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Leeds United 0 v 2 Preston North End
Carabao Cup
Tuesday, 28th August 2018 Kick-off 19:45
Fringe players fail to impress in League Cup exit
Wednesday, 29th Aug 2018 13:05 by Tim Whelan

A second string Leeds team went down to a feeble 2-0 defeat at the hands of Preston North End last night, and you wouldn’t say that many of the younger players improved their chances of getting a start in a league game any time soon.

Bielsa made 9 changes to the team who began Saturday’s game at Norwich. The two who kept their places were Jansson, who probably needed an extra game after missing most of the pre-season, and Kalvin Phillips.

In the previous round against Bolton we managed to get through despite a similar number of changes, but last night we never really recovered from conceding a penalty in the first minute. Moult was allowed plenty of time and space to make a run into the box, where he was felled by a clumsy challenge from Shaughnessy, Johnson making no mistake from the spot.

We should have had a lifeline after Ledson was shown a straight red card after a dreadful challenge on Baker, but instead it was the visitors who grabbed the second and final goal of the night. Brandon Barker (a young player on loan from Man City) ran past a couple of feeble challenges, before hammering a fine shot past Blackman into the corner of the net.

Leeds had plenty of possession throughout the half, but struggled to create any decent opportunites for Bamford. Tyler Roberts did little to justify his transfer fee, though he might have preferred to be in the centre rather than out wide. Our own Man City loanee, in the shape of Harrisson, failed to hit the same heights as Brandon Barker, and Shaughnessy continued to look dodgy at the back.

Bielsa was as unimpressed as the rest of us, and Shaughnessy was replaced by Klich at half-time, with Phillips dropping into central defence. The other change was more of a surprise, with Saiz coming on for Shackleton, who had been by no means the worst player on show. But apparently this one was due to a slight injury.And bucket man made the third sub on the hour, with the unimpressive Roberts hauled off in favour of Alioski.

Needs must, but personally I don’t like making all your substitutions with a significant amount of the game still to play, as you’ve then got nothing to fall back on if any injuries occur. This proved to be the case, as Tom Pearce had to struggle through the closing stages with a thigh injury, which hopefully he didn’t aggravate by having to play on.

Leeds showed a bit more inventiveness after these changes, especially from Saiz, but Preston were aided by the referee’s reluctance to clamp down on their blatant time-wasting. Our best effort of the night was a volley from Alioski that went just over the bar, but even if he’d scored that would have come too late to make any difference.

When it was all over Bielsa said “It's painful to be out of a competition. I would have liked to continue in this cup. Football is performance but it’s also about what you deserve. My conclusion is that we didn’t play well but I think the result shouldn't have been a loss for us. Usually when we have three offensive actions we score one goal. Today we had 12 and we didn't score any.”

“We didn't connect crosses with a man in the box. We could have avoided the goals we conceded. We had a lot of possession and we played 11 versus 10 for a long time but we didn't reflect this superiority with clear offensive actions.” But he refused to criticise the younger players, saying “I think they are ready to play. You can't analyse Pearce, Shaughnessy or Shackleton in the way you evaluate Phillips, Saiz or Jansson.”

The general reaction of Leeds fans to this defeat is that it doesn’t really matter, as this competition was never going to be a priority as long as we could mount a challenge for promotion. But nevertheless, we can be concerned about a couple of aspects of last night’s performance, especially the signs that the squad doesn’t have as much strength in depth as we would like.

With the high intensity that Bielsa requires from his squad, both during matches and in training, there is always the danger of burnout later in the season, so we might need some of these fringe players to be ready for league action at some stage. To say nothing of the normal requirement to have cover for the injuries and suspensions that inevitably occur from time to time.

Central defence must remain our biggest concern, after Bielsa declared he is not looking for back-up in that department in this transfer window because he is happy with the options he already has. Unfortunately Shaughnessy’s performance last night didn’t inspire confidence he will be ready at short notice. We might have to hope young Aapo Halme can step in once he completes his recovery from injury.

It might just be that last night’s problems were down to a lack of match-fitness, with Shaughnessy, Dallas and Roberts all in varying stages of comebacks from injuries they have suffered in the last few months. They could have done with an extra competitive game to sharpen up, so it’s a shame we won’t have the next round to provide them with that opportunity. Training and under-23 games will now have to suffice.

But we’re now ‘free to concentrate on the league’ until January, though Bielsa might have wanted to give more first choice players a complete rest before Friday night’s crucial game, which is sure to be a lively encounter. He probably didn’t want to have to play Saiz, Alioski and Klich for as much of last night’s game as he did.

If we can get back to winning ways in the league then last night’s game will soon be forgotten, so let’s just hope that comes to pass.

Photo: Action Images

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