Leeds United head coach Steve Evans was pretty candid after defeat to Huddersfield Town on Saturday, stating bluntly that his side’s on-field failures are there for all to see. Phil Hay reports.
Steve Evans picked through the bones of Huddersfield Town’s 4-1 victory at Elland Road and finished his post mortem by promising that Leeds United would “go back to the training ground and work”.
Work might be necessary but it is evermore clear that solutions to the defects seen in Saturday’s derby will not be found at Thorp Arch.
Evans said it himself at the end of another bad loss: while Leeds as a club are under-achieving, the current squad at Elland Road are not.
“We’re mid-table for a reason – not good enough to get out of (the Championship), too good to go down,” he said.
And, as was the case in each of the past three seasons, Leeds have been more concerned with the bottom end of the table than they have with the top six. Outwith the first fortnight of September and a short, sharp week in January, they were never in the running for promotion.
Former players and coaches feel the time is right for major decisions about next season to be made. Greg Abbott, the ex-Carlisle United manager who once worked in United’s academy, told Radio Yorkshire on Saturday that Leeds and their owner, Massimo Cellino, need to outline a strategy for the summer ahead.
“What’s the plan? What’s the foresight? What’s the philosophy? What’s the vision?” Abbott asked.
Noel Whelan went further in his YEP column yesterday, claiming this is “not a Leeds United side who can play at home” after their collapse in front of a crowd of 29,000.
“Whether it’s too big for them or they can’t deal with the pressure, I’m not sure,” he said.
Evans has contended from the early stage of his tenure as head coach that he would guide a better squad much closer to the top six and, on Saturday, he spoke again about having “a track record which says I deliver.”
Cellino is still to reveal publicly if he shares Evans’ confidence, with the Scot’s record showing one win from every three games, but the on-field requirements are increasingly glaring:
Centre of the defence. Leeds can confidently move forward with Charlie Taylor and Gaetano Berardi as first-choice full-backs, though Taylor cannot be expected to play until he drops with no viable cover, but in between short stable periods the centre of United’s defence has condemned itself. Giuseppe Bellusci can count himself as the best of their centre-backs this season – he spoke in Saturday’s programme about how his improving grasp of English was helping other players at Elland Road understand his character and personality – and his partnership with Liam Cooper has been relatively steady, but steady is not good enough in the Championship.
None of the division’s top-six clubs are conceding more than a goal a game and while Leeds have suffered two heavy defeats in the past month, those results aren’t indicative of their season. Most of the club’s games have been tight, settled by one goal either way, and Leeds have shaded only 11 of them.
Granted, Leeds could not have legislated for the disappointing season Sol Bamba has endured – he was seen as a key signing last summer – but the fact still remains that back in August, Uwe Rosler wanted an additional centre-back.
On days like Saturday, when panic sets in as soon as things go wrong, his rationale speaks for itself and the pairings available to Evans are making too many errors in a league where consistency counts.
Playmaker. If United retain Liam Bridcutt in the summer – and that is a deal they need to force through – then no other deep-lying midfielders are required.
Toumani Diagouraga is a good Championship player and he was missed in the defeat to Huddersfield, replaced by Luke Murphy who seems no closer to finding his niche at Elland Road. Lewis Cook can play box-to-box and looks most comfortable in that role, lacking at present the killer passes expected of a number 10. But Leeds are desperate for a number 10. The presence of Bridcutt and Diagouraga in their line-up would allow for one and it’s especially necessary at Elland Road where few teams give United the option of sitting back and countering.
Leeds have a big problem when it comes to playing through congested defences, and energy and persistence – attributes United have in spades – are no substitute for finesse over 46 games.
When Leeds toil in attack, you can’t help but think what a difference someone like Alex Pritchard would make.
Strikers. There are better finishers in the Championship than Nahki Wells but the comparison between him and United’s forwards is interesting.
Wells has outscored every striker at Leeds and claimed his 16th goal of the season for Huddersfield on Saturday, but if this was a lottery then the reality is that he buys more tickets too.
Wells has produced 84 shots on target since the campaign began in August. Between them, Mirco Antenucci and Chris Wood have totalled 87. It might not paint Wells’ conversion ratio in a great light but it proves one point – that he’s always looking for goals and always looking for opportunities to shoot. In their past five games, United have averaged three efforts on target. Wells produces roughly the same tally on his own and, while Huddersfield’s season has been nothing special, he would do a job for better teams.
On top of that he has pace, something which Wood in particular does not. Leeds’ £3m signing should be at the heart of their plans for next season but they need a foil for him; someone quick, mobile and focused on poaching goals.
When they don’t have the freedom to play on the break, Leeds are constrained by a one-dimensional style. Evans can see it and so can the crowd.
“Our failures are fairly evident to most people who watch us,” he said on Saturday.