ipswich town 4 – 1 leeds united: the surprise is there is no surpriseBack
There was nothing really surprising about any of the weekend’s events in the world of Leeds United. We’ve been through all this before.
To think that the 2–0 win over Derby last week would change everything was a dream. To think that Massimo Cellino had solved every problem behind the scenes on the day he arrived was a fantasy.
Dreams and fantasies are great, though, and occassionally they do come true. But when they don’t, we shouldn’t be surprised. Disappointed, yes, but not surprised.
In their separate ways Stephen Warnock and Massimo Cellino are the least of United’s problems at the moment, but they are both emblems of things that are wrong at the club. They both, at times, feel right.
It was Warnock who pelted to the byline against Derby to pull the ball back for Mirco Antenucci’s second goal, and in the first minutes at Portman Road, he was there again. Playing high up the pitch, giving the team width and an outlet it didn’t have under Hockaday or Milanic, Warnock and Mowatt seem to be on a left-side mission to turn Antenucci into the penalty box poacher we hoped he would be.
Antenucci and Doukara have scored with some very decent long range efforts this season, but the more tap-ins the better as far as I’m concerned. That seems to be Neil Redfearn’s feeling too. The aimless and relentless side to side passing of the early part of the season has been replaced by an actual plan: get the ball out wide quickly, and create the chances in the box, not ten yards outside it.
It worked against Derby, with Warnock and Byram bombing forward; and fans streamed away from Elland Road last week praising Warnock’s performance both in attack and defence. Jason Pearce returned to the side against Ipswich, but it wasn’t much surprise that the captain’s armband stayed with Stephen Warnock.
It has been Warnock’s defensive work that has had him spoken of as a contender for player of the season, but that masks a problem for Leeds United. I had expected Marco Silvestri to have that award locked down, simply by having so much more to do than any other player, and under Hockaday it looked like that would be true; Silvestri has performed heroics, but he’s been matched all the way by the heroics of Warnock.
He was at it again against Ipswich, veering across the six yard box to get in a last minute clearance from under he’s own goalposts – the kind of commitment and goal-saving effort that we love to see from a player wearing the armband of Leeds. But he’s the left-back. And multiple goal-saving clearances per game shouldn’t be necessary from your left-back, and they shouldn’t be coming on top of four easily conceded goals.
It’s hard to put your finger on the source of the brittleness at the heart of this team, but if the Derby game showed us how they can play when things go their way, Ipswich showed us that when things go against Leeds they deflate like a worn-out bouncy castle. The goal conceded just before half time, with Warnock beaten and Liam Cooper inexplicably out of position, was too easy, and Leeds looked like a side desperate for half-time and some new instructions. Whatever instructions they got at half-time were instantly chucked away, though, when Ipswich came charging out of the blocks and killed the game off inside three minutes.
The start of the second half was canny stuff from Mick McCarthy. He must have known that Redders would spend the break exhorting his players to go again, to work harder and get something from this game; and he must known that it wouldn’t work, and that if Ipswich kept pushing Leeds would topple. Mick McCarthy is often smarter than he lets on, but it’s worrying how easily he was able to see straight through everything Leeds had to offer on Saturday.
Clarity isn’t something we can often associate with the ownership of Leeds United, and what we got from Sunday morning’s newspapers didn’t offer much of that. On Friday I wrote about the ever-shortening gap in which we’re left to dwell on the football before the situation off the pitch takes over, and while Sunday’s news didn’t break online until late on Saturday night, I’m not convinced that everybody had made it back from Ipswich before it did.
The financial cycle of football is one thing that doesn’t keep up with the news cycle, though. The news of bigger-again debts to GFH, the size of the losses chalked up while they were here, the £3.4m invoice due to be paid to them by the club that is in “dispute”, all dates from the end of June, and all arrives at the end of a week when Massimo Cellino was photographed gladly grasping the hand of GFH head-honcho Hisham Alrayes. Cellino was either telling us that they’ve put the past behind them and that these accounts can be safely dismissed, or reminding us what Alrayes looks like in time for the anger over their release.
Cellino’s position is a lot like Warnock’s, only we see less of what he does week to week. He’s could have spent the months since the period covered in the accounts as the marauding avenger, charging from last ditch clearance to last ditch clearance, battling to put out the fires GFH left burning; or he’s spent the time letting it all rush by him like Ipswich Town’s forwards on their way to goal, and throwing his own fuel on to the fire in the process. Because fans are kept at arm’s length in top-level football, it’ll be another year or more before we find out what Massimo Cellino and GFH know now.
That so much has happened since the accounting period in these documents makes it hard to be shocked by their contents. That GFH’s ownership had cost us was pretty much a given by now. The surprises are perhaps more at Cellino’s end, and that’s more worrying: that the debt for the purchase of the club has been loaded onto the club itself, rather than the apparently filthy-rich Italian who bought it, is a worry; the presence of a new, Italian-based ultimate controlling company in our ownership structure – Trust Sporting 2006, who own 88.3% of either LUFC Ltd or LUFC Holding Ltd – is also an eyebrow raiser for anyone who remembers looking at the sheer number of linked companies in the Bates days and feeling completely defeated.
That defeated feeling is exactly what we hoped we were leaving behind at the final whistle against Derby, and yet on a grey Monday morning just over a week later, here it is again. That it’s not particularly surprising that the last couple of weeks have turned out this way is maybe the saddest part of all. The team is full of good players, but is still far from fixed, and none of us can really say what’s wrong. The finances are full of holes, but all the information we have is months out of date, and none of us knows what is happening now or what we can do about it.
All we can do is grit our teeth and wait for Saturday and Fulham to come around. Don’t expect any surprises, whatever happens.