After a somewhat fortunate, but morale-boosting, win away to MK Dons the previous week, Leeds travelled to Middlesbrough on Sunday full of confidence.
Of course this was never going to be easy against the league’s form team and a performance near to our best was needed to get a result. The absence of talisman Chris Wood due to injury left me feeling slightly pessimistic, but by the end of the game it was the lack of basic schoolboy defending that proved costly on a bleak afternoon at the Riverside for United.
Now I have been watching football all my life, however this was one of the most bizarre games I’ve ever witnessed. As mentioned, Middlesbrough were in great form, they are the favourites to win the division and, on paper, have an exceptionally strong side. However, on Sunday they were abysmal – their performance lacked quality, creativity and urgency – yet incredibly they ran out 3-0 winners.
You know you have been fortunate when you have two shots on target in the whole match and score three goals! Yep that’s right, Leeds gifted Boro three of the easiest goals you are ever likely to see with Giuseppe Bellusci having a day to forget. He gifted David Nugent the first before heading past his own keeper for the second, skipper Sol Bamba then slipped putting the third on a plate for Diego Fabbrini 10 minutes from time. This was a defensive horror show for The Whites, but the game itself was one they dominated for large spells.
Against the top side in the division Leeds looked impressive – it seems strange saying that after a 3-0 defeat but they really were. They created a lot more openings than the hosts and could have easily been back in the game if Mirco Antenucci’s second half goal wasn’t harshly ruled out for offside. There were plenty of positives to take from the game for Uwe Rosler, but the overwhelming feeling was one of disappointment once again with the defence massively at fault. This game showed to me that Leeds don’t have enough quality at the back to be up near the top of the league this season.
In the form of Bellusci and goalkeeper Marco Silvestri, they have two liabilities who always look on the cusp of making a howling mistake. Captain Bamba is much more reliable, but it can’t be filling him with confidence playing alongside a reckless centre-back partner and in front of an undependable keeper. Swiss right-back Gaetano Berardi is solid and left-back Charlie Taylor has probably been our best player this season – it’s down the middle where we need to strengthen.
In my last blog I stated that I was reasonably pleased with the defence so far, but the past few games, notably the last one, have massively changed my opinion. Bellusci, in particular, is going to be targeted by opposing teams every time he plays, the short-term alternative is to have vice-captain Liam Cooper start, but he has been in and out of the team since he arrived from Chesterfield last season. I think with a run of games under his belt Cooper could improve and would be a much better alternative to the erratic Bellusci though.
As for Silvestri, well he was impressive against MK Dons but apart from that he has been hopeless this season. Ross Turnbull should be given a run between the sticks in my opinion. Unless changes are made at the back I can’t see us getting near the play-off places because we are giving away too many soft goals, costing us games even when we play well. Defensive vulnerability has been our Achilles’ heel for a number of seasons costing us a promotion charge and, unfortunately, I can’t see that changing this season.