Saturday 10th April 2010
Leeds United vs Southend United
Elland Road, Leeds
A few months ago I predicted that Leeds United would fall from the top two automatic positions in League One and end up having to try and win promotion by the difficult end-of-season playoffs. For a number of weeks since then they have been trying to prove me right. But over their last two games they seem to have turned a corner – albeit against not so difficult opposition (Yeovil and Southend)- and have bounced back into the automatic places.
Time for a new point of consideration. If – and I mean a substantial if – Leeds should gain promotion either by automatic promotion (good chance) or by the playoffs (less likely since they will probably come up against Swindon again, who seem to have really got their number), how will they fare in the loftier company of the Championship? Are any of these players equipped for that change?
Using their performance against Southend as a template, I began to analyse that particular problem – given that by recent trends, the team chairman seems much likely to invest the team’s profits in a hotel venture than in new playing staff. Here are my thoughts:
Shane Higgs seems to be Grayson’s number one choice when he is fit. Over the last few weeks, he has replaced Casper Ankergren between the sticks. Ankergren raised his game for the matches against top rank opposition during the cup run but Higgs is the cleaner taker of a ball and less inclined to get into a flap. Against Southend, Higgs was barely tested but the combination of these two seems to leave us quite well stocked should the promotion happen…….. but if Higgs should go down injured again, we might have a problem.
It is fair to say that Grayson seems unclear about what his best full back partnership is. It is fair to say that whoever he should choose there are questions about whether any of the candidates are fit for what we used to call Division 2. Against Southend, right back was Leigh Bromby who tried to make up in enthusiasm what he lacked in accurately placed passes. Left back was Andy Hughes who the club list on their website as a midfielder player and who was replaced by Bradley Johnson at the point that the team began to impose themselves and claim the victory. Jason Crowe will be an option on the right side next season – should he recover from the injury that will keep him out for the rest of this term. Left side could be Ben Parker who is inconsistent and Aidan White who lacks experience. Consequently, both full backs might need an upgrade!
In the centre, Neill Collins is a loanee and probably won’t be returning. The fact that he is been picked ahead of several other contenders at the moment doesn’t bode well for Rui Marques, Lubo Michalik and the aforementioned Bromby, who would seem to be better suited to a central position. Both Marques and Michalik have had injury problems and to some degree this is a factor. However, we needn’t worry too much because the partnership of Richard Naylor and Patrick Kisnorbo is the best in the lower divisions. Assuming Kisnorbo returns fit and well and fills that gaping hole that was so evident against Southend and every other recent attacking force then we are well set for the change of opposition.
Michael Doyle, Neil Kilkenny and Jonathan Howson were the incumbents of the three midfield slots against Southend. Doyle is solid, a little unimaginative but deservedly a fixture in the team at this level. There are legitimate questions about whether he will still be first on the team sheet should we get promotion. Jonathan Howson was the pick of the midfield 3 against Southend but that really wasn’t saying a lot. Kilkenny is as inconsistent as Doyle is consistent and the alternative is Johnson who when picked in midfield has the same problems with application and tends to drift in and out of games. Grayson has a liking for wide players and so this central midfield block sometimes only consists of two – but that is only saying we might need to sign two new midfield players rather than three.
On the wings
Two of the best three players against Southend were Robert Snodgrass and Max Gradel. Gradel was playing further forward than usual and is showing his versatility and outstanding determination. By the time he left the field at the end of the second half, he had collected more cuts and bandages than most players do in a season. He might be a little lightweight for the Championship but on the other hand, he might have more space. Time will tell. Snodgrass is player of the season by my reckoning and looks more than capable of stepping up to the next gear.
Max Gradel was a substitute replacement for an indifferent Jermaine Beckford against Southend and the difference was like day-and-night. Beckford didn’t seem interested, was booed by the crowd (“not fit to wear the shirt”), gestured at the fans and couldn’t be bothered to touch the ball unless it was placed at its feet. Becchio is marvellous at shielding the ball and feeding others (we haven’t seen the like at Elland Road since Mick Jones, Joe Jordan and Ray Hankin) and isn’t bad at taking chances himself. Beckford seems likely to be moving on one way or another (if we can still find a Premiership willing to take a risk on him) and Gradel is better suited to a freewheeling position than a committed central role so we’ll need one more forward by my reckoning.
Johnson, Mike Grella, Gradel and Beckford
How many will be in the first team in 2011?
So should Leeds be promoted their ranks will need substantial re-stocking. Higgs, Naylor, Kisnorbo, Snodgrass and Becchio should be pencilled in for a season in the Championship but if they want to maintain that status (should they achieve it) and even challenge for a playoff place than as many as six higher quality new faces should be added.
Lucas the KopKat and a young supporter