Big. That is the best word to describe Tuesday night’s match. Big.
After last Friday’s 2-0 defeat to Brighton, questions were quickly asked if this recent success was a fluke. I think yesterday’s victory answered that question. Here are my three talking points for the 2-0 defeat of Reading:
Talking Point 1: Promotion is attainable thanks to solid defence
Before the Brighton loss, Leeds had won five of their last six league matches, jumping from 13th place to 4th place. Three of those wins came against Wolves, Burton Albion, and Rotherham United, who are ranked 20th, 21st, and 24th, respectively. Leeds also beat Aston Villa, a solid 2-0 win, but Villa are mid-table at present (and were even 19th before Steve Bruce took over).
Really, the only solid league win through that stretch was the exciting 3-2 victory on the road against Norwich. But questions were still asked about whether this recent success was simply based on a weak schedule over the last few weeks, or if Leeds actually were a top six team in the league. They had a chance to prove themselves against Brighton, but that was not a fair test as Leeds were down a man for 70 minutes of that match (and also because Brighton and Newcastle seem to be a step above everyone this season, see goal differential if you disagree).
Well, Leeds got another chance to answer those questions just four days later, as they faced third place Reading at home. And boy did they make a statement. A decisive 2-0 victory over a top three team showed the league that Leeds are certainly capable of staying in the hunt for promotion to the Premier League this season.
They proved that they are fantastic at the back and showed exactly how they have given up just the fifth least amount of goals this season in the Championship. Reading dominated possession throughout the game, grabbing 77% of the ball, but could not break through the Leeds midfield and defense.
Leeds also showed they can be clinical when attacking. Despite only having only 23% of possession, they outshot Reading 11-6, having four on target to Reading’s two. And of course, the Whites also put two balls in the back of the net.
Beating the third place team 2-0, while being clinical upfront but also not bending at the back on defense. Certainly sounds like a team capable of promotion, doesn’t it?
Talking Point 2: Chris Wood is injured, and that’s bad
Unfortunately yesterday’s match was not all good news. After scoring the opening goal in the 19th minute, Leeds’ leading scorer this season, Chris Wood, was subbed off in the 33rd minute due to injury. We still do not know the extent of the injury, but Garry Monk has said that the striker felt tightness in his hamstring and he did not want to risk further aggravating it. We will know more about the injury later today.
Anything long-term will not be great news, of course. The New Zealander has been the team’s leading scorer, scoring 11 times in the Championship and 14 in all competitions. He has been clinical, taking complete advantage of his chances (seriously, you need to read Ben’s piece if you have not already).
Another goal for Chris Wood last night makes this story more relevant. Is the big Kiwi a dominant attacking force? https://t.co/0HFGZxa79E— Ben Mallis (@BenMallis) December 14, 2016
Marcus Antonsson did not make the 18 yesterday at Elland Road, leading to even more concern about Wood being out. Souleymane Doukara has been helping in the attack and playing well of late, and 17-year-old Mallik Wilks made a surprise appearance on the bench, but the striker position is our weakest, even with a healthy Wood. It would be very damaging to our promotion hopes should he miss significant time.
Hopefully Wood’s injury is not serious. After playing Brentford at Elland Road on Saturday, the Whites have a nice break off until Boxing Day, which could very much help Wood. If he can be back in the squad around the holidays or by the New Year: crisis averted.
Talking Point 3: Leeds show their ability to attack, when they want to
12 matches into the season, Leeds had only scored 12 goals (and were sitting in 12th place, no less). In the last nine matches, Monk’s side has scored 13 goals. In those first 12 matches, when there was a lack of scoring, Leeds gained 16 points. In the last nine matches, after improving their scoring output, they have gained 19 points.
Leeds have clearly improved in the attack, which is the reason for their recent success. The defense at the back has been solid all season long, so an increase in goals, without suffering at the back (14 goals against in first 12 matches, 8 goals in the last 9) is fantastic news.
Now while you might say to yourself: “going from averaging one goal per match to around a goal and a half per match is not that remarkable of an improvement”, just remember this stat: when Leeds score 2 or more goals in a match this season, they have won nine times in nine matches. When they score less than 2 goals a match, in 12 matches they have won two, drawn two, and lost EIGHT.
Yesterday, Leeds started their most positive attacking 11 of the season. With Phillips out with suspension, Monk plugged in Stuart Dallas, a winger instead of a defensive mid, and the results proved themselves. In the first 33 minutes (before Wood’s injury forced a change), Leeds pressed the attack and looked a wholly different squad. Will Monk continue with a more attacking front six, putting more pressure on that back four?
This improved attacking production is an absolute gold mine for Garry Monk. If he puts his trust in it and the back four can hold strong, then Leeds are going to be in a great position come end of the season. MOT