FRESH from witnessing Leeds United’s fifth win in eight games, Lee Sobot looks at five issues highlighted by Sunday’s 1-0 success against Preston at Elland Road.
United MIGHT get involved in the play-offs push
Okay, okay. Keep your feet on the ground, one game at a time, still only 13th, didn’t play well, et cetera, et cetera. All true.
However, there’s no denying the fact that upwardly mobile Leeds are now only five points behind sixth-placed Ipswich in a division of largely no great shakes except the likes of Boro, Derby, and arguably, Brighton, Hull and Burnley. Sixth-spot certainly looks well up for grabs for any team with momentum and Leeds have now taken 16 points from their last possible 24. Tougher tests await such as next Tuesday’s home clash with Derby but United are on a roll and could move to within two points of the top six if they were to win at Nottingham Forest on Sunday. That’s a tough fixture but Forest - who are 15th - are beatable. United will clearly need to strengthen in January to become top six material but chairman Steve Evans said he hoped to at least get Leeds into play-offs contention to get out his cheque-book out.
Five points adrift has to be considered “in contention.”
Leeds can win ugly
Sunday’s defeat of Preston was not pretty, far from it, and the anticipated second half onslaught against ten man failed to materialise.
But all good teams have to learn the art of ‘winning ugly’ and United certainly ticked that box this weekend.
United’s players looked leggy in the second half but playing two games in four days won’t have helped, especially as the first team squad apparently got back to Elland Road at 3am on Friday morning after various road-works on the way back home from Molineux.
Yes, it was a tad worrying how Leeds failed to put away ten-man Preston but every team is forgiven the odd below par display, even more so when they still win.
In any case, a ‘fresh’ United proved their attacking prowess in droves at Wolves on Thursday.
Forgive them this display and celebrate what matters most. Three points. On to Forest.
Marco Silvestri is getting better and better
It’s no exaggeration to state that without Silvestri, United might have taken nothing from Sunday’s Eland Road clash, never mind all three points.
The Italian made some smart saves both before and after Preston were reduced to ten men with his late reflex save from Neil Kilkenny’s header particularly important with three minutes left. There’s always the odd hair-raising experience such as when the 24-year-old came haring 30 yards out of his goal to clear in the second half but even then he produced the goods. Silvestri has received plenty of stick this season but has taken it on the chin and emerged an even better player on the other side.
Leeds need more of a threat at corners
United have long lacked a cutting edge from corners but that trait was again exemplified even further on Sunday.
The Whites had eight corners to Preston’s five but not once looked like scoring.
Leeds are not exactly recognised as a team of giants yet nine of the 13 outfield players that featured on Sunday are six foot or bigger. Chris Wood is six-foot-three and both Scott Wootton and Luke Murphy are six-foot-two. Souleymane Doukara, Giuseppe Bellusci and Charlie Taylor are six-foot-one while Liam Cooper, Stuart Dallas and Sam Byram are all six footers. Marci Silvestri might be useful at six-foot three should things ever get really desperate.
The jury’s still out on Souleymane Doukara
Doukara was the unlikely hero in Thursday night’s win at Wolves, coming on as a 30th-minute substitute as a second striker in a 4-4-2 formation and transforming United’s fortunes. The same change was made after 64 minutes against Preston but with vastly different consequences, but for one very neat turn and pass which set up a chance for Chris Wood who was then flagged offside. It might be harsh to judge Doukara on 26 minutes against Preston as most of the United team put in below par displays against the ten men visitors and tired legs won’t have helped. But there was a big call for Doukara to back up his wonderful display at Wolves - to prove that was no flash in the pan - and that remains the case ahead of Sunday’s visit to Forest.