Saturday night’s performance against Brighton was one of those games we’d most likely have lost 2-1 twelve months ago. What turned out to be a fairly evenly pitched game saw Leeds both Clinical up front, and unrelenting at the back.
The result on its own should have been talking point enough, but it was the surprise omission of Pontus Jansson that had the Twitter buzzing. A rift between him and Monk? Bartley? Was something happening in the players personal life?
The truth is we probably won’t find out for a while, and the real story was of course the win – but also the star turn performed by former captain Liam Cooper. Often overlooked this was only his tenth Start this term, he has struggled to oust Bartley or Jansson. But he rolled back those bench hours, and slotted pretty seamlessly into the back four. Back to his best with the assist for the first goal too was Charlie Taylor. Benefiting from Aylings ban, he and Berardi didn’t look out of place at all, and also put in almost flawless turns at the full back positions.
It gets you thinking about the other nearly men in the current Leeds Squad, and those who don’t seem to be able to get a look in at all.
The games have stacked up now, players will be reaching their respective limits soon, and inevitably bans, suspensions and injuries will happen. But as per Taylor and Cooper who’s in the squad that could pop up and make a difference.
Remember this time round there’ll be no Dougie Freedmans if we get to the play offs – the closure of the emergency loan window has ensured that won’t happen again.. We will need to dig deep into the squad to get to that (just about in reach) automatic spot, or for the marathon of the play offs.
Between The Sticks
Rob Green has come into his own in the last few months, he’s basically ensured we didn’t lose at Fulham and at home vs QPR, those draws seemed disappointing at the time, but the subsequent form of our opponents has put the results into context, we have much to thank Green, and our back four for here.
Marco Silvestri did put in some pretty sound performances though in the cups, but this would be one area of real risk were Green to fall foul of injury, positively though Silvestris ability to save penalties might just be a good option for us in a play-off final penalty shootout! Other than him though we have the largely untested Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Keeping Silvestri on board may prove then to be one of Monks biggest gambles, but we’ll just have to wait and see how that pans out.
Most Leeds fans would have agreed that we needed to make two nailed on signings before the end of January – and we made neither. One was a striker of course, the other a centre back.
Cooper has shown us he is a capable deputy – but he’s one man. Luke Ayling can pitch in too, but injuries or suspensions to Bartley and Jansson remain a risk to us. Deeper in the squad we only have the untested McKay, who struggled at Sutton. Where we do have some strength is at full back. Lewie Coyle and Tyler Denton are young energetic full backs with a good amount of technical ability, we can currently deploy Ayling, Berardi and Taylor as pretty much first choice too. So these areas do seem well covered
Is an area in which we have multiple options, getting in two wingers on loan in Barrow and Pedraza has increased our options there? Monk seems to favour Roofe, Hernandez and Doukara out wide(ish) and that’s meant limited game time for Stuart Dallas who has struggled to recapture last season’s form. For me Dallas is a player who could really profit from a play-off sequence of games, he’s not played regularly but been in the squad so tiredness will not be an issue for him, likewise Pedraza. Barrow though seems to be more Kebe than Freedman and hasn’t really shown much to excite the supporters.
In the Centre we have real depth. Bridcutt, O’Kane, Vieira and Phillips. The latter splits opinion with Leeds supporters, but he does have that fire in him that’s needed in a play-off final – something Leeds seem to completely lack in the end of season title fight (see Doncaster, Watford…) I have few concerns in these areas.
Chris Wood may be the finest centre forward we’ve had at Leeds since Mark Viduka (I’ve said it and await abuse) approaching 30 goals now without him we struggle. Hernandez, Roofe, Doukara have all failed to hit double figures. There is though the curious case of Marcus Antonsson. A player many thought would thrive in The Championship, and who cost us a not inconsiderable £3m. Overlooked by Monk, and admittedly not a good fit in a 4-5-1 Antonsson reminds me of a Sheringham or closer to our hearts – Rod Wallace type striker. Plenty of pace, opportunistic – but always playing off an advanced centre forward – and someone who needs to play regularly. For me Antonsson could be our ace in the hole come the end of the season, he will be desperate to prove a point, but Monk almost certainly would give the Duke the nod ahead of him, so my views may be moot.
Let’s go right to leftfield now though, and mention forgotten man Lee Erwin. Whose loan at Bury will expire at the end of the conventional season? He would be available for a play-off run. With 3 in his last 5 at Bury he seems to be coming to life, a real reach admittedly but why not?
For me this area is our Achilles heel, an injury to Wood or suspension would be fatal to our promotion chances – if we don’t get an automatic spot. It was critical that we invested in this area in the summer, and again in January, let’s hope it doesn’t bite us.
Reporter – Matthew Brown – Bolton