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leeds united 1 – 2 doncaster rovers: dead simple

leeds united 1 – 2 doncaster rovers: dead simple

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It couldn’t really be as simple as that, could it? Nah. This is Leeds United. Nothing is ever simple.

The second half of this game did make it look like somebody, somewhere – mentioning no names, cough Brian cough – has been missing something mind-numbingly simple about how to improve Leeds United’s fortunes.

Off: Rudy Austin and Luke Murphy. On: Michael Tonge and Aidy White. Result: a much better performance, a goal, and enough decent play to have earned a draw. Maybe even a win, but we shouldn’t get carried away. 

Tonge’s performance was instant validation for everyone and anyone who has complained about Rudy Austin this season. In the second half Tonge was everything Austin hadn’t been in the first, and hasn’t been for weeks.

For one thing, he was visible; for another, he was passing the ball easily from player to player. There didn’t need to be a third thing because simply having a midfielder who could do two was a massive improvement.

White was a bit more complicated; Murphy has been one of our better players in recent matches, but there does seem to be a pattern emerging where every six weeks or so he’ll need to hauled off at half time and kept out of the team for a while. White’s arrival moved Mowatt in alongside Tonge, and took us back to the heady days of 2008 when Aidan first appeared in a Leeds shirt.

The bewildering pace was still there, and the end product still wasn’t, but in his one half as a makeshift winger he gave the side more than Kebe has in all his games for Leeds put together, and gave Rovers more to think about than Cameron Stewart, who always looks so lost out there.

The changes gave the Leeds fans something to get behind, too. Leeds went in at half time to yet another chorus of boos, 2–0 down to two itchingly easy goals for Doncaster. Jack Butland must rue the day he ever came to Leeds United. The idea was to get some first team games and try to sneak his way to Brazil with the England squad, but since that debut clean sheet and the twinkling saves at Middlebrough, the ball has flown past him nineteen times, and the plane to Brazil has pretty much flown without him now, too.

It’s been interesting to watch Butland getting angrier and angrier with each goal against. On Saturday, when nobody closed down Doncaster’s Cotterill after he’d taken a corner, and said Cotterill smashed the ball into Butland’s net, Jack turned to the left back position and started to yell furiously – but there was nobody there to yell at, which had been the whole problem in the first place. He turned his anger on Cameron Stewart, then one by one around all the other players until he ran out of players to be angry at.

Billy Sharp’s goal was a bit more complicated, but had just as little involvement from Leeds players; Doncaster stroked around about a million unchallenged passes, pulling Leeds all over the pitch so that Sharp only had to beat a flailing Byram and a helpless Butland from the edge of the box. Again Butland had nobody to yell at, except everybody, and he was still fuming at half time, wellying the ball due south as he marched off the pitch. He looked like the crowd felt.

Getting the Elland Road crowd back onside is a big challenge for this team now. They managed it with the two quick goals against Reading, and the fans were mostly back with them against Doncaster once it became apparent that things were going to be better in the second half.

Mistakes are still leapt upon, but then there are still too many mistakes. Tonge’s influence was enough to get most of the game played through midfield and on the floor, with refreshing simplicity and only minimal amounts of hoof, but Leeds didn’t become a slick passing machine in the space of one half-time. Leeds’ passing game is a rusty old machine that will need plenty of oil and some new parts before it purrs again; Tonge did enough to make it creak into life, but passes still went astray, and balls still went airborne.

It was an airborne simplicity that got Leeds back in, and although there was a touch of lumping it to the big man about Pugh’s free kick in, everything else about Mathieu Smith’s knock back on to Ross McCormack’s head said that some things do get done right on the training ground; it won’t win any golazo prizes, but there was something simple and lovely about the way the strikers linked up.

It was about the only lovely thing Smith was involved in, as he got battered all over the place by Rovers’ defenders and a pliant referee; his shirt almost tugged off him in the box, Doncaster’s goalie Sam Johnstone finished Smith off with a right hook but still there wasn’t a penalty.

Johnstone can be fairly classified as an arse; McCormack might have been unwise to take a kick out at him after one coming together late in the game, but he was totally justified given the way Johnstone had survived with just a booking for cynically hauling Ross down outside the box, and for the ludicrous time wasting that, despite the referee’s ostentatious stopwatch fiddling, didn’t result in much getting added on.

A red card for the keeper might have changed it; a few more minutes might have changed it. Tonge and White did change it. So what changes for Tuesday? Is it as simple as it sounds?

As I said at the start, this is Leeds United. Nothing is ever simple. Tonge and White looked like the solution against Doncaster, and despite the scoreline Tonge in particular gave us reason to be optimistic. But taking the pessimistic view,  for one thing the opposition were Doncaster, and Doncaster are awful. And we’ve been here before with Tonge; he has undoubted class and ability, but these cameos aren’t enough – has he got the legs to replace Austin on a regular basis? Has he got the concentration – and the match sharpness – to be able to play that well consistently, for ninety minutes out of ninety, without making some horrendous error that Austin, for all his anonymity, wouldn’t?

White, too, has a record of deceptive flattery; a six year record now. In contrast to Kebe, he looked great; but patience wears thin quickly where White is concerned, and he might just be the latest to frustrate if he gets a run in the team.

Then there are the question marks about why such apparently simple, and apparently successful changes haven’t been made sooner. Brian McDermott might be many things, but he doesn’t seem all that stubborn about team selections – a formation gets tried, it doesn’t work, it changes – and he certainly doesn’t seem stupid. He must have had a good reason for persevering with Austin through these tough old weeks, watching him wind down like a badly maintained grandfather clock.

I won’t be able to comfortably accept Tonge in midfield until I know for sure what has made McDermott keeping picking Austin ahead of him; and I won’t be able to relax for fear that we might find out on the pitch, and for fear we might not like it.

Then there’s the final complicating factor, which must always be mentioned in the last reckoning. Massimo Cellino’s appeal will be heard today, and as a result we will – or at least should – know a lot more about our club by Tuesday. It could be simple – the League’s ruling could be overturned and Cellino could be in charge by Monday night.

But even if that’s the simplest scenario, it’s not even all that simple; GFH would still retain 25% of the club, despite their legal disputes with Cellino last week about the wage bill; David Haigh would be insisting on his promised promotion to chief executive, despite reports over the weekend that he has been trying to fund a new consortium to outflank Cellino; and despite the bizarre guerrilla interview on Sunday night in which Cellino seems to have been caught on tape called Haigh "a witch."

Sorting that lot out would take more than changing a couple of midfielders; and that’s if Leeds are given the easy way out of their current mess. There are plenty of other ways Leeds could go today and tomorrow. This is Leeds United. And it’s never simple.

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