Millwall's Christ Wood shoots past Paddy Kenny for the match-winning goal. - Charlie Crowhurst
United haven't had a solid defence in the last three years. Even after this season's summer rebuilding under Neil Warnock, we're still constantly leaking goals. Now, why is that exactly?
Leeds have always suffered from defensive problems since we’ve returned to the Championship.
Our first season back (10-11 season) when we finished 7th in the league our total goals tally stood at 81, while we conceded a total of 70. That’s a goal difference of +11. We were one of only two teams (Leicester) who finished in the top half of the table with 70+ goals conceded, and out of the 24 teams in the league, only five teams (including Leeds) conceded 70+ and did not get relegated.
Nottingham Forest finished one place above us inside the playoff places. They conceded 20 less goals than we did, and finished a mere three points ahead of us. Had we avoided conceding just two goals at critical moments (say, avoiding the 1-1 draws with Forest and Norwich and winning both games) in that season, we would’ve made the playoffs and had a chance to gain promotion.
The next year, the 11-12 season, we did a lot worse, finishing 14th in the Championship. Our goals tally had decreased to 65 for, and 68 against, with a goal difference of -3. The goals against statistic would suggest that our defence was strengthened (the departure of Kasper Schmeichel didn't actually have that much to do with the improvement) but all three statistics just suggest we played a lot less open football when compared to the season before.
Currently (as of the 26/11/12) we’re 15th in the Championship, with 26 goals scored, and 30 against. That’s -4, folks. With our main striker Ross McCormack out injured, and with Luciano Becchio our remaining real chance of scoring, we can’t expect to outscore our way up the league like we tried in 2010-11, nor can we try and keep a tight ship and play it safe like we did last year, since we still don’t have the players for it to work. And why not? Well, the lack of out-and-out goal scorers is always going to be an issue, but the back line is also key.
Right now, the Leeds back four could be any combination of:
Lee Peliter (Captain) - CB/Anywhere
Adam Drury - LB/CB
Tom Lees - CB/RB
Jason Pierce - CB
Patrick Kisnorbo - CB
Alan Tate (On loan from Swansea City) - RB/Anywhere
Sam Byram - RB/RWB
Aidy White - LB/LWB
Charlie Taylor - LB
And those whose chances of featuring are significantly less right now:
Zac Thompson (On loan to Bury) - RB
Paul Connolly (Transfer listed) - RB
Leigh Bromby (Injured for 12/13 season) - CB/RB
Let’s go through these one by one:
Lee Peltier: Our captain seems more comfortable at centre-half then his is a fullback.
Alan Tate: Described by Warnock as having a “calming influence” on the back line. Only one game played, and we have him on loan until January 2013.
Tom Lees: Looks much more solid this year than he did last year, a result of having responsibility being thrust at him.
Sam Byram: Another youthful player who’s an eager attacking force, but not yet experienced enough in the backline. It’ll come in time.
Aidy White: A archetypical wing-back who’s just below being solid in defence, while almost threatening while attacking. Young, with plenty of time to improve as a defender, provided he’s played consistently at wing-back.
Jason Pierce: One of our best defenders, though that’s not saying much.
Adam Drury: Hasn’t played that much for us this season, with like eight appearances so far, and when he has he’s been nothing special.
Paddy Kisnorbo: Hasn’t been the same player since the injury... actually, injuries.
Zac Thompson: Young, on loan to Bury to gain the much needed-experience. Will probably feature a lot more next season.
Charlie Taylor: Young, and if all goes well he has a bright future in the game, but right now he’s not experienced enough.
Leigh Bromby: A utility player for the defence, but never anything special.
Paul Connolly: At 29 it’s safe to consider him old and – with his level of ability – his Leeds career is over. Transfer listed to allow him to finish off his playing days at a club where he’ll actually play.
And as a unit:
Byram ------- Lees ------ Pearce ------- Peltier
The above is most played unit (I could be wrong) so far this season, and, well, it could be stronger. We’ve only kept three clean sheets so far this season, out of 18 games. Another interesting statistic: the opposition have scored first against us on nine occasions, and out of four occurrences where we’ve been losing at halftime, we’ve never won a game.
There are reasons as to why our backline hasn’t been as solid as we’d like. For starters, some of the players such as Lees, Byram and White are young and still learning their trade, while players like Kisnorbo, Bromby and Connolly’s time is winding down fairly quickly. That leaves Peltier, Pearce, Drury and now Tate; four players, who until this season, have never played together. That sentence is true almost for any Leeds back four (Maybe Byram/Lees/White have played together in the youth squad?) and at the end of the day, new signings aren’t going to make a difference when a back-four lack cohesion they will eventually gain from playing enough games.
So, questions remain: do we wait, and have faith in Neil Warnock’s transfer window buys and team selections? Do we believe that our defence will level out eventually, and for now it’s better to focus on our attack, which for the most part is Becchio and Diouf? Or do we give out about our defenders and hope GFH’s money will go to buying defenders specifically? Or can we get promoted and survive in the Championship and/or Premier League without a strong defence?