Saturday’s win over Middlesbrough was a massive boost for morale at Leeds United and a pretty timely shot in the arm.
I expected the confidence to flow after that result so why the team reverted to such negative tactics against Brighton I’ll never know.
Brighton have a certain style about them – a style that emerged way back when Gus Poyet became their manager – and it’s not difficult to work out. They play from the back, they walk the ball out of defence and even their goalkeeper acts as an 11th outfield player at times.
Against those tactics, it’s imperative that you push up and put man-for-man pressure on them around their own box. You can’t afford to let them stroll about and dominate possession – as sadly we found to our cost.
Frankly, our players have got to be far more motivated than they were on Tuesday night. Our tactics seemed to be all about containing Brighton and that’s a very negative attitude when the team are coming off the back of a good win over Boro. The first half reminded me a lot of the first half at Millwall on the first day of the season.
This isn’t the long and short of our problems but I think it’s a point worth making again – in the squad at the moment, we don’t have a proper captain. We don’t have a leader who’ll get hold of the players on a night like Tuesday and read the riot act to everyone and anyone.
We pulled in a good crowd for a midweek match and the supporters got at the players a bit but the reason for the dissent was probably because it looked like the players were letting Brighton have their way. Brighton were all over us and it felt like Leeds were allowing it to happen.
It’s imperative in those situations that big characters step forward and say ‘enough’s enough’. That responsibility falls to the coach too and obviously the tactics are down to David Hockaday but you could feel the buck being passed in the first 45 minutes. No-one wanted to get the bull by the horns and address the fact that we were all over the place.
Criticism of the performance is clearly valid but even so, it’s important to remember that we’re very much a work in progress. I still expect more signings will come in before the transfer window shuts and the crucial thing now is that those signings target the areas of the team that need strengthening most.
It’s plain to see that we need a better, stronger and more creative midfield. For so much of Tuesday, I wasn’t sure what our midfielders were supposed to be doing. They didn’t get forward to support the front two and they weren’t able to stop Brighton passing the ball through them.
I heard Matt Smith take a bit of stick from the fans but in fairness to him, what was he supposed to do?
We were playing angled balls from the halfway line and he’s got no chance of making anything of them. What he needs is players getting to the byline, swinging the ball in and inviting him to attack it. If you watched Smith last season, you’ll know how dangerous he is in those circumstances. On Tuesday he didn’t have a single chance to go at. Width is an issue for us and always will be with a diamond midfield. I agree with Hockaday to a point – you can have width in your team without any out-and-out wingers but only if you have a system which is well-practised and properly established. It sounded like Brighton experienced a few problems through the summer but their coach, Sami Hyypia, is clearly setting his mind on how they’re going to play. They looked very familiar with his tactics.
What frustrates me is that we really allowed them a get-out-of-jail free card. They were under a bit of pressure after two defeats and we should have been all over them from the start.
It was a chance to build on the Middlesbrough win, and even four points from those two games would have been a bonus. But we were second-best against Brighton and deserved nothing from the match.
We go to Watford on Saturday now and the reality is this – play the same way at Vicarage Road and we’ll risk taking a heavy beating.
If I’ve learnt one thing about the Championship over the years it’s that you get nowhere by trying to restrict or contain teams. You need to impose your own game on the opposition and make them dance to your tune.
In that respect, Tuesday was a lesson for Hockaday and his players. They should know now that performances like that will be punished every time. It’s a dent to the confidence but I’ll look for a big response at Watford.