Leeds Utd 1 (Dallas 89)
Preston NE 1 (Browne 22)
Our magnificent run of seven wins on the spin has been put into context somewhat in the three matches since. Home draws with Cardiff and Preston and a defeat at Fulham have slowed, if not stalled, our momentum. The final half hour against Cardiff we put down as an aberration, while the defeat at Fulham was maybe more down to bad luck than a downturn in form most of us would say. Today though, for much of the first half, we didn’t look great.
The first thing to say though is that Preston are demonstrably a decent side; the table doesn’t lie now that everyone has played everyone else. They are statistically at least the equal of Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday for instance, and way better than any of the sides we played in that magnificent seven sequence. Going a goal down in 22 minutes didn’t help either as that put players and crowd alike on tenterhooks, wondering if we had, in fact, stumbled into a run of bad form. The loss of the inspiration and ingenuity of Pablo Hernandez didn’t help our cause either, I defy anyone to tell me he is not the glue that holds this Leeds United side together, even when he’s perhaps not been in his usual majestic form as was the case over the last few weeks before his untimely injury at Craven Cottage. In fact, in my mind, it is no coincidence that our 11 game unbeaten run came after his return from his previous spell in the medical room. There is no other player in our squad who can pick a decisive pass as regularly as Pablo can and we just have to find a way of playing without that weapon in our armoury until he’s back. I think Eddie Nketiah is the answer.
Leeds finally came alive in this game for the final half hour and, well, what a coincidence, that was the half hour we had Eddie Nketiah on the pitch. This is no sleight on Patrick Bamford by the way, but I fail to understand why Bielsa does not consider it worth including Eddie from the start in every game. In my humble opinion he just has to find a way of playing him; as I’ve said many times before the man (Eddie not Marcelo) is a game changer. He is a quality player with pace to burn who just makes things happen. As I said after his cameos against Cardiff and Fulham, he achieved more in both those games than any other player on the pitch, minute for minute. The removal of Bamford today was clearly not popular with the Elland Road faithful, most of whom I guess wanted to see him in partnership with Eddie, not being replaced by him, even though Bielsa has indicated that he didn’t think the 4-4-2 worked at Fulham. Funnily enough, I thought it did, but that’s another story!
It maybe that we are losing Eddie soon anyway if the rumours are to be believed although Bielsa’s praise for Eddie’s efforts today and the comments made by Angus Kinnear clearly suggest that Leeds are, if not desperate, certainly keen to keep him. I’d love him to stay too and I believe we have underused his talents so far and that, in a very different way, he could provide the answer to the current lack of Pablo.
I’m still not sure if anything fundamental has gone wrong or if we can still shrug and say, it’s only three games, they were all tough opponents, we’re missing Pablo, and we’ve had a bit of bad luck! We know our shortcomings but they were with us through the good run too – dodgy defending corners, unable to capitalise often enough on our own corners and careless in front of goal. Some good chances went begging again today and once again it’s hard to avoid grimacing at the ratio of 4 strikes on target from 17 in total. But another inspired goalkeeper (do they all get an extra bonus for performances at Elland Road?) and the thickness of the post clouded the issue today for me so I’m sitting on the fence until we’ve seen how we respond at St Andrews on Sunday.
Leeds Utd Preston NE
Possession 70% 30%
Shots 17 12
On Target 4 2
Corners 12 4
Fouls Committed 11 22