SCOUT Phil Smith looks back on the unfortunate defeat, and ahead to a testing trip to Norwich tomorrow.
I have to confess that this opening paragraph took an age to write. My heart and my head offered two different conclusions as to how best portray the defeat at Elland Road. Football is an emotional game, and after a run of six victories in eight fixtures, the temptation was certainly present to sweep the result under the carpet and rue Lady Luck. Indeed, when you consider the ridiculous red card dished out to Kieran Trippier, many will agree that we were unfortunate to leave Yorkshire empty handed.
A defeat to Leeds United hurts, but it didn’t occur as a result of a poor tactical choice from Eddie Howe. We were by far the better team before being reduced to ten men, and coped admirably after the farcical decision from Mark Brown. However, that is not to say that the result can be filed as unfortunate, as we have been subject to the same scenario too often thus far. We have a mere three draws to our name, and even the casual observer will question whether this reflects an inability to hold out for a share of the spoils.
Late goals have been a real cause of concern this season, and we simply cannot afford to continue throwing points away. We currently sit in tenth place, and if we only consider the points surrendered on Monday and against Portsmouth in December, it is easy to suggest why we are currently off the pace. Those extra points would have seen us comfortably in a play-off position going into the FA Cup fixture against Norwich City, tomorrow afternoon.
Would I label the root cause as being an individual mistake or a result of poor concentration? I would probably class both as a fundamental concern to the manager. No amount of research and preparation can prepare for a player failing to perform to an adequate standard.
Lee Grant gets a raw deal from some supporters, for, if they are being totally honest, not being Brian Jensen. I can perfectly understand the nostalgia and sentiment towards Brian, but when he is not in possession of the gloves, support needs to be given to Lee. His three consecutive clean sheets, prior to Monday, passed with barely a mention. However, after his individual mistake at Elland Road, the criticism of his handling has been vociferous. He will know that he must shoulder the blame for Ross McCormack’s late winner, but come kick-off at Carrow Road on Saturday, I fully expect him to make amends and produce a faultless display.
Talking of tomorrow, we must look to exploit the defensive fragility of Norwich City. They are yet to keep a clean sheet, and one would back our undoubted attacking quality to add to that embarrassing statistic, particularly given Paul Lambert’s preference for 4-4-1-1. An unco-ordinated defensive line has been apparent on numerous occasions, and was increasingly evident at Loftus Road on Monday. I have also noted that Zak Whitbread likes to play from the back, but is often guilty of dwelling on the ball.
While not wishing to diminish our achievements in December, I held the opinion when the fixture list came out in the summer that January would be our first stern test, and I stand by that view. Trips to Elland Road, The Riverside Stadium and The City Ground would test the ability of any squad. Add our opponents tomorrow into the mix, and we would struggle to find a more challenging month.
I shall travel to Norfolk more in hope than expectation. They have acquitted themselves superbly in the Premier League, and, alongside Swansea City and Queens Park Rangers, all three promoted sides have a realistic chance of avoiding the drop.
In the hat for the next round? I certainly hope so!