Club Focus – Leeds United – Miserable 33-minute start dooms the Whites

Leeds suffered a nightmare start at Gillingham as they trailed 3-0 after 33 minutes and conceded all three points. The team looked sluggish, confused and disorganised, despite the match presenting the perfect opportunity to create a gap between them and the rest of the teams in pursuit. They did attempt to make a comeback but it came too little too late as the Whites suffered a costly 3-2 defeat to the hosts. While the Gills are hovering just above the relegation zone, their position in the league table is misleading as their home form compares to some of the clubs in the top 10 spots. This does not offer any excuse for the apparent lack of mental and psychological preparedness which was evident in the lackadaisical approach displayed on the pitch the moment the referee blew the kick-off whistle.

Despite the damaging defeat there were some positive signs as the players showed they are willing to fight and perhaps if they started their comeback a bit earlier then they could have salvaged at least a point. Another notable point was the fact Simon Grayson did not make any changes to his starting line-up, trusting once again his recently assembled attacking partnership of Max Gradel and Luciano Becchio – leaving top scorer Jermaine Beckford on the bench. Becchio managed to score a goal while substitute Beckford converted a late penalty he earned himself as Leeds fell just short of snatching a point from the jaws of defeat. Using Beckford as a super-sub might prove an ideal solution for the current dilemma facing Grayson upfront considering Becchio has been scoring regularly since his return while Gradel continues to be lively since his move from the wing position. However the main positive from this round of fixtures was the inability of the clubs ranked from third to fifth place to take advantage of the defeat suffered by Leeds.

The remaining fixtures will make or break Leeds United’s season but Grayson and his charges are aware they have control of their destiny if they can win their remaining matches to gain automatic promotion. The Whites, along with leaders Norwich City, have the best away record in the division but for Leeds to get automatic promotion they must focus on beating the two visitors to Elland Road, with Milton Keynes Dons scheduled for this weekend and Bristol Rovers expected for the penultimate game of the season. In between, Leeds will travel to play Charlton Athletic in what could be a decisive game with only three points separating the Whites from the Addicks who are in fifth place. Any mishaps cannot be afforded at this stage because a single point could be the difference between Championship football next season and remaining in League One.

One concern for Grayson will be the incompetence shown by the defensive line against the Gills with the defenders failing to deal with the aerial threat posed by crosses and passes aimed towards the penalty box. The centre-backs appeared hapless as they watched Gillingham score on three occasions as a result of defensive errors, including an own-goal scored by a Leeds defender. Grayson might have to ring some changes at the back in order to add some steel to the defensive line. A viable option could be to bench loan signing Neill Collins and recall one of the two forgotten men, Lubomir Michalik or Rui Marques, both of whom have served Leeds well in the past. Grayson does not seem to rate either highly or else he would not have brought in Collins to fill in for the injured Paddy Kisnorbo. Angola international centre-back Marques even captained the Leeds side and was a regular in the starting line-up the previous two seasons while the giant Michalik, who is a Slovakia international, was a starter last season until current skipper Richard Naylor was signed.

Marques and Michalik are more familiar than Collins with the club so it would not be a major gamble to give either one a chance to impress in the remaining three games of the current campaign. Sometimes a change, particularly towards the end of the season, could be harmful yet in this case the manager has nothing to lose since the first half-hour showing by the defenders against Gillingham would have made amateurs hide in shame. The clash against MK Dons will provide Grayson with the opportunity to alter his defensive line-up if he dares to mimic his decision to change upfront.

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