Saturday didn’t get off to the best of starts. Spygate has evolved over the last week, first came the faux outrage from journalists and pundits, then came the more reasoned responses from some of the better ex-professionals and now fellow Championship clubs seem to be positioning themselves to gain what they can from this situation. First off were calls from Bristol City owner Steve Lansdown, whose chief operating officer Mark Ashton is on the EFL board (So no conflict of interest there), for a points deduction.
Then came the news that eleven Championship clubs has written to the EFL demanding a formal investigation into the ‘spygate scandal’. The statement was, in perfect EFL timing, released shortly before kick-off. Calls for a full investigation are believed to be lead by promotion rivals Norwich City with support from Middlesbrough and Bristol City. The involvement of our promotion rivals in the investigation in any shape or form surely severely invalidates the integrity of any process? Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder had a much more reasoned response, calling for the EFL to act on blatant cheating on the pitch before throwing the book at Leeds for off field issues.
Onto the game and probably one best forgetting. As great as we were against Derby, we were the opposite against Stoke. The Potters set their stall out to put eleven men behind the ball at home, and just hope for a goal on the break, at a set-piece or a via mistake. If that’s how you play at home then God help you if you're a supporter watching that every week. But the way Stoke went about the game raised the same questions about this Bielsa team that we have heard before. Leeds had 71% of the possession but only four shots on target.
As a team we were poor yesterday and seemed really devoid of any sense of urgency, or ideas to break them down. Individually nobody really played well. If score first as we did against Derby the opposition have to push on and we can exploit the gaps. But if the game is turned into a war of attrition (Birmingham, Blackburn, Hull, Stoke, etc) we get frustrated and the opposition seem to thrive off time wasting and winding our players up. Phillips and Jansson have both been sent off in the last two away games. Questionable refereeing? Maybe, but dissent doesn't help our cause either, and its worrying that we're picking up cards so frequently.
We definitely need someone to make us tick in centre midfield, we seemed to take ages to get the ball advanced in advanced positions and pose a threat before Stoke got their bus parked again. We need an aerial threat up front and some more creativity around the final third. This will probably come from Brown and Bamford when they are fit. We kept trying to dribble past two or three players and would then lose the ball. The odd time we did get a cross in nobody was available in the box or Roofe was up against their big defenders.
On Saturday’s EFL on Quest show, pundit Stephen Warnock gave his views..
Nathan Jones had to make some big decisions, he’s dropped a few big players out of the team who would have played under the old regime, he’s also changed the system to combat Leeds and the way that they play.
You know Leeds are going to be dominant in possession, and strong, but what Stoke did, they let the back four have it, they let them be comfortable on it but as soon as the ball went into midfield they pressed hard, they came out and were aggressive and what was nice about it was that they made them play long and counterattacked quickly.
That was the key to it. It was never going to be an easy game for Stoke but they managed it very well.
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With Saiz gone and Clarke starting we miss the impact they had been making as substitutes when things were tight, we have had limited options from the bench to make changes in recent games. We will be more of a force when all our players are back fit however. A few more sharp recruits in the next week could really help to give us some impetus and more of a threat. Our first team are generally safe in their places, due to some great performances over the season, but a lack of competition really showed on Saturday. A very frustrating day, but hopefully we learn from it, as we need to get something from these types of games.
For those that are worried by the one win in our last four league matches, Norwich have won only one in their last five league matches (Plus they crashed out of the FA Cup), Sheff United had a run of one win in four not so long ago and West Brom are winless in three. This is the Championship and teams always have bad runs, the key is to bounce back quickly. Back in 1990 when we last got promoted from this division, after looking good for automatic promotion we had a real wobble and went into the last match of the season needing a win to be certain of going up.
There are going to be lots of twists and turns and it’s up to the players and the fans to hold their nerve. We have a week to put spygate and the Stoke result behind us, what’s important now is that we bounce back against Rotherham next week.