There are only three certainties in the universe: death, taxes, and Leeds United losing to Derby County. Derby have beaten Leeds in the last six competitive meetings to establish themselves as the ultimate Leeds United bogey side; understandably, optimism was at a premium going into the bank holiday fixture at Elland Road.
Now, in my previous match report on Good Friday’s rather ugly 2-0 loss at Reading, I claimed that Leeds were being persecuted unfairly as a dirty side, and that the Reading mess was very much a one off. Leeds certainly proved me wrong today.
Warnock fielded a familiar lineup consisting of Paul Connolly, Darren O’Dea, Tom Lees and Paul Robinson in defence, the latter making his final appearance before the end of his loan spell. The absence of Adam Clayton meant that Ramon Nunez started alongside Danny Pugh and Michael Brown in midfield, both of whom were under intense scrutiny following less than friendly showings at the Madejski Stadium. The familiar attacking trio of Ross McCormack, Luciano Becchio and Robert Snodgrass completed the starting eleven.
Leeds’ discipline has been under inquiry lately, particularly since the arrival of Neil Warnock, but few will have expected the difference to be so dramatic. Michael Brown, whose tackle against Reading’s Karacan three days earlier has left the midfielder sidelined with a broken ankle, was at it again; the Leeds midfielder was shown a red card inside the first half hour; familiar scenes all around, then, with Leeds’ third sending off in as many games. Such a poor display of discipline would never have occurred under Simon Grayson.
Once again, then, Leeds had a numerical disadvantage, and it wasn’t long before they paid the price. Derby’s Craig Bryson hit a quite fantastic strike past Andy Lonergan from the edge of the penalty box only six minutes later to open the scoring.
Becchio, who has been impressive in the air all season, was again winning almost all of his headers, but he was unable to direct many of them goalwards. His one well placed attempt was saved by Frank Fielding. Leeds’ defence, however, were largely solid following Derby’s first goal, despite being a man down, and the first half ended 0-1 to the visitors.
Little changed when the second half kicked off, as Robert Snodgrass conceded a foul inside the first minute of the second half. Fortunately, Danny Pugh was able to clear the resulting free kick.
A number of saves from Lonergan kept Leeds in the game for most of the second half, but Leeds’ performance didn’t improve; neither in terms of football or discipline. Paul Connolly, who had just returned following a suspension for his dismissal against Watford, found himself booked for a lunge against Bryson, and Tom Lees was shown yellow for an unfair challenge minutes later.
Karma seemed to catch up with Leeds as Steve Davies doubled Derby’s lead with another well struck shot from the edge of the eighteen yard box; game over.
Warnock finally decided to make a change during the 68th minute, as he brought on Billy Paynter at the expense of Becchio. The former has had a torrid time since switching from Swindon at the start of the 2010/11 season; his barren run of form continued as the striker failed to make a real impact.
Leeds’ players were queuing up to get into the referee’s book now, with Robert Snodgrass next up. Regardless of how frustrated the Leeds players may have been, there is a serious issue that Warnock needs to address with his approach to tackling.
Recent American signing, Robbie Rogers, who has been given very few opportunities since switching from Columbus Crew in January, was brought on for a relatively anonymous Ramon Nunez in the 75th minute, with the young American hoping to make a mark on the game.
Rogers won his side a free kick in a dangerous position a few minutes later, but Paul Robinson’s delivery was cleared comfortably by Paul Robinson. Danny Webber, who has also struggled to establish himself at Leeds since his arrival, came on in place of Ross McCormack. Once again, the substitute proved to be fruitless.
The match ended 0-2, and another ugly display from Leeds will have their fans scratching their heads, whilst hiding them with embarrassment. Three consecutive red cards in three consecutive 2-0 defeats is a dreadful statistic, however you look at it. Even the optimists, such as myself, will be struggling to see a silver lining now, with four league games remaining.
Perhaps therein lays the problem: Leeds know they have blown their chances of a playoff position, but they also know that they are safe from relegation; as a result they’ve simply lost all enthusiasm. Optimism and competitiveness has been replaced with frustration and a dreadful lack of discipline.
Whatever Warnock’s master-plan is to see Leeds promoted to the Premier League, he needs to start implementing it soon. Reading and Derby are very good footballing sides, so the results may not be concerning the fans as much as their current inability to keep eleven players on the pitch.
The honeymoon period is over for Warnock. He has a lot of work to do if he plans to take this Leeds side up next season. The entertaining side assembled by Simon Grayson in recent seasons seems a thing of the past. Changes need to be made at Leeds United, whether in terms of the squad or the approach of the manager.