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brighton 1 – 0 leeds united: normality

brighton 1 – 0 leeds united: normality


You’d never take a defeat in advance, but there was something almost reassuring about getting beaten in Brighton on Tuesday night.

Compared to recent weeks, this was a mannerly loss sustained in a fairly usual way for a mid-table Championship football team. There was no drama, no controversy; there will be no drawn out Football League inquiry. We went, we saw, we lost, we dropped one place in the table.

Four bookings in the whole game and only one goal. The margin of defeat was not enough to become distressed about, and after Huddersfield another thumping win seemed unlikely. In fact, Leeds have only won three league games in a row once this season, so a win against Brighton would have been a serious upturn in fortunes.

An upturn in fortunes is exactly what Leeds United haven’t had, as Brian McDermott said quite plainly after the game. Massimo Cellino’s presumed millions float tantalisingly somewhere over the Mediterranean, or the Atlantic, or in the air above the Football League headquarters in Preston, but they’re no good to anybody yet. “I would have wanted to sign two or three players I had earmarked,” he told the BBC. “But unfortunately they’ve gone, so that’s where we are now.”

It’d be easy to point the finger at McDermott for not finding a way to beat a team that are, like us, just outside the play-offs; it’d be easy too to jab a few digits at the defenders who failed to take responsibility for the incisive attack that gave Brighton their goal. I’d like to ask Luke Murphy just where he was trundling off to when the ball was at Ulloa’s feet, but that’s more it was a fascinatingly weird run that he made than because it put him particularly at fault.

But this is a team that has been through the wringer over the last fortnight and performed admirably. They needed to, not just because the players – along with the fans – were all that was holding the club together on the chaotic Saturday afternoon when Huddersfield came to play; but because after Rochdale, and after Sheffield Wednesday, they owed us something.

But this is also a team that simply can’t do that every week. Huddersfield are as far below Leeds in the table as Brighton are above us; so how come we can beat one 5–1, but lose 1–0 to the other? Well, home advantage certainly played its part, but the real answer is that Leeds are a mid-table team, and this is what mid-table teams do. Win a few, draw a couple, lose now and then; when your destiny is to finish just outside the play-offs – and that’s where we’ve been heading all season – results are going to be a mix, and defeat just has to be taken on the chin.

Cellino meets the Football League today, but all the indications are that it’s a meeting that will tell us nothing; a decision on his suitability to takeover Leeds United won’t be taken today. It might not even be taken this week. It’s not just Cellino’s fortune that hovers over Leeds: a great deal of paperwork and red tape still needs sorting through before Eleonora Sports can take control. And that’s assuming that Mike Farnan’s attempts to force his way into contention come to nothing. In Sydney, Allesandro Del Piero remains as far away from joining Leeds as he did in his pomp (at least we got Brolin to make up for it, though). The situation continues to be as confusing as it could be, and the situation continues to weigh heavily on McDermott. “After everything that’s gone on, I certainly feel that I need to recharge my batteries,” he said after the game. Middlesbrough are a blessed ten days away, by which time everything could be resolved, or nothing.

Against that backdrop of chaos, I’ll take a 1–0 defeat in Brighton. In a time of constant upheaval and change, it’s natural to reach out to anything familiar, anything stable, that you can. Leeds still take ridiculous numbers away. Tom Lees still gets confused sometimes. Murphy and Mowatt still can’t dominate a midfield. Ross McCormack still can’t do it all on his own. Leeds still can’t put a consistent run together and break into the group of teams above us.

Those things are okay by me for now, because they’re all expected outcomes. I’m not sure I could have taken it if the boat had rocked again, whether it rocked to the good like against Huddersfield, or rocked to the bad like against Sheffield Wednesday. Neither the thrill of one, nor the desolation of the other, feel appropriate when the club remains effectively in limbo. “Where we are as a team is where we are in the league,” said McDermott, “and where we are as a club as well.”

Where we are as a team and a club is below Brighton and Hove Albion. That’s not where we want to be, but it makes last night’s result seem entirely normal. And after the weeks gone by, and the weeks that still lie ahead, I’m content for Leeds United to just live up to ‘normal.’ Disappointment, in this case, feels like sanity, and there’s not been enough of that around.

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