It would have been easy to be swept away by the wave of euphoria which surrounded Leeds United after our opening day victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. A last minute win, with a goal by our (relatively) big money summer signing in front of a packed house was pretty much the perfect start. However the events of the last seven days have added a jolt of realism to the general feelgood factor around the club.
A nervy win over an impressive looking Chesterfield side in the League Cup highlighted the deficiencies within the squad, and although United picked up a hard earned and extremely valuable point at Leicester City on Sunday, there was a worrying lack of penetration in the attacking areas.
It is quite clear that our squad is overstocked in some areas whilst being alarmingly sparse in others. It seems unlikely that there is going to be a massive injection of cash to ensure that Brian McDermott's mythical fourth signing will arrive before the end of the window. Perhaps more worrying is that there seems to be little going on in the way of squad trimming, with apparently no concrete offers for the excess fat of the squad.
If, by some miracle, we are able to bring in a new face or two before the end of the transfer window, it will be interesting to see what McDermott's priority will be. It's clear that we are in need of improvement in the central defensive areas and desperately need a consistent goalscorer. But the side is also crying out for genuine width down both flanks. Which is the most important area?
In my opinion it is the two central areas which require the most work, and I'll try to explain why. Although a lack of a threat out wide has been a big concern since the departure of both Max Gradel and Robert Snodgrass, Brian McDermott seems to have the tactics in mind to cancel out this problem. The 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation allows the likes of Noel Hunt, Dominic Poleon and Ross McCormack to operate out wide in support of a main striker. Although not possessing great pace to go past people (Poleon excepted) and, so far this season, an alarming lack of crossing ability, these are things that can be worked on at the training ground. What they are lacking is a potent goal threat to get on the end of the chances they may create.
Luke Varney patently can't cut it as the main front man for Leeds United. I'm going to drift into Warnock hyperbole here and say that "you can't fault his effort". Whilst he tries hard and is undoubtedly good in the air, the efforts that matter most, those on goal, are generally appalling. It seems that he is the first choice striker for McDermott at the moment, and that just about sums up our paucity of goalscoring talent.
Matt Smith is early in his career at Elland Road and is quite plainly here to act as the battering ram in the closing stages. In that role he has performed admirably, creating the winner against Brighton and going extremely close to grabbing all three points at Leicester. However in his start against Chesterfield he was much less impressive, when an early miss seemed to dent his confidence. Inside the first two minutes he should have put Leeds ahead, but seemed to second guess himself when left in oceans of space inside the Spireites area. Under pressure he would no doubt do what comes naturally to him, head the ball goalwards, but given time and space aplenty 10 yards out from goal, he hesitated and then snatched at a shot which looped hopelessly into the air, although it worked out as a decent cross which almost saw David Norris head in. From that moment on his performance deteriorated and showed he was not ready to lead the line.
Dom Poleon was the most impressive attacker that night, but it would be a huge risk to place our goalscoring needs on his shoulders. He is a relative novice in the game, and although he showed great composure to take his goal against Chesterfield, when many in the crowd thought he had blown his opportunity, he is still far too raw to heap too much of a burden on. Again his worth is as the impact substitute, using his raw pace against tired defenders, he could prove to be a useful weapon.
It is therefore imperative in my eyes that McDermott should make signing a striker his priority, although some cover at centre back comes a very close second.
This is purely down to a lack of numbers in this area. At the moment we look like a Jason Pearce comedy stumble away from conceding goals, but he is the best available at the moment. If Pearce or Tom Lees were to go down we could be in a very sticky situation, although we might just be able to get by with some reshuffling.
Lee Peltier may prove to be a better bet in the centre of defence than he is at right back. The emergence of Sam Byram seems to have scuppered any long term hopes of holding down that position, and his general lack of ambition going forward is not what is required in that position. His most impressive performances (and again that is relative) have come in the centre of defence. Sunday was another horror show of a performance, his foul throw summing up an inept performance.
Is he better than Pearce there? The "marquee" signing from Portsmouth last summer looked impressive at the start of last season, but now he just looks a nervous wreck. Leicester had highlighted him as our weak link at the back and targeted him early on. It is to his credit that he rode out a nervy start to remain solid in an all round good defensive display, but he looks like he could make a mistake at any moment.
Behind those three, and possibly Stephen Warnock who could move across to the centre back spot, the cupboard is decidedly bare, with only Ross Killock as cover. Having seen him struggle at Farsley in pre-season, I would be frightened to death should he need to be thrown in to the cauldron of the Championship.
However despite those worries, it's up top and not at the back that worries me the most. Battling 0-0 draws against the fancied sides are important, but so are wins against the strugglers and I cannot see anyone really capable of taking chances at the rate required to make us genuine promotion challengers. If we only get one player in before the end of August, then I would prefer it to be a striker capable of getting 20 goals a season, even in a poor side. I wonder if Norwich would let that Becchio chap come here on loan?