blackburn rovers 1-2 leeds united: undo pressureBack
Ten changes were the pre-match team news, but that wasn’t quite the whole story. These were less changes, more a reversion, putting players back where they ought to be.
What had changed was everything else. Between the last time this team stepped out, against Nottingham Forest, and won in good style, and now, Leeds United went through a tortuous and embarrassing defeat at Sutton United in the FA Cup, then a drawn out, strikerless and curiously unsatisfying deadline day. And the first team, through no fault of their own, were suddenly under pressure, when they should have been cruising.
Beat Forest, smash Sutton, do some transfer business, beat Blackburn, get ready for Huddersfield. That’s how that should have worked; easy.
Instead there has been scrutiny of the manager’s decisions, nervous tapping of index fingers on the sparse ‘strikers’ section of the squadlist, and meaningful glances to communicate the worry that, if things don’t go well against Blackburn, well, that’s not going to be what we need before playing Huddersfield.
There is always pressure in football and quite right too, but the lads lining up against Blackburn must have bewildered at the changes since last week. They may also have been bewildered by the kit, United continuing a trend for this season of dressing differently in Lancashire; blue shirts and white shorts in Preston, yellow shirts and blue shorts in Blackburn. There’s your goals there, between the bike and the tree, we’ll take the bin and this pile of coats; you be Blackburn, we’ll be Sweden. Chris Wood, you’re Zlatan; Pontus Jansson, you’re Pontus Jansson.
In theory as none of the pressure of this game had been brought on by the players playing it they should have been able to perform carefree, but seventy minutes without a shot tells you a lot about the burden this side had to carry. You could tick off the cosmically predictable setbacks one by one. First, that the one change from the Forest line-up — Kemar Roofe taking Pablo Hernandez’s place behind Chris Wood, and Hadi Sacko moving to the wing — shouldn’t work; Hernandez came on for Sacko at half-time, Doukara for Roofe on the hour. Second, that Pontus Jansson should be booked for his usual faffing about where he shouldn’t, followed by clumsy violence against an opponent.
Third would have been for Blackburn to take the lead, but bless them, that would have been a scripted incident too far down the road to implosion for this Monk’s Leeds United. Instead Leeds took the lead, and how. If you watch this goal on Sky Sports’ two-and-a-half minutes of highlights, take note of just how miserable most of the highlights they’ve dredged from the opening seventy minutes of this match are; then feel the difference when Liam Bridcutt spots Stuart Dallas making a blindsiding run outside the defenders, distracted by Wood, from deep to the edge of the box; how Bridcutt dinks the ball high and dipping right to him, and how Dallas chests it into his path, catches it up, and shoots low across the keeper into the far corner. Feel the difference, relish the quality, suppress the suspicion that Bridcutt was actually banging the ball at Wood’s head and overhit it, and enjoy the goal and the relief.
Unlike the wreckage of the Sutton result, the post-transfer window pressure ought to be healthy on the pitch; two wingers, right pacy bastards n’all, apparently, Alfonso Pedraza and Modou Barrow — deal with that, Sacko, Roofe, Doukara and Dallas. Only Dallas made it all the way through this match, adding a fine goal to his name along the way, which is good for him, because he’s likely the first at risk when it comes to adding pace; Sacko and Roofe now have more reasons to step up their game, while Doukara might just be relieved at not having to pretend he’s a winger anymore so he can concentrate on his volleying practice. The unhealthy pressure belongs in the boardroom, who after the game may have heard some point comments on the radio from Garry Monk about how they need to plan better in future or, in other words, sign a bloody striker; but that’s a discussion for another day.
The discussion for this day was going to be about a hard fought 1-0 win in the west, until Blackburn equalised. I don’t even know what to say about Elliott Bennett’s goal other than, that can’t happen. You can’t just shoot low from thirty yards and more and have the ball go in the net like that; not good enough. Especially not in these circumstances, when a tight fifteen minutes would have got the game done.
Instead six minutes followed that, the Wigan game at Elland Road apart, has been part of the standard for Leeds United this season; they play to the end, and if there’s a way there to win, they’ll take it. Reliably, responsibly, it was a Hernandez corner that made it; gleefully, magically, it was Brick Jansson that scored it. His finish was to header what Doukara’s goal last Wednesday was to volleys; a dangerously placed ball by Hernandez was laid brick-like into the middle-height of the net’s back corner and just stayed there, while physics tried to come up with a way of bringing it back under gravity’s control.
Pressure? Certainly sir. And would sir want that relieving with a last minute header from a cult hero, assisted by a player of splendid quality, sir? Very good sir. And not only did it make Wednesday night worth it, that goal — and the team performance that, although much more Brolin ’96 than Brolin ’92 in the Sweden imitation stakes, dragged it out of themselves — changed everything for Sunday, too.
Confidence is the best cure for nerves; wins are the best catalyst for confidence. That’s why what happened in Sutton was so aggravating. It’s also why it can be put behind us, now.