bolton 0 – 1 leeds: the away teamBack
So far this season the headlines at Leeds have been about individuals – usually Ross McCormack – and decisive contributions. Apart from in the League Cup at Doncaster, the margins, whether of victory or defeat, have been of just one goal.
The 1-0 win at Bolton, then, presented another candidate for hero worship; and six months ago nobody would have described Luke Varney as a hero, let alone worshipped him. Without wishing to taking the goalscorer’s glory away from Lukeo Varn Basten, though, there was much more to this game than his headed goal in the 6th minute.
That goal may have only involved two players, Luke Murphy’s corner finding Varney’s head, as he broke free of Baptiste and N’gog, but it had the feel of teamwork. It was the second corner in quick succession, and Leeds switched their set up quickly from one side of the pitch to the other before Bolton could reorganise. A Leeds team prepared well enough to fox its opponents from set pieces has been a rare sight, and although the celebratory slide across the pitch was all Varniesta’s, the goal was sourced in a team ethic that could carry Leeds a long way this season.
LUFCData on Twitter brought stats to bear on the overall performance: Leeds played more accurate passes than in any other game this season, 81% finding a teammate; Bolton had more possession, but Leeds made and won more tackles and more aerial challenges – most of those won by Varndogg.
Leeds couldn’t find a way to put the game beyond Bolton, but the better organisation of the boys in the white wine shirts and shorts kept it out of Wanderers reach. It was like one of those games where adults keep a ball just out of reach of a four year old, until the child gets frustrated and start to cry. The 81% passing accuracy says a lot about how Leeds have improved this season – last year this team spent more time looking at the clouds than looking for a team mate, but that sort of statistic doesn’t just mean better passing, it means players in better positions to receive a pass – in short, it means team work, and plenty of it.
Leeds have already won half as many times away as they did all last season, and notched the first three away wins in a row since November 2011 (thanks again, LUFCData). Scoring early and holding on is one of the most difficult ways of winning away, and you don’t do it unless the whole team is together. Billy Bremner was in a lot of people’s thoughts this week after he was voted Greatest Ever Football League Captain; his ‘side before self’ philosophy was on display when Steven Warnock aimed his head at a boot to deny a Bolton chance. The appreciative high-fives kept coming: Pearce, Tonge, Wootton, and a captain’s handshake from Austin. They were all in this to win.
You have to feel a bit for Dougie Freedman, who must have spent most of the game wishing the ground would open up and take him back to Leeds. His threadbare squad has the backing of threadbare support, with a quarter of the 19,622 crowd in Horwich coming from Leeds. Wanderers seemed reluctant to release the figures, suggesting a club that is a little bit ashamed of itself at the moment – the exact opposite of Brian McDermott’s Leeds United.
“I think that pride is the name of the game,” McDermott told me last Monday. “We should be proud of this football club.” Leeds’ travelling fans have never lacked that, but too often in recent seasons 5,000 have gone away only to be let down by the eleven on the pitch. That wasn’t the case on Saturday, and we can look forward to Wednesday and say with confidence that it won’t be the case at Reading, either. Leeds aren’t going to win every game away – or at home – but as long as they keep these levels of organisation and togetherness up, they’re not going to let anybody down.
More from The City Talking: