SATURDAY represented a reality check for Leeds United, with a powerhouse performance from Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town, allied to some defensive failings, seeing them capitulate 4-1.
It left Neil Redfearn with plenty to ponder a week on from Leeds hitting the heights in the outstanding 2-0 victory over Championship leaders Derby County.
Here’s five observations from events at Portman Road.
1: Leeds lack a midfield general with experience and savvy
Granted, Leeds possess two of the outstanding young midfield Championship talents in Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt in their ranks with the pair having excelled at times this season. But Saturday represented a big learning curve for the pair, aged 17 and 19 respectively. As Peter Lorimer alluded to in his YEP column several weeks ago, Leeds do lack a bit of nous in the engine room. Sometimes, especially in away games, keeping shape and slowing the game down if necessary and doing the ugly stuff to frustrate home sides is part of the game management you need at times. It’s about mixing play up and choosing the right option. Boxing clever, if you like.
United faced an Ipswich side who played their football in the right areas on Saturday. They were not world-beaters, but were organised, strong at the back, with a bit of physicality and attacking threat at the sharp end.
2: United are a soft touch at the back on their travels
As the saying goes, there are lies, damn lies and statistics. Leeds have won just four away games this calendar year, with two of them coming against sides were relegated last term in Yeovil Town and Barnsley, with their only three-point haul this season coming in the 3-1 victory at Bournemouth on September 16.
At times, Leeds have looked a slick, passing side on their travels, weaving pretty patterns at the likes of Rotherham United and Blackburn Rovers, only to be defensively exposed in the final analysis.
Digging on your travels is something Leeds are struggling badly at, given recent evidence which is stacking up against them. Home forwards clearly fancy it against Leeds back four, who have been pushed around on too many times to mention so far this term. Proven Championship operators such as Daryl Murphy, David McGoldrick, Jordan Rhodes, Kenwyne Jones and Troy Deeney have all made hay and you get the feeling that on the second-tier grapevine that managers and rival players think that Leeds have a soft underbelly, particularly on their travels.
3: Pressure is being put on United’s home form
You shudder to think where United would have been this season without their home form - only Ipswich, Cardiff, Derby and Brentford have taken more points at home. But equally, only Blackpool have taken further points away from home.
With the considerable advantage of one of the best home crowds in the business, Leeds have looked the part against the likes of Derby, Blackpool and Huddersfield and also displayed something lacking away from home - that precious ability to win ugly as they did against Boro and to a lesser extent Bolton Wanderers. With home games coming up against Fulham and Wigan over the festive season, two sides whose form on their travels has also been far from startling, Leeds will be intent in boosting their vital statistics at Elland Road.
4: Mirco Antenucci deserved better
The Italian netted for the second successive match and took his tally to eight for the season with an early opener at Portman Road, his fourth goal in his past four matches and has acclimatised to Championship life impressively. While he possessed threat at times at Portman Road, he was given little substantive support, with Souleymane Doukara, not for the first time on the road, produced a quiet performance on the road and got no change out of Ipswich’s physically strong rearguard.
When the going gets tough away from home, Leeds, unfortunately at the moment, appear to retreat into their bunker.
5: Character is required, more especially with trips to Nottingham Forest and Derby County.
Leeds’ next two away games are down the M1 against Forest and Derby, two sides who put beating the Whites pretty high on their to-do list at the start of the season, with not much love lost. It is almost getting to the stage on their travels, where it is arguably a case of it not really mattering how Leeds play offensively, but more a case of just battening down the hatches and securing a clean sheet, Something that they have not done this season.
Leeds looked beaten, beaten up and out of sorts long before the final whistle on Saturday. The poor body language of many players was particularly telling.