SATURDAY proved a low-key one for both Leeds United and Nottingham Forest in front of the Championship’s third best seasonal crowd of 30,722 as they played out a frustrating goalless stalemate.
For Leeds, it represented a second successive clean sheet and an extension of their unbeaten run to three matches, but no third consecutive victory in the bargain.
Here’s five observations from the weekend action at Elland Road.
1: Leeds, for all their work ethic, lack a clinical cutting edge in the final third
As Eddie Gray correctly alluded to, Leeds got in some great positions at times on Saturday, but failed to pay due care and attention with their final ball. The second-half was disappointing in particular, with hardly anything manufactured, apart from a late chance which broke to Mirco Antenucci. Billy Sharp was left to feed off scraps and had a particularly frustrating afternoon. It was a shame more could not be created, given that former Whites loanee Eric Lichaj in particular looked a weak link from the early minutes. It was one of those ‘if only’ afternoons for Leeds, whose strikers have managed a combined total of 18 Championship goals between them this season. It does not take a rocket scientist to deduce where Leeds need to focus their recruitment plans on in the summer - with adding some genuine width top of the list along with at least one other central striker with a predatory edge.
2: Sol Bamba and Giuseppe Bellusci are probably United’s best bet in the centre of defence at the minute
The pair were strong enough against Forest, although they did not have too much to worry about with Dexter Blackstock in splendid isolation up front for most of the afternoon. Barring one decidedly dodgy backpass to Marco Silvestri, Bamba was in resolute form and had a far better afternoon than he did against Watford a fortnight earlier. Bellusci is a touch rash and impulsive at times, but produced a sound enough showing and possesses a yard of pace to get himself out of trouble at times. Geatano Berardi was solid enough at left-back and is the sort of pro you need in your ranks and while Scott Wootton had his hands full at times with speedster Michail Antonio, the Forest man’s final option was poor at times.
3: Neil Redfearn, in mitigation, tried to make things happen
In contrast to his counterpart Dougie Freedman, Redfearn tried to manufacture a breakthrough with Mirco Antenucci and Souleymane Doukara thrown into the fray for Steve Morison and Charlie Taylor. Meanwhile, Dougie Freedman sat on his hands, a little strange given that Forest are chasing wins to gatecrash the play-offs. Lars Veldwijk and Tyler Walker represented striking options available to him along with winger Jamie Paterson, but Freedman was content to see the game out. With Leeds comfortable in midweek, albeit with realistic aims to reach the top ten, expect Redfearn to be proactive in the coming weeks, with the likes of Kalvin Phillips and Lewis Walters getting some game time being something he is highly likely to do.
4: Charlie Taylor is adding another string to his bow
Not in his natural position of left-back, Taylor is learning on the job and is providing a handy option out on the left flank, without being the bonafide wing option which Leeds be eyeing in the summer. But he had his moments on the left and could and perhaps should have been hailing his first goal in United colours early on against Forest, with his shot beaten away by Karl Darlow. It was a chance which Neil Redfearn felt Taylor, on his left foot, should have taken. But Taylor is coming along nicely, doesn’t let anyone down and can reflect on a highly positive 2015 so far. He has travelled a fair way so far this year and like with Sam Byram is at least providing another option out wide in midfield.
5: A disappointing afternoon yes, but United can look ahead with confidence and positivity to two winnable games this week
Back in the bad old days, well December, Leeds couldn’t see where their next away win was coming from with the defeat at Derby on December 30 extending their run without a victory on the road to eight matches - with a haul of two points from a possible 24 pretty abject.
How times have changed with Leeds having won four of their six Championship games away from Elland Road so far in 2015, with their tally of 13 points from a possible 18 extremely impressive and a haul which is much better than those of free-scoring Bournemouth, Watford, Derby and Middlesbrough. In terms of the Championship away form table over the past six matches, only Norwich City, with 16 points, have pocketed more points on the road.
Not picking up at least one win this week would represent a genuine disappointment and while at the turn of the year, United’s mindset was based on nicking something away from home, the goalposts have metaphorically moved. All of their remaining away games do not look that menacing, with the toughest looking assignment on paper seeming to be the Easter Monday trip to Wolves.