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the square ball week: ignorant & blissful

the square ball week: ignorant & blissful


Image by Eamonn Dalton

The form table, right now, ain’t pretty. And I don’t know what to do. The last six league games put Leeds 20th in the Championship. We’re just above Sheffield Wednesday, who haven’t won a game all season. Below them are Charlton, Yeovil and Barnsley.

The home games table is slightly better; 13th, between Huddersfield and Brighton, with 1.4 points per game from the five so far. 

So far this season we’ve got the 11th best defence, but our attack puts us 21st; we’re one of only four teams to have averaged less than a goal a game so far. Bolton, Charlton and Yeovil are the others.

By the time we kick off against Birmingham on Sunday, it will have been fifteen days since we’ve been able to influence those tables. Against Birmingham, floundering in 19th with only one away win and rumours of impending financial collapse circling them, we need to do something about some of those stats. 

Unfortunately, it looks like nothing will have been done about the team who created those stats in the first place. “We need something to happen for us on that front,” Brian McDermott told Phil Hay of the YEP, about the search for loan players. “I’ve been watching games, I’ve spoken to five or six managers and all of them have told me that the players I’m interested in aren’t available.

“You can see what we’re missing and it doesn’t take a genius to work that out.”

McDermott’s needs and wants have been a theme for a while. Over the summer, while the team were in Slovenia, he spoke repeatedly about one signing he wanted to make above all others, the one player he was seriously working hard on, one player who he needed, who would make a crucial difference. I’m pretty sure that player wasn’t Scott Wootton. 

Then there was the questions of wingers. With Mathieu Smith signed, the arrival of a couple of pacey wide players to put the ball on his head seemed like an obvious next step, and after the defeat at Walsall McDermott seemed bemused by having to go into the season without any. The diamond had been an interim measure, a plan B, and it had just failed against a League One team; now, near the end of October, we’re still trying to work with that same plan B. And Derby County, as we’ve seen, are considerably better than Walsall.

“But I still maintain that the squad here can improve,” continued McDermott. “We’re working hard on addressing the things that went wrong before the break.” I said after the Derby game that, “I don’t want to see the squad come back rested, I want them to come back trained,” but I think both McDermott and me know that some new players would have helped. 

Brian’s a thoughful man, and I’m sure his head constantly whirrs with new schemes and plans, but as constrained resources have taken their toll the crossings out on his office whiteboard have become more numerous, leaving him with one, last, radical plan: ‘Make the players play better.’

It all sounds incredibly negative, when I felt so positive after not just the Brighton game, but the Chesterfield game too; we looked like a team that could really do things. But while it’s being tested, my positivity isn’t gone. With any luck, the physios have used this fortnight to give Sam Byram a compressed pre-season, so that all he needs is matches; he’s our best player, and we need him in the team somewhere. 

Alex Mowatt stepped up just before the international break and should be considered among the first choices. He’ll only get better, and more creative, and with our strikers misfiring, they need as many chances as possible to score. Dom Poleon looks dangerous. Ross McCormack loves playing against the odds.

We also have, in the next run of fixtures, a chance to paper over the cracks for a while, something I’m totally happy for us to do. I want that early season happiness back, and if that means blissful ignorance, then bliss me up and call me ignorant. All those teams I mentioned in the rundown of the form tables above are terrible, and we’re playing most of them soon. 

Birmingham are a bogey team with a long, thin bogey called Zigic in attack, but they’re 19th. Yorkshire’s most one-sided rivalry means Huddersfield will be more up for it than usual but they’re level with us on points. Yeovil and Charlton are strong contenders to go down, and Middlesbrough are doing that usual Middlesbrough inconsistency thing. Even without reinforcements, we can get results against all these, and make the temporary form table look very different.

There are larger problems at Leeds than form, and we could win all five of these without solving any of them. This squad can do better, but they’d do better with some help; until they get some, we’ll just have to keep thinking short term. But that’s okay. If Nooruddin, Haigh and co. are to be believed, McDermott has a couple of years to get promotion, and they have a couple of years to back him. It’s a long term plan, apparently. All I need for now, then, is some short terms wins so I can enjoy life in the meantime; hoping, maybe pretending, that it’s all going to be alright.

Nothing in life will bring you more joy than the new issue of The Square Ball magazine. Seriously, nothing. Not that we’re piling pressure on the new Maradona-Speed-Strachan combo that is Alex ‘The Saviour’ Mowatt, but we’ve put him on the cover – we thought it best to do it now, before [insert joke about Norwich here]. Inside, Steve Firth has written about how Mowatt could be the catalyst for an improved season. Another potential catalyst is Bill Fotherby, the managing director who helped take Leeds from the bottom of the second division to the top of the first, and in a big, big interview he told Jon Howe that he could still do a job in our boardroom. We’ve also got an interview with Norwegian rapper Lars Vaular, and loads of other stuff – it’ll only cost you £1.50 (or £1 for the digital version) to find out for yourself. Buy online here soon, or from outside the ground before the game on Sunday.

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