leeds united 2 – 3 watford: what you wantBack
Leeds fans can tell Billy Sharp everything he needs to know about getting what you want; and about what comes next.
Billy got two things he wanted against Watford on Saturday. He got to play, and he got a goal; and as the numbers emblazoned on his undershirt proclaimed, it was the 150th of his career.
Perhaps that explains his frustrated Twitter antics after the Brighton game; he didn’t go to all the expense and trouble of having ‘150’ heat-pressed on his vest just to sit on the bench while Edgar Cani lumbered around in his place.
There are two ways of thinking about the list of tweets that Sharp fav’d after that match, all questioning his exclusion from his side, some questioning Redfearn’s senses or Cani’s ability; it was either totally unprofessional or showed refreshing hunger. Or you could conflate the two; it was an unprofessional way of showing his refreshing hunger. Then it’s not so bad. Obviously he’d do better to react in a more professional way, but his profession is football, and he hasn’t had the chance to play much of that lately. Which is sort of his point.
It is sometimes necessary to show how you really feel, even if it means misbehaving. Helped by an injury to Steve Morison and the fact that Cani was garbage at Brighton, Sharp’s passive-aggressive cyber tantrum was the precursor to his return to the side; I’m sure Redders will have stressed that he didn’t cave in to Billy’s internet silliness, but Billy won’t care: he got his own way in the end.
And he got his goal, a proper poacher’s one; Luke Murphy’s pass over the top was so wayward Watford’s defender, Anya, couldn’t deal with it, and Gomes in goal could only push his header across the goal. Billy Sharp couldn’t miss and didn’t miss, which is something that sets him apart from the other strikers at the club, who could and might have. For that moment, at least, Sharp’s inclusion was justified.
I’m not sure Sharp can have any credit for the second goal; I’m not sure Rudy Austin can, either, because his strike seemed to owe as much to a serendipitous alignment of the planets as to his own skill. He didn’t even hit it all that hard; this wasn’t ‘the’ goal, because ‘the’ Rudy Austin goal will be scored from much further out, with much greater velocity, and cause more injuries in a more widespread area; but until The Day of The Thunderbolt, this flash of lightning was enough to take United to 2–0 and to dreamland.
That’s where our defence remained. There was a brief flurry in the first minute of the second half, when Austin should have done better when one-on-one and Sharp and Murphy could have scored in the chaotic minutes that followed; but apart from that, Watford spent most of the time between our second goal and the end of the game being much better than us and winning – helped by Sol Bamba and Liam Cooper playing as if absent on an Austin-inspired cloud.
The search for a single source or trigger for each change in our team’s form is a never ending one. Some point out how United have played much better since Cellino lost his appeal and went away, only to falter when he wrote his open letter from Miami this week. Others say Bamba has been the decisive difference since he arrived from Palermo. Going ahead against Watford, cause and effect couldn’t look more closely linked than in Sharp’s inclusion and goal. You could argue for them all.
Likewise, the splintering of our defence has coincided exactly with Giuseppe Bellusci’s suspension and Cooper’s return, and the temptation is to say that Peppe was playing much better than any of us saw; his methods might have looked unorthodox, but whatever he was doing seems to have been enough to be the difference between three clean sheets in a row, and five goals conceded in two games.
It’s not as simple as personnel, though. If Middlesbrough had played against Leeds the way Brighton and Watford did, they would have had that 6–1 win they felt was theirs by right. But Leeds, although not entirely comfortable at the Riverside, were able to withstand the pressure because it was always in front of the defence where Bamba in particular could see it and attack it.
Brighton did things differently, and then Watford perfected the technique; rather than let the Leeds centre backs stay deep and clear everything that came their way, they drew them out to near the halfway line and then plunged through balls into the gaps between Bamba and Cooper who, once they’re looking at the back of a forward’s head, are beaten. It’s Silvestri or bust from that point onward, and he can’t keep a clean sheet on his own every time.
Deeney, Vydra and and Abdi were loving their work, while at the other end Billy Sharp ran around a lot and must have wondered why he had wanted so much to take this job away from Morison. Morison works in the lone striker position not because he’s particularly good at winning headers and occupying defenders, but because the other players can use a long, slow punt at his head as a reliable out-ball from almost any position on the park.
That doesn’t apply with Sharp. He needs more precision; either an on-the-brow cross to let him win a header in spite of his stature, or a laser through ball if he’s to beat the offside trap and his markers. Across the midfield and full backs, that precision is lacking, and the extra effort of trying leads to more mistakes.
The chance Luke Murphy had to make it 3–2 to Leeds, when he beat about five players to je ne sais llama his way into the box but couldn’t find the quality to put the ball into the net, summed up Leeds’ predicament; it was a great bit of play until the finish, and it led pretty much directly to Watford’s winning goal.
You could see how much that countered goal hurt Leeds by the way Murphy and Sharp both hit the floor as the ball hit the net; and how much our impotence as a side holds us back. To go 2–0 up was beyond our wildest dreams, because we never really look like scoring two goals in a game; to let that lead go and lose 3–2 was just a sad, slow, inevitable process, like a container ship crashing slowly into a harbour. It gives Otis Redding enough time to finish his song, gather his things, and walk away whistling to a safe distance, but it doesn’t make the trashing of his dock any less annoying.
Redfearn tried everything, even though his apparent reluctance to use his substitutes and his post-match comments made it clear that he doesn’t think he has many options worth trying, and won’t unless the club goes into the loan market and comes back with something more useful than Cani and less injured than N’Goyi. He, like the rest of us, can’t do much about it when Leeds get worked out and outplayed by a better team; we all just have to stand and watch and wonder why it has to be this way.