Off the back of one of the clubs worst performances and most humbling results since Administration and Relegation to the third tier of English football, a 3-0 mauling at Swindon, Leeds fans may be justified in asking where the money has gone this season.
Investment in improving the team to challenge for promotion may be described as miserly, relying on bargain basement free transfers and only two cash transfer fees have been paid for Leigh Bromby and Max Gradel. Leeds now appear to be paying the price for this on the pitch as promotion hopes fade with each league match that passes.
The lack of financial investment in the playing staff is bemusing when you consider that the club has profited from the sale of Fabien Delph to Aston Villa for a seven figure fee plus incentives. Furthermore, they will have benefited from a bumper cup draw at Old Trafford plus television fees where the club is estimated to have profited £900,000, and a similar sum will have been accrued from another “top draw”, the televised cup tie at Tottenham. Leeds have also enjoyed a televised home Carling Cup encounter with Liverpool and can look forward to another windfall from the replay with Tottenham at Elland Road next Wednesday.
Despite all of this income, Leeds are still scrabbling around trying to pick up players on the cheap. It doesn’t bode well. Should Leeds miss out on promotion, they cannot continue to hold out for a string of lucrative cup ties each season.
Maybe Leeds biggest loss is the failure to secure the Council’s backing for a joint arrangement to buy back Thorpe Arch, the training facility, and the club now face a spiralling rental payment on the facility. It could be that the club are being prudent and trying to account for this, or there could be more worrying issues surrounding the clubs future, which, to be fair, would only be idle speculation at this time.
Either way, the performances on the pitch are suffering, as Leeds League One rivals appear to have worked them out. They have a pitiful return of one point gained from matches against Wycombe, Exeter, and Swindon. Norwich have over turned a 11 point deficit in a matter of weeks and sit above Leeds, and Charlton are now breathing down Leeds' neck with menace.
A closer look at the team may highlight where Leeds are currently being found out.
Casper Ankergren is the current incumbent of the Goal Keeping Jersey. He is a good shot stopper and deserves some “love” from the Leeds fans for sticking with the club through the relegation and Administration years. In fairness, he has not done an awful lot wrong in goal during the slump, but since Shane Higgs got injured, Caspers inclusion in the side has coincided with the team leaking more goals than had been the case earlier in the season.
Casper is not confident with crosses and often looks vulnerable under a cross. This is further exacerbated when you consider the state of Leeds' full backs, who might not even be regulars in League Two teams. Jason Crowe has been disappointing when he’s been fit since his arrival in the summer, and when Leigh Bromby is moved out to full back, he looks like an accident waiting to happen.
All of this is slightly harsh on Andy Hughes, who has been comparatively reliable, but I feel aghast to say that Leeds have actually missed Ben Parker, who looked an absolute calamity at times in the middle part of last season. One thing these players all share in common is a lack of pace, and to be blunt, some are just not good enough. Huddersfield exposed Leeds' weakness at full back particularly well in November.
Leeds have an excellent central defensive trio, brave and full of heart, in Richard Naylor, Patrick Kisnorbo, and Leigh Bromby. It’s hard to fault this trio. but if comment is to be passed. there is a lack of pace throughout the back four for Leeds.
As for the enigma that is Leeds midfield, this unit protects the defence generally well, but the profligate use of the ball and needless loss of possession puts the team under unnecessary pressure.
The jury is still out on Michael Doyle, who looks the part sometimes and on others gives the ball away too cheaply, and he is too easily beaten in Midfield. Neil Kilkenny has real talent but is too often caught in possession. Perhaps an investment in some cotton buds so he can clear his ears out and hear his team mates shouting at him would help? There could be cause for some debate, making a case for a central pairing of Brad Johnson and Jonathan Howson, who are currently being deployed in the wide positions.
Playing wide is not appropriate for Howson, who is one paced and does not possess the twinkle toes or nous of Gordon Strachan, who himself frequented the right hand side in more illustrious days for Leeds. Brad Johnson is whole-hearted but gets a nose bleed at the prospect of having to take on players.
Leeds do possess the hustle and bustle of Robert Snodgrass, who possesses a devastating delivery on the occasions he does manage to get the ball in to the box, which is all too infrequently at the moment.
Again, a closer look at the midfield shows a lack of pace and a reliance on Snodgrass to deliver to the front two. Leeds have signed Max Gradel, who is fast, but looks more like an impact player from the bench at the moment than one who can deliver over 90 minutes.
In Andy Robinson, Leeds do possess a player who could potentially run at defenders and deliver crosses, but he has not performed well at Leeds so far and has been frozen out, lost form, lost confidence, and is almost certain to be loaned out imminently.
Leeds' front two are top drawer at this level, Jermaine Beckford and Luciano Becchio, sadly, all too often, they are forced to live off long balls driven up the middle of the park. Unfortunately, the backup is lacking, as Mike Grella hasn’t quite made it yet, and Tresor Kandol does not inspire. Hence a recent injury to Becchio saw Leeds resorting to pushing Snodgrass up behind Beckford and playing Jonathan Howson on the right. It was this formation that was so comprehensively walloped at Swindon.
It isn’t beyond Leeds' ability to turn this around, but league results are getting uglier by the match at a time when they are moving in the transfer market with the alacrity of a sedated snail. It is worthy of note that the Transfer Window closes in five days time. With a goal keeper that flaps at crosses, Leeds have to tighten up at full back, and the injection of another wide player in midfield, in addition to Gradel, is required. Any injuries to Leeds' classy front two is now going to present a big problem.
Simon Grayson definitely has some thinking to do.
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