Leeds United have time on their hands right now – but that’s not what’s needed to fix their problems
With a fortnight until the next fixture, how do players and management fill the time to bring a different result at the end of it?
LEEDS UNITED VS BOLTON WANDERERS
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Right now, Leeds United are facing up to two full weeks of it – before their next fixture against Bolton Wanderers on Good Friday – and while they should be drawing up plans to maximise every minute of every day in order to extract as much value as possible from the international break, the reality is that time is the last thing Leeds need right now.
In his post-match press conference following the shattering injury-time loss to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, head coach Paul Heckingbottom said “there’ll be changes, definitely” when gazing into the future and the lusty temptations of the summer transfer market, which must appear to him like a mirage in the desert right now.
Alas, this sums up the current predicament and the unenviable proposition of eight further games for the club to navigate before calling time on this wretched non-season; an insufferable prospect about as welcome as the arctic blitz that shrouded Saturday’s game in a cloak of farce.
The thing is, yes, change is needed, but none of what needs changing can be changed now. Mentality, an ability to learn from mistakes and raw quality are not things you can coach on the training ground, in two days or two weeks. Instead, the Leeds squad are faced with a fortnight of doing the same things, with the same people and hoping for something different at the end of it; the definition of a gradual descent into madness which most Leeds fans are now deeply entrenched in.
With no suggestion that long term injury prospects such as Tyler Roberts are likely to return in the next fortnight, these two weeks offer only further contemplation over the utilisation of the same personnel, further brooding over how the team applied themselves much better against Wednesday but still somehow contrived to lose and further analysis over the same mistakes and the same shortcomings.
Ordinarily, some bright spark might suggest a retreat to the Spanish sun for a few days, but we all know what good that did us last time, so instead, a fractious squad and management face looking at each other like a resentful family, imprisoned on a rain-sodden caravan holiday in Skegness.
It is not like Leeds have lacked training ground time either, with only three midweek fixtures since January 1st, United’s lack of shape and organisation can hardly be blamed on the relentless Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday treadmill.
Bolton Wanderers will arrive at Elland Road licking their lips, after Saturday proved once and for all that Leeds United are a godsend for any team in a rut of form. Wednesday arrived as one of the only teams with a recent record as unenviable as United’s own; and it showed. The Owls’ descent from a competent play-off-chasing team has been more acute than that of Leeds this season, and few teams have displayed such a disjointed and timid fragility as Wednesday did in the first half.
In fairness, Leeds put in as competent a first half performance as the fans have seen in 2018, demonstrating bite in midfield, creating space, showing movement off the ball and applying some creativity. The reaction to an inventive free-kick routine which ended with Caleb Ekuban hitting Joe Wildsmith’s knees with a point blank effort, saw the Elland Road crowd aghast, like they had just discovered the process of alchemy. It said much about the dearth of imagination and resourcefulness Leeds fans have witnessed this season, and said as much about the deep pothole of helplessness Leeds are in that nothing came from it.
What drives everybody to distraction is that for once Leeds faced a side more visibly devoid of confidence and quality than themselves, and yet still manufactured a defeat.
In short, nothing makes sense anymore and you don’t know where to look for answers.
You can’t put it down to bad luck, just bad execution and bad decisions. Heckingbottom said Leeds were “punished for decision-making rather than being weak” but the concession of Wednesday’s injury time winner was a combination of both. Pontus Jansson hopelessly misjudged a header and allowed Atdhe Nuhiu a free run to fend off Matthew Pennington’s apologetic attempt to out-muscle him; the result will be added to Nuhiu’s YouTube showreel as ‘the day Leeds United made me look like Van Basten’.
The weather conditions had added an element of the surreal from the moment the second half kicked-off, and the fact that half the ground barely saw Jay-Roy Grot’s 86th minute equaliser for the swirling blizzard that danced around Elland Road was one of several reasons the Leeds fans couldn’t even enjoy that one precious moment. It was one of few positives on the day, the others being the attacking freedom Leeds played with in the first half, and the appearance of Tom Pearce at left back. Pearce was no more than competent, but did the basics well. In his under-23 appearances to date he has shown far more attacking adventure, but in the circumstances his debut was never going to be more than simply doing his job in defence.
Elsewhere Leeds coped well with the loss of the injured Samuel Saiz, but a familiar lack of ruthlessness and a dithering indecision was enough to rob the players of three points which have never been more smartly presented on a silver platter.
There are only so many times you can go back to the drawing board, but these next two weeks do of course represent an opportunity for Heckingbottom to cement some plans, principles and ideas. The concern is that most Leeds fans have lost faith in this team, this coach and to some extent this regime. The precious bond between fans, players and club which we felt so fleetingly this time 12 months ago – with fans buying into a team of players who were so spirited and likeable – has somehow been lost.
The next two weeks won’t bring that back, it will just enable the problems to fester further. What is needed is perspective and a vision to look towards next season. Again. Because that is all time is good for now.