AFTER seeing Leeds United fall to their 18th league loss of the season, the YEP’s Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Tuesday night’s 3-1 loss at Preston North End.
The Pontus Jansson debate
After a decent first-half showing, two big moments clearly put paid to United’s hopes at Deepdale in the shape of Vurnon Anita’s foul on Billy Bodin for a Lilywhites penalty and then Sean Maguire’s headed goal just three minutes later.
Whites head coach Paul Heckingbottom was angry that Maguire’s goal was allowed to stand and that play was not halted with Pontus Jansson having been laid on the ground inside the area for around ten seconds after falling to the deck following a headed clearance from the initial corner.
But Preston boss Alex Neil rubbished claims that play should have been halted, arguing that not one player made contact with Jansson and that the ball “must have been really, really heavy” as all he did was head the ball.
“His defender headers the ball and then has a wee look and thinks ‘we are under a bit of pressure’ and falls down in the middle of the box,” said Neil.
But from United’s point of view, Jansson had injured himself and the Swede was then taken off for the very inexperienced Hugo Diaz with 33 minutes left.
Quite what was wrong with Jansson remains to be seen and head coach Paul Heckingbottom was keeping his fingers crossed that the Swede had not suffered concussion as the protocol that has to be followed would then almost certainly rule him out of Friday night’s trip to Aston Villa.
There has naturally been widespread debate amongst fans about Jansson who is now rumoured to be attracting interest from West Ham United but immediately speaking United badly need the 27-year-old fit for Friday’s televised clash at fourth-placed Aston Villa who will be licking their lips at the prospect of taking on the troubled and wounded Whites.
Now no choice but to play the kids
“Get the kids in” has long been the call from fans ever since it became crystal clear that a play-offs push would most definitely not be happing this year.
Vurnon Anita was perhaps surprisingly preferred to Tom Pearce at left back to replace the suspended Gaetano Berardi but Paudie O’Connor kept his place next to Jansson at centre-back and O’Connor was then joined by another under-23s player in debutante Hugo Diaz after Jansson went off.
The appearance of Diaz even on the bench was so unexpected that plenty of folk were asking who the hell he was?
Completely thrown in at the deep end, 21-year-old Diaz did about as well as can be expected without really looking ready for first team Championship football but given the raft of United’s injuries and suspensions, the Spaniard might well now find himself starting alongside O’Connor should Jansson be ruled out of the clash at Villa Park.
We could be looking at a back five of Peacock-Farrell in goal, an out of position Dallas at right back and then centre-backs O’Connor and Diaz who have three Leeds appearances between them with a choice of Pearce or Anita at left back.
It is not difficult to envisage a very difficult evening for United at a side who still have prospects of finishing in the automatic promotion places with United on the other hand going absolutely nowhere in 14th.
Twelve points from a possible 54
United’s return from their last 18 league games since the 2-1 win at Burton Albion on Boxing Day is appalling.
The Whites still have the joint worst record in the division since Boxing Day, with their return of 12 points in that period the same as bottom of the table Burton Albion and two points worse than Sunderland’s return.
Quite how many points the Whites will pick up in their final four games is anyone’s guess but while obviously safe from relegation, points-wise, the 14th-placed Whites are in danger of finishing closer to the dropzone than the play-offs.
Leeds are now 14 points off the top six and 17 clear of the bottom three and only one point clear of QPR in that familiar position of 15th.
Massive changes and a huge clear out is clearly needed in the summer if United are to have any hope at all of getting near the club’s aim of reaching the play-offs next term.
In the here and now, head coach Heckingbottom obviously cannot alter the players currently at his disposal - or lack of with them with ten players injured or banned - but the former Barnsley boss has picked up only ten points and just two wins from his 12 games in charge at Leeds.
Surprising selections but positives in the first half
Conducting a post-mortem into what went wrong at Preston did not look likely at the half time interval at Deepdale as United played some lovely football in the first half.
Preston were guilty of missing a few good chances themselves but Leeds could have scored four or five and ultimately again paid the price for that profligacy in the second half.
The worry is the way United seemed to cave in once Gallagher netted his penalty.
But there is no denying that the Whites played well in the first half,
in spite of three of United’s main men dropping to bench in the shape of Samu Saiz, Gjanni Alioski and Pierre-Michel Lasogga with Caleb Ekuban, Kemar Roofe and full league debutante Jay-Roy Grot all selected instead, though Heckingbottom hinted afterwards that United’s busy week was in the back of his mind when making his team selection and definitely in the case with Saiz after his hamstring injury.
Without the key trio, Kalvin Phillips produced a superb dart into the box and square ball for Kemar Roofe’s goal and Roofe’s fine finish is to be commended but like most of United’s players his performance faded after the break.
It was also the same old story with Ekuban who showed plenty of decent pace and movement but again ultimately could not finish while Alioski and Saiz were both disappointing when brought on in the second half.
Grot on the wing meanwhile was a definite head scratcher but he actually did okay in the first half without exactly setting the world alight.
With 11 players out and Heckingbottom continually chopping and changing the team, it is anyone’s guess what XI will line up at Villa Park.