Leeds team vs Millwall 8th August 2014
RB Byram, DC Pearce DC Wootton, LB Warnock
MC Austin MC Murphy MLTonge, MR Ajose
ST Hunt ST Doukara
Subs: S Taylor, Killock, Berardi, Cook, Benedicic, Smith, Poleon
Well, first Saturday of the new football season and that all-too-familiar feeling as a Leeds fan…not sure what practicing medical people would call it but we simply call it ‘depression’. All that anticipation, all those scenarios, all the transfer buzz, with the odd let down, and it comes down to 3p.m. on Saturday. Preseason is over, cast aside as meaningless, and the business end of football is presented – the start of a new Championship campaign.
The Manic Street Preachers sang a song that asked the question, “From Despair to Where?” That question began to be answered in the 8th minute when Mark Beevers scored as the result of a badly-defended short corner and was resoundingly put to bed with Shaun Williams converting an 88th minute penalty.
Leeds arrived boasting an impressive 11 win return from the last 14 opening day fixtures (11 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses) but a less than impressive 3 wins in the last 8 encounters with Millwall; a record that included 5 defeats. It didn’t make for impressive listening from the opening shrill peep of the referee’s whistle to its final languid screech. Internet fan sites and Facebook groups are awash with calls for sackings, change of tactics and a cull more brutal and rapid than either of the creation of France’s First Republic and the deposition of their monarchy in 1792 or the creation of a communist Russia in 1917. The question needs to be asked though – were Leeds really that bad against Millwall?
It’s hard to really judge goalkeeper Marco Silvestre on the basis of today’s performance. He did what was asked of him, when it was asked of him. There was nothing he could do about either goal; the first was the result of poor marking at a short corner and the second goal came via the lottery of a penalty. He made 2 saves during the game and caught cleanly the 2 efforts he was called into action for. Judgements, however, can be made when looking at the contribution from the ‘back four’ where there are glaringly apparent differences.
Looking at the overall ‘scores’ for the game it is apparent that the two central defenders, Scott Wooton and Jason Pearce, didn’t have the best of games; both players ending up with negative returns for their contributions (-4.31 and -15.35 respectively). Glancing across the table, it is clear that both have suffered a large movement from their defensive scores when their overall contributions are taken into account; Jason Pearce suffering a 12.65 point slide and Scott Wooton a 10.26 point slide (which includes an ‘aerial duel’ score of 2 (28.57% success) where he was beaten 5 times by an opponent. The figures themselves show that Jason Pearce was particularly ineffective in a defensive capacity with a -2.70 Defensive Score which includes 0 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 blocks and 9 clearances.
The two ‘outside’ defenders, Steven Warnock and Sam Byram emerge with some credit and both positive ‘total’ and ‘defensive’ scores. Warnock, lambasted in certain Facebook groups and held up to be the ‘blame for all evils’, actually emerges with creditable ‘overall’ and ‘defensive’ scores of 18.02 and 22.35 respectively. Particularly impressive in Steven Warnock’s figures were the 5 interceptions that he made as opposing players attempted to get into meaningful positions.
An interesting comparison can be made between both Leeds United’s central defenders and that of Tom Lees, who left Leeds United on a recent transfer. Lees gained mightily impressive ‘total’ and ‘defensive’ scores of 66.42 and 54.66 respectively; the reason for this increase was, in part, due to an impressive return of 22 passes with 90% accuracy.
Leeds United’s problem last season seemed to be a midfield that, barring Rodolph ‘$6 Million Dollar Man’ Austin, was largely uncreative and over the course of the 2013/14 Championship campaign largely unproductive and decidedly mediocre. Today’s performance in SW16 did absolutely nothing to allay that hangover from last season. The first half commentary told of an endless over-running of the Leeds’ midfield by seemingly rampant Millwall players but what is more worrying for Leeds’ fans is the fact that successful passing, the ‘bread and butter’ of a midfield player’s role, was only 1/3 accomplished on Saturday 8th of August with Michael Tonge and Luke Murphy returning 33 and 21 successful passes respective (% accuracy being 79% and 75%). Whilst the accuracy rates are acceptable, it is the low number of successful passes that each player, Tonge and Murphy, made that helps to illustrate the problems that Leeds faced today. Michael Tonge does emerge with some credit though insomuch as he has a positive ‘total’ of 14.87 and opposed to Luke Murphy’s disappointingly low ‘total’ of -1.28; this being the result of a ‘possession’ score of -1.94 and an ‘attack’ score of -3.62, this being from one of Leeds’ foremost ‘creative’ players. They say “cometh the hour, cometh the man” – yet again Rodolph Austin turns in a solid ‘total’ score of 23.45. As well as a solid ‘defence’ score of 11.58, Austin augmented this with a ‘possession’ score of 10.41. This latter score was based on a number of passes attempted (74) that returned a high number of both completed passes and accurate passing (62 successful passes and 89% accurate). As I have mentioned, I view Austin as an integral cog in the Leeds United midfield with his solid displays and willingness to track back and defend solidly; the figures from today’s game seem to bear this point out.
Leeds initially deployed a 4-3-3 formation, a formation used last season only 5 times and returning 7 points from a possible 15; before switching to a more standard 4-4-2 after Lewis Cook replaced the disappointing Souleymane Doukara in the 64th minute. It would be too harsh to judge Doukara on this appearance bearing in mind two things worth considering: a.) he plays better when the more creative Tommaso Bianchi is playing (suspended this game) and b.) his recent performances in pre-season games. Leeds were unfortunate that Steve Morison (two goals in last two pre-season games) was injured which meant that Leeds started the game with a front three that hadn’t had ‘game time’ together. The only Leeds starting attacker to emerge from the game with any degree of credit was recent recruit Nicky Ajose (ex of Peterborough) who achieved a positive ‘total’ return of 19.1 points based on individual scores of: attacking score 3.57, possession score of 6.88 and a defence score of 9.26 which indicated Ajose’s willingness to track back. The introduction of out-of-favour striker Matt Smith brought an improvement to the Leeds’ game but the scarcity of chances and opportunities isn’t the fault of the front line. Leeds’ front 3, initially, and front two, later in the game, were let down by the failings in the middle of the park. Nicky Ajose (13 league goals) was signed; to provide some way of chipping away at Ross McCormack’s 28 goals for Leeds last season.
If Leeds don’t improve, if the midfield don’t start to get a grip on games and provide chances for the strikers then, they might as well have the Manic Street Preachers blaring their hit ‘La Tristresse Durera’ (The Sadness Endures) over the tannoy a it will be a long, long season of misery.