'What I want to see from Tyler Roberts and Pascal Struijk' - former Leeds United defender on improvements and huge Watford clash
What we saw from Leeds United on Saturday against West Ham United was very good for a little bit longer than 45 minutes, but I think trying to get a complete 90 minute performance is the next required step.
There’s no doubt we saw signs against Newcastle United that things were improving and considering the team we put out against the Hammers, with the problems with injuries we had and a debut for young Charlie Cresswell, I thought the first 45 was exceptional.
Yes we offered up a few chances to West Ham but we really got into that last third really well, the rotation of the midfield and Rodrigo was really good and we could have gone 2-0 up when Raphinha hit the post.
It was impressive stuff against what is a very good West Ham side. They, at that point, were dropping deep in midfield and we were gaining the upper hand. It was a lot more like last season.
You have key moments in games and we don’t seem to be taking advantage of them. Mateusz Klich’s opportunity in the second half, at 1-0, was certainly key. If we score that it becomes a different game. And as they began to grow into it a little more, the quality of Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice allowed them to get on the ball more and more.
Uncharacteristically we looked a little tired. The pace of the game was exceptional and looking at the stats West Ham appear to be the second fittest or strongest team out there.
Against anyone else, we might have overrun them, but we couldn’t quite do that. You have to acknowledge how good they are, they had belief in how they play and they nicked that winner, which was so painful for us.
I really don’t think we deserved to lose. To get nothing was harsh and that was reflected in the crowd response at full-time.
The noise, again, was incredible and the support was brilliant. Leeds fans understand.
In the last 15 minutes, when players were physically incapable of doing any more, it was because they had put everything on the line, they had given everything and Leeds fans get that.
They’ve always understood that. They can forgive missing, not playing the right pass, but they can’t forgive not giving the maximum. The boys give that all the time.
That support is important. They clearly saw some promising signs yet what it amounted to was nothing, so that has to change. What I can guarantee is that if we keep playing like we did in that first 45 minutes, for the rest of the season, it’ll bring a hatful of points.
One thing we do need is goals and I’m so desperate for Tyler Roberts to get amongst them. Marcelo Bielsa has handed him a few chances now and he needs to start making a real impact. I think we all see a very talented individual, on the ball when he spins and turns and finds space, he does it all extremely well but he needs to raise it to the next level, adding assists and scoring goals.
Obviously it doesn’t matter who it is on the scoresheet – you want your number nine striker to score but others need to keep chipping away. Our centre-halves need to come up with one or two, our wingers need to do what Raphinha is doing, and the deep runners from midfield. I thought the only thing that was missing from Rodrigo’s first hour was a goal. He was very bright. We need to have more of a goal threat and not just from Raphinha.
Cresswell even had a chance to cap what was an impressive debut with a goal, when that corner looped towards him.
What marks him out as a lot different to others who make their debuts around the same age is how vocal he is. I’ve watched him a few times and he’s always organising players around him – I saw that at Fulham and again at West Ham. It takes a lot to come into that sort of game and have the confidence to play as he did and have that vocality in the heart of the defence.
I like his attitude and his mindset.
There’s no doubt he was up against a very good player in Michail Antonio and he got turned, he got too tight, two or three times, but rather than take a backwards step he kept at it and he got better. There are very strong players in the Premier League and when you step up from the Under-23s it’s very different. Cresswell will have outmuscled just about anyone he’s played against for the 23s but you can’t do that with certain strikers and Antonio is one of those.
In the air he’s great, he attacks that ball and loves to win it. It was really impressive. He has plenty to work on but he’s a sensible lad and he’s made a great start, deputising for the suspended Pascal Struijk.
Struijk will return this weekend against Watford and I’d like to see him playing as he did before the red card.
When he first came into the side he offered us physicality, in the air and on the ground. He likes to be strong and get in front of people and it’s really important that he continues to play like that. The tackle on Harvey Elliott was just an unfortunate incident – he needs to keep showing that aggression in the right way. It’s what we need from him, especially in a game that has become very important.
I wouldn’t have quite believed it if you’d told me that Watford, seven games in, would take on this level of importance but it comes right at the start of a run of four which are the important ones. We need to pick up a good haul of points from this period and then we can say the start hasn’t been great but it’s not been too bad either. It starts with Watford. Clearly they concede goals, but they’re lively up front and score a few too. You wonder where they’re at, confidence wise. We need to keep improving, as we have been. It’s a huge game, the crowd will play their part and hopefully we’ll have one or two back in the first XI.