derby 3 – 1 leeds: slow motion doomBack
This is the sort of game Bad Leeds United used to play. We used to concede bad goals, in bad ways, through bad habits and bad defending. I don’t think we’re a bad team, at all. But Derby was pretty bad stuff.
We can’t proceed without dealing with the goals. A dignified director would turn the camera away while all this was happening, like Alfred Hitchock with the shower curtain in Psycho. But it’s the only way to truly understand what is meant when we say, “Paul Green was caught napping.” We can’t look through our fingers. We have to face this brutality head on.
In a backwards zig zag through the centre circle, Tonge passed to Green who passed to Mowatt. Mowatt’s first touch was heavy, and while Green blocked off Derby’s Chris Martin, Mowatt touched it back to Tom Lees.
Lees controlled the ball and he was in loads of space, with no Derby players closing him down. The ball at his feet, he held his hands out with a palms-down gesture – let’s all just stay calm, lads, and do nothing silly. He gave the ball back to Mowatt, who was now on the edge of the centre circle nearest our goal. Pressured by Martin, he moved backwards out of the circle, then squared the ball to Green. This is the moment when the camera should, if there was any decency left in this cruel world, cut away.
With Derby’s Craig Bryson closing in, Green executed a Cruyff turn. It worked. Perhaps he was so stunned that it worked that he didn’t know what to do next, but what he did next was nothing; he just stood there, facing Paddy Kenny at a distance of about forty yards, so Bryson ran up behind him, put a leg through Green’s legs, and kicked the ball toward our goal. No wonder Janet Leigh was screaming.
In a panic, everybody ran towards Martin – Lees was already there, it was his man, but Green was looking to correct his error, and Jason Pearce was attempting to snuff out danger, so they both went to the same place as Lees. Martin flicked it outside to Bryson on the overlap, and all three players converged on him, so that when he passed it straight back to Martin… no. It’s more than I can bear.
We had to bear it again two minutes later. Will Hughes played a decent enough pass between Green and Pearce to Martin, but to reach Martin’s backheel Johnny Russell simply followed the ball between Green and Pearce. It’s bad enough to let a through ball through, but through players, now? He didn’t have any problems from there.
The third we could shrug off, because as soon as the irritatingly talented little albino, Will Hughes, was one-on-one with Jason Pearce inside the box, it wasn’t going to be pretty. We can’t shrug, though, because the point is that he shouldn’t have been allowed to get there.
I made much when Austin came back into the side of how on this day, Saturday 5th October, he would commit acts of unspeakable horror upon Hughes, vengeance for the way the snow-haired teenager made us look stupid last year. Perhaps he could have perpetrated some exceptional malevolence had he been there to keep Hughes away from Pearce, but in the quest to find a midfield that works, Green has gone to the position in front of the centre backs, while Austin plays right midfield. It worked against Bournemouth, to a point, as Rudy fired in cross after cross. It’s fair to say it didn’t work against Derby.
It feels like no amount of tinkering with this diamond idea is going to work. And it feels like we have to face up to exactly what the diamond is: Brian McDermott’s less favoured plan B. He’s been very nice about it all, and hasn’t really mentioned wingers since deciding not to pay out for Chris Burke, but I would bet he’d love a couple of them at the club right now.
The midfielders would probably love them too. I said last week that someone like a Hasselbaink for the players to hit up top would be an ideal solution to the slowness of our midfield; I’m now willing to go along with the idea that if we can’t have that, someone on the wings with a bit of pace would be fine instead. The reason Paul Green starts doing Cruyff turns in his own half is because he’s desperately trying to think of some way to get round the opposition defence, when the only route offered to him is straight through. Someone on the touchline to take the pressure off would stop all that nonsense.
It doesn’t have to be a Kewell or a Gradel out there. A Jason Wilcox would do. And there doesn’t necessarily have to be a new striker to get on the end of any crosses. We can’t have everything, and with the budget McDermott has, I suspect it’s going to be one or the other. A wide player at least would get the ball out of the constant slow motion doom that is our central midfield, and as McCormack showed against Bournemouth, if you swing the ball across the goal we do have players capable of scoring.
The Millwall, Bournemouth and Derby games were vital to lift the mood before two weeks off, but now it’s going to be a long and unhappy international break. The fans will clamour for signings, and I’m right here saying I want either a striker or a winger, but the club won’t pay for a new player to sit idle (or, to put it another way, train) during the break, meaning any arrivals will be last minute or not at all. Ross McCormack will be with Scotland, and I assume Rudy will go to Jamaica for their games against the USA and Honduras, but other than that everybody will be at Thorp Arch. I’ve written before on here about what can happen when there’s no football to occupy us – and how to solve that problem – and it’ll be an achievement if the complaints can be kept to a dull moan before the season restarts.
Hopefully McDermott will shut his door to all that. The advantage of having everybody bar two home is that they can practise, practise, practise. I don’t want to see the squad come back rested, I want them to come back trained. Whether it’s to deal with this formation properly, or whether Brian rips it up and tries a new one with what he’s got or can get, that’s up to him. But bad habits are becoming habitual, and the bad defending is creeping back in: two bad signs of bad old Leeds United. And I still think, for all our faults, we’re a lot better than bad.
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