18th August 2023, EFL Championship.
The one feature that has struck me after watching our first three Championship matches is that the level of quality we’ve seen so far has been poor. Having said that, I think most people thought we’d been given a fairly ‘easy’ opening few games so it may not be representative of the rest of the season. Sadly. The resources and quality we have at the moment have not allowed us to take advantage of these opening three games and 2 points is a poor return. We only have ourselves to blame though.
I don’t think there is much to choose between Cardiff, Birmingham and West Brom. Leeds played the better football and were more positive in two of those games – last night against the Albion and two weeks ago against Cardiff. Against Birmingham, we played well below the best that we know even our current limited squad can produce and of course, we gave away a poor goal to lose that one.
And we continued to shoot ourselves in the foot again last night, giving away another terrible goal from a diabolically poor Albion corner! When the opposition finally scores a ‘good’ goal against us I will run naked around Elland Road… no, sorry, I withdraw that… just in case! Typical of our poor fortune, and another feature of these opening games, Lady Luck then weighed in to compound our poor defence of that corner. The ball clearly came off the arm of Asante and the goal should have been disallowed. All those criticising VAR just ponder that for a while. Lady Luck (or a decent referee) might have adjudged that Joffy Gelhardt was fouled on the Kop byline too, but we seldom get penalties for some reason… and when we do we often miss them anyway of course.
So, once again, despite dominating a half of football we found ourselves a goal down early in the second half, largely through our own inadequacies. Apart from that, Leeds looked very bright and my only criticism of the performance was that both Joffy and Georginio just don’t look good enough, certainly to play in the positions they have been given; they are not involved enough, and neither looks like the ace goal-poached we have been crying out for over that last few seasons. Time after time I am asking myself what on earth was in the mind of Victor Orta when he agreed to shell out £37 million on Rutter; it has to be one of the most perplexing transfers in football history. I can only hope that maybe a goal will transform the man – Georginio that is not Orta.
Other than that though it would be hard to fault the rest of the team. Illan Meslier pulled off a fine instinctive save to touch a shot onto the post in the second half, I thought Luke Ayling was much better than of late while Byram, Struijk and Rodon were largely untroubled apart from that lack of concentration for their goal. They will be better tested next week at Portman Road of course and that will give us a better idea as to whether Joe Rodon is the glue to pull that defence together. Further forward, Ethan Ampadu continued to show he’s top quality at this level and he was ably assisted with the footwork we now associate with Archie Gray. I thought Shacks had a good game, buzzing here there and everywhere and it was Dan James’ best game so far in my opinion.
And it was Dan James who created the equaliser, cutting back onto his right side to float a pinpoint cross into the box where Luke Ayling was there to power in a header much as we saw Liam Cooper do the other week. We can only wonder how many points we might already have if we only had a proper centre forward in there to do what Luke Ayling showed is possible.
So, it is what it is at the moment. At least it is encouraging to me that, depleted as we are through injuries and a thread-bare squad, we are more than holding our own against the likes of the three teams we’ve played so far. That has to be encouraging, but only if we now deliver on the claims that we are “working hard behind the scenes” to bring in the quality and experience we need to step up a level and become competitive in this division. It’s a long season so we have plenty of time but the next 13 days will determine our fate come May ’24.
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds United 1 (Ayling 72’)
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Asante 52’)
Leeds: Meslier (GK), Ayling (C), Ampadu, Rodon, Shackleton, James, Struijk, Gray, Rutter, Byram, Gelhardt (Greenwood 84’). Subs not used: Klaesson (GK), Darlow (GK), Cresswell, Gyabi, Bate, Drameh.
WBA: Palmer (GK), Furlong, Kipre, Ajayi, Wallace (C) (Gardner-Hickman 86’), Molumby, Phillips, Pieters (Townsend 75’), Swift (Sarmiento 69’), Asante (Maja 75’), Yokuslu (Chalobah 86’). Subs not used: Griffiths (GK), Bartley, Mowatt, Fellows.
Venue: Elland Road
Attendance: 33,890 (1,995)
Referee: Matthew Donohue
Booked: Gelhardt, Shackleton, James, Struijk (Leeds) Furlong, Molumby, Phillips, Pieters, Yokuslu (WBA)