One of the less controversial aspects of the defeat at Portman Road, where Leeds failed to make the most of an unremarkable Ipswich Town side pretty much there for the taking, was the straight red dismissal of Eunan O’Kane for violent conduct. The video evidence is incontrovertible; O’Kane, despite the inevitable protests, is bang to rights and was positively begging to be sent off; the referee, only yards from the incident, was always going to oblige.
What leaves a nastier than usual taste in the mouth is that this particular piece of lunacy, which went some way towards ensuring that his team-mates, employers and supporters would end up empty-handed, came hard on the heels of what now seems a rather sanctimonious tweet expressing disappointment over the equally stupid transgression of Samu Saiz a week earlier at Newport. People in glass houses shouldn’t thrown stones, we might reflect. To his credit, O’Kane himself left the field without protest; the expostulations have come from other quarters. Meanwhile, the whole sorry affair threatens to deflect us all from the more important issues arising out of this and other recent failures.
The uncomfortable fact is that, in the last three league games, Leeds United have failed to score one single solitary goal, That’s over 270 minutes of huffing and puffing to no effect, during which time they have contrived to lose to Birmingham, who were swatted aside 3-0 by Derby yesterday, and gain one point from a Nottingham Forest side who set out to stifle Leeds and comfortably managed it. Leaving aside the inglorious FA Cup episode at Newport, Leeds are suffering in the league, which is far, far more important. The loss of Saiz for six games deprives us of much of the limited cutting edge we’ve had and, without quality reinforcements during this window, the fear is that the season could be fizzling out rather early.
What appears to be happening, in line with the predictions of many much earlier in the campaign, is that the lack of depth in United’s squad is being exposed by a smattering of injuries and suspensions. These are occupational hazards of an attritional league programme, and will happen to any but the most fortunate of clubs – but the difference at the top end of the table will be the deeper resources of those who have invested sensibly in quality, providing competent back-up for most positions. United’s over-reliance on young, raw possibles, like Jay Roy Grot for instance, is ample proof that their recruitment at first team level has been – so far, at any rate – inadequate for the rigours of a Championship season.
One transfer move that has been completed, and for a player seemingly ready to step into the first team picture, too, is that of Yosuke Ideguchi, a highly-rated midfielder whose signing is seen as something of a coup for the Elland Road club. How strange it is then that, after a work permit was unexpectedly forthcoming, Ideguchi’s loan to Spanish side Cultural Leonesa has still gone ahead. One thing Leeds United really needs, to allow them maybe the luxury of playing two up top, is a combative box-to-box midfielder which might permit such a change of shape. On the bright side, the welcome signing of Laurens de Bock will provide options across the defensive line, with the versatility of Gaetano Berardi possibly allowing him to be more effective when freed from his unaccustomed left-back berth.
And it really is important to look on the bright side, after what has been a dismal January so far, especially on the field of play. The next two weeks, and this is no exaggeration, will define the rest of our season. The word from the club is that they are working hard to bring in players, with a striker high on the shopping list. As Leeds fans, we should perhaps avoid being distracted by pointless and futile appeals over daft red cards – and hope that the powers that be down LS11 way can see the urgency of the situation in and around the first team squad. The play-offs are still somehow a tantalising possibility, offering at least the chance of an exciting climax to the campaign. It’s down to the club now as to whether or not they have the ambition to seize the day and give us all a second half of this season to relish.
Really, after the start to 2018 Leeds United have provided, that’s the very least we deserve.