Irate as Kyle Bartley felt after Wigan Athletic’s late equaliser on Tuesday, he was not about to start pointing the finger. Elland Road was ripe for apportioning blame as an injury-time goal flew in but Bartley wanted collective responsibility among a group of visibly angry players.
There were questions about the marking at the corner which preceded Shaun MacDonald’s 91st-minute finish and criticism too of the substitutions made by Garry Monk as the second half wore on. Bartley, however, defended his head coach and said he and United’s players had “let it slip”. It was the first time this season that Leeds had surrendered a win in added time.
There were better aspects too – an improved display from Kemar Roofe and a run of chances after half-time which Leeds should have taken and added to Chris Wood’s 31st-minute goal – but neither Bartley nor Monk drew consolation from a 1-1 draw against a side who have failed to win any of their seven away games so far. It made a testing trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers this Saturday more difficult again but Bartley claimed a good result at Molineux would give Tuesday night a different context.
“I was angry at the final whistle,” the centre-back said. “It’s two points dropped, as simple as that. We have to learn and make sure that if we’re in the same position we’re a bit more ruthless.
“We needed to go on and score a second or third goal to kill the game off. A few words were said in the dressing room but these things happen. Wigan were pushing for a goal late on and throwing all sorts of players in the box. Sometimes that can work.”
With 90 minutes played, Leeds failed to stop a deep corner reaching Nick Powell whose header back across goal was eventually dispatched by MacDonald off the inside of a post. “I don’t think anyone really switched off,” Bartley said, “but we’ll have a look at it and if there’s someone to blame then they’ll be told and hopefully learn their lesson.
“Wolves is a big game now. We can’t dwell on Tuesday. It was a big disappointment but we have to put that behind us. We need to go to Molineux and get three points. If we do that, a point (against Wigan) doesn’t look too bad.”
Wood’s first-half strike – a sweetly-taken volley after Hadi Sacko crossed from the right wing – was the highlight of a first half in which Wigan hit a post and had two efforts cleared off the goalline, one repelled by a superb save from goalkeeper Rob Green.
Monk’s side got the measure of Gary Caldwell’s at the start of the second half but United’s boss moved on 66 minutes to replace the dangerous Sacko with Matt Grimes. Alex Mowatt was then sent on for Pablo Hernandez, who had picked up an injury earlier in the match, while Wood’s impressive display ended with five minutes of normal time to go.
Wood, aside from his eight goals, has been pivotal in Leeds’ defensive improvement since an opening month of the season which saw five concessions from corners. He and Pontus Jansson operate as free men at set-pieces but Wood was in the dug-out, replaced by Marcus Antonsson, when MacDonald converted Wigan’s equaliser.
Monk, who said the corner had dropped to the back post which “wasn’t (Wood’s) area” to guard, revealed afterwards that two of his substitutions had been made due to “physical situations”. Bartley said Sacko had been suffering with minor injuries and hinted that Wood’s time away on international duty with New Zealand had also been a factor.
“It’s difficult,” Bartley said. “The fans, the media, they don’t always know the full picture. Woody travelled away on international duty and Hadi’s been struggling a lot with a couple of knocks. It’s a long season and the players need protecting. The gaffer made what he thought was the right decision with the substitutions and it’s up to the players who come on to bring us something else and have an impact on the game.
“It is also up to us on the pitch to make sure we continue the momentum and don’t let it slip. We all let ourselves down and there’s no-one to blame or pick out as being at fault. We had to take more responsibility and kill the game off.”
There is, all the same, a trend to Monk’s replacements which was evident again on Tuesday night. Sacko, the 22-year-old Frenchman, has been substituted eight times this season and seven times before the 80th minute. He has started 12 matches. Hernandez has also started 12 and been withdrawn on seven occasions before the final whistle. Injuries aside, Monk’s alterations have consistently focused on the front end of his team, with some justification given the improvement of his defence.
His resources have been cut recently by injuries to captain Liam Bridcutt and Stuart Dallas. Monk said Dallas was “50-50” for Saturday’s trip to Wolves but the Northern Ireland international is likely to be missing again.
Bartley, who is captaining Leeds in Bridcutt’s absence, said: “I always try to be the leader out there, whether I have the armband or not.
“I’ve enjoyed being captain, it’s a massive honour and a privilege, but Liam is the club captain and a fantastic captain.
“We need to get him back and make sure we have all the players in the squad available. That allows us to rotate a little bit and freshen things up.”