No sooner had Crysencio Summerville put Norwich City to the sword than fingers put to flight a Tweet suggesting Premier League clubs were giving him the once over with the mid-season transfer window in mind.
On one hand it would of course be no surprise, because as he has proved at Carrow Road and elsewhere, Summerville has a talent that belongs outwith the Championship. But given that he and his people were so content to remain at Leeds this season instead of pushing for a summer move, and given the length of his contract, and given 49ers Enterprise’ ambition to secure promotion at the first time of asking, a January exit would be as stunning as it would be self-defeating, at least for the club. The question for any player in this Whites squad with designs on a top flight career is whether that would be best served at a club presently eyeing a top flight relegation scrap or one pushing to rejoin the Premier League next summer to make a real fist of life at the top table. Money talks, loudly, in this game but Leeds’ new owners have some and if the players were to do the job this season and restore Premier League status then there would be even more floating around. So a January move will only really make sense for those not currying favour with Daniel Farke and not deemed essential to the cause.
Summerville, however the club viewed him at the start of the summer, is by now situated right near the top of the essential workers list. And it says much about the work done to put together a proper squad that Farke felt able to drop his Saturday matchwinner for Wednesday’s trip to Stoke City. Or at least it would have done had players who came in for the in-form Summerville, Daniel James and Glen Kamara took their chance to shine.
As he plotted his changes to the side Farke had tried to steer clear of the ‘cold whatever night in Stoke’ cliche before the game but even his awareness of it was evidence of the Potters’ status as Championship gate-keepers. This is the kind of team you need to beat. This is the kind of ground you have to win in. Alex Neil is a good Championship manager, the kind you have to outwit. Marcelo Bielsa was able to do it in two of the five occasions when his Leeds met Neil’s side. Prior to this game Farke had done so on two of six occasions. His second promotion season with Norwich included a November midweek win in Stoke. There’s nothing to say that you can’t go up if you don’t win at this particular venue but it’s a place where slip ups can happen and momemtum can falter.
That’s precisely what happened when Leeds made the trip to the bet365 Stadium and in many circumstances there would be no shame in that. What was so disappointing for Farke and his men, however, was that their slip up was entirely avoidable.
Even if Leeds were sloppy from the outset, struggling to put together cohesive passages of play and giving the ball away dangerously, they still should have won a game that hinged on a single second half moment.
Maybe that moment was in character with the general performance though, because this was so far from vintage, free-flowing Farkeball.
In the first minute Andre Vidigal was allowed to steal in and connect with a cross that Joe Rodon left, in the mistaken belief that Archie Gray had it covered. The save was comfortable for Illan Meslier, as was the next one that came when Gray’s pass was cut out and Stoke countered, but these were warnings to be heeded.
Meslier was tested again by Vidigal, who should have done better with his header after getting up in front of Gray, and then again by the same player who had ghosted past the Leeds right-back. When Ryan Mmaee blasted wide from a rebound it was a question of how many warnings Leeds would get away with without sustaining real damage.
Leeds hadn’t worked Stoke out at all by the midway point of the half but did eventually fashion a chance, Georginio Rutter profiting from a loose ball in the middle to run on and slide it through perfectly for Joel Piroe whose shot was well saved by Travers. Rutter headed the resultant corner down and Travers saved again and without playing anywhere near their best Leeds could suddenly count themselves unfortunate not to have two goals.
The longer the first half went on, however, the more obvious it became that this was going to be the archetypal night in Stoke because it really wasn’t very good.
Jaidon Anthony failed to get going at all on the left flank and Willy Gnonto’s performance on the right hand side was just about a mirror image. Full debutant Ilia Gruev barely announced himself at all and just like at Carrow Road the lack of half-time changes raised eyebrows.
For the first 10 minutes of the second half there was no discernible change, poor passing and decision making halting any chance of forward progress for Leeds.
Slowly, but surely, they started to build something however. Moments in the Stoke half led to half chances and half chances led to pressure, Rutter at the very heart of it all. He, at least, carried on from where he left off at Norwich.
With 20 minutes to go Farke turned to Patrick Bamford, James and Summerville and almost immediately the latter showed his importance, taking Rutter’s pass, cutting back inside and curling just wide of the far post.
Then came the big moment, where the game could and should have been won and instead was lost. Rutter produced his trademark flash of skill then slipped the ball superbly into the run of Bamford, whose movement was too much for Ben Pearson and brought a collision in the area. A penalty was the obvious outcome but Bamford taking charge of it, with the high-flying Summerville showing an interest, was less so. Twice last season he was unsuccessful from the spot, in games that were lost by a goal and drawn 2-2 respectively. Those misses were as costly as this one, because almost as soon as he the ball had sailed over the Stoke bar it became obvious that he had all at once dealt his own side a blow and handed the hosts the impetus.
With the home fans back in the game the home team responded, winning a dangerous free-kick and then a corner, from which they took the lead. Wesley’s header hit the bar, hit Pascal Struijk and hit the net.
That, bar a Summerville chance that was snuffed out by a vital defensive block, was that and Leeds fell to a third defeat of the Championship season. They fell further behind second-placed Ipswich Town, too.
Speaking after the game Farke stood up for his team selection, his players’ resilience in digging out a second half performance form the rubble of first half struggle, and Bamford. You didn’t have to read between the lines, though, to detect the manager’s regret that Bamford took the penalty, he admitted it would have been better for someone else to have stepped up. Farke felt the striker wanted to prove his doubters wrong and it’s fair to suspect that Bamford also saw the spot-kick as a chance to kick-start his confidence and his season. Had he found the net it would have been good for him and for Leeds United. That he didn’t was bad for both and ultimately his taking it did not prove to be the best thing for the team. Next time, someone else probably will, added Farke.
The manager’s philosophical overview was that no matter how scrappy the performance, his men should have won, deserved to at least draw and though they did not, this is the Championship, it’s relentless and off days can happen. No matter how much you agree or disagree with what he did, in terms of team selection, or what he said about it all afterwards, it remains a fact that his Leeds could not do it on a cold October night in Stoke. What that says about them, with so much of the season left to play, remains to be seen.