the square ball week: growthBack
Pssst. Do you want to know a secret? You do? It’s a good one. Not many people know about it yet. In fact, only a few people saw it happen. But it’s like this, right. You remember Leeds United, yeah? Yeah, that’s right. Well they played two games this week. Yeah, that’s right, but there was one on Tuesday as well. Well that’s just it. They won them both. Yeah, two games, two wins. But that’s not it. Do you want to know the secret? It’s this: they played really well.
It does feel sort of imaginary, and it must feel even stranger if you weren’t among the 16,788 who saw Leeds follow up the win over Sheffield Wednesday with a neat trimming of Burnley. As mentioned in the Evening Post, that attendance was the lowest since 2006, but this time that wasn’t because of the football on display. Rather, it was because of the football that has been on display, and because nobody could have suspected that this same bunch could transform themselves so quickly.
Nobody apart from Brian McDermott, that is. And certainly not Neil Warnock. It makes you wonder what Colin can have been thinking about since August. His kick and rush style – he’d call it direct – is all about percentages, about winning more than you lose. But as the team slid down the table, losing more than it won, its percentage disadvantage growing ever larger, did it never occur to him that players like McCormack, Diouf, Tonge and Byram might blossom if the team played to their strengths, rather than to the strengths of Huddersfield Town’s Division Three promotion side circa 1995?
The change wasn’t instant. As Andrew Butterwick wrote at Travels of a Leeds Fan, against Wednesday “the aficionados of Leeds football scrutinised the opening exchanges for evidence of a change of tack from Warnock’s less than pleasing Hoofball style.” There were more passes, but there were just as many players looking lost, too, and then there was Steve Morison, who rattled back and forth between glaring misses and total disinterestedness; and the shoddy concession of an opening goal, an ironically route one effort from Jermaine Johnson, who had only threatened our defenders’ ankles before Warnock and Kenny let him in.
Amitai Winehouse at Spoughts has analysed what came next: a half-time reconsideration of tactics, and a sequence of subsitutions that changed the game. McDermott also shoved Luke Varney in to the striker’s role that ‘the new Snodgrass’ has apparently craved all along. I can’t deny it – I still haven’t warmed to him – but neither of Varney’s headers were easy, although Ross McCormack was revelling in finding chances to cross for him from every angle. “Barely a day has gone by when Leeds fans haven’t mourned the departure of Bechhio,” wrote Adam Jubb at Fear and Loathing, “suddenly two goals in six minutes that everyone thought only the Argentine was capable of!”
Rejuvenation gave way to refinement against Burnley, and while the Wednesday win meant some intra-Yorkshire braggadocio, repulsing the Lancastrians was actually all about us and not them. Tom Lees’s return meant balance, and a fruitless search for a winger at Thorp Arch meant a diamond formation and a move into midfield for Ross McCormack. There was no need for subs from McDermott this time: he had this one right from the start. “More passes had been exchanged in the first thirty minutes of this game than in the first thirty games of this frustrating season,” wrote Andrew Butterwick, and Rudy Austin’s second half goal – we still haven’t cracked the first half thing – was like something only other teams do. A patient build up, then a measured pass as an attacking midfielder breaks the offside trap – that’s not been the Leeds United of 2012/13. And yet they could have done it, all along.
Ian Wylie at Right in the Gary Kellys puts the change down to togetherness, and cleans up and quotes a tweet from our Dan at The Square Ball: “You know what? Maybe Colin was right. Maybe these players ARE decent. It was just him that was tactically inept.” The comments from the likes of Varney and Lees suggest a happier camp, and an end to the ‘Blame Tom Lees’ culture at Elland Road – although we did at least get a good poem out of that from Doctor Leeds in the latest Square Ball magazine, that we’re glad Tom himself saw and signed.
Wins, passing, and sing-songs down the pub, with the manager on guitar? I wouldn’t have laughed at you three months ago, I’d have sobbed bitterly because I wouldn’t have thought it could ever be true. We’ve waited a long time for spring, for grass to grow and flowers to bloom; it’s come at last, from a head on which the grass don’t grow no more. It’s only two games and maybe we’re getting giddy, but giddiness is more than Warnock ever brought. Cheers Brian. You’re doing alright.
about a year ago
Leeds tonight: The Garage closed, to open again; a look at the new building on the Lumiere site; warming up for Scotland with RLWC2013 and Ross McCormack; plus wrestling and films tonight.