A few eyebrows were raised as Neil Redfearn’s starting XI was revealed for the visit to the Macron Stadium yesterday; Luke Murphy, Casper Sloth and Steve Morison all made the cut while in-form Alex Mowatt and leading goalscorer Mirco Antenucci were benched. Adryan meanwhile failed to make the 18.

At first glance, the line-up looked less than convincing and was met with a lot of disgruntled moans from the Whites faithful, but the changes were designed to facilitate the change of system as Leeds continued with the 4-2-3-1 they’d used against Sunderland in The FA Cup.

The selection was a big risk for Neil Redfearn, one that could very easily have cost him his job, but one that also demonstrated a growing confidence in his own ability and a maturity to his decision-making. While previous line-ups have been an attempt to try and field the best individuals, Redfearn gambled on a line-up that saw key players sidelined in an attempt to field a balanced and competitive team.

Steve Morison, perhaps the most criticised change Redfearn made, is an example of picking players to suit the system. It seems a strange move to replace leading goalscorer Antenucci with a player who’s never really impressed for Leeds, but 4-2-3-1 means a lone striker and Mirco Antenucci isn’t suited to that role.

It’s one of the many problems Redfearn has been faced with when considering a change of system. The Leeds boss has expressed his desire to play with more width but Leeds’ squad leaves little room for maneuver. The much maligned 4-4-2 diamond has always been about fielding the best individuals, something of a default formation due to our abundance of central players and lack of genuine width.

Our options for changing that have always been limited, reliant upon central midfielders/forwards playing out of position, the use of wing-backs – which was always a risky proposition away from home – or a narrower formation with the full-backs expected to perform miracles. None of the options are ideal.

Redfearn went for broke and risked his job on a few key selections, most notable – for me at least – wasn’t Steve Morison, but Gaetano Berardi at right-back. The Berardi selection gave me most cause for concern because he’d never really impressed me in previous outings, often badly positioned and always looking a yard off the pace and that’s led to clusmy challenges and poor decision-making. Nevertheless, the decision to start Berardi allowed Sam Byram to play a wide midfield role, solving one half of the Leeds United midfield conundrum.

On the left, Leeds had to compromise. An injury to Stephen Warnock meant we couldn’t switch a left-back to midfield because the only left-back we had left – Charlie Taylor – had to play at… well, left-back. It did however give Casper Sloth chance to make an impact and while an out-of-position central midfielder is never the right answer, one player uncomfortably out of position is better than the alternative (ie. wide open passageways down both flanks teams can effortlessly exploit.)

The result of these changes was instant, Sam Byram immediately taking to his new position and causing problems for Bolton Wanderers by cutting inside and running at the home sides defence to be felled by former Whites keeper Andy Lonergan and win Leeds a penalty. Rodolph Austin stepped up confidently and gave Leeds the lead within the opening 3 minutes.

Rather bizarrely, the referee produced no card for the Bolton keeper. A red would have been harsh though they’re regularly given when the keeper fells an attacker, but it was at least worthy of a yellow. This proved to be something of a theme for the referee who was very reluctant to book anyone despite some very poor challenges from Bolton. On another day, the home side could have seen a couple of players sent off before half time.

Following Austin’s penalty, Steve Morison really should have doubled Leeds’ advantage, Byram again causing Bolton problems delivering a brilliant ball for Morison whose powerful header from just six yards produced a fine save from Lonergan.

While Leeds had enjoyed a couple of strong moments on the attack, the most impressive aspect of our first half was how well we battled in defence. Charlie Taylor made a vital last-ditch challenge to deny Bolton an equaliser and as the extreme winds – which blew in Bolton’s favour throughout the first half – were joined by lashings of icy rain, Bolton continued to see chances thwarted by an industrious Leeds defence.

But disaster struck early in the second half when Luke Murphy gave Bolton a penalty that the ageing Eidur Gudjohnsen expertly converted to level the tie.

Despite the equaliser, the second half was one Leeds had the better of but the Whites couldn’t find a breakthrough and the match ended in a stalemate. Given our recent struggles, a point away to an in-form Bolton side is a very good result made all the more satisfying by a strong performance.

Sam Byram was the star of the show for Leeds and after such an accomplished performance on the right-wing, it’s hard to imagine he’ll play right-back again. Charlie Taylor had the unenviable task of filling Stephen Warnock’s boots but stepped up his game and performed very well, Lewis Cook continues to impress in his defensive midfield role, often the start of attacking moves for Leeds, requiring no invitation to burst out of defensive role on the counter and take players on. Austin had another good game, Sloth was solid, Murphy did well despite the penalty and for once, I have no criticisms to make of the defence – even Berardi who looked far more comfortable with a right-midfielder to protect him.

And that was key really. There’s a balance to 4-2-3-1 that the diamond always lacked. The full-backs are protected by the wide midfielders while the centre-backs are protected by the holding central players. It’s perhaps a little too negative to be playing at home, but it’s without question the right formation to use on our travels.

There were some negatives of course, Marco Silvestri has gone from being our best player to our weakest link, suddenly hesitant to collect balls into the box and control his area. His shot-stopping is excellent, but Andy Lonergan provided an interesting contrast when it comes to controlling the box, he always looked more assured and in command of his area, I suspect he’s been a big contributing factor to Bolton’s recent form.

Perhaps more controversially, I thought Steve Morison played well. He was always in the right positions and applied pressure throughout. He should have doubled our lead with the first half header, but there’s little else I can fault him for. Still, the number 10 shirt is available following Noel Hunt’s departure and if Luciano Becchio really is an option, we’d be mad to pass on the opportunity.

Ultimately. all credit must go to Neil Redfearn, he showed genuine leadership here and his controversial line-up was thoroughly vindicated. Completely dropping the likes of Adryan, telling players to step-up their game if they want to be in contention and choosing Steve Morison over Mirco Antenucci because he better suited the system were gutsy moves. It’s tough to maintain patience when our league position looks so perilous, but like the youngsters who continue to flourish under him, Neil Redfearn is finding his feet too. Here he took a massive step forward, ignoring cries to play X and Y because they’re crowd favourites or look better on paper and put out a team he felt had the best chance, however unpopular some of those decisions were and with the genuine danger he’d lose his job if it went wrong. That’s the mark of a real leader.

On and on…

 

  • RoystonLUFC

    great blog, TSS, it’s good to read a measured, intelligent analysis of the game and one which places NR’s decisions in the context of the nature of this particular game. I’ve seen the usual, hysterical reactions elsewhere – some being very critical of those who view this as a good result.

    Whilst I appreciate that ambitions are somewhat lowered these days, the reality is that we are heading to relegation and away-points could prove very valuable in saving us from the drop. But the real test now is over the next couple of games. I’d like to think that NR has made the tough decisions that a good leader would but I can’t help thinking that it’s all a bit random, and until I’ve seen a few more examples of him picking a side to suit the game, the jury is still out.

    I’m not being negative and I hope – like the most of us – that he can go on to prove his doubters wrong. I’m more than willing to have my doubts kicked into touch. He probably does need a bit of a breathing space and this might just give him the confidence to step back and take a long, hard look at what’s been going on. Very often these moments of reflection can yield invaluable insights into the way forward and maybe – just maybe – he’s finally finding his feet in a – let’s face it – high pressure situation.

    It would be good for those who oppose NR to be a bit more constructive in their criticism of him. Ranting might be OK on Saturday night in the pub after the match but writing destructive bile on the media doesn’t really help anyone.

    MOT

    • tk

      My biggest problem with NR is substitutes.
      His first swap was on 85 minutes. This is typical and I find it frustrating that he cannot make them earlier and with an eye for changing the game. This may be down to lack of experience but he needs to be more decisive during a game.

      • TSS

        In this instance, Leeds were totally on top and it would have been silly to break momentum by stopping play to make a change. Always easy to call for earlier subs with benefit of hindsight when you already know the result, but when something is working well, it’d be more foolish to upset the rhythm by changing things.

      • PMH

        I agree with TSS. I was wondering when the subs were going to come on, but was pleased there was no tinkering for the hell of it. When you have a new combination learning the ropes together and they are actually doing OK (for once), you don’t bugger around.

  • oldschoolbaby

    I very much admired NR`s initial swashbuckling approach away from home but pragmatism has to play a vital role on the road. He`s learning that now, as he had to. Couple that with ruthlessness, essential in professional football but inappropriate at youth level, and his skillset is looking much more impressive.

  • PAUL W

    If Leeds could had won, instead of losing to fellow poor teams, such as Fulham and Wigan, then a point at Bolton would have been a very good result, but in my view it was two valuable points lost, against another poor team.
    Everybody at Leeds seem to talk a good game off the pitch, but on the pitch, nobody seems to be brave enough to take a game by the scuff of it’s neck and actually win the game, even if it was by scoring a last minute match winning goal, which certainly does not happen at Leeds anymore.
    Morison may have been a great player for Millwall, but at Leeds the fans have been shot-changed, as usual.

  • James Couper

    Without wishing to open old wounds, is it worth giving Aidy White a(nother) chance as a left winger in this ‘new’ formation? Wasn’t this Grayson’s default system back in the day?

    • TSS

      We more often played Gradel and Snoddy as inside-forwards, Aidy White used to play full back. He had so much raw pace, he looked like he could be something special but I don’t think he ever really fulfilled his potential.

      • James Couper

        True, yet haven’t we been crying out for pace, particularly out wide, for a couple of years now. Before you ask I have no connection with the fella and the last time I heard one of our managers talking about him was BM using him as an example of someone ‘wanting to play for the club’ rather than be moved on. He obviously has not impressed at training for quite some time but think, with Warnock as an insurance policy behind, it might be worthy trying .. If only to put him in the shop window.

        • TSS

          Being left-footed is a major plus too, I hate seeing right-footed players on the left (unless we’re using them as inside forwards like Larry did). I’d definitely be interested in seeing how he gets on, I always liked the kid and he’s still only 23.

        • Irving08

          He’s been injured.

      • Irving08

        Aidy White was doing OK until the idiotic Warnock arrived. Given a fair run, he’d be a regular starter in most Championship sides.

  • Tyler75

    Definitely agree – all credit to Redders for the changes, particularly the change of formation. I have been sceptical about Becchio returning but with the change of formation, surely Becchio would thrive – he would have buried Morrison’s chance on saturday. Also think Sol Bamba would give us extra solidity and nous at the back, particularly away from home against physical sides. Feel sorry for Sharpe, who’s done absolutely nothing wrong but seems to be well out of the picture. When Warnock returns Charlie Taylor can slip into the wide left role, until then I’d prefer Montenegro to Sloth – more pace and trickery. Also agree about Silvestri, I think he’s potentially a fine ‘keeper but could do with a few games out of the firing line and think Stuart Taylor would provide the experience we need at the back to steer us clear of trouble.

  • henrymouni

    We need more than the odd point to save us from the drop!
    If Warnock is sold, it will show that we lack ambition and common sense.
    If we had been half way up the league it would have made sense.
    If we drop down a league, we are done!!!
    12 days of the transfer window, and no ‘ins’ just ‘outs’.
    We all discuss players we are linked with, then they disappear to other clubs, one after another.
    Sound familiar?
    You’d think Bates was still here.
    I am expecting offers for our younger players before too long.
    Will we keep them?
    WE ARE IN DIRE TROUBLE, and are doing nothing about it.
    Redders did the right thing against Bolton with his formation, you say.
    What has he be doing for the rest of his time in charge = the wrong thing?
    Don’t let us kid ourselves we have turned a corner.
    We are in a fight to survive!!!

    • Irving08

      The only way we could keep him here and happy is by offering him a new 2 year contract. We would probably then lose Charlie Taylor and Aidy White, neither of whom would be (well) advised to wait for Warnock to go into terminal decline (he is already past his best). On the other hand, (a fit) Warnock might make it more rather than less likely that we will not drop into the bottom three. On balance, I’d let him go: Taylor might not possess Warnock’s ‘block tackle’, or deterrent capability, but he has good timing and distribution, while generally offering more than Warnock going forward.
      Regarding Redders, I too wonder why it has taken him so long to play the Berardi/Byram combo. And we are bound to ask whether, had he played his new formation, the players whom he has dropped, would have performed better than he apparently thinks they have been doing.
      For example, while I have nothing against Sloth, would not Mowatt do equally well, if not better on the left side of the three ? As for Morison – on whom you and I may differ – why is he better than Antenucci playing as a 1 ? for he certainly cannot hold up the ball as well, while he surely could not be pickerd for his heading (though I expect this was a consideration), as few of his goals have come this way. Does he get in then on his physical presence ? But how aggressiveis he ? Regarding Murphy, sentiment makes me want it to come right for him, but I note that that on Saturday he gave away another penalty, when we were ahead.
      Still, it’s a point and – as OS notes – a victory of sorts for pragmatism; it gives us (more) hope and we are not looking for yet another Head Coach.

  • Mike

    I started to wonder how we’d be best suited to play the other day and I honestly still believe we’d benefit from the 5-3-2 especially if Taylor is still in at LB.

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