Although Leeds stuttered to a 1-1 home draw with promotion rivals Nottingham Forest last week, the Whites could have been forgiven for taking some time to get out of their slumber after the ease with which Bielsa’s boys dismantled bottom-of-the-table Ipswich three days before. The 2-0 scoreline flattered Ipswich considerably, with their keeper, Bartosz Bialkowski forced into a number of second-half saves to keep the score respectable.
The feeling walking away from Elland Road that evening was one of pity for the Tractor Boys supporters. The Suffolk faithful had travelled over 200 miles to watch their side on a cold Wednesday night only to see United keeper, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, make just one save in 90 minutes – that save coming in the 83rd minute from Town’s midfield flop, Jon Nolan. Although it could be said that Leeds were certainly slick and well-drilled in comparison to their East Anglian counterparts, it was rather alarming the way in which Ipswich failed to muster any form of a fightback.
It was an evening that left many Whites fans wondering whether this Ipswich squad is the worst second-tier side to have visited Elland Road in recent memory. The way that the now-fired Paul Hurst gutted and dismantled Mick McCarthy’s old squad so quickly - replacing experienced Championship goal-getters Martyn Waghorn and Joe Garner with lower-league prospects such as Ellis Harrison and Kayden Jackson - has left Ipswich with little proven firepower. When a squad has to rely on Freddie Sears to lead the line – a player with just three goals in his last 39 appearances – you know there is something wrong. It’s why the Blues are priced at 4/11 in the Championship betting for relegation – a first season outside the top two tiers since 1957.
Paul Hurst’s insistence to put his own stamp on the squad has left the Tractor Boys looking like a side that was recently promoted out of League One – without the buoyancy and confidence of winning week-in, week-out at a lower level. It was all too easy in the middle of the park for United, with the returning Spaniard, Pablo Hernandez getting possibly the easiest evening of his career on his way back from injury. It was a performance that drew praise from team-mate Jack Harrison. Time and again Hernandez picked up possession in between the lines and hurt the Ipswich backline with slide-rule passes that turned their defence inside and out. It was a thrilling return for Hernandez and a chilling exposal of Ipswich’s defensive frailties and lack of shape.
For older Leeds United supporters reading this, they will almost certainly sympathise with Ipswich supporters. It’s a club with rich tradition and history, a club that the Whites used to lock horns with regularly in the 70s. Nevertheless, a period of below-par investment from the Blues’ owner, Marcus Evans appears to have left the club up the Championship creek without a paddle. Town’s new oarsman is, ironically, former Norwich City boss, Paul Lambert. The Scotsman was appointed as Paul Hurst’s successor before the club’s dismal 3-0 loss at Millwall and he has his work cut out to avoid relegation in two successive seasons, having failed to prevent Stoke City from falling out of the top flight in 2017/18.
As the United faithful grow ever grateful for the investment and ambition of their Italian owner, Andrea Radrizzani, spare a thought for the Ipswich supporters that have had to cling to a 30-minute soundbite in almost a decade of Marcus Evans’ ownership.