SOME sunshine is needed at Elland Road, at the end of a dour month. Leeds United allowed two more points to spill at Hull City last night but the club should get their centre-forward today when Tyler Roberts signs from West Bromwich Albion.
What difference Roberts, a highly-rated 19-year-old, can make this season is for Leeds to find out but the club need help from somewhere and a goalless draw at the KCOM Stadium was nowhere near enough in itself.
Thomas Christiansen’s debilitating list of absent players grew longer again and the pace of the Championship is eating into a squad who are low on numbers and devoid of form.
Those weaknesses showed themselves in the mess of a first half which Hull controlled in spite of the inability of anyone on the pitch to control or direct play, and it fell to Felix Wiedwald to fend City off with saves from every angle. The German was there at the death too, denying Fraizer Campbell a 92nd-minute winner with his legs.
The second half was like the first – unedifying and gruelling but proffering the best chance to Hull which Nouha Dicko missed from beneath the crossbar – and while Christiansen could not be happy with a point, he could not have asked to depart with more than that despite Pierre-Michel Lasogga coming within inches of a goal.
Five days of training in Spain last week failed to rediscover the best of his players, with the exception of an unbeatable Wiedwald.
It has been this way since the end of December, when a run of four wins blew up away at bottom-of-the-table Birmingham City, and the reality of last night was that the trip to Hull marked the start of a period like no other this season.
The Championship’s top six are queuing up to play Leeds over the next five weeks and if United, as the club believed at the start of the transfer window, are good enough for the play-offs, the truth will find them there.
Christiansen goes into it with one available central defender, a crisis which Leeds rode with a clean sheet at the KCOM Stadium.
This month, despite the club’s position of strength at the start of it, has hung United’s season in the balance and as of Monday, the last few days of the transfer window did not look like helping Christiansen.
Leeds, though, moved decisively for Roberts yesterday, taking advantage of the domino effect created by Daniel Sturridge moving to West Brom on loan from Liverpool.
Roberts is young and raw at 19, a Wales Under-21 international, but his expected arrival before this evening’s January deadline will go some way to countering the accusation that Leeds are letting the chance of promotion slip by failing to pay for a striker.
Christiansen is light up front, although at Hull, with four players suspended, he was light in almost every position. A late injury to centre-back Matthew Pennington did nothing to help.
United’s squad was so stretched that Romario Vieira, Ronaldo’s twin, and another Under-23, Tom Pearce, made up the numbers on the bench.
Thomas Christiansen’s debilitating list of absent players grew longer again and the pace of the Championship is eating into a squad who are low on numbers and devoid of form.The YEP’s Phil Hay
The Vieiras became the first brothers at Leeds since Rod and Ray Wallace to feature in the same squad and only the second since Eddie and Frank Gray in the 1970s. On their mother’s birthday, it was quite some present.
For Christiansen, there have not been many since Christmas. Last night’s game was three minutes old when Conor Shaughnessy, the only centre-back left to partner Pontus Jansson, pulled up and was stretchered off after allowing Campbell a good chance which the forward spurned. Stuart Dallas came on and Gaetano Berardi moved to the centre of defence. Christiansen had virtually no other cards to play.
Campbell let Leeds off by stabbing a tense shot past the far post and his early effort was as good as it got for either side until a horrible, combative match settled down after half-an-hour.
United were unable to make Hull sweat in that period, pinned back into their half as City examined a randomly constructed defence. Jarrod Bowen stung Wiedwald’s palms with a good hit from 25 yards and Nouha Dicko forced the German to tip another effort wide with a strike which was bouncing inside a post. They were necessary stops at a stage where Leeds were offering nothing.
Wiedwald was well-positioned again on 30 minutes to stop Jackson Irvine firing in from a tight angle and Leeds were indebted to their goalkeeper for parity at the break after his legs denied Bowen in injury-time.
A faint push from Leeds before the break brought a deflected shot from Pablo Hernandez which bounced wide.
Kamil Grosicki stepped off Hull’s bench at the start of the second half, replacing the injured Markus Henriksen, and Dicko was guilty of an awful miss nine minutes in when Grosicki’s cross from the left found him a few yards out. Dicko threw himself at the ball but sliced it onto the roof of Wiedwald’s net from a position where that angle seemed impossible to find.
The tension amongst two sets of players who needed a result as badly as each other was starting to kick in by then, summed up by Wiedwald leaving his box to attack a bouncing ball but doing no more than presenting Irvine with a difficult invitation to lob him from long range.
Lasogga thought he had scored with 71 minutes gone but a delicate, curling finish from 25 yards dropped fractionally beyond Allan McGregor’s left-hand post. Alioski should have scored, or at least bothered McGregor, when he swiped at a knockdown from Berardi 10 minutes from time. Those moments were paying out for Leeds at the start of the season, and as recently as December. It has been a long time now since Christiansen felt anything drop.