CIRCUMSTANCES might dictate that the question of Felix Wiedwald’s inclusion in Leeds United’s line-up is left for another day. Andy Lonergan has a neck injury and is likely to miss Wednesday’s game against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Paul Heckingbottom’s first impression of Bailey Peacock-Farrell was that the 21-year-old was “static” and standing still; in other words, not quite ready.
With that group of goalkeepers in front of him, and a young Pole in Kamil Miazek on the fringes, Heckingbottom’s reliance on Wiedwald could stretch for at least another game, but there was no avoiding the feeling after Friday’s defeat to Middlesbrough that the issue of Wiedwald’s performance had reached the point of no return.
There is more to Leeds’ league position than Wiedwald’s goalkeeping alone and five games in charge have given Heckingbottom some insight into the complexity of their shortcomings this season, but Wiedwald cannot shake the view that the fragility of the club’s defence rests in part on him. It was hard not to sympathise after his failure to stop Middlesbrough’s second goal in a 3-0 loss impacted further on his confidence and assurance.
Thomas Christiansen’s faith in him was difficult to gauge. The German usurped Rob Green as first choice last summer despite Green’s form in the previous season, but Christiansen was quick to drop Wiedwald when his game went awry in October.
He was equally quick to recall him after giving Lonergan a short burst of seven appearances, one of which involved a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Wednesday’s opponents Wolves.
So fixed was Wiedwald’s place towards the end of Christiansen’s tenure that Leeds were happy to let Lonergan leave for Sunderland on the day of the January transfer deadline, 24 hours after Wiedwald produced his most effective display in a goalless draw at Hull City.
The deal with Sunderland fell through and Lonergan stayed put. Injury prevented him from making the bench for the past two games.
Heckingbottom has given Wiedwald a chance, starting him in all five of his matches as head coach and refusing to be too critical of his errors. There is no indication yet that the former Werder Bremen keeper will lose his place on Wednesday.
“It’s one area we’re looking at but we’ve been really fair with Felix and Lonners,” Heckingbottom said. “It’s important that goalkeepers get your backing.
“I’m seeing what you’re seeing and probably a lot more because I train with them every day and in terms of goals, he (Wiedwald) knows he’s made mistakes. He’s knows there are areas where he could have done better. He’s also had good moments and made good saves to help us get three points.
“We want to see the latter more often and also to get that competition back – to get everyone fit and pushing to give me the option and the ability to change it, or to give them a rest when their form is dipping.
“But it’s one of the most important positions in a team. Every successful team has a top goalkeeper.”
Wiedwald came to England with ample Bundesliga experience behind him, although Werder Bremen leaked goals at a troublesome rate last season.
The 27-year-old, as a replacement for Green, has been the natural victim of comparisons with the former England international who provided a safe pair of hands during the second half of last season.
No-one in the world ever got better without failing at some point. If you do manage to get through these times that are tough, you’re better for it.Leeds United boss, Paul Heckingbottom
Towards the end of Friday’s defeat, there was a visible air of frustration in centre-backs Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper as Wiedwald struggled through the night.
Heckingbottom conceded that Wiedwald’s confidence would be down, but said: “No-one in the world ever got better without failing at some point.
“If you do manage to get through these times that are tough, you’re better for it. You back yourself even more the next time there’s a bad time.
“That mindset can help you put a bit of perspective on it. Everyone suffers a loss of form or bad times or luck going against them, or all three. But if you get through it then you’re better equipped to deal with it again.
“In all walks of life when things are going well it’s easy, isn’t it?
“There’s always some player or member of staff going through a bad time regardless of whether you’re winning or not. It’s an ever-present thing in a performance industry. When someone’s having a bad time, it’s all about how they respond to it.”
Lonergan’s injury has denied Heckingbottom the use of his senior alternative to Wiedwald. Lonergan did not train yesterday and is a doubt for the visit of Wolves.
“It’s not serious but it’s come at a bad time for him and us,” Heckingbottom said. “You never want to be injured, especially when a new manager’s coming in, but in the weeks I had him he was training great and really pushing for a start. He’ll want to get back as soon as he can.”
Heckingbottom sought the same drive from Peacock-Farrell and spoke to him personally last week to tell him so. Peacock-Farrell has been touted as a rising talent at Leeds for the past couple of years having made his senior debut in 2016, but Heckingbottom felt the youngster was failing to progress.
A proposed loan to Oldham Athletic fell through last summer and aside from a brief stint at York City before Christmas, taking Peacock-Farrell into the hard world of National League North, his only football since his Leeds’ debut has come in the Under-23 league.
It would, however, be a leap by Heckingbottom to risk him against Wolves, the most ruthlessly skilful team in the Championship.
“I had a chat with Bailey last week about pushing on and wanting to improve,” Heckingbottom said. “I felt, and he agreed, that he’d become a bit static.
“I told him it’s down to him. If he wants to push forward then it’s up to him where his career takes him. You can’t just come into training every day, train and go home. You come in for a reason and a purpose and I want to see that from him.
“I want to see him living up to the potential he shows. You’ve got to earn the right to be in the team.
“I felt I needed to have a chat with him to make it really clear where he needs to improve. But while we’ll be tough on him, the support’s there as well because we want him to do well.”