In a weekend that typified the very nature of the Championship, Leeds managed to close the gap between themselves and the play off places to five points, this despite conceding an injury time equaliser at Wolves that extended the Whites’ winless away run to six games.
As Leicester, Hull and Middlesbrough all lost and Watford and Crystal Palace drew against each other, Leeds late heartbreak wasn’t as costly as perhaps it should have been. But Warnock was left cursing his luck for the second Saturday in succession as a sense of frustration continues to develop. He feels the last two performances have warranted the maximum six points, but the net result was just a solitary point, hardly the kind of form required if Leeds are to meet their ultimate objective.
The frustration is that this league is genuinely there for the taking. Barring runaway leaders Cardiff City, no other team has shown enough consistency to fully take advantage of a league that is high in excitement but appears lower in quality than in previous years. As such, Middlesbrough have lost every league game since the turn of the year (5 in total), yet remain inside the play off places as the chasing pack continue to trip over each other, as well as themselves.
So Neil Warnock is correct in his assertion that now is the time for a run of form and now is the time for no more excuses. He is happier with his squad now than at any stage during his time at Leeds, which is on the verge of entering a second year. “I wish we’d started the season with this squad, I’d be very happy starting the season now” he told BBC.
And the strength of the squad has unquestionably been aided by the loan acquisition of Ross Barkley from Everton, who has made four appearances thus far for Leeds. He was the outstanding talent in a struggling Sheffield Wednesday side whilst on loan at Hillsbrough earlier in the season, and he has shown enough in his short time at Leeds that he is just the kind of player required in a promotion chase.
Barkley’s initial loan deal is due to expire after Tuesday’s visit to Middlesbrough (a crucial game that Leeds simply need to win) but Warnock has been, and will continue to be, in discussions with David Moyes over securing the youngster longer term. Perhaps surprisingly, Warnock wants to evaluate other possibilities before reaching a definitive conclusion over whether to keep Barkley on for an extended period of time.
Surely it is an opportunity he should be jumping at without a second thought. With the transfer window now shut, the only alternative to bringing in new players in via the loan market, and there aren’t too many better options in that particular market than Barkley. Yes Leeds still require a winger, and will have to use the loan avenue again, but that is no reason to not keep Barkley for the remainder of the season.
Leeds have been over ran in midfield all too often this season, and have also been short of creative input from the midfield department. Ross Barkley offers a viable answer to help solving both these issues. With Rodolph Austin still appearing short of full match fitness after his horrific injury, and the ageing Michael Brown’s habit of slowing the game down just when the pace needs picking up, Leeds need someone in the centre with a bit of a spark.
With resources far from unlimited at Elland Road, Neil Warnock needs to use what he has at his disposal wisely and efficiently over the final seventeen matches if Leeds are to stand any realistic hope of ending up in those much sought after play off places. Against Cardiff, Barkley was, oddly, put on the right wing and against Wolves he wasn’t in the starting 11 altogether. This is hardly making best use of those resources and perhaps the reason why Leeds remain absent from the promotion picture.
Come on Neil. Get Barkley signed up for the remainder of the season, and play him where he is most effective.