It's hard to know where to begin with last night's game. Do you approach the positive aspects of leading 2-0 away in a midweek game, or attack the ridiculousness of throwing that lead away? Or do you ask on what planet the referee was visiting when he decided that adding on 6 minutes of stoppage time seemed a reasonable decision?? It's a tough decision... If I have to, I guess I'll start with the manager,
Straight out of the blocks, Uwe Rosler's team selection seemed strange, rotating yet again after the game at Reading on Sunday. Out went Cooper, Berardi and Mowatt, in came Bellusci, Wootton and Antenucci as replacements. Mowatt was understandable, he'd looked tired on Sunday and Antenucci was well worth a starting place, with Rosler adapting his 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, with the bearded Italian playing just behind Chris Wood. Bellusci's inclusion was harsh on Liam Cooper, who had performed well on Sunday as the team kept a clean sheet, but you get the feeling that Rosler will be rotating these two until one stakes a serious claim to partner Bamba permanently in defence. As for Wootton's inclusion... well, you've got to hope that it came about as a result of fatigue on Berardi's part. The Swiss full back has been one of the standout players of the season so far, and surely couldn't have been dropped for any reason other than tiredness, especially for a player who hasn't exactly started the season in convincing fashion.
It's still early days of course, but Rosler will have to decide on a firm starting XI soon, as it's hard to imagine that making 3/4 changes per game is going to benefit the squad's form, despite the obvious positives in terms of fitness. His substitutions are also leaving a lot to be desired, with Antenucci replaced by Mowatt instead of the more defensive-minded Murphy, and Sam Byram making way for Berardi with 10 minutes to go. The decision to start Antenucci was vindicated by the player's performance, yet another solid outing for last season's top scorer, who has really started this season off on a strong foot. The inclusion of Bellusci and Wootton, however, was wholly unnecessary, especially in a defence that had kept a clean sheet in their previous game. Bringing Berardi on to play in front of Scott Wootton instead of his natural position was baffling, and can't have done much for the balance of the side.
One player many were surprised to see starting again was Kalvin Phillips. Many, myself included, thought that Phillips may have made way for Luke Murphy (possibly taking the position eventually occupied by Antenucci - see my match preview), but the youngster was, instead, retained alongside Tom Adeyemi in the centre of midfield, and put in another impressive performance, acting as the all important transition between defence and attack. The result may have been a disappointment in the end, but at least positives can be taken from Phillips' transition into a fully-fledged squad player after his introduction at the tail end of last season.
Speaking of positives - it must be remembered, of course, that amidst all the frustration and finger-pointing, we were actually 2-0 up in this game at one stage, which has to count for something. Leeds soaked up a fair amount of Bristol pressure throughout the game, and used it to their advantage, winning a penalty in the first half (cooly dispatched by Antenucci), before the same man was released down the left hand-side early in the second half, cutting into the box before laying a pass across to Chris Wood. Wood, in a stark contrast to his previous attempts on goal in a Leeds shirt, took his time, stepping inside his marker before driving the ball low into the bottom corner with his left foot. His celebration, a primitive roar as he slid on his knees, said it all. That was a big chunk of a heavy transfer fee, breaking away from his shoulders.
However, while pressure is relieving itself from the shoulders of Chris Wood, it appears to be fixing itself firmly to the back of Marco Silvestri as a result. Silvestri, as I've said before, is a fantastic goalkeeper in some aspects. His one-on-one ability and sheer athleticism are massively impressive, and his supporters can always point to a handful of games last season that wouldn't have been won without Silvestri between the sticks. However, his inability to command his area or hold onto crosses under the most minimal amounts of pressure is staggering, and has cost us points time and time again. Bristol's first goal was soft, the defence switched off as Kieran Agard was slipped through into the area, but his tame shot should never have beaten Silvestri at his near post. That being said, mistakes happen - even the best keepers are caught off balance at times, assuming strikers will go for the far post instead. The second, though, was atrocious. Silvestri only had to grab hold of the bouncing ball, courtesy of a weak header from an outswinging corner, fall on top of it and the game was ours. Instead, he palmed the ball away, falling to his right, straight to the feet of Aden Flint, who only had to stab the ball home from 2 yards out.
If Rosler is serious about rotation, and feels that it is the best approach towards keeping his team performing as the season moves on, then surely Silvestri won't play on Saturday. Ross Turnbull was solid against Doncaster Rovers, making a number of decent saves and, more importantly, looking assured and confident when claiming crosses and corners. If we are going to continue to play a style of football that allows teams to pressure us for large periods of the game, then we need a goalkeeper who isn't going to hand the opposition opportunities to score on a silver platter. Turnbull may not be as exciting a prospect as Silvestri, but he deserves a chance to show his reliability. Silvestri, in return, has to learn that, in order to retain his position as number 1, he must evolve as a player. A Championship team wanting to challenge for promotion (or even the top half) can't have a goalkeeper that is afraid to claim a cross, or take a knock for the good of the team. Every other player on this team is susceptible to rotation, the goalkeeper cannot be exempt.
Also - I'm not one for excuses, but 6 minutes added time?! Who the f*** was counting that??