the square ball week: terminatedBack
Is excitement overrated? Should football be about a concentrated ninety minute injection of total pleasure, or is there an argument that some of the principles of cricket should apply? End to end action, chaos and drama – or low-key atmosphere, puncuated by demonstrations of class en route to victory? Yorkshire is the county that brought you Aaron Lennon. But it’s also the county that brought you Geoff Boycott.
By conceding only one goal in the last four games, the Leeds defence has shown a massive improvement since the open door policy Kenny and co were showing to Watford earlier in the season. Lee Peltier, who has wandered across the back four looking for a home all season, and Tom Lees, who has matured from the days when mistakes were a matter of when and not if, have gelled since being paired in the middle, and are doing a decent impression of being our best centre back pairing in years. New signing Stephen Warnock might now have the attacking instincts of Aidy White, but his steadiness at left back is giving The PeltiLees less to do. At right back, Sam Byram is still brilliant.
It’s funny how such small hints of defensive solidity send Leeds fans’ memories immediately to 96/97 and George Graham’s first season. That year was dour, it was ugly, it was joyless; but at least if Leeds weren’t scoring many – 28, in total – we weren’t conceding many either. Just 38 were let in, and nine of those had hit the net before Graham had even arrived. The downside, of course, was watching a team that included Gary Kelly, Gunnar Halle, David Wetherall, Robert Molenaar, Tony Dorigo and Carlton Palmer – all at once. That didn’t leave much room for the attacking skills of Derek Lilley to flourish.
Saturday’s win over Millwall would have made Stroller Graham proud: two penalties for Leeds, one scored, and no goals conceded: who cares what happened in the bits in between? “The relative attractiveness of the spectacle was spelt out in the empty blue seats,” wrote Adam Jubb at Fear & Loathing in LS11, “Leeds continue to impress as a defensive unit but depress as an attacking force.” The conversations Andrew Butterwick overheard for Travels of a Leeds Fan concentrated on the bright side: “Not many were eulogising about the quality of the football … But as everybody was saying, three points at this stage of the season is all that matters.”
That philosophy was taken to Leicester’s ground on Tuesday night, although as the Foxes are aiming for promotion, before the trip a point was thought good enough. In the end, the Foxes stole three points from us like leftovers from a tipped over bin, and the travelling fans were left desconsolate at another late goal conceded. “The home crowd were jubilant while the travelling fans watched in stunned silence,” wrote Andrew Butterwick, “Another late goal away from home had drained the blood from the Leeds play off push.” Amitai Winehouse at Spoughts wrote that, “it was neither a good result nor a bad one,” adding, “the reality is that a draw away at Leicester is the norm for Leeds United, and that is what is not good enough.”
That’s one of the key considerations when comparing the recent defensive performances to George Graham’s tightening of United. Graham’s dour side is remembered fondly in part because it was followed by an expansive and exciting second season: Alfie Haaland, David Hopkin and, most importantly, Jimmy Hasselbaink arrived and the emphasis switched firmly to attack. We can laugh about seven at the back now because we know we got our reward afterwards.
Those rewards still seem far off to most long-suffering fans. Neil Warnock might complacently claim this is the best Leeds squad for years, but it’s not a squad that is going to get promotion this year, and it’s hard to see how it will get promotion next year without some quality additions and a change of philosophy. If Warnock’s defensive unit is to be remembered as fondly as that of Molenaar, Wetherall, Halle et al, something will need to be built on these foundations.
“Nothing will come of nothing,” King Lear tells his tongue-tied daughter Cordelia in Shakespeare’s tragic play, but Leeds fans have to keep hoping that something can be made of nil.
In other things, West Yorkshire Police lost their High Court appeal against the ruling that they, rather than the club, are responsible for paying for matchday policing; the original ruling was followed by a number of games switching to lunchtime kick-offs, so get ready for watching some Elland Road football as you nibble at your eggs benedict and salmon omelettes (or your breakfast of choice).
News in Zimbabwe says that, “a determined Zim lad has performed wonders and impressed Leeds United FC coaches causing them to sign him up into their squad despite his age.” Tavonga Kuleya, in case you’re wondering, is eight years old. That seems a bit young for Championship football, but y’know, we should always be looking to give youth a chance.
At least he’ll be able to play on a well-kept pitch; Leeds Head Groundsman Kiel Barrett might well be the youngest in the league, and Pitchcare.com have gone in-depth with him on how the hallowed turf is protected. “Kiel’s ongoing feeding regime will be centred around a combination of 12:0:9 and 6:0:27 granular feeds,” the article says, “topped up with few applications of sugar.” Personally, I’m not sure those ratios take into account the climactic conditions in Beeston, but I’m sure young Kiel knows what he’s doing.