brighton 2 – 0 leeds united: reminders of the bad timesBack
When you’ve been on a run like Leeds have been on, and built up the kind of positive vibes Leeds have built up, it requires that you forget yourself a little bit; you’ve got to pretend.
It’s right there in the way we talk about it. This game will be called a reality check, which carries with it the idea that the last few games in which we beat all comers and shot up the table almost to safety, weren’t real.
They’d better have been real, because otherwise Massimo Cellino’s pre-match statement, about how we’ve qualified for next season’s Championship so now he can make public his personal fight the football authorities, is going to look pretty silly should we end up qualifying for League One instead (not that Google Translate and the utter neediness of it didn’t make it look silly enough). Relegation doesn’t look like such a troubling prospect anymore, but the result and the performance at Brighton reminded us that it’s not very long since League One wasn’t very far away.
You can’t shake off a season like Leeds have had with just a few good games; form is temporary, but Sloth is permanent, as the old saying almost goes. While three wins and three clean sheets in a row, along with all the other stats we’ve accumulated since the Sunderland game, were nice, at some point we were going to get a reminder that underneath the fun and the wins is a not very good football team struggling to play above itself.
We haven’t seen the last of that side’s best side; we’ve just had it brought home to us how fragile it is. I don’t think that the enforced change that brought Cooper in for Bellusci can be blamed for the slump at Brighton; but replacing the injured Sam Byram with Casper Sloth did show up the difference between our very best players and our average squad players.
Byram has been great to watch in his new position, shifting between right wing and striker to win penalties and score goals, while still getting back rapidly to help an unbalanced Wootton at right back. But as well as aesthetically pleasing, he’s been effective. We’ve not been quite as reliant as in his first season, when Sam was often the only reason to go and watch Leeds United, because we’ve got Cook and Mowatt too. But behind them?
A better example of the thin sand on which our brush with glory has been built might be of a player who did play. Charlie Taylor has been rightly lauded since Stephen Warnock left – who needed that old codger anyway? When your replacement is 21 and his only back up is Gaetano Berardi, the answer when the form dips or tiredness and injury strikes could be, us.Remove one player from our perfect eleven and the domino effect begins.
Byram has been great on the right and was missed; Mowatt has become comfortable on the left but moved right to make way for Sloth; Sloth couldn’t help Taylor the way Mowatt has, and that meant Craig Mackail-Smith was a constant problem down that side. And with goals being conceded and problems to solve, Redfearn had nowhere to go but backwards. Cani replaced Morison due to injury, but then it was Antenucci for Sloth and Doukara for Mowatt, giving us a front three that must have made Darko Milanic shed a tear.
It’s not Redfearn’s fault; he literally had no other option, except Sharp, who in a tantrum of tweet-favouriting after the game let his own thoughts on the substitutions be known. As we’ve not seen Doukara for a while, it was worth chucking him in to see how he looks these days. But with limited activity – and an embargo – in the transfer window, and what feels like a self-imposed embargo in the loan window, when Redfearn wants to change things all he can do is wind the clock back to the players he replaced because they weren’t performing. The effect is predictable.
That said, the players Redfearn has made integral to his side, to much praise, like Cook and Mowatt and Murphy and Austin, couldn’t cope with their opponents anyway; either because they were up against better players, or because they were too fatigued to win their battles. Sol Bamba, too, showed worrying signs of Zaliukasism in the first half, getting repeatedly caught either in possession or on the turn and letting Brighton through for shots at Silvestri.
Leeds either didn’t notice, or did notice and kept forgetting, just how dangerous Brighton were on the break; off Leeds would trot into attack or for a corner, and before you knew it four Brighton forwards were tearing towards goal with barely a Leeds player to be seen. This wasn’t like Middlesbrough, where Leeds had it all worked out and could resist Boro’s attacks through sheer hard work; this situation required some tactical nous, but nobody on the pitch or on the bench seemed able to provide it.
That meant it also required Marco Silvestri to once again do wonders, and once again he stepped up; not only with some great saves, but with a forcefield he seems to be developing around his goal that makes normally good forwards lose all their powers when they come within his range. Their might actually be something to this: confidence breeds confidence in yourself, and doubt in others; opposition strikers must have seen how Silvestri played at the Riverside, and how he has played since he joined Leeds, and been compelled to overcompensate when they face him and end up making mistakes. Or he could actually be goalkeeping made mystical, it’s hard to say.
The games are coming quickly for Leeds now, so we’ll have more time to see what wonders Silvestri can work in the weeks ahead; and more time to see the team’s strengths, and as at Brighton, to see its flaws. And hopefully ignore them if we keep, like at Middlesbrough, winning in spite of them.
But the cruellest reminder of all from this game might be that this is just about where we’re at, that this is our truth; that Brighton 2 – 0 Leeds United just sounds about right as a result. If it hadn’t been for the giddy form going into it, if we’d just been meandering towards mid-table with a win here and a draw there, then a 2–0 defeat at Brighton is the kind of practical minded, realistic scoreline you might have predicted. That’s not a happy thought, but there it is.
Instead of meandering to safety, we’ve hit mid-table like an intergalactic star-fighter with lasers on full power, and it has been all about happy thoughts, with pew-pew noises and no reason to stop playing until we got tired and had to go home. Now the pew-pew noises have stopped; we’ve got tired, and we’ve got to go home. We have to stop playing. But there’s another game on Saturday, and if we can just start playing again like we have been, the game can begin again. Pew-pew.