The boos that reverberated around Oakwell at around 5 o’clock on Saturday afternoon left Neil Warnock in no uncertain terms of the dissatisfaction felt by Leeds United supporters after another substandard away day performance. With Leeds fans making up over a third of the overall attendance, there was an expectancy that Leeds would rise to the occasion against the Championship’s bottom club and give them a performance to be proud of.
But thrashing’s at Oakwell are becoming an annual occasion for Leeds, who have now suffered unhandsome defeats in each of the last three seasons (5-2, 4-1 and Saturday’s 2-0 loss.)
The 2-0 scoreline was far from an accurate representation of a game that Barnsley dictated from first whistle to last, a four of five goal winning margin would have been a more fairer reflection, and for the first time during his tenure at Leeds, Neil Warnock is now beginning to feel the pressure from the increasingly disgruntled supporters whose patience is wearing thin.
Ironically, Warnock had talked pre match about Leeds’ last visit to Oakwell, a game that the Whites took a 4-1 battering and marked the beginning of the end for his predecessor Simon Grayson. That match, he argued, was one of the worst performances ever in the clubs illustrious history, an assertion that the Leeds fans present that day will testify to. On that analysis, however, Saturday’s horror show must also rank alongside such an unwanted tag.
Unfortunately for Leeds, such inept performances aren’t an anomaly and are becoming an increasing normality under Warnock’s reign. Far too often in recent weeks, Leeds have been completely overran in midfield, and have been forced into hoofball tactics which only result in the ball coming straight back to a far from assured defensive line.
Whilst off the pitch the situation appears, on the outside at least, to be upwardly positive, the deterioration of quality on the pitch has seen Leeds fans question whether Warnock is the man to get the club back to the promise land, a destination that seems to get further and further away with each passing season. The GFH honeymoon period has abruptly ended and the new owners have suddenly gone quiet.
Warnock is, quite rightly, feeling the pressure now and he will be thankful that a half decent home record has at least enabled Leeds to stay in touch of the promotion places, a remarkable position considering the displays Leeds have served up this season. Things need to improve quickly and this could well mean a trip into the uncertain waters of the January transfer market. The arrival of Ross Barkley on loan from Everton was a welcome addition but more still needs to be done. Leeds lack pace and quality, so a winger and another attack minded midfielder should be a priority.
But the problem won’t simply be resolved by a couple of player additions. Neil Warnock’s tactics are becoming increasingly peculiar and it is no good having a good squad if they aren’t used correctly. Lee Peltier continues to be played at left back despite being naturally right, resulting in the talented Adam Drury restricted to bench warming duties. Peltier, as club captain, has been predominantly poor this season, but playing him out of position does him, nor the rest of the defence, any favours.
Moving up the pitch, Warnock has spent money on young Ryan Hall from Southend, a pacey winger that has qualities that Leeds so badly lack this season. Yet Hall has found game time limited, and Leeds have instead been playing with three central midfielders in a 4-4-2 formation, ironically still continuing to lose the majority of midfield battles in the process. It is evident that Leeds need pace injected into their side so it is baffling to say the least that Hall continues to be overlooked. Another young winger, Dominic Poleon, is also underused despite being called back from a loan spell at Bury and shining when given his opportunity earlier in the campaign.
January is a time for Warnock to stamp more authority on this Leeds team, and bring in some players that can add that crucial extra quality. But continued levels of poor performances will see Warnock’s time at Leeds under serious jeopardy.