leeds united 1 – 1 ipswich town: limboBack
The plan before the game was to get back to just that: the game. Football. The game, the sport, the thing about people kicking a ball around as a contest and an entertainment.
The closer it got to kick off with Ipswich on Tuesday night, though, the further away from football we became. By the end of the game, football was nowhere. This was just a… I don’t know what it was.
Neither does Brian McDermott. “Forget the league,” he said after the game. “Forget about me. This situation has to be resolved.”
The ‘situation’, of course, is the takeover we all wanted to forget for a couple of hours while the team played Ipswich. At the exact moment when team news was due – Diouf replaced Varney, if you still care to know, with Varney apparently refusing to play because he’s going to play for Blackburn – at that exact moment, a statement arrived from sponsor and prospective buyer Andrew Flowers that piled more complication and confusion upon the takeover, and distracted attention still further from the game.
Trying to unpick that statement is beyond my abilities at the moment, and it feels like it would be a waste of time; for all I know, another statement could be coming from another quarter at any moment, saying something else. It sounds like trying to unravel and understand the relationships between Andrew Flowers, David Haigh, Salah Nooruddin, Hisham Alrayes, Mike Farnan, Massimo Cellino and whoever else has got the better of McDermott, never mind the fans; trying to understand where it leaves the football club has defeated us all too.
“McDermott says he has no idea if he’ll be able to sign anyone before Friday,” tweeted the YEP’s Phil Hay from the post match press conference. “And no idea whether a takeover is actually coming. In the dark.”
If you think that doesn’t affect the manager and the team, and their preparations for a game, you can’t have watched the first hour of Leeds United vs Ipswich Town. The first half was so insipid that a plainly angry and frustrated crowd could barely summon up the energy or interest at half time to boo. Why bother?
That disinterest was removed by the bizarre Ipswich goal. Paddy Kenny started behaving oddly from the start of the second half, sending a clearance straight out of play – alright, that’s not all that odd – then wandering over to left back to receive a throw in, and passing the ball square to Tom Lees on the edge of the D; Paddy then stood and watched as Tom, never the most confident with the ball at his feet, dithered alarmingly as Ipswich attackers loomed. For ten awkward seconds Lees became rush keeper, while Kenny seemed happy to watch from the sidelines.
Not long after that, Kébé lost possession in midfield – a recurrent theme, wherever he was on the pitch – and David McGoldrick took a crack from distance. Paddy Kenny has always had an aura of untouchability about him which makes him look unaffected by mistakes, but on this occasion he didn’t even look affected by the shot, let alone by the way he let it go past him at the near post. He didn’t seem to even move. Perhaps he was thinking about what Julio Cesar would do in his situation.
The goal didn’t exactly galvanise United, but the last half hour at least had the appearance of a football match, and one that Leeds wanted to win. Whenever he had the ball, Cameron Stewart was still trying more stepovers per minute than his brain (and his legs) can keep pace with, but it was at least a sign of attacking intent, and troubled Ipswich enough to win a penalty that Ross McCormack converted.
The other new man on the wing, Jimmy Kébé, did not win a penalty, however, or a header or a tackle, either before the goals or after; I’d be surprised if he managed to complete a pass. He certainly didn’t cross successfully, and when he did try to run with the ball, it only seemed to be as an alternative to passing it straight to the opposition. Diouf looked confused to be playing – Varney’s withdrawal apparently came not long before kick off – and neither Poleon or Mowatt seemed to add many ideas when they came on.
That’s not to pick on those players, although plenty were picking on Kébé, with plenty of justification. In a way, it’s to the credit of the fourteen who played that they managed to get a point against a team on the edge of the play-off place, despite have no discernible gameplan beyond, ‘Ignore the takeover, and try to beat them.’ Speaking to Adam Pope of the BBC after the game, McDermott said, “The players are with me. I have never considered walking away. I stay because of the fans, the staff and players.” I can picture the home dressing room before the game, as news of Andrew Flowers’ statement filtered in, and the figure of Luke Varney filtered out, and McDermott rubbing out whatever had been written on the whiteboards and just writing ‘4-4-2 – Do Your Best’ in its place.
Maybe he should have added a special ‘Try Not to Zone Out Completely’ for the benefit of Kenny, but as I sat pondering who the owner of that Chevy Spark was, and why he or she didn’t just answer the pleas being made over the Tannoy the first, second, seventh or thirteenth time, I couldn’t claim that my mind was completely on the game. That’s the major problem: nobody’s mind is. As he prowled the touchline, did McDermott catch a glint of a slammed door on the East Stand executive level? Did he try to get a glimpse of who might be coming or going up there? It would probably have been as important as anything he saw on the pitch.
Massimo Cellino and his entourage were due to be watching from on high, apparently, but they didn’t show up; their dinners were left up for grabs. Just that little bit of info alone sets the mind whirring with questions. Does that mean they were never coming? Were they busy with paperwork elsewhere? Were they too angered by Flowers’ statement to watch a team bearing the Enterprise Insurance name on its shirts? Did they get the teamsheets, declare ‘No Varney, No Point,’ and decide to start negotiations with the Venkys instead?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. And neither do you. There are people who do know, and they work for an investment bank in Bahrain called Gulf Finance House. But if they’re not even telling Brian McDermott what he needs to know, they’re not going to tell us.
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