Leeds United: Defender Bartley’s a forward thinker

Kyle Bartley.
Kyle Bartley.
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Bad starts in the Championship are not reserved for poor teams. In 1989, Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds United were famously given the runaround by Newcastle United and Micky Quinn before going on to tear the old second division up.

On Sunday, as Kyle Bartley reflected on Leeds’ opening-day loss at Queens Park Rangers, his dad got in touch to remind him that when Reading won the title in 2006 with 106 points, they set the ball rolling by losing at home to Plymouth Argyle on the first weekend.

It was their only league defeat at home and one of only two all season.

There are few at Elland Road who think Garry Monk’s current squad is capable of steamrollering the division in that fashion, but Bartley does not want a 3-0 defeat at Loftus Road to be taken as a gauge of Leeds’ potential.

“We need to forget about this,” the defender said. “We haven’t got time to dwell on the result.

“My old man actually sent me a text saying that Reading, when they got promoted, lost their first game and went on to get 106 points. So we need to look forward and put this day behind us.”

Bartley was one of Monk’s better performers on Sunday, in and amongst a side who were off the pace and out-worked by QPR for much of the game.

He was also one of five players who made full debuts for Leeds. The changes to United’s team over the summer, combined with the appointment of a new coaching staff, was a reason why Monk said before and after Sunday’s match that the “process” under him needed a certain amount of patience.

Bartley, who was one of Monk’s earliest signings on a season-long loan from Swansea City, said a proper understanding amongst the players at United would take time to develop.

“Of course – but that’s no excuse,” he said. “No matter who is making their debut, we’re a team and we’ve done the work in pre-season. We felt confident coming into this.

“I think we were naive and we showed too much respect to the opposition. In the future we need to believe in ourselves a lot more. We didn’t implement our game or our game-plan on them and we gave them an early lead which never helps. But it’s fine margins.

“Full credit (to QPR), they came out, they did the job and they got a good result but I think we need to have a look at ourselves. We’ll assess it on the video and see where we went wrong.

“We want to be a passing team but there has to come a time where we play forward and pass between the lines. The manager stressed that at half-time and it was a little bit better in the second half. That’s something we definitely need to improve on.”

The signing of Bartley from Swansea partially addressed an area of United’s team which caused problems last season but Leeds are still in the market for another centre-back and defensive weakness was a telling factor in Sunday’s defeat.

QPR opened the scoring amid a scramble from a corner, helped by a mistake from goalkeeper Rob Green, and they twice struck a post after Tjaronn Chery and Sebastian Polter got the better of Sol Bamba.

Rangers’ second goal came from the penalty spot after a foul by 18-year-old Ronaldo Vieira and Polter took advantage of a tired backline to claim a third at the end of injury-time.

Leeds briefly considered handing a deal to Joel Ekstrand last month but withdrew an offer amid concerns about the former Watford centre-back’s fitness. Joleon Lescott has also been linked in the past week and his agent was sitting close to United owner Massimo Cellino at QPR, though Leeds have given no indication of any plan to take Lescott from Aston Villa.

Bartley said he had confidence in the current squad but admitted he is hopeful of seeing further additions, on top of seven signings made already.

Leeds are continuing to try and close the transfer of Liam Bridcutt from Sunderland and in the past week the club have been credited with strong interest in Alexis Scholl, a young Belgian left-back who is currently with Benfica.

“I definitely think it (the squad) is good enough to compete,” Bartley said. “We’ve got some really talented players and obviously with the coaching staff, we fully believe in them and the style they’re trying to implement. But I think we are a little bit light. I’m sure the manager has stressed that and hopefully between the manager and the owner they can see what areas we need to strengthen.”

The former Arsenal trainee held his hands up at full-time on Sunday and apologised to a travelling crowd of more than 3,000, admitting that he and United’s players had “let them down”.

Despite the result in London, Bartley said he was driven by the thought of helping to rejuvenate a club who have been outside the Premier League for 12 years and stuck in the Championship for the past six. “It’s absolutely fantastic here,” he said.

“It’s a massive club, everyone knows that, but the manager has said a few times that it’s a club who haven’t done anything for a good few years.

“I think it’s time for us to try and introduce another mentality this season.

“We need to improve, I need to improve, I need to improve other players and I need to be a better leader on the pitch. We’ll see where it takes us from there.”