reading 1 – 0 leeds: happiness deferredBack
Ah, I remember the old days. Frustrating games, late red cards, even later goals. Unnecessary kicks in the teeth and long, drawn out post-mortems.
In a way the result at Reading is useful as a reminder that there is still a long way to go for United. Brian McDermott has only been in charge of 14 Leeds matches, and despite not having the resources for a revolution, he has done an incredible amount to transform our club’s fortunes.
You only have to compare the results from the first 14 games under McDermott – W8 D2 L4 – to the 14 matches before he took over – W2 D5 L7 – to see the impact he’s had. It has not been an overnight fix; that’s never really possible, especially when you’re balancing a wage bill your bosses say is too high against a team your fans say is too lacking; but Leeds have gone from a downward curve to an upward curve, from winning 2 in 14 to winning 8.
So the important thing to remember is that one lapse, one ugly 1-0 defeat, doesn’t knock that whole job to smithereens. We won the game last weekend. Win the game this coming weekend and our trajectory is still upward.
That doesn’t mean it’s not bitterly, bitterly disappointing to lose a game in this style. A golden headed chance missed by Jason Pearce; a second yellow card for Stephen Warnock; a badly defended free kick gives Reading’s dangerous striker a winning goal. All in injury time, too.
The bitterness is compounded because these are ghosts of Christmases that are barely past. That shiver is the hand of recent seasons on your shoulder; that whisper in the cold breeze is the sound of all the punches in the solar plexus Leeds fans have had in the last few years.
3,500 went to Reading last night, and maybe the worst of it is that they went there feeling optimistic. McDermott’s time in charge so far has felt like a reward for all the bad years; if any fans have earned the right to be happy, it’s Leeds fans. Adam Le Fondre’s goal, though, is a reminder that total happiness is going to have to be deferred for a while yet.
Reading came down from the Premier League last season – they were only there thanks to our manager – and their squad still has a ripple of Premier League quality. The only other team to have beaten us are QPR, who are treating this division like the Russian Premier League anyway. We’ve lost to teams that have got stuff we ain’t. With that imbalance in the division, our optimism still needs to be grounded in hope rather than expectation.
Not everything is rosy with our own team: the lack of goals is a concern, as is the lack of goalscoring chances – Leeds only had one shot on target last night, and only one corner. But there isn’t a need for radical changes, and that doesn’t seem like McDermott’s style anyway. Mowatt and Dawson might look like Messi and Maradona in the Development squad, but two 18 year olds are unlikely to be able to instantly lay on the chances for Varndogg and Hunt at this level. The return of Sam Byram would certainly make a difference, but while completing 90 minutes behind closed doors sounds positive, he’s been injured for months and hasn’t had a pre-season: rushing him back could do more harm than good.
The solution is to grit our teeth and think of the good times – the ones we’re having, like our own late winner against Brighton at home, and the ones we’re going to have. We might not be able to overcome the money and the power of QPR and Reading – yet. But Leeds are fighting the power in this division, and a sick defeat doesn’t destroy the upwards progress. We keep getting better; and if McDermott carries on as he has so far, Reading will pay for last night at Elland Road in March. Look forward to it.
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