fulham 0 – 3 leeds united: the invinciblesBack
There is no way that this Leeds United team will ever lose another game of football. Whether it deserves to or not.
I was strident in my opposition when Andrew Umbers poured buckets of cold water on the idea of Leeds signing new players, because he wanted to preserve the ‘equilibrium of the spirit of the team’; but now I see that he was right. It might not be the spirit of the team that we need to preserve, though, but the continued favour of whatever dark otherworldly power is guiding Leeds United up the table right now.
This team must not be added to with new players; nor must it be subtracted from. That means the good: Cook and Byram must stay. And it means the bad: Steve Morison must also stay. Whatever is going right, Morison is a part of it, and there would be too much risk involved in removing him now. If his role is short cameos at the end of games during which he lumbers uselessly offside and contributes hardly anything, fine. If that’s what works, it’s not our place to interfere.
Leeds United should not have won this game in a million years. Leeds United certainly should not have won 3–0. And yet here we are. Something is happening here that goes beyond football, or tactics or performances or statistics.
Maybe Fulham, with Ross McCormack and Mathieu Smith up front, just wanted it too much. And by god did they want to win this game. I know it’s normal to be prepared for your opponents but I knew everything I needed to know about how much Fulham wanted to win this game when I saw them packing the six yard box at corners in the first half. They knew Marco Silvestri is weak on corners and crosses because they had actively sought any weakness possible because they were absolutely determined not just to win a game of football and earn three points, but to beat Leeds United.
McCormack and Smith had their personal battle to win, too. Both, I am convinced, have strong affection for our club; if it’s not love, then it comes close. Even as he limped past the away end to the tunnel when a knee injury ended his game, and even as the Leeds fans roundly booed him and chanted What a Waste of Money, McCormack still gamely applauded the Leeds support; he’s determined to keep letting us know he loves us, even if we’re determined to keep letting him now we don’t particularly care.
Smith attracts less attention because he’s such a nice bloke, but it was clear that whatever feelings they might hold for Leeds United, they were determined to grab goals against us while they had the chance. Or while they had 26 chances; not just for those two, true, although for most of the game it felt like McCormack chips down the middle for Smith to head at Silvestri were a gameplan that, for Fulham, would work eventually. It had to.
It didn’t. Instead it was Berardi’s cross to Byram that opened the scoring and took the cheeky goal factor off somewhere in the stratosphere; and after Middlesbrough away, and after the way the first half had gone, and after of all people Sam Byram scored with of all things a header from a cross from of all people Gaetano Berardi, you somehow just knew. The game was United’s.
The only people who weren’t in on it were Fulham who, rather than admitting that since Michael Jackson’s statue was removed from Craven Cottage they’ve been powerless against occult forces and seeking an abandonment at half-time, came out for the second half looking as if they still thought they could beat Leeds. Not to be.
Even when Sol Bamba made it 2–0 from a corner – a corner, mind you – they didn’t get the message; even when they went down to ten men, Fulham still kept trying. In fact, after the sending off, Fulham had one of their best spells of the night, creating chance after chance for Mathieu Smith to either miss or have saved by Silvestri. They tried to game Marco by applying pressure on his weak spots; instead they ended up playing to his strengths.
Mirco Antenucci came on to make it 3–0 and finally Fulham understood that they were up against something in this game that was stronger than just a good football team. There’s something about Leeds United that is stronger than just good form, too, and stronger than anything we’ve seen for a long, long time.
It might not be supernatural. It could just be that Neil Redfearn and Steve Thompson really are this good at coaching, that the players really do have these levels of performance in them, that this really is the bedrock on which we can rebuild our great club.
But then you watch Sol Bamba giving the ball away when he attempts complex tricks in his own half for no reason; or the weird passage of play near the end of the first half when Leeds didn’t just fail to clear their lines as Fulham attacked and attacked, but seemed to be actively letting Fulham have the ball so that they could attack and attack and attack.
It was almost as if they didn’t feel like they needed to defend. The United players might not be able to name it any more than we can, but they play with the confidence of a team that doesn’t believe it will ever be beaten again; even if it does several things, often all at once, that almost guarantee that a defeat should be the result.
Leeds go to Blackpool on Saturday and will win again. I’m not even worried about jinxing this one; there is no way that Leeds United in this mood can lose to Blackpool in theirs. That will be one more win, three more points, and another step towards our proof of invincibility.
This Leeds United team will never lose a game of football again. Seal it in amber, pickle it in aspic, freeze it in tundra frost; nothing must change.