leeds 2 – 0 yeovil: responsibilityBack
You hear a lot from football managers about ‘collective responsibility’. Football is a team game, if not a squad game, and playing as a team is what gets you results.
But it’s not really possible for 11 players to all be taking an equal amount of responsibility at once. That’s why football has captains and stars. You don’t need every one of the first 11 charging at a loose ball yelling ‘mine!’ to win a game. You just need the right players to take the right amount of responsibility in the right areas.
Left wing back is not Jason Pearce’s right area. The first half had already been a struggle, for the fans to watch as much as for the players to play. It’s a credit to him, but also a worry to us, how much Leeds miss Sam Byram when he doesn’t play; only 28% of our attacking play was down the right, compared to 46% against Huddersfield, and it didn’t feel like the discrepancy was being made up anywhere else on the pitch. An injury to Stephen Warnock effectively bust the 3-5-2 formation, and while he hobbled on in the name to tactics, Yeovil began to dominate.
It didn’t help that Pearce seemed to be the last person on the pitch to have noticed that Warnock was a passenger; Yeovil certainly noticed, and directed attack after attack down their right wing, as Pearce waved his arms frantically at Warnock, bemused why his left back was leaving him so exposed. That Pearce had to take over at left wing back when Warnock eventually limped off seemed like a kind of justice – go on, you do it then – but gave me, frankly, the fear.
The net result was a clean sheet. The first choice defence had let in three irritating goals at Huddersfield, but the unbalanced scratch group with Peltier on one side and Pearce on the other held out. Perhaps we need to play the ‘only Yeovil’ card, but the way Pearce gamely met the challenge, and the influence of Marius Zaliukas, kept things solid. Zaliukas had a relatively quiet debut, and threw in a couple of mistakes to keep things interested, but as former captain of Hearts he’s clearly used to being in charge; at one moment, a clear point and shout directed Tom Lees to danger and prevented the kind of playground defending that shamed them all at Derby.
In midfield it was our current captain who took charge. It’s hard for Rudy Austin to lead by example, when he does so much daft stuff; we don’t want Alex Mowatt to blindly follow his skipper in shooting from forty yards, and passing the ball with all the subtlety of Lucy van Pelt playing croquet against Charlie Brown. But when it comes to taking a match by the scruff and forcing a team on to victory, there’s nobody I’d rather have our players look to than The Beast. The half time talk seemed to galvanise him, but really he was already dominating the Yeovil half of the field; you wonder if it was part of their plan to let him shoot harmlessly from distance, but the shots were flying around, while one head-down-charge down the left produced a cross that Matt Smith, with Dexter Blackstock waiting on the bench, should have scored.
Those runs are what make Austin so dangerous, and while I love watching him shoot from everywhere, he stands a much better chance of making a goal when he puts his head down and pounds through the space in front of him. Defenders are more frightened of him than of the ball. Neil Warnock used to employ the hoof to get the ball up the field quickly; if he wanted to turn defence quickly into attack, he should have just let Rudy have the ball and run. From his own defensive third to the edge of the penalty area in just enough to get 25,000 fans to their feet, with their fists clenched, yelling ‘Go on Rudy!’; then, with Smith or McCormack to choose from, a pass to the right to put McCormack through. Perhaps as pumped up by watching Rudy run as the rest of us, McCormack took one touch before hammering the ball through Wayne Hennessy in Yeovil’s goal, then headed off to do some damage to an advertising hoarding.
The second goal was again down to Austin’s power. The 101 Great Goals website has been collecting photos of Barcelona’s Iniesta surrounded by defenders, imitating the classic shot of Maradona v Belgium and wondering how he would ever get through them all (he always does); here Austin was fed by Zaliukas with his back to goal and, if the shutter clicked at the right moment from the right angle, you might have captured a half dozen Yeovil players around him and no team mate in sight. When Austin is in this mood, that’s not a problem. He doesn’t turn as deftly as Iniesta, but neither does an oil tanker, and woe betide anyone who gets in his way. The through ball to McCormack was another one in the eye of anyone who says Austin can’t pass; McCormack’s placed shot a jab at anyone who says he can’t finish.
It’s not clear who exactly has been jabbing at Ross McCormack lately, but his reactions to both goals suggested he was out to prove something to someone. The way he laser-beamed the Kop after the first goal suggested he has their seat number, though. That was after he’d already booted an advertising hoarding, and although he seemed a bit more chilled about the second goal, he still caught the ball on the rebound and volleyed it to the back of N10 as he made his way towards the fans. Maybe it was his way of showing he’s happy?
After the game McCormack said, “I’ve had some stick for not scoring enough but I’ve made a career out of proving people wrong,” and seven goals this season is already two better than last year. While the new look defence and midfield have been the focus of the change to 3-5-2, and the form of Matt Smith and arrival of Dexter Blackstock have dominated talk up front, McCormack has been quietly moved into a traditional front two and begun to see the benefits. Austin made his impact on Saturday in attacking positions that for much of this season have been filled by McCormack, but McCormack was often the furthest player forward; against Sheffield Wednesday he effectively had to pass to himself to create a goal. With the playmaking role back in the hands of the midfielders, it’s McCormack’s responsibility to be in the right positions to receive a pass and score.
Whether it’s his responsibility to pay for the damage to the pitchside adverts is a matter for the groundstaff, but I would pay it myself to watch Austin – McCormack – goal, Austin – McCormack goal for the rest of this season. I would expect a discount for watching Jason Pearce play wing back, though.
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