derby county 2 – 0 leeds united: shock systemBack
The worst part of watching Leeds United being relegated in 2014/15 is the feeble way it is happening.
In 2004 there were tears and heartbreak at Bolton; in 2007 there were scraps breaking out all over against Ipswich. Like wins, it’s hard to see where either tears or fists are going to come from in 2015.
Instead relegation will probably be confirmed with a few weeks of the season to go; probably on a day when Leeds don’t have a game. Results will go against us and maths will send us back to League One, and there won’t be anything anyone can do. So in the absence of anything to do, we’ll shrug and go on holiday and that will be that.
That’s all assuming Leeds carry on like they did against Derby County, but the signs of changes are… no. There are no signs of changes. We had a brief flash of possibilities last time we played Derby but since then it has been as painful as that was joyful. Derby’s easy win on Tuesday night salted the hurt, underlining how far under their own par they were at Elland Road.
‘Fresh faces’ are the constant subject at the moment, as if the transfer embargo, its many loopholes notwithstanding, doesn’t exist; as if we didn’t stock the squad chock of apparently exciting and fresh faces in the summer. What’s more, faith in the fresh feels misguided when the likeliest rumours link Leeds with yet more Serie B midfielders and attackers, a repeat of the exact formula that isn’t working right now. If it’s not working, do more of it, is not how the saying goes.
The transfer policies so far of Massimo Cellino and Nicola Salerno have a lot to answer for, and they should be made to answer before they’re allowed to carry on. If Dario Del Fabro, Casper Sloth and Brian Montenegro are so bad that we’ll look for new players in their positions before trying them in any meaningful way on the pitch, why were they signed at all? Were they ever given any hope of breaking into the first team? And what faith can we put in any more newcomers?
There were several strands to Leeds’ marketing in the summer window: the players we signed; the players we tried to sign but were too expensive; the players we tried to sign but thought were too expensive until the players who really were too expensive didn’t come and we went back for them; and the players signed in a rush once the twin blows of our early season form and the threat of an embargo landed. Pick a considered policy out of that.
We all like to see the Academy do well, but for a club that signed 15 players in the summer to be so reliant on Byram, Mowatt and Cook, while hoping desperately for something special from Dawson and anybody else who shows a glimmer in Development games, suggests the recruits didn’t solve any of the problems the team actually had. It only created new ones.
Tommaso Bianchi is one of those problems, and is currently exhibit A for Cellino’s presumed influence on team selection. ‘Neat and tidy if not progressive’ were my first impressions, as I watched Bianchi turn towards his own goal to play countless one-twos with Ross Killock and Tom Lees in pre-season at Guiseley; ‘not progressive’ has stayed in the notebook, but ‘neat’ and ‘tidy’ have been firmly crossed out, to be replaced by ‘bottleless’ and ‘get.’ He was anonymous against Fulham and poor against Wigan, only to appear yet again at Derby and to appear to want to be anywhere but there. Somebody must want him to be there, though, and it’s hard to believe it can be the manager. After seeing him make 25 consecutive starts, it’s not the fans.
We know what we get from Rudy Austin, so with Bianchi a passenger it’s down to Mowatt and Cook to do everything – anything – in midfield; they’re good, but they’re not job-of-four-players good, and they’re too young to be appointed leaders in a relegation fight. As Bellusci, wearing the captain’s armband after Warnock was injured, moaned and griped at the referee in the second half, Sam Byram made do with blasting the ball into the advertising hoardings in sheer frustration at the incompetence of the team around him, and you wondered for a moment if that spark of anger wasn’t also a spark of captain’s potential; until you remember that he’s only 21 himself. Our best players need to be led, and not sent lemming-like over the cliff by the elder heads around them, but nobody is willing to step up.
If we can’t have or won’t get useful fresh players, we might at least hope for a fresh approach. At 2–0 down, with Leeds unable to string any meaningful passes together and Derby itching to score more, the cameras spotted Neil Redfearn urging his players to calm down, when what they really needed to do was anything but. It might be too much to ask of them to get blood on their boots, and in Gaetano Berardi’s case it’s too likely to be taken literally, but I would have liked to see some evidence that there is actually blood in the hearts and veins of the cadavers kitted up and shoved out onto the pitch every few days in the name of Leeds United.
After every defensive mistake, the players’ lifeless eyes turn skywards, then they stare at each other gloomily, but nothing is said; when a through ball goes straight through to the corner flag, the players just turn away and avoid eye contact, wishing the ground would swallow them. Souleymane Doukara seemed to give up on marking Jake Buxton halfway through the corner that gave Derby their second goal, and the rest of the team took that as their cue to down tools too; Leeds had either zero or one shot on target in this game, depending on which statistical method you prefer, and if that’s the response to going 2–0 down, and I dread to think what this team’s response will when it slides into the bottom three in the coming weeks.
If Neil Redfearn had one ace up his sleeve, it was his ability to motivate the players. For all the impact he had on our players at Derby, it might as well have been Darko Milanic back from gardening leave. The substitutions changed nothing: Doukara was woeful and needed taking off, but there was nothing in the game to suggest Billy Sharp could fare any better at the head of this eleven; Tavares, the unhappiest looking little pony in all the wide world, wasn’t only a lonely flair player in a land absent of graft, he was also a target for the Derby players after his dive at Elland Road.
Like for like changes like these won’t have any effect; what Leeds need are changes that are totally unlike anything that has gone before. Redders’ seemed to agree after the game, saying that Leeds need some “game-changers” on the bench; we need them in the first team first of all, Neil, and we’ll let the bench take care of itself.
What he can change, and what he will be allowed to change, remains to be seen. But our season depends on it. Week after week this team takes to the pitch and it’s the same. The same formation, the same tactics, the same players, the same witlessness, the same cowardice, the same lack of fight, the same lack of ability, the same result. It’s four defeats in five now, and the other one was a draw; we’ve won twice since Redfearn came back, and while they were good wins, six defeats for every two wins isn’t going to get this club very far.
Some still cling to the idea that this team is playing “the best football in years,” but the best football team in years would manage more than one shot on target in a game. This team is bad, and stuck in a stale, repetitive cycle. Of the few bright spots, Mowatt’s form has dropped as he’s become caught in the whirlpool; Cook won’t last out there on his own for long.
Every single one of them looks like they need shocking out of their sleepwalk if we’re to have any hope. Right now it looks like the only systems that will be shocked in 2015 will be the fans’, when we start 2015/16 back in League One and these players have all long gone.