The precious away win against Yeovil served as a welcome boost but did not solve the assortment of concerns for Simon Grayson. The Manager has had to sit back and witness Leeds bleed points while losing four matches in a row in the process. Beating the Glovers did not paper all the deficiencies displayed by Leeds in recent weeks. Grayson is well aware of the attack’s ineptitude and the lack of goals has once again turned the heat on top scorer Jermaine Beckford.
He was on the verge of leaving Elland Road during the January transfer window but ended up staying with the Whites in anticipation of free agency this summer. His performances have been mediocre at best yet Beckford was never known for his commitment or tireless running. He is renowned for his knocking in goals and despite a drop in his scoring ratio this campaign, he has managed to find the back of the net on 27 occasions in all competitions. The losing run has coincided with Beckford’s inability to deliver the goals the supporters have grown accustomed to seeing. He did not score in the last five games of which the first four were losses. Grayson is left with the tough task of keeping faith in his ailing striker or simply putting him on the bench to allow other players to shine. If Beckford remains a starter and Leeds continue to stutter then he will certainly be one of the targeted scapegoats.
The benching of Beckford could yield positive consequences despite arguments for his inclusion outweighing those in favour of his exclusion. Beckford is a proven goal scorer, has already managed to score in excess of 20 goals this season and more importantly the Whites lack an adequate replacement as backed by statistics. On the other hand, his benching would allow Grayson to continue with the experimentation of using Max Gradel as a striker (first used in such a position against Yeovil) while perhaps moving Robert Snodgrass upfront and fortifying the midfield with another player capable of helping the defensive line and dictating play in the midfield. Beckford can score goals but he does not track back to aid in defensive duties which means Leeds are already a man down when it comes to group effort and pressuring the ball. When Leeds suffered their first League defeat this season at Millwall the fans could visibly see the aggravated Paddy Kisnorbo gesture to the Manager to substitute the ineffective and unwilling Beckford. If a team begins to lose and the frequency of defeats increases then little details are highlighted. Those in favour of starting Beckford would argue his absence can demoralise the team’s morale while allowing opponents to avoid the fearful prospect of facing a lethal striker.
Grayson can negate this by omitting Beckford and the Whites have nothing to lose because victory in his absence can pave the way for the inevitable loss of the player. Considering Leeds are in fourth place and in danger of dropping further, there is no harm in benching Beckford and utilising him as a substitute in case of desperation. Beckford will feel he has to prove himself and might actually try harder to score and harass the opposing defenders. At the same time this would provide youngster Sanchez Watt with the opportunity to impress. The Arsenal winger was impressive for the Leeds Reserves contributing to three of the four goals scored. Moving Beckford to the bench will allow the Manager to try the Gradel-Snodgrass attacking combination while giving Watt the freedom to express himself and deliver the goods.
Unfortunately for Grayson the concerns are not limited to the attack because a couple of his recent decisions have been noteworthy. Goalkeeper Casper Ankergren has been demoted in favour of Shane Higgs who has been in goal beginning with 1-0 defeat to Norwich City. Ankergren has been consistent this season and the defeats cannot be blamed on him. While this decision does not hurt Leeds in any shape because Higgs is reliable, the enforced absence of Kisnorbo due to injury has been a massive blow to the club.
In his place Grayson has drafted loan signing Neill Collins which means there will be added pressure on skipper Richard Naylor. The captain led by example against the Glovers keeping the defensive line tight while contributing a brace to lead the club to victory. In Paddy’s absence the role of the skipper will become even more crucial with the club’s defenders looking unimpressive in the defeats to Millwall and Swindon Town.