Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
After three defeats in their last four Championship games, Leeds United have had what can be classed as a wobble.
Looking at those losses in isolation, there was not too much to worry about from any of them.
In the second half of their 2-0 home defeat to Hull, they could not have done too much more and were merely repelled by a brave rear-guard display from an opponent who took their two chances.
In the 4-2 loss at Nottingham Forest, the game was affected by the red card for Kalvin Phillips – they even led with a man disadvantage at one point.
While they weren’t at their best in the 2-1 defeat at Stoke, they still had their moments and were not always helped by the referee, with Pontus Jansson dubiously dismissed late on.
— Pontus Jansson (@PJansson5) January 19, 2019
However, the losses have a cumulative effect and the number of absentees has meant frequent changes; for example, the suspended Jansson will have to be replaced by Phillips, who himself returns from a ban but is better in midfield than he is at centre-back.
Ezgjan Alioski has deputized admirably in the absence of the injured Barry Douglas, but it has hardly helped them to be without arguably the best left-back in the Championship.
Kemar Roofe puts in a strong shift every week in a false nine role but, with a re-occurrence to an injury to Patrick Bamford, they have been left short of alternative options up top.
The likes of Gaetano Berardi and Stuart Dallas, meanwhile, would offer useful versatility in a small squad if they were fit.
It seems very likely that Rotherham United will be among the Championship’s bottom six this season, but there are elements to their game that higher-placed teams should admire and even look to learn from
Whenever they play, we can guarantee that every player will give everything they have to produce the best possible version of themselves.
We saw an example of that in the last-ditch defending that allowed them to dig out those early season home wins over Ipswich and Derby, then the high-intensity performances that saw them score an injury-time equalizer in the 2-2 draw with Sheffield United, in which they arguably deserved to win.
Jon Taylor put in perhaps his best performance of the season against the Blades, which might have been because the team turned the ball over frequently in the opposing half and that was where his direct running power tends to come to the fore.
Taylor could do similar damage to Leeds, as could exciting academy graduate Ben Wiles, who is also capable of carrying the ball forward from midfield, with Will Vaulks and Richie Towell doing the dirty work.
Credit to young Wiles, looks like a great prospect. #RUFC
— Craig99 (@craig99) January 6, 2019
Semi Ajayi, meanwhile, has had 21 headed efforts this season, which is the third-most out of all 81 players who have featured at centre-back in the Championship; he will want to bounce back from his close-range miss in last week’s 4-2 defeat to Brentford, but the fact he can get into those positions shows he can be a threat.
Ajayi’s physicality is part of the reason why only Aston Villa and Millwall have scored more set piece goals than Rotherham’s 12, a trend which may not be insignificant bearing in mind Jansson’s absence.
One of the five teams who average the most possession in the Championship have faced one of the five teams who average the least on 27 occasions this season; in 12 of those games, the non-possession outfit has scored the first goal, a surprisingly high proportion of 44%.
The reason for this could be that sides that do not keep the ball as much have more joy in the earlier stages of games, when energy levels are high enough to suit a direct style of play.
That could be especially true for Rotherham, who tend to lift themselves for home encounters with big, local clubs – they appear to carry that extra determination to prove that they are dining at the top table of Yorkshire football.
Although they might not share a rivalry with Leeds, they seem more likely to be inspired by the fixture, given that their performance levels generally lift when they host the Whites with two wins in their last three home meetings.
The 2/1 on Rotherham to score the first goal, implying a probability of 33%, looks presentable value.
Rotherham to score Goal 1 – 2/1
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