Thoughts Ahead Of Crystal Palace (A) TSS January 13, 2012 Leeds United 22 Comments After an all too predictable FA Cup exit to Arsenal, The Whites return to Championship action this weekend with a trip to Selhurst Park to take on 12th place Palace. Defensive Hopes Return The chances of Leeds keeping a clean sheet, or at least keeping the amount of goals conceded to a respectable number, increased exponentially with the return of Tom Lees on Monday night. Partnered by Darren O’Dea in central defence, this is undoubtedly Leeds’ strongest central pairing at present. Before injury problems and selection reshuffles, the Lees-O’Dea partnership were the first central pairing to secure back-to-back clean sheets in over a year against Portsmouth and Doncaster Rovers earlier this season. Hoping to make their lives easier on the flanks will be Aidan White and possibly Zac Thompson after his impressive performance at The Emirates – this would make the average age of Leeds United’s defence just 21. Fear not though, because if Simon Grayson decides to go with the 28-year-old Paul Connolly ahead of young Zac Thompson, we can drag that average age up by two whole years. Nothing says ‘experienced back-line’ quite like an average age of 23. Midfield Monotony There is some hope of a Robert Snodgrass comeback after he returned to training yesterday. Whether he’ll start or line-up on the bench however is tough to call. Generally speaking, I’d expect the latter, but considering the problems we’re experiencing in midfield, Simon Grayson may feel it’s worth the risk. If Snoddy doesn’t start we’ll once again be relying on Andros Townsend for any semblance of creativity. If Palace have done their home work – and I’m sure they have – you can expect to see him swarmed by red and blue shirts every time we try and play him in – which, considering he’s our biggest hope, will be a commonly repeated theme. Making up the numbers in midfield is the toughest part to call. Adam Clayton is a certainty with Danny Pugh not too far behind, but after that it’s a guessing game. It largely depends on whether we go 4-5-1 or revert back to 4-4-2. Mika Vayrynen seems to have taken some stick following Arsenal, but he worked hard and it was only once he tired second half his performance really dropped. The lack of game time means he’s a little shy of full fitness, but in a five man midfield, he’s in with a good chance. Also in contention will be Michael Brown and Ramon Nunez, neither of which have impressed much recently but benefited from injuries to Jonny Howson and Robert Snodgrass. I’ll stick my neck out and predict 4-5-1 and a formation of Snodgrass – Pugh – Vayrynen – Clayton – Townsend. If Snodgrass doesn’t start then Pugh will probably switch back to the wing. This leaves a central spot open Simon Grayson will most likely fill with Ramon Nunez considering the lack of attacking threat the midfield has shown recently. Lonely Up Top A predicted formation of 4-5-1 leaves room for only one striker and since Luciano Becchio has looked well out of sorts lately, the obvious choice is Ross McCormack. However, Leeds’ top goalscorer never looks fully comfortable in the lone striker role so Simon Grayson may yet decide to stick with Becchio, who has scored four times in three starts against our opponents. The Opposition Palace are missing a few players themselves, but don’t seem to be suffering quite as dramatically as The Whites have – least not if their League Cup Semi Final victory over Cardiff City is anything to go by. Palace team news here. Predictions Tough to call. The return of Tom Lees gives some cause for optimism, as does the thought of Robert Snodgrass and Andros Townsend tearing down the flanks with two young full-backs in support. We’re also a team more suited to playing away – a bizarre concept, I know – so three points is a realistic enough outcome. However, Crystal Palace have only lost twice at home all season and their League Cup win over Cardiff City will be a further confidence boost for them. Leeds’ strong away record speaks for itself, so what we’re left with is no clear cut favourite. A draw seems probable, but confidence breeds success so I’m predicting: Palace 0-1 Leeds United. Captaincrash In many ways a key game, a win would build on the Burnely escape and Cup ‘performance’ and hint at optimism. A defeat and the Grayson out brigade pipe up again. Scene setter this one for rest of season. TSS @Captaincrash Away fans views to follow. Quite concerned by how optimistic the FYP fanzine are! Ron_Galea @Captaincrash Agree. Any game in the transfer window is a big one for SG. Any slip up and his head goes back on the block. With this in mind, I think Snoddy starts. Would like to see McCormack and Forssell up front. morleywhite wonder how forssell would do in the loan striker role?tall lad and decent in the air.surely hes worth a shot,lets face it he cant do any worse than Becchio at the mo.would like to see him up top with Mccormack in the hole behind him.for me tommorow id play as follows GK Lonnergan RB Thompson LB White CB O Dea CB Lees CM Clayton CM Pugh RM Snodgrass (if fit) LM Townsend AM Mccormack ST Forssell If snoddy isnt fully fit id give Lloyd sam a start see what he can do as Nunez never seems to perform out on the flanks. TSS @morleywhite You’re right, I didn’t even consider the outside chance of Forssell getting the nod. I’d suggest his lack of game time would stand against him, as he won’t be fit enough to play the 90 minutes – it’s catch 22 I know, but that always leaves the bench as a more likely starting point. Likewise, McCormack playing AM – or even on the wing for that matter – is well worth considering. Difficult to predict our line-up due to White, Pugh, Thompson and McCormack being able to play in multiple slots. Captaincrash I’d give Luc this game and one more. Accept I’m in a minority but he deserves a little more loyalty, only a little I admit. He does rely on crosses that just have not been coming. Fingers crossed, one nod in and he’s back to what he has been. Bubionwhite @TSS@morleywhite Roughly agree with the selection though I still question why Vayrynen is not given an extended opportunity in place of Danny Pugh. How do players get to be fit enough to play 90 minutes when they are not normally given “game time”, e.g. Forssell and Vayrynen? SG needs to accept that squad rotation keeps them all fit and therefore are able to play 90 minutes when called upon … look forward to the day it starts to happen. morleywhite If snoddys out ive got a feeling he wil go 442 with pugh out on the left townsend on the right,i dont like to see pugh left mid i dont think he offers enough going forward at all,fair enough hes good at helping white out defensivly but goin forward hes not enough of a threat.to me hes suited alot more at either left back or center mid and i think he should stick to them roles,if hes guna play on left side with white id swap the 2 of them around hav white left wing.i actualy like danny pugh and believe hes a decent signing but thats playing either center mid or left back,anyone agree? he also filled in at right back for stoke sometimes which could be a option for us. WIll23 Difficult to call a result here between two underperforming teams. 0-0 is written all over this game. Lees’ return is a bonus, undoubtedly. Townsend…well, against Arsenal he was poor, unable to trap a bag of cement or even stay on his feet when running, liking a dive or two, and seems like a headless chicken at best with a footballing brain the size of a pea…such is the problem of fast sprinters trying to make a career in football…he was a bit like Chambers’ attempts at RL, Seems he is in the wrong career…like a number of crap teachers we’ve all had to suffer down the years. McCormack…in contrast to Townsend, we have a gem of an intelligent footballer in RM. Get him up front alongside Becchio. If only he had teammates on his wavelength. Alas, he is supported by a workmanlike midfield and is a diamond in a sea of also-ran pig sh*t especially selected by SG; other than for Snodgrass…when he is on son, but suffers from the burden of expectation. Of course we are still all high on the adrenaline of the full time signing of the one and only Danny Pugh. LUFC life sure has its thrills. Hopefully our born in U.S.A man, Roy Rogers, gets first team experience soon rather than be left to disappear to the reserves ala Grella. SG…always ready to destroy a players career within two months of life at Elland Road. Pessimism rules…sorry guys/gals!!! TSS @WIll23 Christ mate, I hope you have no razorblades nearby. Townsend had no support, there was little else he could do. Against Burnley he was a different player. WIll23 @TSS Missed the Burnley game. Saw the @rse game on TV and not impressed by our Spurs loanee. First impressions and all that are not usually far wrong in my view. No blades here, though I am in Sheffield! Just an honest appraisal of reality for LUFC. Sad to say. But hey, it’s only a game, like netball! Tyler75 I wouldn’t have Becchio anywhere near the first team on recent performances – fair point that he thrives on crosses but at a minimum he needs to hold the ball up and bring other players into the game,and he hasn’t even been doing this – if he starts and scores a hat-rick tomorrow I’ll be the first to offer my most heartfelt apologies ! I doubt Snods will be risked from the start – I’d go with Forsell and Ross upfront; Clayton & Varynen in the middle, White and Sam on the wings with Zak at right-back and Pugh at left-back. If Bruce is fit, SG might be tempted to move Lees over to right-back; which would be a mistake as O’Dea and Lees look our most solid and dependable Centre-back pairing. No idea why, but really looking forward to the game ! Tyler75 Forgot all about Townsend !!!! Townsend for Sam on the right ! Ron_Galea Adam Clayton maybe a certainty, but we need him to find the touch he had at the start of the season if we are to march on from here. The only reason I’m remotely happy he’s been quiet of late is that with the transfer window being open I feared we might lose him to a premiership outfit. Great news that Zaha is the subject of a bid from Liverpool according to reports. Any distraction is welcome as that kid might rip us to pieces if he’s on his game. TSS @Ron_Galea I think we saw an improvement v Burnley and some minor glimpses of that v Arsenal (tough game to make a mark in his defence). Some signs of a return to form I feel, but he misses Howson as much as everyone else in this team it seems. Ron_Galea @TSS Absolutely. After such a blistering start, he was always going to find it hard to maintain that form and your point re. the importance of Howson is poignant. Snoddy has had quiet periods also, but always seems to bounce back with unstoppable performances. I think Clayton has the quality to finish the season on fire, hopefully with McCormack too. WIll23 @Ron_Galea@TSS Can we really conclude the recent form has been due to Howson’s absence? I do not think you can jump to a conclusion that results or performances would have been better with our captain in the starting XI. Clayton is good and with McCormack & Snodgrass, coupled with White, Lees and Lonergan we do at least have 5 decent players out of a squad of 20+; players who would be in the any team’s starting XI in the Championship. Howson is borderline – he needs to show more leadership in my view. TSS @WIll23@Ron_Galea Howson would be part of any Championship starting XI, don’t kid yourself. Some fans overlook his contribution because he’s been playing a less than glamorous role tying things up in midfield. Same with Pugh, anyone from midfield onwards that doesn’t score regularly always attracts critics. Fans don’t care much for the players that do the nitty-gritty. I’d love to see Howson back at AM too, but we have no better option for the role he’s been fulfilling in Bradley’s absence. And yes, of course it’s a major factor in our loss of form. He’s the only certainty in our team, they know what to expect from him. The fact he’s captain plays it’s part too. His loss will have been a huge loss in the dressing room, as well as on the field. Finally, can we knock this “show more leadership” nonsense on the head once and for all. It reminds me of those clueless types that call in to radio talkshows (not that I’m calling you clueless, just explaining the image it conjures up). It just seems to be one of those meaningless football phrases people throw about that apparently need no explanation, or supporting evidence. I’m not even entirely sure what it means – presumably shout a lot? That helps no one. Howson is always talking with the players around him, he just does so in a professional manner. Also, no of us can comment on what he’s like in training and in the dressing room. The players clearly respect him, he works harder than anyone and contrary to popular belief, he does communicate and that’s all that matters. Tyler75 @TSS@WIll23@Ron_Galea Its been pretty obvious from Watford onwards what’s been missed is Howson’s ability to show leadership by example. All good teams thrive on momentum, tempo, whatever you want to call it and Howson is the player that provides the focus of that for us. Colin @Tyler75@TSS@WIll23@Ron_Galea Isn’t it amazing that it takes an injury to Howson to make some fans appreciate him? Those that know me know that I’m Howson’s biggest fan. It sickened me when at the start of the season, people were saying that not only did he not deserve to be Captain, but that he deserved to be dropped. This is the guy who was Captain for the majority of last season, was our best player (and the Opta/Actim Index stats back me up on that), is a Leeds fan, and a West Yorkshireman. He was the one who was always wheeled out in front of the cameras as well after a bad result. Only now in his absence are people realising that he should be first on the teamsheet and is a great Captain. Howson’s ‘calm’ demeanour saved Bradley Johnson from a sending off and a few cards in the past. I’ve seen him calm Snodgrass down a few times too. Watch for the Howson trick – after a bad challenge from a Leeds player, Howson goes to the Ref and talks to him calmly, no shouting a la Rooney or Ferdinand. And it buys some time for the ref to calm down and not go gung-ho with the cards. And Jonny’s not all cute and cuddly either, he can give it too if needed. In the infamous win over Man United, had it not been for Beckford holding Howson back, ITV viewers would have seen Jonny rip Wes Brown’s head clean off. And there’s a couple of players out there that really miss Howson’s presence – Becchio and Snodgrass. They’re much better players when Howson’s on the pitch. Bubionwhite @TSS@WIll23@Ron_Galea Still not a central midfielder, despite the love-in! DubaiWhite Big game today, and a game we can’t afford to loose because if we do, we drop behind Crystal Palace as well. I hope Snodgrass is fit enough to play since I would like to see us having both Townsend and Snoddy on the field giving us speed and options going forward. I also sense the time has come for Becchio to start finding the net more regularly, we know he can provided that he get the service from the midfield. If he doesn’t it is time to give Forsell a chance, he has the qualities although not playing regularly recently must make it difficult for him to produce on the few chanses he got. And if we do not score today, then I am afraid there will be a long and dissapointing spring… .