SATURDAY afternoon provided a reality check as Leeds United’s recent mini-revival came to a halt at the hands of high-flying Brentford - although much of the post-match conjecture surrounded the performance of referee Graham Salisbury.
But controversy aside, it would be churlish to deny that it was anything but an afternoon when Leeds failed to hit the heights and turned in a patchy performance, with the Whites camp entitled to be thankful that they have an oppportunity to put things right on Tuesday night at Reading - ahead of next Saturday’s huge home clash with Millwall at Elland Road.
Here are five observations from Saturday’s 1-0 defeat against the Bees.
1: Graham Salisbury’s performance was wholly inconsistent.
Salisbury has history at Elland Road, awarding a late penalty for Charlton after spotting a perceived indiscretion from Giuseppe Bellusci in a 2-2 draw on November 4 - when Johann Berg Gudmundsson netted to secure a point for the Addicks.
But he truly surpassed himself on Saturday, failing to halt play for a foul and handling offence in the build-up to Alex Pritchard’s strike and somehow falling to award a penalty for a clear foul by Moses Odubajo on Rudy Austin just before the break.
There were other contentious decisions too, much to the anger of the crowd, with Leeds players perhaps a little guilty of getting distracted by what was going on at times.
Neil Redfearn’s anger and frustration was there to see in his post-match interviews and his point that many 50-50 calls went in Brentford’s favour as opposed to Leeds bang on the money. Salisbury will not be welcomed back in these parts in a hurry.
2: Even accounting for the performance of Salisbury, Leeds were second best.
Leeds’ early tempo was noticeable, but Brentford, fielding a 4-2-3-1 system, soon got their act together with goalscorer Pritchard pulling the strings and assuming control.
After a bright start, Leeds struggled for rhythm, with their best outlet being on the left, where Odubajo toiled and looked a clear weak link.
But the hosts couldn’t wrestle control of midfield, with Lewis Cook and Sam Byram much less prominent than of late and Luke Murphy also having a quiet afternoon. Rudy Austin had his moments, but as a unit, Leeds were second best to Brentford.
In fairness, Bees are a decent side too, don’t forget.
3: The striking department need to find a clinical edge - the sooner the better.
No Leeds striker has netted at Elland Road since Mirco Antenucci struck a brace in the win over Derby on November 29 and as Neil Redfearn pointed out, strikers are in the side to score goals, just as opening batsmen are chosen by cricket selectors for their ability to score runs.
Steve Morison continues to put in a good shift, but is without a competitive Leeds goal since March 9, 2013 and last netted at Elland Road against Blackpool on February 20, 2013 - his only league goal on home soil in his Whites career. The drought has got to be playing on his mind, it would anybody. Strikers are ultimately judged on goals and all centre-forward’s worth their salt know that. It is the old cliche of a goal needing to come off his backside or chest - anything to get him going.
Billy Sharp’s sole goal registered at Elland Road for Leeds came in the 1-0 victory over Boro on August 16 and the pair look badly in need of a break in front of home supporters. Sharp had a couple of sniffs at the end of the game, which in his goalscoring heyday, he may have arguably converted, although credit desperate defending from Jake Bidwell as well which repelled his best efforts.
4: Charlie Taylor continues to show promise.
Handed his big chance in the Championship, the York lad is letting no-one down. Might be less heralded than the likes of Cook, Byram and Alex Mowatt, but is coming along nicely. Put in a steady performance against the Bees.
Yes, he will have the odd bad day, that’s what you get with young players’ finding their way.
But he is making the most of his opportunity - needs to work on his crossing a little bit, mind. His attitude is spot-on and he deserves his chance, no-one can deny.
5: It’s a good thing there is a game so quickly to get Saturday out of the system.
Leeds won’t have much time to mull over Saturday’s performance, with a trip to Reading looming on Tuesday. United have not won on their last five visits to Berkshire, but here’s hoping - maybe they are due one..Their last win arrived at the Royals’ former Elm Park home in December 1987.
It will be interesting to see what system United employ, with the return to a 4-4-2 not particularly successful on Saturday. Edgar Cani was handed a debut from the bench, but will still be short of match fitness, so the main striking issue may revolve around whether to hand Mirco Antenucci a return to the starting line-up.
A decent haul of say four points from the next six, against Reading and Millwall, is imperative. Certainly the game against the Lions is a ‘must-not-lose’