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huddersfield 3 – 2 leeds: help yourself

huddersfield 3 – 2 leeds: help yourself

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Photo by May Sports Images

 

To see what beating Leeds really means to Town fans, you have to get close to them. From the away end you only get to see the boasting, the bravado, the goading they choose to aim your way. It’s in amongst them, in the upper reaches of their main stand, where you really understand the pressure.

In the final moments of the game, Leeds had a free kick in a dangerous area, in front of our own fans. McCormack and Warnock stood over it, trying to come up with a creative way of getting the ball into a packed penalty area. A few rows in front of me, to my left, a woman turned her head away from the scene. To make sure not a hint of what happening could flicker into her sight, she held her hand over the side of her face, like a shield. Her lips moved rapidly as she said a silent prayer, probably to Andy Booth, and she rocked back and forth as if she was suffering some agony in her stomach. This mattered. This free kick was of season-defining importance for her. Town had to beat Leeds.

I wasn’t quite as worried, even though a good delivery from Warnock could have rescued a point for Leeds; the way Leeds had been playing, a good delivery was the last thing I expected, and even though Warnock’s cross was actually half decent, for that to have translated into a headed goal from his target Pearce would have been too much to ask. After Lees’ own goal, and Murphy’s miss, and Austin’s miss, I was pretty much resigned to the fact this wasn’t our day. Even if we had scored, Andy Booth probably would have found a way to answer that woman’s prayers by popping up with an even later winner.

Birmingham had felt like a corner turned, but there were two major nags about taking it as a bright new dawn: first, Brum were abject, and second, it was at home. Five away defeats in a row suggests that while McDermott’s 3-5-2 might do the trick at Elland Road, something else new will be needed on the road. 

It could be a confidence thing, a psychological problem. It’s hard to think of another reason why Austin and Murphy can be so dominant in one game, and struggle to get a grip in another, unless it’s down to travel sickness. Leeds started brilliantly – Matt Smith’s goal, after about 70 seconds, was already his second good chance of the game – but from then on Huddersfield always seemed to be in control, picking and choosing when to launch another attack. Whatever formation Leeds use, we always seem to end up being overrun in midfield, but the formation shouldn’t matter: Southern and Hammill aren’t mugs, but Austin physically and Murphy technically should be able to dominate in games like this.

I don’t think Austin lacks self-belief, but Luke Murphy’s awful miss suggested it might be an issue for him. Credit where it’s due – this was a great bit of football from Leeds. Down the right Byram, Mowatt, Austin, Byram again then Austin again, took at least five Town defenders out of the equation with a short passing move Byram orchestrated from the start; there was nothing wrong with Austin’s pull back, but everything went wrong with Murphy’s shot from near the penalty spot, with Smithies aching to be beaten. Against Brighton on the opening day, Murphy had no problem bursting into the box and hammering home a winner; the adrenalin boost of a £1m transfer may have turned into an albatross now, as the scuffed attempt to place the ball in the Town net – rather than just blasting it the hell in – looked like the effort of a player desperate not to make a mistake. And when you’re that desperate not to make a mistake, you’re much more likely to make a terrible mistake. 

At least it shows what we can do. A few minutes later a sweet, sweet through ball from Mowatt set McCormack away down the left side of the penalty area; his turn and pass to Austin set Rudy up for a finish that had even less conviction than Murphy’s. But it was a hopeful sign. With the scoring problems Leeds have had this season, it would help to score as many goals from midfield as possible, and a feature of the new formation has been this ability to create chances for Murphy and Austin. The next step is to score them.

It was a sad reversion to type that the only goals we did score came from set pieces. Pre-game the potential impacts of Smith and Dexter Blackstock were an open question, and they both took their goals well; Dexter in particular couldn’t have asked for a sweeter first touch. But they were both scored from crossed set pieces; handy enough, but it’s open play where Leeds need to improve. 

Town’s latter two goals came from open play, while the first doesn’t bear thinking about from a defensive point of view – Leeds stood and watched as Danny Ward got the ball on the edge of the box and hammered it home unchallenged. The emphasis of our 3-5-2 has been the improvement in attack, but it asks a lot of our young defence; for this to work, Lees, Pearce and Wootton have to be at their best in every single game, in a new formation which creates new problems. That’s a lot to ask, and so it’s no wonder that Tom Lees will loop a header into his own net, or that Jason Pearce will get turned inside out when he has to cover the left side. It’s no wonder that Marius Žaliūkas has been signed to try and bring some experience and leadership to the three. It’s no criticism to say that I expect these mistakes from these players while they get to grips with this formation. They need help, and that’s what Žaliūkas should provide.

Leeds, overall, need to help themselves. Not scoring from the kind of chance Murphy had, at 1-1, doesn’t help us, and it doesn’t give us the best chance possible to win. Huddersfield are a rare proposition in this division in that their desperation to beat Leeds adds another level to their performance, and it showed in the way they came back with goals so quickly after Leeds landed a blow, but United need to be able to match that will to win; not necessarily with the covered eyes and salivating prayers of their supporters, but by matching our standards to our potential and giving ourselves the best chance to win. 

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