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rough diamond: walsall 1 – 0 leeds united

rough diamond: walsall 1 – 0 leeds united

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Brian McDermott said after defeat to FC Domzale in Slovenia that Leeds United “have to learn to be winners.” On Saturday Leeds failed their latest class: ‘Don’t lose gimme friendlies to Walsall.’

Pre-season isn’t the time to panic, of course, but with fitness found in Slovenia, the idea of playing Walsall, Stevenage and Nürnberg is to find form and the winning habit. McDermott’s comment that Saturday was, “the worst day I’ve had as manager here,” underlines that while there are no disasters in pre-season, this ninety minutes didn’t move Leeds forward as planned.

The line up was, barring new signings (don’t laugh!), the team Brian is expected to use against Brighton on the opening day. With no wingers found to supply the cherry picker Mathieu Smith up front, McDermott has settled upon a diamond formation, with Paul Green in front of the back four, Ross McCormack behind Smith and Noel Hunt in attack, and Michael Tonge and ‘million pounds but no pressure, honest’ Luke Murphy either side. 

The ideal is that the diamond will ping the ball to each other Spanish style, so bewitching the opponents with the intricacy of their play that Hunt or Smith end up with an easy to chance to score. The reality was that in the 12th minute former Leeds youth player James Baxendale orchestrated some quick passing of his own to get into all the wingerless space down our left, and crossed for Craig Westcarr to volley home. 

It wasn’t the last time Walsall’s imagination in midfield and pace in attack got them through Leeds’ defence, but fortunately it was the last time they scored; the one United player who was equal to the opponents was Paddy Kenny. Dom Poleon and Luke Varney came on and lifted the tempo in the second half, but to no avail.

“The game started with excellent, crisp passing and movement creating lots of space and attacking opportunities,” says Andrew Butterwick at Travels of a Leeds Fan. “This would have been great but for the fact it was the home team who were doing the crisp passing and not Leeds. Nobody ever won anything in pre-season there were some familiar worrying signs on the field of play.”

At Fear and Loathing in LS11, Adam Jubb has a similar sinking feeling. “The gaps remain,” he writes. “The same players who failed last season again are showing little to suggest this season will be any different.” Adam does see hope – and some popular figures – up front, “especially in Poleon who arguably stood out above all overs in Slovenia and who alongside his partners, McCormack and Hunt has already built the kind of rapport with Leeds fans that too few other players have done in recent years.”

The mood around the club, and the relationship between players and fans, was definitely one positive result from Slovenia, but the muted boos around the Bescot at full-time, and an argument between Stephen Warnock and some critical fans, showed how quickly the brave face being put on our chances can give way to the frustration everyone feels about three successive pre-season defeats. 

The need to stick together is a mantra of McDermott’s but it’s intrinsically linked to his other mantra of the summer: the need for new signings. “Sometimes it’s very difficult to do what you’re trying to do because you’ve only got the personnel who are here,” he told the Yorkshire Evening Post. “It’s something we need to look at but it’s not easy to make changes. Wingers by definition don’t come cheap.” McDermott knows the fans need to get behind the lads; but he also knows we need some more lads to get behind. That’s been the Catch-22 of Leeds United ever since the League One promotion squad began to be dismantled.

The winning habit wasn’t in evidence at Boston on Saturday either, where an under 21 side lost 2-1. Lewis Cook scored for Leeds, and the side included Ross Killock, Lewis Turner and Simon Lenighan, who all featured against Farsley. The report in the Boston Standard suggests Leeds played well, “peppering the Pilgrims’ goal” and restricting Boston’s chances, only losing to a late strike; the best news for those with an eye on players making the step up, though, might be the thirty minutes played by substitute Chris Dawson, the tiny and talented attacker who made his first team debut last season.

Dawson is reputed to be the perfect player in behind two strikers – he gets compared to Luka Modric, although that’s some benchmark given Dawson is only 18. But without any money for wingers (and that Red Bull joke is done, so just don’t) the diamond formation may need a diamond player to make it work. At the moment, though, Leeds just need wins and performances, whatever the formation.

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