A stoppage time Luciano Becchio volley rescued a point after a dismal performance at Elland Road.

With Leeds dropping points from good positions in the last two games, most fans would have been quietly confident about notching up three points against a struggling Middlesbrough side. However the hectic festive schedule seemed to have taken its toll on the players whose lacklustre performance did nothing to relieve the aching heads inside Elland Road on New Year ’s Day.

It was a funny game that we should be thankful for the point but having dominated large parts of the game, without really playing well, and with Ross McCormack failing to head in a golden opportunity in the last minute, it stills feels as if we should have taken all three points.

The game started fairly brightly with some decent enough passing and a speculative long range attempt from Snodgrass that dipped over the bar. This was about as good as it got though as Leeds failed to make their early pressure pay whereas when Middlesbrough found their rhythm they were able to make it count.

Middlesbrough’s Emnes was causing all sorts of trouble for stand in left back Andy Hughes and with little help – at least to begin with – from Max Gradel, it looked likely that we would be punished. The ‘Boro goal, however, came from a more unlikely source. David Wheater, despite being sandwiched by two Leeds players at the near post, was able to head a corner back across Kasper Schmeichel and the Leeds defenders to take the lead.

The atmosphere inside Elland Road was disappointing and it did nothing to help the players who barely got going until the introduction of Lloyd Sam and Neil Kilkeny in the second half. Sam looked livelier than Gradel had and went close after a good solo run before flashing a shot wide, while Kilkenny helped the team find some rhythm with his passing.

The equaliser came in the first minute of stoppage time as Leeds broke following a fluffed chance by Middlesbrough. A long ball ended up with McCormack challenging ‘Boro goalkeeper Steele, before the ball bounced for Becchio who did well to volley in from 12 yards.

We could have stolen the win a couple of minutes later when substitute Sanchez Watt played a perfectly measured ball onto the head of the unchallenged Ross McCormack only for the Scot to inexplicably head wide from close range. It was a sickening moment and although, on reflection, we didn’t deserve three points, it would have done a lot to soothe the pain of recent slip ups against Leicester and Portsmouth.

The draw stretches our unbeaten run to twelve games now and though there’s no doubt this has been a great string of results it would be nice to see us notch up a few more wins when we have the chance.

Man of the Match

A difficult decision as there weren’t many outstanding performers. Ross McCormack looked brilliant and frustrating in equal measure while Kilkenny showed that we may miss him more than we thought now that he’s off on international duty. Lloyd Sam looked lively when he came on and will have done no harm to his first team prospects. However, for doing what the rest of the team couldn’t do and saving a point for us, the man of the match has to be Luciano Becchio.

  • Matt

    Becchio looked absolutely knackered towards the end after a fairly tough battle against two physical defenders in Bates and Wheater. I thought he would be subbed with paynter or Somma, but i’m glad Grayson saw the light at the end of the tunnel mind.

  • Howard Bartle

    A good report. On a day when no one really played outstanding I go for Neil Collins as my man of the match, he hardly put a foot wrong all the game. Becchio always gives everything and took his goal well deserves a mention too.

  • richard

    We were shite, thank god for Luco.

  • Chris

    It was a poor performance from us, we looked as though we had been out on the pop the night before, However a point will do, we are in a great position and the play offs at the end of the year is beyond we ever expected. MOT

  • TheReaper08

    It’s great news that we can come away from a game like that with a point. My guess is we played better than that previously and ended up with none.

    Glass half full for me. Extends the unbeaten run and leaves us handily placed for the second half of the season.

    • Irving08

      Personally I am not overly optimistic. SG’s recent comments suggest that he is under some pressure to make more use of his four strikers, which implies playing two of them together, for certain games, at any rate. Yet all the evidence points to the 2010 ‘German’ formation being the best one for us (and I would say for most teams who play the ‘British’ way too). By the time KIlkenny has returned, it may be difficult for SG to revert back to our winning formation, unless January turns sour on us. And if it doesn’t well…it is win, win ….

  • si

    i would start with Watt and Sam tomorrow and leave Messers Gradel and Snodgrass on the bench. I would also leave Becchio on the bench and start with Painter and McCormack…..
    Lloyd Sam must wonder what he has to do – that said, Max is flying so maybe its easier for him to take !!
    We have a big squad so lets use it – it will give the likes of Sam, Painter and Somma a reason to believe that they are actually part of this squad

    • Irving08

      No,no,no ! Squad rotation is not the way to go; in any case, it is one game too late. Snoddy is our one top class player and, injuries permitting, should always be in the team. (He can be rested, if rest he needs, against Arsenal who,by the way, are a standing objection to the theory of squad rotations in the Leagues). If Sam is a better player than Gradel then by all means pick him, but on this basis only. Paynter is Becchio’s reserve and if he doesn’t like it then he can leave (in any case, we should have taken his partner Austin, not him). Timely substitutions are another matter, of course; in addition to covering for injuries, this is why we have a squad, not so that manager or his advisers can ‘fiddle’, try out theories etc – least of all ones that end up in the ineffective formation known as 4-4-2 (just listen to Eddie Gray tying himself up in knots on this issue). Simon’s great virttue is his pragmatism – he now needs to trust 100% the evidence of his own eyes.

  • Tim Wilsom

    Musta jinxed us Irving, apparently Snods is injured. Nice one

    • Irving08

      He will come on in the 65 mintute and score the winner direct from a corner.

  • steve underwood

    Well leeds looked knackerd on sat but so do cardif and i dont think there back up players are as good as ours.I would leave gradel beccehio out, but we must go back to the formation with howson playing of the main striker who should be paynter for the cardif and arsenal game give becchio a two week break

  • Hugh Fox

    We all looked shattered. Fear the way Cardiff play, fast tempo, will kill us tonight.

  • TheReaper08

    This was the game I was least looking forward to, 1-0 down already does nothing to change my mind.

  • Colin

    Not again, not again. This is too similar to what happened last season. Why did Grayson have to change things around? Formation changed to 4-4-2ish from 4-5-1ish and we haven’t won since. Players getting ‘rested’ like Becchio and then he has to resort to bringing him on – well that’s a waste of time. If you have a player who’s scoring goals, play him from the start and if he gets really tired, then bring him off. Don’t rest him and then have to bring him on. Somma didn’t even make the bench. McCormack has gone home, Kilkenny is off to Oz.

    Having to rely on the old guard to try and get us back in it. Snodders got the goal and Johnson and Howson made the best shots to try and get us back into it.

    And defence – well let’s face it, we don’t have one.

    You could see us losing this one a mile off. As @TheReaper08 said, you just knew it. So far, I have never predicted a Leeds loss in the predictor game. I predicted a loss for this one.

    We’ve now got a run of form going now – throwing away good leads, piss poor defending, and Grayson changing his team and his formation, moaning that Leeds should have done better.

  • TheReaper08

    @colin I am sad to say (and don’t take this the wrong way as you know what I mean) but I totally agree with you.

    I would like to know the opinions on Paynter as well, I said at the start of the season that the locals down here (Swindon) were adamant we had signed the wrong striker. I see Charlie Austin has now scored 12 and is very highly sought after in this transfer window.

    I am not totally doom and gloom but have a quick look at the table and whilst points in the bag are always better than games in hand we now lie in a totally false position.

  • Colin

    @TheReaper08 on Paynter – it did seem that he was getting most of the headers, which is good but is that a little bit too much like Becchio’s job for Beckford, who thrived off his knockdowns? I’m not sure that’s what we’re all about any more. The success came when Becchio was up front with a midfielder pushing up in an attacking role, a la Howson or Gradel.

    If you had to pick a better striker in Top Trumps, I’d choose McCormack over Paynter any day. But McCormack just isn’t doing it.

    I just don’t see how Paynter fits in.

    My thought is this – SG has rested Becchio because he wanted him fit for Arsenal in a 4-5-1. It hasn’t worked. Okay, maybe in hindsight, he should have just played Becchio over the Xmas period and burned him out and then told him to rest and drop him for the Arsenal game. Unless, SG is a genius and he has rested Somma for the Arsenal game and he goes 4-5-1 with Somma up front perhaps? I’ve really no idea, but in summary i think Paynter is a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t quite work.

  • Irving08

    It gives me no satisfaction to have my views confirmed either on the probable consequences of SG’s fiddling with a winning formation or on the merits or otherwise of individual players (notably Paynter). Simon and his coaches have squandered the great position we had going into Xmas by muddled thinking and poor team selection. It is sour grapes to say, as some do, that we would have taken our present position at the start of the season: the fact is that it could and should have been better given the resources at the management’s disposal and where we were four games ago.

  • Matt BB

    I am a great believer in the adage, if it aint broke dont fix it, and here we are tinkering, and losing as a result. Why oh why was Bruce on the bench? He’s clearly better than Collins, so if hes injured why not put Bromby in his place who did a fantastic job against QPR. Taarabt is a handful like Bellamy and he dealt with him ok.

    Why in the name of all that is good and decent was Somma not on the bench? if Becchio really was being rested, then rest him, and put a good striker who offers something a bit different to Paynter on the bench?

    Why are we playing Mccromack as a fifth midfielder, and not even on the wing? as per the above surely more a natural replacement for Becchio? We had Faye on the bench, and even Hughesy might stand a chance in a holding midfield role, or perhaps Bessone as a left winger?

    I’m not going to knock Paynter, but I (and many others) have bemoaned us signing him instead of Austin, might have cost us a player swap and £1M but we’d have been more likely to score last night, well actually I have knocked paynter then.. but to be fair to him he needs a few more games under his belt (a large belt) to start fitting in with the players around him, some great balls into the area from Snodgrass and connolly so even he could have scored from some of those, plenty of shots at goal and on target as well, so not all doom and gloom.

    But for crying out loud can we try experimental formations and random selections in friendlies please, not in top6 clashes!

  • Matt BB

    another question – why if we all now think Collins is the answer to our central defensive problems arent we deploying Bruce as our holding midfielder? we could then put bromby on the bench?

  • Mark R

    Yesterday evening vs. Cardiff, disappointing. Said that after Leicester, Portsmouth & Boro.

    I just saw the Cardiff goals on the web, poor defensive work again . Conceding form a short corner – we just weren’t alert enough, and their 2nd from a long ball over Parker to Chopra. Without O’Brien & Kisonorbo in defence we are ruderless.

    Kasper does well in his shot stopping but I think I’d question his marshalling of the defence.

    Conceding all these goals has happened this season with the recruitment of supposedly better players than we already had in defence : Kasper, Connolly, Collins, McCartney, Bessone, Bruce ..and now O’Brien.
    The mix is not right. Granted, O’Brien is in a definite step in the right direction,

    As the back line is unsure, the spotlight then drops on the midfield, perhaps overly so with the focus on a defensive midfielder. Again the mix isn’t right.
    – Faye – not up to it, Bradley – full of energy but not composed, Howson inconsistent, Killa a neat distributer but neither defensive nor creative enough to make an impact at this level.

    -Snodgrass, Sam & Watt – Aces in our pack.
    -Becchio – stirling work, Paynter untried, McCormack returning from injury, Somma – after a great start just can’t get a game.

    Defensively we have to be up for it all over the team – and unfortunately we’re not , with many of our players expecting their colleagues to get a foot in.

    No win in 4 matches now, conceding in all of them, average 2 per game- a shocking stat,

    Psychologically I think our players accept that we ship goals, but expect to score enough to win. There also doesn’t seem to be any thought about keeping possesion of the ball.

    Whereas – we should be in the frame of mind to win every ball, defend our goal with maximum effort and concentration & be creative with speed when we have the ball.Maintining possesion is important.

    Running out of energy in winter – there’s a pattern with last year here…. the use of the squad and a settled formation strategy would help.

    What to do ?
    -A motivational passionate player in midfield- is what we are in desperate need of PLUS another experienced midfielder.

    -Another solid experienced central defender plus McCartney at left back or a better left back would be preferable.

    If SG can recruit QUALITY & EXPERIENCE -then I think we can build on this 1st half season and really consolidate a top 6 position.

    With no significant recruitment and changes in the team, then I fear we’ll sink below the top 6/7.

    Here’s hoping we do ourslves justice at the Emirates on Saturday and give a performance to be proud of.

    MOT

    Mark

    • Irving08

      Personally I am not the least bit bothered about Saturday: I would therefore rest most of the ‘first team’ (Snoddy, Becchio, Howson, Johnson, Gradel,
      O’Brien and Connolly). Let our much vaunted squad show what it is made of, which I suspect is ‘not much'; but if they do surpass themselves, it will give them and us a much needed filip.