Football League Round Up: Are Leeds falling apart?

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 03 February 2018, 20:35

Gabriel Sutton picks out four of the main talking points from Saturday's Football League action, focusing on Mansfield, Leeds, Barnet and Rotherham.

Mansfield fit for League One

The League Two promotion race is far too open to talk about Mansfield Town’s promotion with any degree of certainty, but it’s hard to deny they look a third-tier side in waiting.

It took them 20 minutes to truly assert their dominance on Barnet and, with a couple of deflections that didn’t quite fall their way, they could easily have opened the scoring earlier than they did. Alex MacDonald, who hit the outside of the far post from the left channel earlier in the match, found the inside of it from a similar position with a wonderful strike to open the scoring on 38 minutes.

The Stags simply took control from there – strikers Danny Rose and Kane Hemmings forced the visiting defence back with the former’s selfless stretching of play and the latter’s imposing physicality. That allowed the likes of MacDonald and Will Atkinson to pick up second balls, with the latter scoring the second goal – a second half header from MacDonald’s corner from the left.

Left-sided duo Mal Benning and CJ Hamilton caused problems all afternoon and the latter’s low breakaway cross found Rose, who applied a simple finish at the back-post midway through the second period. It wasn’t quite the perfect afternoon for Steve Evans, who saw centre-back Rhys Bennett attempt a soft header back to Conrad Logan in a communication mix-up, which resulted in no clean sheet.

Mansfield’s defence – which wasn’t quite as commanding as it could have been during Barnet’s late surge - might be the one area that didn’t have League One written all over it.

Barnet in peril

Barnet could not have complained had they lost by more. A sufficiently competitive opening 20 minutes from the Bees, combined with a spirited yet futile late rally, meant that the inadequacies they showed in the interluding hour weren’t punished as severely as they could have been.

Having been a possession side under Rossi Eames – who arguably encouraged too much sideways passing – Graham Westley has taken them to the other extreme. He wanted them to play the ball forward at every opportunity, but the result was aimless and careless passes that had no hope of finding the intended recipient.

While they could have done little about the impressive opener, they had ridden their luck beforehand when various loose balls in the penalty area had fallen their way, rather than to blue and yellow shirts. Charlie Clough was for long spells the only defender that looked reasonably alert, sometimes bailing out the frail looking Ricardo Santos.

Poor marking from a corner saw them concede the second and then a third as their defence was split wide open, with the midfield chasing shadows.

If there was to be one crumb of comfort for the 79 hardy Barnet fans who made the trip, it would be the impact of the three substitutes. New signing Nicholson looked bright and inventive, Jack Taylor added raw energy while Simeon Akinola managed to get hold of a few forward passes and pounced on a Stags error to grab a late consolation.

The trio might have played their way into the starting line-up for next week’s hosting of Notts County, where the Bees look to cut the seven-point gap to safety. Things look bleak for the Bees.

Leeds falling apart?

We have long considered Norwich and Ipswich to be little more than outsiders for the Championship play-offs. After the two East Anglian clubs won on Saturday afternoon, they are both just one point below Leeds United, who lost 4-1 at home to Cardiff.

That is an indication of how the Whites have fallen into a different category of teams. We had thought of them as genuine promotion contenders in the early weeks of the season – and a solid bet for the play-offs around Christmas time - yet now they are merely one of the also-rans. What is this form down to?

Recruitment is one to blame - Victor Orta is not a popular man with fans and after Robert Green, Kyle Bartley and Chris Wood haven't been properly replaced, it is easy to see why. A combination of injuries and ill-discipline is also a problem.

They now have Gaetano Berardi - who was dismissed in the Cardiff game - Liam Cooper, Eunan O’Kane and Samuel Saiz suspended with Luke Ayling and Pontus Jansson injured: that list includes not only their best player in Saiz, but also their regular back-four. When we consider that defences perform at their best when there is some kind of tactical consistency, we can see how much the enforced changes have disrupted matters.

Thomas Christiansen’s side appear unable to properly defend. In their previous home game, a 4-3 defeat to Millwall, they let opposing players get countless guilt-edged back-post chances, prior to Cooper’s sending off. Despite a spirited come-back in that one, they undid all their good work through more sloppy defending.

Unless the West Yorkshire club can cut out the errors and ill-discipline whilst finding some stability at the back, this will be a season of regression.

Moore-less Millers march on

We saw last night how Bolton Wanderers performed well after the sale of Gary Madine: Rotherham United, who had lost a target man of their own in Kieffer Moore, appear to have mustered a similar response.

The last game Moore played in was on 30th December in a 2-1 win at Walsall, where he made a huge difference as a substitute. In the first half, Jerry Yates had showed plenty of energy but didn’t provide the biggest goal threat, nor had he developed the physical qualities required to hold onto the ball for long enough to bring the midfield and partner David Ball into play. As soon as Moore came on at half-time, he gave his side a focal point, occupied centre-backs and won the knock-down for Ball’s winner.

When Moore’s loan spell was cut short and he went to Barnsley, the question was whether Rotherham could cope: replacement Michael Smith had had a forgettable spell at cellar-dwellers Bury.

In fact, Smith has been brilliant – he played a starring role in Saturday’s 2-0 win over AFC Wimbledon. After a bright opening quarter of an hour, the tall front man poked home following a clever chip from Joe Newell. The left-footed midfielder also crossed to set up Burton Albion loanee Matty Palmer, but the debutant skewed a presentable opening wide.

His miss meant Rotherham had to weather the Wombles storm at times, but they limited the visitors to just one shot on target, a sign that Richard Wood’s experience is coming to the fore at centre-back while Semi Ajayi has cut out his early season errors. Full-backs Josh Emmanual and Joe Mattock provided solid protection, allowing Ball to clinch victory in injury-time by following in a rebound after Ryan Williams’ shot was parried.

Had the League One season started after Moore left Rotherham, they would currently be third in the table after three wins and two draws - Kieffer who?

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