Monday, March 23, 2015

Leeds United: Five observations from Blackpool draw

Yorkshire Evening Post 23/3/15
LEEDS UNITED chiselled out a hard-fought weekend draw on an unforgiving surface at League One bound Blackpool on an afternoon when flowing football was a complete no-no - with the pitch more suitable for donkey rides than a Championship tussle. Mirco Antenucci’s point at least helped Leeds maintain their strong away form, which has seen them lose just once on the road in the league since December 30. Here’s a few thoughts from the 1-1 weekend draw at Bloomfield Road.

1: Pity poor Blackpool, but their pitch is an absolute disgrace.
The mudheap will be completely ripped up in the off season, having been surveyed by the Institute of Groundsmanship at the end of February - with remedial work - including verti-draining and reseeding - having already taking place. It made passing football virtually impossible on the day with Leeds’ attempts floundering in the first period with a number of players struggling to get into the game at all. Pragmatic, percentage football was the only option, with Blackpool, to their credit, successfully showing the way in the first half - working off a big centre-forward who played well on the day in Gary Madine and relying on bits of quality from Andrea Orlandi. It is not a surface for short passing, not in a million years.
When it comes to lining up on poor surfaces after Leeds’ recent visit to Wigan, Neil Redfearn and his troops are not out of the woods yet with the surface of Hillsborough on April 25 also likely to be pretty awful. At least Redfearn and his players have been pre-warned.
Blackpool have had their few share of troubles this season, which has resembled a real mess on and off the pitch, quite literally. It’s a surface where you certainly would not want to go on the final day of the season, aiming for promotion or relegation. A bit of a lottery, for sure.

2: Neil Redfearn was proactive with his substitutions and his double change worked.
After witnessing a dire first-half, when Billy Sharp was feeding off total scraps and the midfield failed to get a foothold in the game, Redfearn commendably changed it early on and didn’t waste any time - throwing Mirco Antenucci and Steve Morison into their fray on 54 minutes early in the second half. It made a telling difference.
Morison’s physicality gave Leeds something to work off in the final third and Antenucci produced an impressive cameo and was the one visiting player on the day to handle the surface and show glimpses of quality with some decent link-up play and a tidy goal.
Redfearn did not let things fester just as he didn’t the previous weekend against Forest, although his changes then didn’t quite come off by way of a goal.

3: The international break has probably come at a good time for Leeds players.
After two away-days at Fulham and Blackpool, a fair bit has been taken out of the tank of United, on the back foot for long spells at Craven Cottage and having to do it tough at Bloomfield Road in a difficult first half. Leeds’ players have travelled a long way, football wise, this calendar year and a bit of time to recharge their batteries will be welcome. They have earned that bit of rest and recuperation time to be fair with their impressive efforts to transform their season so far in 2015. It wasn’t half looking grim at the end of December, don’t forget.
Alex Mowatt and Lewis Cook may not be afforded rest during to their international commitments with England, but that will represent a change of scenery and reward that both are entitled to and will energise them and they have thoroughly earned their calls-ups - expect them to be used sensibly too by England bosses, who will be mindful of the amount of club football they have played this term. Neil Redfearn has let them know, for sure.

4: Mirco Antenucci is in pole position to start against Blackburn Rovers on the resumption of Championship business on April 4.
It’s been a difficult second-half of the season for the Italian, who was Leeds’s main man up front before Christmas. His start has dimmed a fair bit since, but he has kept his head down and done his graft in training and he has got his rewards by way of two goals in successive games after coming on from the bench at Fulham and Blackpool to take his seasonal tally to ten this term. It’s a decent achievement in his first season in the muck and nettles of the Championship. Given United’s struggle for goals up front this season, Antenucci at least provides a bit of cutting edge. He was the only offensive player in a United jersey to show signs of mastering the surface at times at the weekend.

5: A draw at Blackpool is not the worst result in the world - and was a fair one on the day.
Leeds’ may have rated at even-money to triumph on Saturday against a side who came into the game on the back of six straight losses, but in mitigation, Blackpool have saved all their decent performances this term for Bloomfield Road.
Lee Clark’s side have beaten Brighton, Cardiff, Millwall and Birmingham drawn with Wolves and Nottingham Forest on home soil and given the likes of Derby, Watford and Middlesbrough difficult games and have been competitive in a number of home fixtures if not exactly earth shattering. They have also taken more points at home than Millwall or Wigan.
Factor in also that Leeds have a day less to prepare for the weekend, with Blackpool having doubt trained on the pitch beforehand. And playing at home to Leeds is never an ordinary run-of-the-mill Championship game, given the atmosphere that Leeds supporters generate. Teams will always want to beat Leeds and give that extra bit of effort.