Wigan Athletic would love Leeds United's problems, but wasting chances could kill Whites' Premier League dream - The Verdict

Third from bottom and fighting for their Championship lives, Wigan Athletic would love promotion-chasing Leeds United's problems.

Sunday, 2nd February 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Sunday, 2nd February 2020, 7:19 am

They might also love to play them every week.

On Saturday at Elland Road, Paul Cook's Latics were dominated, nay battered for long periods of time. They conceded corners, chances, shots at their goal and had 24 per cent of the possession.

They did what they had to do, however, and left Yorkshire with a 1-0 win and three hugely important points.

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Leeds, by comparison, did everything bar the one thing they really have to do if they want to go up automatically.

Converting their many chances into goals is the problem plaguing Marcelo Bielsa and his Whites.

It keeps flaring up, they don't appear to know how to cure it and it could kill their dream.

If that sounds a tad dramatic, consider that Leeds were, as recently as 10th December, 11 points clear of the play-off places.

Jack Harrison came close with this chance (Pic: Bruce Rollinson)

That gap is now down to three.

Leeds' recent form does not make for good reading, two wins in 10 outings have allowed the seed of doubt sown by last season's failure to grow into a forest of negativity.

A second-half fightback against Millwall in midweek, from two goals down, brought a win and chopped away at some of the doom and gloom.

Getting the winger and the striker they so badly wanted in the transfer window allowed rays of light to break through and lift the mood.

Yet after defeat by Wigan, what was an already an obscured view of the positives, the hope and what has been achieved so far, was obscured entirely.

It's difficult to see past facts.

Leeds had 18 shots and yet David Marshall in the Wigan goal had a relatively comfortable afternoon.

Patrick Bamford was wasteful a number of times, Jack Harrison hit the post and then failed to turn the ball home despite getting past Marshall.

Crosses piled up into the dozens, 13 corners were won and still no goal would come.

Wigan scoring directly from a corner, albeit via a deflection and a flappy attempt at a save from Kiko Casilla, felt like a particularly cruel twist of irony.

The fact that they won this fixture last season as well, against all the odds and on that occasion with 10 men, makes them somewhat of an unlikely and unwanted bogey team for Bielsa, who, took full blame and, showcasing yet again a keen sense of the LS11 zeitgeist, admitted that fans were probably tired of hearing him try to explain why Leeds' problem still exists.

By half-time Bielsa had watched Marshall save from Costa, Harrison skin three defenders and strike the woodwork, Bamford slice a shot backwards and Harrison reach a Bamford cross before the keeper, yet still not manage to score.

He also watched some truly sloppy Leeds play, epitomised by Pablo Hernandez, an out-of-sorts attacker who is normally so slick in his work.

There was a great deal of entertainment, just one side having lots of the ball and another side doing enough to keep it out of their net.

But the pattern of the game, such as it was, told Bielsa that it would be very difficult for Wigan to score and he found it hard to believe his side wouldn't. So he didn't make any changes.

His faith was not to be rewarded.

Bamford glanced a back post header wide, corners came and went and then Wigan went downfield, won one of their own and Joe Williams played it against Hernandez and into the net.

As if to compound the frustration for home fans, Leeds won another, took it short, Harrison whipped a lovely ball through to Bamford and he scuffed his volley past the post.

Kai Naismith headed off the line to deny the striker, substitute Tyler Roberts had a shot deflected wide and Costa got into great positions time and time again, almost always hitting the first man with his cross.

It wasn't all one-way traffic, in fact Wigan should have doubled their lead, ex White Tom Pearce running clean through on Casilla only for Stuart Dallas, the player who slipped to create the danger, to recover brilliantly. And giant striker Kieffer Moore got the wrong side of Ben White, briefly, before the centre-half blocked the shot.

With the route to goal blocked centrally, Leeds could only and did only send the ball to both flanks, but countless attempted crosses and four minutes of added time did nothing to change the result.

After, Bielsa talked about a packed penalty area, the impossibility of picking out a man in the box, the lack of actual playing time in a stop-start game and an absence of players, barring Helder Costa, who can dribble the ball to devastating effect to unpick a stubborn defence.

He had to be prompted to explain the absence of the man everyone hopes will be a tonic for the Leeds problem.

Jean-Kevin Augustin arrived in Leeds last Sunday and has trained this week, but was not on the bench.

Bielsa explained that he will only play a player when the player is ready to fulfil the needs of the team and he's expected to stick to his guns, in the same way he will stick to the style of play that has made Leeds a genuine promotion contender once again.

If Augustin is not the answer, at least not immediately anyway, then the problem remains.

It might not rear its ugly head at Nottingham Forest or at Brentford, but it's always lurking in the background.

Just like Leeds players not seeing team-mates for the throng of defenders in their path, the significance and impact of each result on the Leeds United psyche, the points dropped due to profligacy, the pain of the recent past means people cannot and will not see the wood for the trees.

Those not involved in the daily discussion about Bielsa's Leeds, those without emotional attachment, like all those opposition managers, still tip the Whites to go up.

The present reality is worrying but the big picture isn't so bad.

It could be worse. Just ask Wigan.