Where do we start? Leeds were unchanged, just Ramon Nunez replacing the injured Ross McCormack on the bench. Let’s be honest, we looked shaky from the outset but particularly in the spell between John “The Beast” Parkin’s tap in after 5 minutes and our equaliser.. The rotund (ok fat bastard) striker was causing problems but it was the ease with which Preston were getting to and through our back four which was particularly worrying. Not until Becchios equaliser did Leeds get going. Once we started to play we were outstanding for half an hour. Not only did we score 3 more goals, the quality of football was superb. However the key moment of the game was undoubtedly Preston immediatley making it 4-2 after Somma had just netted his second. Instantly they were lifted and Leeds seemed to panic. The intense period of pressure just before half time saw us hanging on and the half time whistle came as a relief.
So should Grayson have made changes at half time? In the immediate aftermath I thought not. To throw on a defensive midfielder would have sent out the negative message that we felt we were hanging on. I think that Grayson felt we would see out the opening 15 minutes, and was obviously hoping that the break would halt the momentum and allow Leeds to get back into the game and to reimpose themselves on the game.
Hindsight says that it was a disastrous decision. Preston, bouyed by the goal, tore into us at the start of the second half. Leeds were architects of their own downfall. Allowing a corner to sail in directly and then giving away a penalty. All of a sudden the game is level and Grayson now had a problem. Does he want to shut down the game and take a point, or does he continue to try and attack to salvage the win that had slipped from our grasp. Grayson obviously felt the midfield were not using the ball well enough and brought on Kilkenny to try to get us back to playing football. However he took off one of the most impressive player in the 1st half, Lloyd Sam. This saw Gradel switch to the right and Bradley Johnson go left. Graysons problem now was that he had taken away our one player who was in the side to battle in midfield. Preston overran us from that moment on and it was only a matter of time before they scored again.
The defending for the two goals that won PNE the game was laughable. Parkin was given far too much time and space to turn his vast weight and fire in his third and put Preston in front. This goal now left Grayson needing to make changes to chase the game. Unfortunately his hands were tied in two ways. He had to pep up the attack but with gaps the size of the Grand Canyon already being exposed all over the field, he needed to gain some semblance of control. Secondly the cupboard was pretty bare in terms of attacking options. On the night there was really only one forward he could bring off.
The lack of form being shown by Luciano Becchio is one that is going to cause a few headaches. Lauded for his work rate last season, with the loss of Beckford it has become clear how one dimensional he is. On Tuesday he didn’t even work hard, yet He IS the focal point of the attack. He is the only player we have who will do the donkey work, who will chase and harry, who will win headers and do the ugly side of forward play. All our other fit forward are flair players or wide men. The introduction on Tuesday of Sanchez Watt was a futile gesture, one of a poker player with a few chips going all in with a terrible hand. He had no other choice.
PNE’s 6th ended all hope we had and summed up the bizzare night, Ian Hume rising unmarked to head in at the back post. Leeds managed to find a little in the closing stages but were restricted to long range efforts and a Johnson free kick which hit the post.
So a disastrous night, the unpredictability of the Championship rolled up into a handy 90 minute sized portion. A win would have seen us 3rd, defeat saw us drop to 10th. Despite a poor night and the criticism Grayson received after the game for his inability to change the team to protect our lead, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, pleading the mitigating circumstances discussed above – Playing beautifully for half an hour, the collapse happening so quickly and the lack of options on the bench. I say I was prepared but then I saw an interview for the YEP ” Preston defeat was Groundhog Day” (http:/bit.ly/doHNgf) where he said the following ‘If you want to bore the crowd and the opposition and take a 4-1 win then so be it … That’s fine by me. You’ve won the game and you’ve taken the professional route of getting the points however you get them’
As I’ve stated, I felt that Grayson thought we would play our way out of trouble. If as he says he was unhappy with it at half time, then in my opinion it’s pretty weak management not to change it. If he has no qualms about boring the crowd, then why didn’t he do it?
Grayson in the same interview also said ‘Too many players were playing their own game, instead of taking responsibility for the team’ I don’t know who he is talking about here. Was it the players he took off? I thought Sam was excellent and I don’t think it is in Becchio or Howsons nature to put self over team. So if he was unhappy with someones performance, why did he leave them on?
There will be changes for Ipswich. ‘A lot of thoughts will go through my head … I need to thinl about how were going to play on Saturday and what were going to do’ Grayson has said. It seems certain that Amdy Faye will make his debut but the question is wether it will be alongside Howson or Kilkenny in a 4-4-2 or as the base of a diamond in a more protective role. As I sit in the car on the way to Portman Road I will stick my neck out and say we will go with as diamond today and suggest the following line up:
Hughes. Bruce. Collins. McCartney