Leeds United’s ‘fortress’ just a house of cards now

Leeds United's Luke Ayling.
 Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Leeds United's Luke Ayling. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
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IT would be wise not to utter the phrase ‘Super Saturday’ if you are in the vicinity of a Leeds United supporter this morning.

While TV overlords hyped up proceedings in Rio in their insatiable desire for a re-run of those unforgettable events in London on the middle Saturday of the 2012 Olympics – and got their wish with something resembling an encore for Team GB – a dodgy repeat was aired at Elland Road.

Michael Morrison puts Birmingham 2-1 up against Leeds United at Elland Road on Saturday.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Michael Morrison puts Birmingham 2-1 up against Leeds United at Elland Road on Saturday. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

On how many occasions has early hope and promise been crushed in front of an expectant audience at LS11 in self-inflicted fashion in recent years? Several...

It was all so familiar with events of a decrepit second-half leaving a visibly angry Garry Monk berating his players’ lily-livered mentality and passive traits, with the old habits of recent years under a succession of previous head coaches clearly dying hard.

He spoke about turning Elland Road into a ‘fortress’ in his programme notes. More house of cards on this evidence.

One school of thought might suggest that at least Monk knows what he has taken on after seeing plenty of the bad side of Leeds, just two league games in.

Hadi Sacko moves past Maikel Kieftenbeld.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

Hadi Sacko moves past Maikel Kieftenbeld. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

That will be scant consolation to Monk after a painful first league outing on home soil, less so if Leeds contrive to get beaten at home to Fulham tomorrow, which would constitute an early-season drama with half of August to go.

Defeat on Saturday was galling in the extreme given a substantive first half when positives were not hard to find.

Vim and vigour arrived from the likes of Alex Mowatt in a welcome rewind and Marcus Antonsson in his first start. Others, too.

But the fire abated, leaving Monk to smell the coffee and reflect on a skinny-latte of a 90-minute performance when he wanted a full-blooded espresso.

Clearly, United’s players were left in no uncertain terms as to what Monk made of their feeble second-half offering, which he, rightly, labelled as ‘soft’ and ‘unacceptable.’ No arguments there.

On what Monk said, captain Sol Bamba commented: “I cannot say that because there were a few words that I cannot say...

“But he is right to be angry and personally as a player we cannot accept that (performance) and we need to react on Tuesday.

“The second half was nowhere near good enough. The tempo of the game was slow, our passes were slow and obviously we are conceding goals again at set pieces which is an Achilles heel and we need to work on that.

“It hurts to lose two games on the bounce. At the minute, it is too early and we do not look at the table, but we are hurt as we have not managed to get one on the board.”

The game-breaking moment was depressingly familiar with Leeds showing a dereliction of defensive duty in failing to cope with a routine cross, with Michael Morrison firing home in comfort.

Birmingham’s opener also exposed defensive deficiencies as the visitors cut through Leeds like a knife through butter before Jacques Maghoma slid home.

It was a back-four display which left a lot to be desired, with Leeds also bullied in midfield on the restart, with Bamba candidly acknowledging United’s failings.

Alluding to the second goal, he added: “You can play all the systems in the world, but if you do not have the desire to make sure your man does not score, there is no point, so I think we need to work on that; the gaffer has been very specific on that.

“We showed again that we are not with it, but we are going to make sure we are going to work on that for the next game.”

The early signs had been encouraging with United fans, bathed in early-season sunshine, warming to the hosts’ front-foot efforts in a frenetic opening.

It went close to yielding a breakthrough that few could have argued with; the most dangerous moment seeing Antonsson’s rasping shot clip the bar.

But a sucker-punch from Birmingham left United exposed, with Stephen Gleeson releasing the pacy Maghoma, who outstripped Charlie Taylor before slotting the ball past the onrushing Rob Green on 15 minutes.

United’s reaction was decent, although a deflected strike from David Cotterill was inches away from a second, but soon after, parity was restored.

Mowatt crowned a barnstorming opening half-hour with a lovely pass to slip in Hadi Sacko, although his strike owed much more to the ineptitude of Tomasz Kuszczak, who let his low shot squirm under him into the net.

Kuszczak showed rather more prowess to beat away a fierce strike from debutant Luke Ayling before the home faithful were left to reflect on a rewarding enough half at the interval.

By the final whistle, they were mulling over a shoddy second-half showing, which left a rather more sour taste as Leeds wilted.

Gleeson’s drive was a whisker away before Morrison lashed Blues in front after submissive United palpably failed to cope with Jon Grounds’ routine cross.

Monk attempted to wrestle back the initiative by introducing Kemar Roofe for the disappointing Chris Wood, with Kalvin Phillips later coming on for Mowatt, who faded considerably.

Belated purpose did arrive in the final quarter, but it lacked conviction, yet Leeds did come close when Gleeson diverted Phillips’s corner towards goal, but Kuszczak instinctively blocked.

Antonsson was then allowed space in the area, but his shot was straight at Kuszczak and despite seven minutes of stoppage-time, there was no grandstand finish.

Leeds United: Green; Ayling, Bamba, Bartley, Taylor; Hernandez (Dallas 86), Vieira; Sacko, Antonsson, Mowatt (Phillips 73); Wood (Roofe 60). Unused substitutes: Turnbull, Coyle, Cooper, Grimes.

Birmingham City: Kuszczak; Spector, Morrison, Shotton, Grounds; Kieftenbeld, Cotterill, Davis (Tesche 66), Gleeson (Robinson 90), Maghoma; Donaldson. Unused substitutes: Ledzdins, Fabbrini, Adams, Stewart, Storer.

Referee: P Tierney (Lancashire).