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rotherham 2 – 1 leeds united: play adryan!

rotherham 2 – 1 leeds united: play adryan!


It’s not only the individuals who can make football fun.

When I wrote about the frustrating exclusions of Adryan Tavares, Brian Montenegro and Chris Dawson on Friday morning, it was because I feel Leeds have been missing the sort of individiualistic spark that those players might be able to provide, and have been missing it for years.

I nearly included a whole additional section, though, roughly sub-titled, ‘and passing the ball is overrated, too.’

There was nothing really wrong with United’s first half performance at Rotherham; but nothing really right about it either, other than the scoreline: which is important. Words and phrases like ‘patient build up’, ‘good ball retention’ and ‘neat passing play’ were being exchanged approvingly, with Leeds’ ‘calm approach’ being lauded and then rewarded with Antenucci’s goal.

It’s all a bit boring though, isn’t it?

Leeds, as they have all season, were struggling to come up with ways of getting into Rotherham’s defensive third, let alone the penalty area; what might look calm, patient build up play to some could just easily be rephrased as a static lack of imagination. It didn’t seem to matter where there might be space to exploit the Rotherham defence; if it wasn’t conveniently reached from the pegholes of our perennial diamond, Leeds United weren’t interested. Gaps on the wing? No thanks!

When the goal did come it bore an uncanny resemblance to lot of the goals we’ve scored from open play this season; from the halfway line, Bianchi passed the ball to Doukara in the middle, who fed Antenucci who, onside – and I can’t stress that enough – onside, finished neatly.

It’s the Leeds United 14/15 plan A: pass around in our own half until someone spots an opportunity to send a striker one on one, straight down the middle, and hope they’re onside and hope they can score. The last part of that is fine when it works, but it doesn’t work often; we’ve scored nine goals from open play this season, in twelve games, and watching Austin, Berardi and Bianchi pass sideways behind the halfway line isn’t much compensation the rest of the time.

That lack of creativity doesn’t only affect enjoyment, but results; Rotherham wised up in the second half and until the now-customary late charge to save the game they cut off our one path to goal. That did have the advantage of occasionally making Leeds think about what they were doing – some lovely quick passing sent Austin into the corner, from where he sent in a mean cross – but where the first half had been comfortably dull, the second was aggravatingly aggravating; and losing to Rotherham is just that. Aggravating.

Results weren’t my focus when I wrote about Adryan Oliveira Tavares on Friday, though; fun was. And if we can take nothing else from this game, at least we enjoyed watching him finally make his debut; which was entirely my point. We’re going to lose a fair few games in the rest of the season, but if we’ve got the players who can provide some entertainment while it happens, let’s play them.

Tavares, as Rotherham found out, could be unplayable. After all the talk of him not being strong enough for the Championship, not being ready for the English game, not being up to the challenge of Rotherham away on a Friday night, the new number nine that came off the bench showed that one of the most effective ways to deal with second division defenders is to completely terrify them.

He wasn’t often found; Rotherham’s decision to start running the clock down with about ten minutes to go put the brakes on a Leeds comeback. But whenever Adryan did get the ball, Leeds – and life – lit up. Well, perhaps not the first time; the first time he dribbled past three or four defenders and tried to feed a ball out wide fans and players were united, watching in disbelief. But that first run was all it took to realise that Tavares provides something different, something exciting, something creative, something that you can’t take your eyes away from.

Dragbacks, spins, flicks, dribbles; Adryan is like a post-Miley Cyrus reboot of 1998-era Alan Smith, a crowd-pleasing supersub who gave the fans at Rotherham an ‘I was there when Adryan Oliveira Tavares made his debut’ moment to savour. Tackles, too, and arguments with the officials, pouring water on those ‘can’t cut it’ claims; but perhaps most significant of all was his willingness to turn, turn, turn, to take every laboured pass from our beleaguered midfield and, rather than send it back where it came from, to turn, open his body, look forward and look for options and look for a way of scoring a goal – on his own, if he has to.

Finally we have someone who can make us want to look at the pitch again; who will stop our eyes from straying to the East Stand executive level to see what crazy stuff Cellino is up to, or to spy a motheaten old fur coat hiding an old enemy; to halt the constant questions about who is picking the team and saying this or doing that, at least for as long as Tavares twirls before us, the belle of the ball.

Therein lies the inevitable problem. Picking through Darko Milanic’s post-match interviews to get to the nub of why, after the teamsheets were handed in, they were revised with Cook instead of Tavares, is too much to cope with on a Saturday morning when I’d much rather put an Adryan showreel on repeat. But it’s something about him wanting to play Adryan but being impressed by Cook in training all week and having to choose between them; which isn’t great, because all that proves is that after a two week international break our head coach was incapable of making a final decision on his line up until fifteen minutes before kick-off. It’s a lady’s prerogative to change her mind, but it’s a Leeds’ head coach’s imperative to make a decision, and not faff around tossing coins until the players are all but in the tunnel.

Cook did well as the latest player to take a turn at the frontmost tip of the diamond, but all the signs have pointed to him being a mite too defensive to be taking on that role full-time; and he certainly didn’t bring the new dynamic to that position, and to the entire team, that Adryan did.

So it’ll be interesting to see who starts there against Norwich on Tuesday; part of me suspects it’s going to be Caspar Sloth and Milanic will be sacked by December, but that’s just a growing feeling I’m getting about Darko’s future anyway; I’ve still no idea if he’s any good at his job or not – we’re far from Hockadamnation levels here – but he’s shown nothing so far to suggest that he knows what he’s doing or is going to be doing it for long.

Adryan Oliveira Tavares might just be the boy to save him though. Just play Adryan, Darko, and let the rest take care of itself. And just play, Adryan, play!

TSB Charity Walkers

TSB Charity Walkers

Congratulations to The Square Ball Walkers, who walked the thirty miles from Billy’s statue to the New York Stadium in pretty much exactly twelve hours. That hasn’t left them with much in the way of useable feet for the forseeable future, but it has raised over £5,000 for the Leeds Children’s Hospital, and the Luey Jacob Sharp Foundation – so far. The JustGiving page is still accepting donations, so if you’ve some room in your heart to make a twelve hour walk to Rotherham to see Leeds lose worthwhile, or you just want to donate to two excellent charities, you can make a contribution here.