NO AMOUNT of games has been too many for Leeds United recently but the promise of a two-week gap before their next league fixture might not strike Thomas Christiansen as a bad thing. Two more points went begging in a tired if unlucky draw with Nottingham Forest.
There was no more energy in Forest’s legs yesterday than in those of Christiansen’s squad and the schedule over Christmas and New Year invariably has this effect but Leeds have lost their edge in the past 72 hours. A goalless meeting with Forest was a substantial improvement on Saturday’s defeat to Birmingham City but United rarely play worse than they did at St Andrews. At full-time the result felt no better.
United’s league position looks healthy still, ensuring that they should be in the mix when the fun starts in February with a glut of matches against teams around them in the Championship, but an FA Cup tie at Newport County is next, presenting Christiansen with a chance to relieve some of the players who got Leeds going through December.
The club were on a run of four wins before Saturday but a 1-0 loss at St Andrews, where the tactics of their head coach failed to pay off, was followed by a stalemate at Elland Road for which Christiansen shouldered less of the responsibility. The first half drifted away after a promising start and when the best chance presented itself early in the second,
Kemar Roofe drilled a gift of an opening against Forest’s crossbar. Forest, who are managerless again, were considerably happier with their point.
Pontus Jansson was also unfortunate to see a header cleared off the visitors’ goalline before the break and Pablo Hernandez was denied late on as the margins which Leeds shaded so well last month turned against them but United lacked the composure and clarity of thought to force a winning goal. Forest mustered a spate of attacks after the hour but played with the caution of a side who are without a boss and have no idea what the next few weeks hold.
READ/WATCH MORE - Christiansen remains tight-lipped over January moves
Both clubs are now into the January transfer window, though Leeds entered it with no plans to spend heavily in the weeks ahead. It remains to be seen if a lull in the past few days prompts a rethink of that strategy but the club start 2018 in sixth place. The effect of two disappointing results has been to close up the division beneath them, just as the automatic promotion places were coming into view.
There was no more energy in Forest’s legs yesterday than in those of Christiansen’s squad and the schedule over Christmas and New Year invariably has this effect but Leeds have lost their edge in the past 72 hours.The YEP’s Phil Hay
Forest are in a different state and brought in the New Year without a manager after sacking Mark Warburton on Sunday morning. Perennial caretaker Gary Brazil held the fort again, the third time their academy boss has come to Elland Road in temporary charge of Forest’s first team. A 1-0 defeat to Sunderland on Saturday proved the end of the line for Warburton.
Forest have been flimsy for most of the season, particularly away from home, but Leeds were warned against complacency by their loss at Birmingham over the weekend and Christiansen took fewer risks with his line-up, recalling Samuel Saiz and returning Eunan O’Kane to the midfield which dragged Leeds down at St Andrews.
Saiz, four months on, continues to stand out as the best signing of United’s summer transfer window and his presence restored purpose with some fine individual skill but Forest had enough pace and touch in attack to keep Leeds on their toes. Ben Brereton was denied a goal in the eighth minute by a brilliant sliding tackle from Liam Cooper, nicking the ball off the striker’s foot as he shaped to shoot. Brereton cried out for a penalty but saw referee Jeremy Simpson wave his appeal away.
It took a goalline clearance from Kieran Dowell, though, to stop Jansson heading Hernandez’s corner past Jordan Smith in the 14th minute on one of several occasions when Jansson was allowed to attack a set-piece. Roofe’s attempts to bury the rebound ended with an overhead kick over the crossbar from a few yards out. At the stage where Leeds had the wind in their sails, Luke Ayling was lost to injury after sliding into a tackle with former United midfielder Liam Bridcutt.
Bridcutt gave Ayling an apologetic pat on the back as the right-back abandoned an attempt to run the pain off and limped down the tunnel, another concern for a coach in Christiansen who never seems to be free of absentees.
The interlude as Ayling left the field disrupted Leeds’ flow, though not in a way which allowed Forest to take control. Dowell forced a shot past Felix Wiedwald’s far post after breaking unchallenged over 40 yards and Barrie McKay failed to make anything of a good opportunity to cross from the byline but Wiedwald saw out the first half without making a save.
Elland Road, nonetheless, began to grumble as half-time drew close and Forest escaped again when Jansson was left to chase another Hernandez cross into the six-yard box, narrowly missing the ball and leaving Smith to sweep up.
It was notable that despite a handful of nice exchanges which Saiz was at the centre of, United’s threat was limited to dead-ball deliveries. Christiansen spotted that and Pierre-Michel Lasogga stepped up from the bench at the start of the second half, ending Gjanni Alioski’s laboured effort. Roofe moved to the right wing to accommodate Lasogga up front but it was Roofe who should have scored after more classy play from Saiz in the 56th minute.
The Spaniard’s close control took him through Forest’s attempts to dispossess him and a perfect lay-off past the outstretched foot of Armand Traore ran to Roofe. The forward sized up Smith before choosing to smash a shot goalwards, clattering the face of the bar.
Forest committed players forward with great reluctance until the final half-hour when the possibility of a win presented itself briefly. Ben Osborn’s careful finish struck Liam Cooper before it could test Wiedwald but the German was alert enough to tip away a deflected strike from Osborn on 65 minutes. Dowell tested him further, driving a volley at Wiedwald after bringing down a chipped pass from the right wing.
The spell was Forest’s best but their momentum dissipated quickly and Smith was called into a desperate save six minutes from time when Saiz turned it on again, breaking away and setting up Hernandez whose shot was blocked by the advancing Smith. Lasogga then watched Smith claim a weak, goalbound header on his line after two clever passes from Eunan O’Kane and substitute Hadi Sacko cut Forest open. Christiansen knew then that a goal was not coming.