LEEDS UNITED, head coach Marcelo Bielsa made clear last week, will not employ a ‘Plan B’ while he is in charge.
Instead, if ‘Plan A’ is not working in a game for whatever reason then his players have just one option: to do it better.
Such an approach was very much in evidence last night against Preston North End in the Carabao Cup.
Even Daniel Johnson putting the visitors in front with an early penalty and then Brandon Barker doubling that lead in first-half stoppage-time could not tempt United away from the passing principles instilled by Bielsa since his arrival in the summer.
The problem was that said passing game was performed pretty poorly against ten-man Preston to suggest that Leeds lack not only a ‘Plan B’ but also a ‘B-team’ capable of supplementing a side that has so caught the eye in the early weeks of the season.
Bielsa made nine changes from the XI that returned to the summit of the Championship in such convincing fashion on Saturday by triumphing 3-0 at Norwich City.
Few pressed their case for future inclusion in Bielsa’s first-choice XI during a sloppy second-round display that saw the home side suffering from a total inability to beat the first man when crossing from out wide.
This woeful delivery stretched to corners – Leeds had no fewer than 15, but not one of them was any good – and a Preston side who had Ryan Ledson dismissed on the half-hour were full value for their win.
Even the introduction of Samuel Saiz and Mateusz Klich at the interval, plus Ezgjan Alioski on the hour, could not pep up Leeds in front of an 18,652 crowd.
The tone for the struggles that followed was set inside the first minute as Stuart Dallas, captain for the night, was caught in possession wide on the right flank.
United’s stirring start to the season has been built on an ability to play out from the back at such a speed that defence is turned into attack within seconds.
But Dallas’s mistake saw the ball eventually find Louis Moult and he was too nippy for Connor Shaughnessy on the defender’s first outing since January.
The resulting foul and penalty award from referee Tony Harrington allowed Johnson to mark his 150th appearance for Preston by finishing calmly from 12 yards.
North End’s second goal on the stroke of half-time was similarly avoidable from a Leeds perspective.
Brandon Barker, after collecting the ball close to the centre circle, deserves credit for the powerful run and finish that left Jamal Blackman grasping at air in the home goal.
But, first, Kalvin Phillips and then the back four should have made life much more difficult for Barker en route to his second goal of the season in this competition.
That pretty much summed up the opening 45 minutes, as a disjointed display from the hosts meant Chris Maxwell’s goal was threatened only fleetingly.
Pontus Jansson’s header was blocked on the line by Ben Davies, though it lacked sufficient power to truly trouble the North End captain.
Patrick Bamford, who did show some neat touches up front, also had a shot from 20 yards beaten away by Maxwell.
Otherwise, though, Leeds toiled and credit for that must go to Preston.
Moult, Johnson, Tom Barkhuizen and Josh Harrop all pressed the Leeds defence as a unit from the very start and ensured what has been a usually reliable passing radar this term was way off beam.
Even the dismissal of Ledson –the fourth red card for North End in as many visits to Elland Road –on the half-hour failed to disrupt the visitors.
Ledson could have few complaints after a horrible follow through with his studs crashing into the shin of Lewis Baker after the Leeds man had initially been beaten to the ball fairly.
Barker’s strike on the stroke of half-time meant Preston had some vital breathing space in their quest to make light of United’s numerical superiority.
Bielsa’s response was to send on Saiz and Klich, but even the presence of a duo who have been so integral to the club’s early season form could not provide the necessary spark.
The hosts did have efforts on goal, but most were from distance and off target, Maxwell not being called into action until stoppage-time when he had to beat away a Lewis Baker shot moments before the final whistle blew to signal Bielsa’s first defeat in English football.
Leeds United: Blackman; Dallas, Jansson, Shaughnessy (Saiz 46), Pearce; Phillips; Roberts (Alioski 60), Baker, Shackleton (Klich 46), Harrison; Bamford. Unused substitutes: Huffer, Ayling, Douglas, Roofe.
Preston North End: Maxwell; Fisher, Storey, Davies, Earl; Barkhuizen, Johnson (Pearson 70), Ledson, Barker (Browne 72); Harrop, Moult (Nmecha 75). Unused substitutes: Rudd, Hughes, Burke, Huntington.
Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).