Leeds’ four game undefeated run came to an end at home to Brentford yesterday as Neil Redfearn was left to regret a switch to 4-4-2 that left The Whites looking disorganised and defensively vulnerable throughout.

Redfearn’s side started positively enough, carving out a couple of half-chances, most notable of which was almost turned home by Sol Bamba on his home debut but Brentford were breaking away too easily and throughout the first half found themselves outnumbering Leeds’ defence on the break.

If Brentford had been more clinical and if not for a couple of good saves from Marco Silvestri, this could have been a hefty defeat. Leeds looked a mess all over the pitch, Lewis Cook and Sam Byram struggled to impose themselves on the game, Luke Murphy wasn’t doing much better and the defence was constantly left exposed by their disorganisation.

Rodolph Austin, inexplicably played on the left-wing, was the only one who looked likely to create anything but his best efforts were thwarted by a dreadful referee denying what was clearly a penalty after a clumsy challenge from Brentford’s defender sent him flying in the box.

0-0 at the break but there’d been enough warning signs for Leeds and Redfearn really should have been looking to change the system at this point.

We’d presumably gone 4-4-2 to accommodate Billy Sharp but he and Morison had little impact on the first half while the rest of the side struggled to adapt to the change of system. Trying to be more positive at Elland Road is understandable – commendable, in fact – but if the only option we have involves Rodolph Austin being deployed as a winger, chances of success are always going to be slim.

Nevertheless, Redfearn stuck to his guns, the system remained and it turns out Einstein was right; trying the same thing and expecting a different result is insanity.

While the midfield four was flat, in practice, the results were no different to the dark days of Leeds’ 4-4-2 diamond. We somehow looked too narrow and yet simultaneously overwhelmed in the centre of the park and it played right into Brentford’s hands as they’re able to counter-attack rapidly and we weren’t able to tighten things up.

Leeds’ midfield never got a firm grip on the game and we looked uncomfortable throughout, but Brentford weren’t much more convincingly at the start of the second half and the game went scrappy for a time.

In between the referee randomly blowing his whistle and making dreadful decisions, Steve Morison fluffed a chance from a corner before Brentford controversially scored the only goal of the game.

It looked to everyone inside the stadium like there’d been a blatant handball in the build-up which seemed to cause a second of hesitation from Leeds who were expecting a free-kick, but the referee ignored the appeals and Brentford took advantage, feeding the ball out-wide for a low cross to be fired across the box for Pritchard to convert. “One nil to the referee” sang the home fans.

Leeds’ attempts to push for an equaliser would only compound the issues they’d had with Brenford’s fast-breaking attack all afternoon, leaving the defence more exposed than ever.

Brentford’s most notable chance to kill the game off came rebounding back off the post while Billy Sharp and Edgar Cani both tried to capitalise on a scramble in the visitors box but couldn’t force home the equaliser.

Boos at full-time were directed towards the officials for one of the worst, and most one-sided, performances of refereeing I’ve ever seen, but this wasn’t a game Leeds deserved to take anything from and the referees abysmal performance shouldn’t disguise how poor Leeds were.

Ups and downs v Brentford

Brentford had four or five chances to kill this off, a couple of which they created from breaking at pace leaving them in positions where they outnumbered Leeds’ defence (partly because of how quickly they broke, but mostly because of how disorganised our midfield was). Silvestri saved a couple (one in particular stands out when he was left 1-on-1), Liam Cooper ‘took one for the team’ – a yellow card, that is – with an excellent professional foul to stop another Brentford break ending 1-on-1 and the shot that came back off the post was very unlucky. There’s no debating the best team won, even if they could have been made to pay for not being clinical enough.

From a Leeds point of view, the formation just didn’t work and Brentford were one of the worst possible teams to try it against. They’re good on the ball and can break at pace if given too much space, Leeds had to keep things tight in midfield to dominate this encounter and that was never going to happen with Luke Murphy and Lewis Cook playing standard CM roles.

The 4-2-3-1 has worked so well because the two central players are DMs, prioritising the protection of our defence over staying forward to support the attack, but here we had a situation where Lewis Cook and Luke Murphy were expected to balance the two and neither of them did it very well.

Neil Redfearn spoke of wanting to be more positive at home and I’m fully on-board with that, but I reject the implied wisdom that 4-4-2 is more positive than 4-2-3-1 simply because it allows us to play an additional striker. It doesn’t matter what formation you play, how you play it is what counts and if you can’t control the game in any given system, it’s neither attacking or defensive. It’s just failing. And this failed in many of the same ways the 4-4-2 diamond did.

The 4-2-3-1 does make use of two DMs, but they’re not always defending. While more defensively-positioned in that system it hasn’t stopped Lewis Cook bursting out of defence with the ball to start and contribute towards attacks – in fact, that’s where he’s looked most effective. Luke Murphy’s looked pretty solid there too (and at AM) and neither of them were anywhere near as impressive yesterday, in an attacking or a defensive sense.

Of course, the other major difference is we lose the AM that our DMs use as an outlet for when they’ve won the ball, allowing them to quickly push up and re-establish control in the centre of the park. One of the two strikers can be doing that of course, but our midfield was all over the place, we lacked both the shape and organisation to ever really assert control.

Just how bad was the referee?

The ref was criminally bad, but firstly, It’s important to note that the best team won and Leeds didn’t play well enough to deserve anything from this game, so I hope this isn’t interpreted as sour grapes.

Brentford’s manager can moan all he likes about the Elland Road crowd getting on the refs back (which they only did after 3 or 4 dodgy calls), but if Rodolph Austin was fly-kicked to the head, he wouldn’t have got a free-kick. Along with the incidents leading up to Brentford’s goal, two very clear looking penalties were denied and there were numerous 50/50 calls that not once went in Leeds’ favour. This was the most suspicious case of refereeing I’ve seen in years.

Genuinely think the ref’s wife left him for a Leeds fan, it’s the only explanation for it.

On and on…

PS. I’ve no idea who took the photo at the top of the page (feel free to get in touch if you want to take credit), but it captures the impressive Elland Road skyline shortly after the final whistle yesterday.