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birmingham city 1 – 3 leeds united: be brave

birmingham city 1 – 3 leeds united: be brave


If there’s one thing Leeds United have to do now, it’s be brave. Whatever happens, we have to face up to the future we’re getting, whether we like it or not.

That means not losing focus, and not being distracted. We have to concentrate on the goal that’s clearly sighted, which is fixing Leeds United, and hope that the utter madman that the task has fallen to will be able to see the job through.

Danny Pugh and Michael Brown are the reason we can’t have nice things. And after a giddy 3–1 away win on Saturday, it’s important to remember that they, and several others lying semi-discarded around Thorp Arch and Elland Road, are in the way.

Not that we shouldn’t enjoy Saturday – in fact we should revel in it. I called it in advance, anyway – our last chance to do something worth doing this season, or whatever it was I wrote on Friday. Birmingham were there for the taking, but too often this season we’ve let teams who were there for the taking take us. Not this time, though.

Another peerless headed goal from Mathieu Smith was the highlight; I’m sure we’ve all seen the stats about the state our season would be in without McCormack’s efforts, but I wonder if we could quantify how valuable Smith’s eleven goals and seven assists have been this season. Some of his goals have been really good goals, too; home and away against Birmingham, Smith has shown what he can do to a good cross.

It that was the true highlight, the goal from Danny Pugh a minute and a half later was the weird one. Leeds don’t do two goal leads, and if anyone is going to score in quick succession it’s usually our opponents. Danny Pugh also doesn’t score, and yet here he was in the penalty area, nicking the ball off McCormack’s toe to fire into the corner.

A few minutes later, Michael Brown charged from midfield and lobbed over the bar; although lumbered might be more accurate than charged, and the fact that he missed by yards has to be noted too.

But this, along with several shots from around the edge of the penalty area by Michael Tonge, seemed to be suggesting that there was some life in these old dogs yet; that with the young Alex Mowatt alongside them pulling the strings, the old stagers could turn it on and secure an impressive win for Leeds. Brown and Pugh’s contracts end this season, but Brown has just been part of a side that has won three out of four matches, so…

No. That Birmingham was a last hurrah shouldn’t detract from the fact that Leeds should have been hurrahing all the way through this season, and that Brown and Pugh have been expensive parts of a squad that has delivered next to nothing. And they’ve been delivering nothing for a mighty long time.

After the last game of the 2011/12 season, against Leicester at Elland Road, I made an animated gif of Michael Brown booting the ball backwards over his head towards our own left back area, where Danny Pugh fell down like a ragdoll as a Leicester player breezed past him. I absolutely despaired of the performances these two had been putting in, and yet two full seasons later, they are both still Leeds United players, and they are both still threatening to almost do enough to be allowed to stay for another year.

That can’t happen. It’s not necessarily personal, although with Brown and me it certainly is – he has never performed or shown the attitude of a Leeds United player, has done nothing to deserve the contracts and wages he’s been given, and even as a figure of fun he has long since ceased to be amusing. You may have a different view, but that’s mine. More important, however, are the wages he and Pugh, and Diouf and Varney and Green, have all consumed this season – five first team wages, for five players with no place in our first team.

We’re trying to look forward, but for a moment let’s look back. Let’s call it an average wage for each of those of £10k per week. Did Leeds United really get £2.6m of value from those players this season? Could that money have been more usefully spent? If those five had been replaced by even just two or three players who would have actually contributed to the side this season, might Leeds United have been better off?

It’s all very well for Danny Pugh to celebrate his goal and we’ll all laugh and joke about how unlikely it all was, but when it comes down to it players like Pugh and Brown have contributed far more to the demise of Leeds United than Brian McDermott. And while Brian McDermott has Benito Carbone watching from the stands, iPad in hand, and apparently willing to work for free – doing what, nobody knows – there’s nobody threatening Michael Brown’s position, because the club can’t sack him and it can’t afford to replace him.

Carbone might be the first change of the summer; or he might only have been there to watch and tease. Part of the fun of Cellino, or so he says himself, is that he’s “a player – a man who like to play.” One of his games seems to be bringing in people who could replace McDermott but not saying whether they’re really there to replace McDermott or not – Gianluca Festa, the ‘translator’; Benito Carbone, the academy coach. McDermott must turn up to work some days feeling like all three of the bears, certain that some Goldlocks has been sitting in his chair.

But that’s part of the bravery that’s going to be needed during the “bloodbath” Cellino has spoken of at United. While some suspect that he’s just waiting for the pay-off when he’s sacked, I think it’s to McDermott’s credit that he has kept turning up for work day in, day out, never knowing if a Benito Carbone will be there to greet him; I used Ernest Hemingway’s definition of courage – “grace under pressure” – in connection with McDermott back in February, and it still applies now.

That courage needs to extend to the whole club. Okay, so Pugh scored a goal; he was still 1/11th of another poor performance against a side who, thanks to Lee Clark, are much worse than we are. He still has to go this summer, and the only regret should be that he, Brown, Diouf and the rest weren’t out the door a year ago.

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