The best away record in League One came up against a Gillingham side that had lost just three at home all season. Despite an impressive record at Priestfield’s, Gillingham haven’t won a single game on their travels all season and are currently in a battle to stave off relegation. Add to that the fact they haven’t lost at home to any of the top six, and anyone expecting an easy ride was in for a bit of a shock.

This being Leeds United, we didn’t make things easy on ourselves either. Gillingham battled hard for the ball, never afforded Leeds United too much time or space and won pretty much all the aerial battles, whilst Leeds failed to get a foot-hold on the game.

Both Richard Naylor and Neill Collins failed miserably in the air time and time again, making it far too easy for Gillingham to float balls in and create chances. Leeds’ back-line might as well have been cemented in place for the Gills opening goal which was headed home by Adam Miller with less than 10 minutes played.

Things failed to improve for Leeds and Gillingham continued to dominate. Leeds were being out-muscled, out-tackled and out-fought as Gillingham scrapped away and Leeds tried to play them at their own game. This was the most frustrating part to watch because Leeds United currently sit second in League One and should be asserting their dominance on these “lesser” teams. Going away and trying to play the opposition at their own game was never going to work – no matter how good Leeds United think they are.

With half hour gone, things didn’t improve for Leeds and Gillingham’s second goal didn’t surprise many of the travelling 3,000. Another high ball into the box – this time from one of the million free-kicks we’d given away – was headed home by Mark Bentley who went totally unchallenged from close range.

Careless mistakes and failure to get the basics right were costing Leeds United all across the pitch, non more so than Gillingham’s third goal that was headed home by our very own Richard Naylor. By now, it was like watching a car crash in slow motion as the Leeds fans stood in silence, arms crossed and shaking their heads.

Some hope was restored for Leeds United shortly before half-time when Leeds finally managed to string a couple of passes together and find Luci inside the box. With his back to goal, Becchio powerfully turned away from his marker and placed his shot beyond the Gillingham keeper. Half-time, and despite a late consolation, it was hard to see how Leeds would turn this round.

At half-time, Leeds United fans were offered some small consolation in knowing that our promotion rivals were failing too. For me however, this just rubbed salt into the wounds as I knew this was our opportunity to create some breathing space, and once again, we were making a mess of things.

Leeds improved a little after the break and finally looked like they may try and force Gillingham onto the back foot. Within the first minute, Max Gradel cut inside from the wing and fired goal-wards, only to see his shot blocked by the opposition keeper.

The failed passes, poor defending and lack of aerial threat continued to hinder Leeds United though and it seemed obvious we needed a change. Grayson duly obliged, bringing Jermaine Beckford and Ben Parker on in place of the ineffective Robert Snodgrass and largely useless Andrew Hughes. As poor as the two players being removed had been, I think the majority of Leeds fans were expecting Parker to replace Naylor in a reshuffled defence, but it seems only Larry had failed to spot how useless he’s become.

Parker livened things up a bit, but one man simply can’t make a team and his efforts were wasted as the rest of the team continued to fail across the pitch. What I did notice was a good move from the opposition manager shortly afterwards when he made a change that allowed one of his strikers to be moved out wide-right to nullify the threat Parker was causing.

Meanwhile, Max Gradel had somehow managed to convince himself that he’s the new Lionel Messi and decided to take things into his own hands. Unfortunately, his own hands (or boots as it were) seemed to be smothered in butter. His crossing and passing were hopelessly misdirected, as was his shooting, whilst any attempts to get back and help the defence usually resulted in a free-kick to the opposition. After what had arguably been three man of the match performances, Gradel was truly woeful.

By now, Leeds were enjoying more of the possession than the Gills, but it never felt like we were going to do anything with it, and sadly, I wasn’t mistaken. Gillingham defended in numbers and when they did get the ball, sent it up the wings and ran our full-backs ragged. The only hope came five minutes before the end when Jermaine Beckford’s pace earned him a penalty, which he tucked away with confidence.

3-2. but the Gills were always going to hold on. It was too little, too late from Leeds and there was to be no way back from what had been a tragic performance in the first half, with some minor improvement in the second. The defence was missing all day and had no aerial presence whatsoever. Gillingham exploited this and deservedly took a 3-0 lead leaving Leeds United with no chance to recover.

Whilst the Becchio-Gradel partnership has worked wonders in the last three games, it failed to pay-off here. Becchio spent half the match trying to battle for possession, but this just gifted the opposition free-kick after free-kick as the Argentine did nothing to dispel the theory that strikers can’t tackle. Gradel meanwhile will have to battle it out with Naylor for the most useless player on the pitch award as his crossing, passing and shooting continually went astray. The youngster was also dispossessed with ease at times and gave away too many free-kicks trying to get the ball back.

Needless to say, the 200 mile journey back to Leeds to drown our sorrows was much quieter than the one that had brought us south. The chance to extend our lead had been wasted. Only one point separating us from third as we head into a home game against MK Dons, where the tension is likely to be amplified as the games quickly run out. Three to go…

  • Old Billy White

    I also thought Naylor would be taken off with Bromby going to the centre and Hughes to right back. Naylor’s goals against Yeovil seem to have masked his defensive problems. As you say another chance to open a gap missed, you get the feeling no one wants to go up with Norwich. However still in second spot and only three games to go!

  • can our stats person give us the win loss ratio since naylor came back in to the side, also goals conceded. thanks from a pretty pissed off down under supporter

  • Matt BB

    it looks like another team have watched how swindon dealt with us, attack our full backs. I think its more a case that Naylor is too exposed than Naylor is a bad defender, and we need to deal with the wings, the new formation leaves us exposed wide and we need solid right and left backs in that situation.

    We shouldnt underestimate gillingham who were fighting for their place in league one, and who generally dont lose at home. However we need to keep winning now and grayson really at this point didnt want a confidence denting game like this.

  • joe

    i think gradel will be dropped again for MK Dons, i like the kid but he still has a lot to learn!

  • Craig

    Sounds like, if Grayson had been allowed 5 subs he may have taken Naylor off as well but he chose to replace the two underperformers (by your admission) who were hampering our drive to get back into the game.

    • TSS

      You could have made a strong case for replacing anyone unfortunately, but Naylor had one of his worst games in a Leeds shirt and seemed an obvious choice. Didn’t mention it above, but Grayson made another strange change when he replaced Becchio with Watt. Becchio had some iffy moments, but was nowhere near as bad as Gradel who was just dreadful. Even Becchio was shocked by that one and expressed his bewilderment in a gesture towards the bench when his number went up.

  • Terry

    i think our defense has suffered far too much at the loss of Kisnorbo its now what 12 goals conceded in 6 games? No offense to Bromby, and Naylor, but the big Aussie just adds a whole new level of confidence and organisation in the back line and in Higgs. Everytime a cross comes in these days I’m biting my nails because I don’t feel anyone in there has the cojones to get rid of it

    • Mark R

      Agree 100% Terry.

      Without Kisonorbo & Rui we have no speed or dynamism in central defence. We appear to playing a deep defensive line to compensate for the lack of speed in our defence. This brings the opposition attackers right up to our 18 yard line and this is creating all sorts of panic / opportunities eg. the own goal on Saturday.

      We need to make it as difficult as possible for the opposition to score and this starts with the midfield & attack closing down opposition players and preventing them from creating any potential goal scoring opportunities.

      The midfield in particular is an essential part of defending our back four and knowing we are without the athleticism of Rui & Paddy should be preventing at all costs crosses into our penalty area as we do look vulnerable. More grit and fight in midfield .

      Gillingham away was a tricky match on paper but the whole team is responsible for defence as well as attack.

      We must stop conceding goals.

      Poor performance but we’re still 2nd and that’s where M******l , Swindon , Hudds & Charlton wish they were.

      MOT

  • LUFC-mac

    Very accurate report!!
    Not 1 player came out of the game with any credit.
    You mention Hughes and Naylor but Howson, Doyle, Kilkenny, Snodgrass were pitiful too.
    Gradel and Becchio tried, achieved nothing but as you say gave away stupid free kicks all over the park.
    Yes, we knew Gills would be tough but we will never beat a battling team at their own game. And surely when you are 2, then 3 down you try to change the way you are going about it? We didn’t.
    If only we had some real battlers? Prutts, Dougie!!
    A bright spark perhaps? Sanchez Watt had some nice touches, I think give him a fair chance, he could swing it?
    At least Becks showed a bit, Parker has to start, where is Lubo? Rui? They have both got to be better then Naylor and Collins, won few balls in the air, so slow they got caught nearly every attack.
    1 thing to point out, the Leeds crowd were strangely subdued, even before kick off, obviously as nervous as the players!!!
    Come on lads, we can still do it, MOT.

  • Matt

    The amount we miss kisnorbo is ridiculous. We need to bring in another three defenders, what we have now clearly isn’t adequate.

  • Look on the bright side, at 3-0 our fragile confidence could have been crushed resulting in a proper kicking! The fact we showed some spirit to get back into the game gave me some comfort. That should not however distract us from the fact our defening from set plays was beyond useless! Parker looked up for it though so maybe it’s time he returned for MK. Charlton has now become a vital game and I just hope we don’t bottle it…. Keep the faith guys! MOT

    • TSS

      Just seen the highlights of them and Norwich. Bit worried after seeing that as Norwich only won thanks to a once in a lifetime performance from their keeper.

      • Saw it, let’s hope Higgs has plenty of spit on his gloves!

  • halifax white

    once again they leave us hanging by a thread!! wonder if anyone has acctualy pointed out to the players that we could have been promoted 3 weeks ago if they had got there act together!! once again i do think we are going to be in this league for at least another season, on this performance i cant see us getting anything against mk!! def nowt against charlton and maybe a draw at best for the last game at home against bristol!! what we need now is gerrard torres rooney and suchlke for the final 3 games of the season will anyone loan them to us!!!!!!

  • Arnie

    Great report, shocking result.
    Saturday was the most deflating game of the season for me, and that’s taking into account the several very poor defeats we’ve had this year (Swindon, Exeter, Walsall, etc).
    We missed a golden chance to all but nail promotion. Now, regardless of the Charlton result, I can see this going down to the last game.
    Wouldn’t all at be surprised if we screw it up either.
    Totally agree with the Naylor analysis, but just can’t see Grayson dropping him particularly at this stage of the season. Parker must come back in v MK Dons. I’d like to see Marques involved too, but he doesn’t appear to be one of the manager’s favourites.
    The fact is we’ve been exposed too many times this season both at the back and also in the centre of the park by teams who can muscle us out of it and play with pace.
    The oft used Doyle/Howson/Kilkenny/Johnson combination in midfield just hasn’t cut it often enough as well.
    If we do manage to get up in second it will only be because other teams failed to capitalise on our woeful form.

  • Old Billy White

    It seems that part of the problem is players being out of position, (their comfort zone)or out of form. I don’t think Bromby is a right back, he seems reluctant to over-lap and support on the right. Hughes always gives 100% but isn’t left footed so will always struggle if he does go forward.
    Naylor & Collins aren’t comfortable with the ball and seem to just want rid of it. However the direct ball into the box, you would expect this to be meat & drink for them.
    It’s very late in the season to have so many doubts about the defence, but since January we have let in twice as many goals. Do we make the wholesale changes suggested or stick with what we have and hope they can put things right?

  • Irving08

    It was obvious to many of us before Xmas that Naylor’s legs had gone and that Bromby was the better centre back (his performance against Huddersfield alone would have convinced any impartial observer). In my view we were at our best when Howson was captain too: the lad seemed to thrive in the role. Add to thiss the failure of Grayson to sort out Bradley Johnson’s best position (he’d be a fixture in any other team in the division), and what we have is a critical amount of mismanagement – and this is without the loan sigbings farce. We all like Simon as a man, and I for one rate his calmness under presssure and man management
    abilities highly; but as football strategist he falls some way short and he seems to lack a key quality – intuition. I am afraid that if we don’t go up (as I fear now we won’t),the blame must squarely be laid at his door. Even if we do get promoted, I seriously doubt his capacity to take us up to the next level.

    • Dje

      True, and it is far cheaper to replace one man than the entire squad.

  • Matt BB

    i cant see that grayson has any other options for defence at the moment, other than perhaps converting someone like brad johnson or doyle into centre backs, marques isnt fit so i dont think its a case of him not being a favourite.

    I dont like reshuffling at this stage of the season we are already inconsistent so dont see that it would help. I still think its more a case that we leave naylor with too much to do than him haviong a dip in form. One would expect a 32 year old to be slow.

  • colet

    The tactics on Sat should have been to attack their make shift central defenders with pace and trickery, ie grella and gradel (ok gradel had a mare)instead we just gave in.

    Surely grayson should have figured it out that they are going to come at us with force from the first whistle…were we ready ..no, were we asleep…yes.

    Yes, they have a good home record, but it’s Gillingham for christ sake.

    Oh dear, how many times do we let it slip, 4 points ahead and a win on sat might have been enough to see the job through! Lets be totally honest…we don’t deserve to go up, crap defence,(god we miss kisnorbo) lightweight midfield, lack of ability and idea’s when we get to the 18 yard box.
    Furthermore, if we go up with no investment (from Bates) we will be straight back down, this team competing against portsmouth, hull, cardiff, etc no chance!!

  • Paul South Wales

    I’m making a 6 hour round trip Saturday, so hope it’s not another serving of that shite they dished up Saturday. I think we’ll win our two home games, it’s the Charlton game that worries me. They hammered Norwich on Saturday and if it wasn’t for their keeper Norwich would have had three/four goals scored against them.

  • David N.I.

    What a nightmare, wish all our matches on Sat’s were midday kick offs so the stress would be over sooner. If and its a big IF we go up well done Larry thanks but no thanks on your bike. As for the players a near total dung out most of this shower don’t deserve to wear OUR shirt [if your not prepared to give 100% for OUR LU ship out]Its hard to keep the faith. I don’t want to go through another play off iv’e been to them all and the only people who turned up were US the fans cause the players have yet to appear at any final. Guys and girls we are a first division team end off, if we don’t get out of this dead end league this time [or even if we do] things have got to change from top to bottom. Larry first out if we go up or not, if he cant do it this league how the Feck is he going to take us forward in the one above,[sorry first OUT Pappa Smurf please will someone with money buy us] look at the teams around us good strict managers who kick every ball. I’m rambling now so just stop. Not marching on together, Just marking time.