It’s tough to make a case for this City defence
PUBLISHED: 10:00 06 May 2017
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The fact that City can be irresistible going forward when the mood takes them but show less backbone than an amoeba when the going gets tough defensively is hardly news, so the loss of a three-goal lead at Elland Road will surprise nobody.
In fact, City at least showed enough grit to hang on for the point, so I suppose that’s progress of a kind.
However, one incident in particular stuck in my mind. As the City players were celebrating their third goal, Alan Irvine grabbed Mitchell Dijks and was clearly stressing the need for his back four to concentrate with half-time imminent.
Despite that, less than a minute later Chris Wood was slipping between a ball-watching Ryan Bennett and a dozing Dijks to get Leeds back into a game they should really have been out of.
There’s been plenty of criticism of the work done at Colney this season, but that was the sort of incident that would make any coach want to tear his hair out, and Irvine’s post-game anger was perfectly justified.
Inevitably the defensive unit will be the main focus of the summer rebuilding exercise, as Tuesday’s list of released players indicated, and it’s important to appreciate that while a lot of attention has been paid to the clear inadequacies of City’s centre-backs, the defensive problems don’t start and end there.
There have been too many free headers on offer this season, but it’s also the case that City’s full-backs have been poor at stopping crosses. While Ivo Pinto is a better defender than the one that arrived at Carrow Road last January he still has work to do, particularly on his vulnerability when defending crosses coming from City’s left.
Dijks too, for all his physical presence and muscular surges forward is a far from convincing defender and has a worrying tendency to lose concentration at key moments, Leeds’ first goal being a perfect example.
Goalkeeping has also been an issue, with both John Ruddy and Michael McGovern often failing to dominate their penalty areas. With the position now up for grabs I’d love to see a keeper who is willing to come and deal with crosses because that can take so much pressure off a defence that’s under the cosh.
However, distribution skills on the ground have become an essential part of a goalkeeper’s armoury these days and I would expect that to also figure in the selection of John Ruddy’s replacement.
With City’s expansive playing style meaning they will always be susceptible to breakaways, I think that another area that will be looked at in the summer is how to screen the back four without hampering the side’s ability to launch attacks quickly.
With Youssouf Mulumbu released and Alex Tettey showing clear signs of decline as age and injury take their toll, there is an obvious need in that area, and I would hope to see someone with greater mobility and passing ability filling the role.
It’s also worth saying that, while he has the same effect on the City faithful as Marmite, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that City’s better defensive performances in recent weeks have coincided with Steven Naismith’s return to form.
The Scot can be immensely frustrating, but his willingness to track back to wherever he is needed is impressive and if, as the rumour mill is suggesting, he leaves in the summer, I for one will be sad to see him go. Ultimately, I suspect that it will all come down to wages.
At least tomorrow will bring this forgettable season to an end and hopefully see John Ruddy get a fitting reception for his seven years of sterling service to the club, but I hope that Steven Whittaker will also get a good send-off, because for all his defensive shortcomings he has been a model professional, unlike some of those leaving with him.