leeds united 1 – 0 bournemouth: the best laid plans are overratedBack
The plan is there is no plan. That was the big take away from Monday’s breaking and dominating news: that when push came to shove, and Football League came to ban, Cellino didn’t have anything prepared other than, “We are surprised and disappointed” and “continuing to take legal advice.”
On Sky Sports in early evening he didn’t know if he’d stay. By the time he spoke to Phil Hay later in the evening he was adamant he would: this decision, he said, changes nothing. I can only wonder what had changed as the evening wore on.
Cellino should have been prepared; his bemused act over the whole fit and proper process neglects the fact that he’s run aground on its shores before, back when the Premier League barred him from buying West Ham. Maybe he thinks London and the Premier League is a different country, with different rules; maybe he just thought it would turn out different this time. Well, it hasn’t, and if you’re only acting unprepared Max, you’re doing it very well.
The team follows the president; at least, he reckons Sloth, Bianchi and Doukara do, dropped in it by Cellino for saying God knows what that made him think they would quit if he was banned. Then the team followed the president on the pitch against Bournemouth, not sure which path to take or what plan to use, struggling to impose itself, looking dazzled by Bournemouth’s speed in attack; finding themselves defending on the goal line, yet again, before getting a chance to get going.
Fortunately the rest of Bournemouth’s players looked as bewitched by their forwards as Leeds. Eddie Howe isn’t a manager who confines himself to the dugout; he coaches instead from a sporty little MG parked by the touchline, a wine cooler next to him on the passenger seat. His laid back attitude seemed to have affected his players, who were content to admire their passes as they stroked the ball around the midfield; admire them, that is, until Murphy or Cook or Austin or Mowatt zipped in to steal the ball off a toe or intercept anything that was not pinpoint.
Or it could be that Bournemouth simply expected United to be rubbish and had made their plans accordingly. You could forgive them for thinking that, but that made it more delicious as Leeds gradually did to them what so many teams did to us under Hockaday or Milanic. Leeds used to try to patiently pass the ball around, but were afflicted by the same condition as Bournemouth; after two or three passes we’d reach the limit of our ability and give the ball away. Bournemouth didn’t flake so easily as Leeds used to – they could manage four or five passes at a time – but the results were the same.
While Bournemouth looked ostensibly in charge early on, in fact they were only holding on to the ball in the bits between the mistakes, and without seeming to plan for it or really believe it Leeds found themselves with opportunities. Morison and Austin had chances, and bit by bit, Leeds had belief, and bit by bit, they had reasons to press Bournemouth around their penalty area. And then Leeds had the goal.
Neil Redfearn said this week that, after his late equaliser against Birmingham, Luke Murphy was playing with new character and without fear; that’s not a small achievement, given how far out of Redfearn’s plans Murphy was just a few weeks ago. Murphy wasn’t even training with the first team, and any reasonable offer would have been enough to take him from LUFC; the reasonable offer that did come was from the LUFC first team, shrugging off its Bianchi-imposed lethargy to find a new formation and a new plan that creates a way for Murphy to contribute again, and be fearless again.
It was a classic reaction effort from Murphy against Birmingham, meeting a half-clearance and sending it into the top corner with all the force of a one horse town’s new law; this time, he swept onto a pass from Austin, then he made the goal happen from nothing and not only that but he switched it, swinging his left foot this time, maybe catching even himself unawares as the ball swung past Artur Boric. When were two Luke Murphy strikes part of Leeds’ grand plan? From the moment they happened, that’s when.
If Leeds had been struggling to believe how much of the game they were getting, Murphy’s goal removed any allowance of doubt. There was a lead to defend now, and in the second half, Leeds defended it on the attack. Bournemouth, if they could find their range and their rhythm, seemed capable of tearing Leeds apart; capable, but not able, and although a double substitution brought them a period of dominance, their faltering passing game had a new obstacle now: Leeds.
Leeds had pressed in the first half like kids wandering out of the bounds of their own street for the first time: could they really get away with this? In the second half, after taking a good look at what Bournemouth couldn’t cope with, it became an intentional and planned part of Leeds’ game. Austin didn’t need Murphy’s frantic waving to encourage him to close in on Bournemouth’s defenders anymore; he was there, breathing down their chests, throwing them to the floor, backed up by Cook, who pounced on any chance to take the ball and swerve away towards the goal.
It was hard to believe, especially after the turn up of Saturday’s performance, that Leeds could really be playing so well. It was hard to believe, too, that Bournemouth wouldn’t somehow equalise, and that it wouldn’t hurt like hell. They were certainly good enough; Bournemouth looked like what they were, a very good team having a very bad night. And they certainly had the chances; even playing well Leeds were frail at the back, the byline and the goal line too available and too easily reached.
When Bournemouth were awarded a penalty – a shockingly unjust one, as it turned out – it just felt like part of the overall inevitable; Murphy’s goal might not have been, but this sucker punch had been planned from the start. When it was missed, it was like discovering a new star. You suddenly had to rethink your universe to accommodate this new fact, to make room for the possibility that this would be United’s night after all.
Three points against Bournemouth weren’t part of the plan; hell, this game wasn’t even due to be played until the weekend, but the FA Cup changed all that. Taking six points overall from a promotion chaser probably was part of the plan at the start of the season, but back then Leeds were supposed to be chasing promotion themselves, not looking wistfully up the league at Bournemouth and taking whatever points we can get.
Those plans went out the window early on, though, and now flung after then go the diamond, and several misfiring foreign signings. Teetering on the window ledge, too, is Massimo Cellino, and while we revel in not just an unplanned win but an unexpectedly raucous way of going about it, we wait to see what plans he has next. If Massimo follows his template so far, there probably won’t be one. If Leeds United follow their template of last night, they might not need one.