What you take from a goalless draw depends on both the nature of the game and your club’s current predicament. In some respects a point when not conceding can be classed as a sign of encouragement; a base to build on. In Leeds United’s prevailing situation – mounting discontent at continuous turmoil and more than a decade of hollow and unprofitable huffing and puffing – the resulting 0-0 draw was as unrewarding as Leeds fans have come to expect life to be, despite the positive spin that the main protagonists attempted to gloss it with.
Leeds’ head coach Steve Evans called his team’s ultimately futile second half performance an “absolute annihilation”. Compared to the listless and confused opening forty five minutes, Evans was right to paint a picture that depicted a black and white scenario, but Leeds fans are entitled to expect something more tangible from their side’s ‘annihilation’ than one point against a club in the bottom three and experiencing wholesale chagrin designed in Leeds United’s own image.
It is true that Saturday’s 0-0 draw was a Sol Bamba stride better than the frankly horrible 1-0 defeat at Queen’s Park Rangers in Leeds’ last away outing to the capital. But Leeds went into this game on the back of a stirring 2-1 victory over Hull City last weekend, and couldn’t have wished for a more presentable opportunity to add some credibility to their claims of being a resurgent team. What transpired has to be classed as a let-down, and while Evans talked up his team’s second half onslaught, winger Stuart Dallas must have missed the media training memo, as his more candid verdict was that the draw “felt like a defeat”. And he was right.
Dallas was instrumental in charging Leeds with more energy and intensity in the second half. The general consensus was that Leeds had ‘upped the tempo’, and indeed the second forty five minutes was full of Leeds probing and countless presentable openings fluffed. It was a half-performance reminiscent of how Leeds opened the game against Hull last week, but in essence, Leeds United’s problem is that too often they need to ‘up the tempo’ in order to affect the game. In Uwe Rösler’s time as head coach, this was usually when Leeds had already fallen behind, but regardless, the pace and spirit with which Leeds have played in patches in the last two games is the bare minimum that any decent side needs to show from 3pm every week. ‘Upping the tempo’ doesn’t bring with it a divine right to win games, and as Billy Bremner might once have claimed “you get nowt for upping the tempo”.
It would be wrong to say Leeds were unlucky not to win on Saturday. Charlton’s goalkeeper Stephen Henderson was not forced into a string of heroic saves, it was errant finishing that let Leeds down, indeed Marco Silvestri was more deserving of the full-time high-fives, with a fine low stop from Ricardo Vaz Te in the second half particularly responsible for earning Leeds a point.
Evans suggested that Leeds would have been robbed had Charlton won the game, and while that might be true in terms of Leeds’ second half domination, a neutral observer would be less convinced when a team performs only for one half out of two. Comparisons can certainly be made with other similar games during Steve Evans’ nine-match tenure as Leeds’ boss. Leeds have drawn away fixtures with Fulham, Bolton and now Charlton, all games where even Leeds appear on paper to be favourites to collect three points, and all games in which Leeds have ‘upped the tempo’ in patches to dominate territorially. But also, all games in which Leeds have ultimately failed to deliver.
Even in mid-December Leeds are running out of opportunities to take advantage of the travails of others, before they return to facing more stellar opposition in prime form. There are not many clubs in this division suffering a more chronic lack of confidence and experiencing more behind-the-scenes turmoil than Leeds United, but in Fulham, Bolton and Charlton Athletic, Leeds have just faced three of them. Rotherham are another, arguably Queen’s Park Rangers were at the time too. It is true that Leeds can raise their game against teams like Hull City, but fixtures that represent relatively easy pickings still pose Leeds problems and perhaps offer a more persuasive argument over their true position in the Championship. Few could argue that Leeds are much better than the 18th place they occupy at this moment, like a scolded puppy that’s just soiled the living room carpet.
On Thursday of this week Leeds travel to Molineux to face Wolverhampton Wanderers, where they haven’t won in the league in seven attempts, since 1984. Although Wolves haven’t won at home since early October, and conceded a late equaliser to Nottingham Forest at home on Saturday, the fixture still represents a troublesome one to Leeds. Of the two away games this week, you looked to Leeds to win at Charlton and draw at Wolves for an acceptable return. The opposite may still happen of course, but it would still demonstrate how exasperatingly unfathomable Leeds United can be.
Many would point to the fine margins that exist in games; how Tom Adeyemi’s shot from point blank range at Charlton could have sneaked inside the post rather than catching the outside of it, how Lewis Cook’s shot could have evaded Chris Wood and found the net rather than hitting him. Such fine margins were not down to bad luck, however, but a lack of quality and composure at the vital moment. That might come in time, and two games without defeat won’t do any harm in bringing some confidence, swagger and ruthlessness to the fore. But ‘upping the tempo’ just puts you toe-to-toe with the opposition. It brings you into a game that you previously weren’t in, ideally on a level footing. It’s the default setting at kick-off, or at least it should be. Leeds United need more than that.