Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Scouting report

The weekend's televised FA Cup Third Round ties gave us all the opportunity to be club scouts from the comfort of our own living rooms. So, what did we learn?

Well, that Saturday's opponents Reading may be struggling in the Championship but are still capable of frustrating and indeed giving an out-of-sorts Liverpool a really tough game. Having failed to win against another managerless side languishing in a lowly league position on Boxing Day, it's not a match we'll particularly be relishing - especially given that our other two festive fixtures saw us record disappointing (and goalless) draws against very similar opposition.

Royals fan Lanterne Rouge of The Two Unfortunates is better placed than me to tell you where it's gone wrong for his side so far this season - here's his rough guide to why Brendan Rodgers was dismissed. But there was enough to suggest we won't be in for an easy ride against a team who've won just once at home this season.

Simon Church caught the eye up front - his goal may have been bundled in unwittingly off his shins from approximately 30cm, but (unlike Reading's forwards so often this season) he was in the right place at the right time and showed himself to be a willing, enthusiastic and tireless annoyance to the Reds' back line.

The Royals' midfield has lacked quality and creativity this season - as Lanterne Rouge mentioned, Rodgers' omission of Marek Matejovsky and banishment of James Harper to Sheffield Utd caused much bafflement and irritation, though neither have been recalled since his departure. All the same, Turkish U21 midfielder Jem Karacan was industrious and skillful, while Brian Howard made his comeback from injury, stepping off the bench to show off a cultured left foot.

And what of the other Cup game I had my eye on? Well, as you may possibly be aware, Leeds went to Old Trafford and knocked out fierce rivals Man Utd thanks to a goal from Jermaine Beckford. The long-time Toon target outpaced the central defenders and calmly slid a shot under Tomasz Kuszczak for the winner, but terrorised Wes Brown and Jonny Evans all afternoon, often as a lone frontman when Luciano Becchio dropped deep.

As I noted yesterday in commenting on another prospect, Kris Boyd, a busy, pacy, goal-getting forward is exactly what we're lacking at the moment and with Beckford out of contract in the summer it's no surprise we're targeting him. However, while it was good to see what he's capable of on the big stage, it was also rather frustrating as he'll no doubt be on rather more clubs' radars as a result of the performance. Canny Leeds manager Simon Grayson immediately talked up Beckford's price, and Chris Hughton has responded by reiterating our interest but suggested there are other names on our shopping list. And so the game of cat and mouse begins...

One final thought. Leeds were extremely good against Man Utd (they could certainly have scored more than once) and currently lead League One, with fellow fish-out-of-water Norwich, Charlton and even a rejuvenated post-administration-points-deficit Southampton jostling for position at the foot of the ladder up to the Championship. Meanwhile, no one's particularly far adrift in the top flight, suggesting there won't be much difference in quality between those who stay up and those who drop down. What can we conclude from this? That we really need to get out of this division at the first attempt as next year it'll be even tougher...


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