Leeds United: Problems mount up for the Whites

Neil Warnock on the touchline at Turf Moor.
Neil Warnock on the touchline at Turf Moor.
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Another player injured and no new signings on the horizon, or not until January it seems.

These, once again, are delicate times for Leeds United as they look up from the bottom half of the Championship.

Neil Warnock cut a frustrated figure as he picked apart Tuesday’s defeat at Burnley – frustrated by the game and the circumstances surrounding it. “The last time I felt like this I was in Vietnam having my pockets picked,” he said, criticising his side for wasting the chances they had.

Leeds dropped to 15th after full-time at Turf Moor, a position which viewed in context is four points short of sixth and eight above the bottom three. The club’s results can also be swallowed in two ways – one win in seven league games or two defeats from nine. From either standpoint it is mid-table form.

When the club finished last season in 14th place, Warnock confessed that he had little appetite for another year away from the Championship’s sharp end. He committed to this season in expectation of a sustained and realistic challenge for promotion but his squad have made no more of the early running than Simon Grayson’s did 12 months ago.

The concerns troubling United’s manager range from a team who are competing without shining in the Championship to persistent injuries and prolonged uncertainty about how or when he will be able to add to his squad.

Defender Tom Lees was lost to a damaged eye last week and might not play again before the start of December, continuing a trend which began with Paul Green hurting his knee on the first day of the Championship term. Since then, David Norris, Ross McCormack, Rodolph Austin, Lee Peltier, Michael Tonge and Lees have appeared on a long absentee list.

Only once this season has Warnock named an unchanged line-up in successive Championship matches, and even then against his better judgement on a night at Sheffield Wednesday when Austin’s lack of fitness was badly exposed. Austin and Tonge started against Burnley on Tuesday despite continuing doubts about their physical condition.

Warnock has made two signings since the emergency loan window opened in September, recruiting Tonge from Stoke City and Ryan Hall from Southend United, but the Football League’s deadline passes later this month and Warnock implied after the loss to Burnley that last-minute arrivals were highly unlikely. He all-but ruled out the possibility of new players coming to Elland Road before Saturday’s match with Watford.

“I don’t expect anything,” Warnock said when asked if any deals were imminent. “But that’s why I keep going – because I don’t expect anything.”

His plans in the transfer market are intrinsically linked to the takeover of Leeds which has been mooted for almost six months and continues to hover on the brink of completion.

The unexplained delay in the £52million buy-out planned by Dubai-based GFH Capital came under close attention again after Tuesday night’s result; a hindrance for Warnock and a source of annoyance for an increasingly restless fanbase.

Talks between United’s chairman and owner, Ken Bates, and GFH Capital began in May and have dragged on without any guarantee of a successful conclusion.

Reports yesterday evening claimed the sale of the club could be finalised by this weekend, ahead of United’s clash with Watford, but a senior source at GFH Capital said a conclusion in that timescale was “unlikely”.

The source told the YEP: “We’re getting there and this really is in the final stages.

“I wouldn’t rule out a deal before the weekend but I think it’s unlikely. We’ve still got documents to process and work to complete. But the deal’s very close.”

GFH Capital deputy chief executive David Haigh and company director Salem Patel attended United’s win over Birmingham City on October 27 before flying to Monaco for two days of talks with Bates. Their discussions were described as “very productive”.

Haigh and Patel returned to England at the start of last week to carry out further work on the proposed takeover.

Warnock, however, seems resigned to fighting his way through to the turn of the year with his squad as it is. Though the uncertainty surrounding the takeover is complicating his job, his anger at Turf Moor was directed primarily at the players who failed to take chances in the moments when Leeds managed to break Burnley’s dominance.

El-Hadji Diouf missed two in the first half, driving shots wide from inside the box, and Aidan White’s failure to beat goalkeeper Lee Grant from close range on 63 minutes was crucial. Charlie Austin eventually won the match for Burnley with his 20th goal of the season, scored eight minutes from time.

“We’ve got to be more determined when we’re on top,” Warnock said. “We’ve got to die to get our goal. That’s what disappointed me.

“We had so many opportunities to win the game but we went back home with our tails between our legs.

“Dioufy had two chances in the first half and he could have played Michael Tonge in twice. Fair enough if he scores, you can say it’s the right decision, but you can’t miss chances like that. As for Aidy’s, I don’t know how he hasn’t scored. Even their keeper was surprised to see the ball hit him.

“You’ve got to be more clinical than that and you’ve got to show more quality. But we’re short of that. Again, I can’t fault the effort.”

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The glaring omission from Warnock’s squad on Tuesday was Hall, the winger signed on loan from Southend with a view to a £150,000 move in January.

Hall came to Leeds during the last international break but has featured for only eight minutes of a recent defeat to Birmingham City.

Warnock has concerns about the fitness and sharpness of a player who trained alone for many weeks after falling out with Southend, and Hall was overlooked at Burnley for tactical reasons after a stomach bug hit United’s squad. He played and scored four goals in a development league match at Derby County yesterday.

“Luciano Becchio and Luke Varney were struggling and I thought we might need Andy Gray at some stage,” Warnock said.

“A couple of other lads had sickness so I needed to cover other areas. Ryan was just the odd one out.”

Pablo Hernandez.

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