words: David Marples
This was the most typical of performances from a team that had just dispensed of the services of their manager.
If that sounds a little damning then it’s really not meant to – more to state that if you didn’t see the game, it was precisely what you might expect from a team in such a situation. There was a distinct bite to the tackles, a clear sense of urgency not only in the general running around but also in a willingness to get the ball forward and in some cases, a feeling that some very light shackles had been removed.
In the absence of the injured Daryl Murphy – in many ways a key component of the attacking philosophy under Mark Warburton – Ben Brereton was given the nod to lead the attack with Kieran Dowell supporting just behind. He relished it. He got right up the noses and under the skin of various Leeds defenders. Chances were at a premium yet he covered a fair amount of yards until his withdrawal and was prepared to run the channels and make the ball stick when it came up to him.
Indeed, the ball did come forward to the striker quicker than it might have done were Warburton still in charge. While the performance was anything but an all out homage to Wimbledon in their crazy gang heyday, the defence was certainly not afraid to put their foot through the ball when under pressure. When this did happen, Brereton was there to pick up the pieces and lay the ball off to any number of supporting midfielders and the team looked just as fluid as we have come to expect of them while in possession – just a bit quicker and with a smidge more urgency.
It was a shame that none of this yielded any clear-cut chances yet this Leeds team doesn’t give up goals easily at home, especially in recent weeks. Besides, with an appalling defensive record – especially away from home – Forest seemed preoccupied with defending as a team and it is in this regard that they can be particularly pleased with their accomplishments. In terms of defensive personnel, not much changed with Jordan Smith in goal and the usual unit of Michael Mancienne, Joe Worrall and Eric Lichaj, this time accompanied by Armand Traore at left back instead of Ben Osborn who was shifted back into midfield.
It is difficult to pinpoint precisely how the defensive performance was improved. Perhaps one factor was that Worrall (and to a lesser extent, Mancienne) was freed up to focus on defending rather than having to be continuously preoccupied with not only being available to receive the ball from his keeper but also be thinking about his passing options as the fulcrum of the possession game under Waburton. Another factor was possibly the determination and bite in Liam Bridcutt’s tackles as he returned to his old club and in doing so, offered a very decent midfield protective shield. Furthermore, Jordan Smith produced a couple of quality saves that every team requires when they climb aboard the homeward bound coach with a clean sheet from an away game. Finally, a little bit of luck is always needed: Kemar Roofe probably should have scored when he blasted the ball against the cross bar after lovely work from Samuel Sáiz.
It would be unwise to read too much into this first game since the binning of Warburton and his staff. Every team enjoys a bit of a bounce under such circumstances: exhibit A being Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day. Besides, there was still strong evidence of those pretty little triangles in deep areas, suggesting that some aspects of Warburton’s influence will be lasting.
In an ideal world, if the team could marry the fluent passing developing under the previous regime with both a stronger resolve to not concede goals and to move the ball forward quicker, then all might just be well with the world. When put like that, it sounds very simple and achievable but this is just one of the many challenges facing whoever takes the reins in the next few days.
As always, interesting times lay ahead for this football club and its fans.
Click here for some thoughts on the previous two home games which ultimately did for Mark Warburton.
We are currently working on Issue Seven. It should see the light of day in February.
If you've enjoyed our podcasts or enjoyed reading these match reports, please support us in buying a copy of Issue Six here or even better, subscribing. Thank you.
BE QUICK THOUGH. WE ARE VERY LOW ON STOCK OF ISSUE SIX AND AS USUAL, THERE ARE NO PLANS TO REPRINT.