch on dangerous collision course - Graham Smyth's Verdict vs Fulham

Leeds United and Jesse Marsch looked to be on a collision course with inevitability even before a defeat to Fulham that can only have shortened the time to impact.
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Eight games that have yielded two points and a place in the relegation zone have also cranked up the pressure on a head coach struggling to find solutions to problems at both ends of the pitch.

At Leicester City on Thursday night Marsch could hear and feel the fans slipping away from him and at Elland Road on Sunday they separated entirely in the wake of Fulham's second and third goals. He still believes he will hold onto his job thanks to board backing he indicated had been reaffirmed between full-time and his post-match press conference, yet his grasp can only have been weakened by yet another defeat.

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On Friday, the board's stance was clear - Marsch is under no significant pressure and there are no plans for immediate change. CEO Angus Kinnear's match programme notes insisted that the club would, as a collective, take justified criticism on the chin but for how long and how easily the decision makers can sit while hearing repeated chants of 'sack the board' will be a test of that resolve.

There is some merit in Marsch's suggestion that when Leeds have been good, they have been good. Yet they were good against Arsenal and, for spells, against Fulham and the net result from both games was zero points. Premier League status cannot be maintained with good moments and promising spells, but with wins, draws and form. Leeds' present form and the course they are on, if sustained, will undo the work the club did in escaping the Championship and that is a reality no one at board level will allow to come into view, before taking action.

Right now, Marsch says they’re still unified. He was walked into Elland Road on Sunday by director of football Victor Orta, a show of moral support for the head coach perhaps or simply a sign of the close relationship the two men enjoy. The American is very much the Spaniard's man. A relationship fostered over more than two years could have led to a 2021 appointment, had Marcelo Bielsa not decided to remain at Leeds and Marsch not moved to Champions League club RB Leipzig.

When the stars aligned it was sooner than either man intended, Bielsa's February sacking bringing Marsch to Elland Road well ahead of a scheduled summer succession. In the celebrations at Brentford, when relegation was avoided by the skin of the club's teeth, Orta was desperate to ensure Marsch received some recognition from the celebrating fans, physically dragging the head coach to the fore. The message then could not have been clearer - this is our man.

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But right now, Marsch is the board's man and not the fans'. And moral support aside, there's little Orta and the board at Elland Road can do to help their man, because he's currently marooned between transfer windows, deprived of incoming transfers to help affect a rescue.

COLLISION COURSE - Leeds United and Jesse Marsch are winless in eight and in the Premier League relegation zone thanks to a 3-2 defeat by Fulham that sparked further fan dissent. Pic: Bruce RollinsonCOLLISION COURSE - Leeds United and Jesse Marsch are winless in eight and in the Premier League relegation zone thanks to a 3-2 defeat by Fulham that sparked further fan dissent. Pic: Bruce Rollinson
COLLISION COURSE - Leeds United and Jesse Marsch are winless in eight and in the Premier League relegation zone thanks to a 3-2 defeat by Fulham that sparked further fan dissent. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

Leaking goals is always going to put you at risk, so when you're not sticking chances away at the same time, you can sink pretty quickly. That was the story, again, in the Fulham game, for which Marsch made six changes in an attempt to freshen things up and spark a result. Sam Greenwood replaced the injured Tyler Adams, with Pascal Struijk, Liam Cooper, Jack Harrison, Luke Ayling and Rodrigo all coming in.

"We're ready to fight for everything in this match," said Marsch, with the word 'everything' no doubt taking on plenty of personal meaning.

Positive early signs included the intensity of the press, the way they took care of the ball and the number of times they got it deep into Fulham territory. The visitors took 15 minutes to threaten and when they did, they should have gone ahead. Antonee Robinson crossed from acres of space on the left, Harrison Reed arrived unmarked and beat Illan Meslier, but not the combination of Marc Roca and Robin Koch on the line.

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Marsch admitted prior to the game that the first goal was going to be massive and Leeds fully deserved it. Roca's good work allowed him to find Luis Sinisterra, he tapped it to Brenden Aaronson and his ball put Harrison into the area where his blocked shot looped into the air and was nodded in by Rodrigo.

Elland Road was into it, Leeds had lift off and then, as they so often do, pressed the self-destruct button, allowing a totally unopposed Aleksandar Mitrović to flick a near-post corner through Meslier's hands.

Suddenly Leeds looked fragile, worried and so easily exposed. One straight pass down the middle undid them completely from their own attacking free-kick and Meslier had to save, one-on-one, from Andreas Pereira. In possession the plan was a big switch to Sinisterra and not much else.

Yet the second half's early stages brought a little more from Marsch's men and some more of those promising moments. Rodrigo whacked one into Bernd Leno's arms, Sinisterra played Aaronson into the area and his attempted curling chip floated just over and Roca's wonderful switch to Ayling was chested down and drilled just past the post.

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Fulham were still dangerous, getting in behind through Joao Palhinha until Ayling's toe prevented the Portuguese from finishing, but Leeds came equally close to a second, Aaronson playing substitute Patrick Bamford in on goal for a left-footed effort that didn't beat Leno.

As has been the case painfully often, a missed chance was followed by a taken one at the other end. Mitrovic had already headed over, while unmarked, from a free-kick when the lesson went unlearned a third time, Bobby De Cordova-Reid's free header from the second phase of a half-cleared corner making it 2-1.

Leeds were staring down the barrel of another defeat and the stands went all guns blazing for Marsch and the board. Reed dancing around penalty area challenges to feed WIllian for the third only reloaded the ammo and the vitriol, so Summerville's stoppage-time goal was no consolation.

Winless in eight, Marsch is fighting for his Leeds United life. If he can't prevent them from going winless in nine, it might exhaust all nine of his lives. Leeds will not withdraw their support for the head coach this week, that’s not the plan, but at some point soon they know they have to change course in a dramatic way, with or without him, because this is all starting to feel dangerously inevitable.