leeds united 0 – 0 reading: rose-tintedBack
Graham Bean lost his job for letting this game be moved from Tuesday to Wednesday.
In the long run, though, he may have done us several favours. For one thing, getting himself sacked had its own merit; among the less appealing aspects of his CV was his self-described “sharp business practice” when he registered a number of internet domain names related to the phoenix club Northwich fans were trying to get going; that Bean had been working on behalf of the old Northwich Victoria didn’t make for a tidy situation. Still, £100 for a poxy domain name is £100, I suppose.
I’ll spend less time wondering why Graham Bean got sacked than I will wondering why he was ever here.
Secondly, by agreeing to Reading’s request to move the game from Tuesday to Wednesday, he ensured that frustrated firefighters dealing with the burning Majestic didn’t also have several thousand frustrated Leeds fans arriving in City Square to contend with. It’d be a bit much to suggest this was foresight, but it’s a useful enough coincidence.
That said, a burning building might only have drawn a shrug from the crowds as they left Elland Road after this game. After the relative euphoria of the Redders era, Leeds have crashed back down to meh, with a sigh.
Darko Milanic said he wanted to see the fans’ true colours in this game, which I think he meant as a sort of rabble rousing, get behind the lads message. It would be interesting to know what he learned about the fans, as much as about the players.
Hopefully he cottoned on to a few things that we’ve all known for a while. Luke Murphy is not going to be cheered on to the pitch like a hero. Although we might yell ‘shoooot’ at Bellusci, it doesn’t mean we want Rudy Austin to shoot too. And when you drop the team’s in-form left-back and make the side appreciably worse in the process, you’d better have a damn good reason why.
The switch from Stephen Warnock to Liam Cooper was tactical, apparently, to provide more solidity in defence and nullify Nick Blackman. It’s not clear whether Milanic came up with this one himself, but he’s the head coach now and it goes down as his decision; his first of significance as Leeds boss. And. Well. I mean I don’t want to get into the guy too early. But.
I even have to temper this by saying that I have never been Stephen Warnock’s biggest fan. Even though he’s been putting in good performances this season, that has only put into sharper focus the sub-Pugh stuff we’ve had to endure from him before now. At his age, and with his experience, and with his ability, Warnock could have become a Gordon Strachan for this side. Instead he’s been a Jim Beglin, but without the excuse of injuries.
Fair’s fair, though, and he has looked like a new man this year, and nothing Blackman or Reading as a whole threw Liam Cooper’s way made me think Warnock wouldn’t have been comfortable out there again. Cooper, on the other hand, looked about as comfortable as you’d expect a central defender to look, when he’s just moved up from League One and is playing left-back against a speedy winger in the Championship.
God knows, but Darko Milanic apparently doesn’t, that Jason Pearce doesn’t need any more uncertainty down his side of defence, but that’s what he got. It’s not that Cooper was awful or anything, and he’s looked like a canny centre-half when we’ve seen him there, but you could almost taste the lack of assurance in the air as our left side became a weak spot for Reading to aim at.
Perhaps the ensuing disappointment of the nil-nil draw is down to some rose-tinted romanticism for something that was never really real. It’s okay to talk about the resurgence under Neil Redfearn, the form, the points, the shots on target, because all those things felt good at the time.
How big a case should be made for a good second half against Bournemouth and a great ninety minutes against Huddersfield will remain open to question until Redders is tested in the Leeds job – or the Barnsley job – on a permanent basis. Before we rush to condemn Milanic for the Hockeriness of the Reading game, we should bear in mind that while it didn’t hit the heights of the second half at Bournemouth, nor did it plumb the depths of the first.
With some of the composure shown at Bournemouth Leeds could easily have come away from the Reading match with all three points; Darko ought to have learned something about the crowd from the reaction to the attacking spirit that took hold of the team in the last fifteen minutes.
With the crowd behind you and urging you on, however, you don’t want Austin to fire off a shot from thirty yards that doesn’t travel further than five before it hits a defender; you don’t want Bianchi to turn and seek out Silvestri from the halfway line.
It would also be useful, when actually attacking with relative abandon, to have a cool defensive head like Warnock’s on the pitch; Leeds aren’t good enough in possession in the final third – or in any third, to be brutally honest – to be entirely confident about charging forward, but Warnock has made a speciality of last-ditch tackles this season, a valuable commodity to have in the vicinity of Pearce.
That defensive instability made for an exciting finish, though, as the last fifteen minutes were end-to-end and either side could have scored. Leeds would have needed to get more than one shot on target, though, and for all the threatening runs forward, the final ball was lacking, when we got that far; on several awkward occasions, Leeds broke from defence, only to lose the ball before the halfway line and have to skid to a halt like roadrunner approaching a cliff edge.
The progress made under Redfearn seems to have come to a rapid halt, too. This game felt more like the early stages of the season: waiting anxiously for a narrow Leeds side to get going and then fearing what might happen defensively if they do.
We have to ask before finishing up, however, what the hell I know about it anyway. After all, I’m here grumbling about a defensive change I don’t agree with, when the net result was a clean sheet against Reading rather than two goals conceded against Brentford. It can’t have been that bad a decision from old Darko. If I can swallow down the catch in my throat to praise Warnock this season, I can certainly recognise that Milanic might have been on to something here.
It all just felt so unsatisfying, though. Maybe it’s not anything to do with the defence; maybe it’s that Doukara and Antenucci are going to be one of those strike forces who’ll only catch fire every third or fourth game; maybe Casper Sloth needs some time to toughen up. Or maybe the answer lies in our development squad; do Brian Montenegro or Adryan have the capacity to deliver the wits upfront that have been beyond our fairly lumpen lot so far?
Or maybe it’s just that nobody likes being dragged out to a nil-nil in midweek. Roll on Saturday.