bolton wanderers 1-1 leeds united: far from goodBack
One of the ironic symptoms of the Leeds United managerial churn is that we get results like this, and in midweek against Fulham, that would under other circumstances have cost the head coach his job.
No matter what the performance was like against Fulham, failing to win there and then failing to repeat the performance against the division’s bottom team would, if Uwe Rosler had lasted seven more days in the job, have made them his last seven days.
As it is, we’re supposed to look at Saturday’s game and be happy. Look for the positives. See the progress, the bright future under our new manager. Give Steve Evans some time to get things right.
Well, that’s one way to look at it. Another way of looking at is that we’ve thrown away two points in a must-win game against the worst team we’ll play in the league this season, who ended the match with only ten players.
Fulham, too, for all the positivity that greeted the increased tempo and passion, were a team there to be beaten, especially given our recent reliance on our away form to make up for our disastrous form at home. Picking up wins away was the way of keeping our play-off hopes burning while we wondered which was less likely: promotion or ever winning at Elland Road again. Well, our away form is now two points from six; and we’ll be competing for the next six points at our dreaded home.
Would United have won these games with Uwe Rosler in charge? I doubt it, the way he was going. But at least if he’d drawn twice we could be angry about it, demand that something be done. As it is, we’re yet again in ‘give the new guy a chance’ mode, and so points drift away from us at the end of must-win games with barely a shrug.
This game was a must-win because everybody is going to beat Bolton this season, and with such fine margins in the Championship, failure to beat Bolton could make a difference at the end of the season. If we end up three points the wrong side of something at the end of the season — up or down — I’ll be looking back to these two games and the way that sacking yet another manager turned them into freebies.
Steve Evans has had the advantage of managing without pressure from above, so far, because even Cellino can stay civil to a new manager for two matches. Rosler, if he’d managed us through these two games, would have had no such luxury; but that might have been to our advantage, if not his. I wanted Leeds United to go into these matches under pressure to perform, because they were important; too important to just mark a couple of Xs on the coupon and put it down to the new manager finding his feet.
Changing the manager has taken the pressure off, but it hasn’t addressed any of the larger issues; and I’m not even talking about the boardroom instability, as Cellino and Andrew Umbers shuffle seats ominously. The team has switched from 4–3–3 to 4–4–2, but it’s still ominously not good enough.
Marco Silvestri’s shot-stopping is still cancelled out by almost every other aspect of his infuriating game. Even taking into account stereotypical ideas about continental goalkeeping, what coach on what planet ever instructed him to come flying at a cross on the edge of his six-yard box like Superman trying to swat a moth? Awful decision making combined with incompetent execution to give Bolton a free corner from which they took the lead; even the famous Silvestri shot-stopping — and there was one brilliant stop in the second half — couldn’t stop Ameobi scoring when the ball fell to him ten yards out.
At the other end, Chris Wood looks more and more of a misfit. His penalty against Fulham was, let’s admit it, awful; its saving grace was that it went in, and supposedly boosted his confidence. Well here we were, a few days later, and Mirco Antenucci wasn’t about to let Wood test his luck that way again. The goal at Fulham might have boosted Wood’s confidence but it doesn’t look like it boosted anyone else’s confidence in him.
Rosler was holding back from 4–4–2 apparently because he couldn’t accommodate Antenucci; now we’ve seen it for a couple of game, the problem isn’t Mirco, it’s Chris. Being thrust into a strike partnership seems to have paralysed the already not very mobile Wood, looming stricken in the background while players dart into the penalty area and take shots around him; he was unlucky with one snapped effort in the first half, but it’s already clear one effort per game isn’t going to be enough.
Wood should worry us. So should Dallas and Adeyemi. They, along with Erwin and Buckley, Botaka and Bamba, have been the case for how much better things are this season; Wood, in particular, is the £3m talisman to prove that things are going in the right direction. Except Erwin and Buckley have barely got started; Botaka and Bamba are well-liked but worrisome; Dallas and Adeyemi have been solid 6/10s but no more; while Wood? We spent £3m on him. The joke should be on Bolton, with Shola Ameobi signing on a short term deal; Shola Ameobi scored, though.
Our team is, supposedly, better than it was last year; so lots of people keep saying. We’ve spent decent money during our best transfer window for years, and kept the crown jewels — Cook, Mowatt, Taylor, Byram — who should all be a year more experienced, a year better. The results on the pitch, though, still suggest something is wrong somewhere.
Perhaps gearing our expensive transfer policy towards the playing style of a head coach who didn’t survive through October will turn out to have been a misstep. Maybe employing a head coach whose preferred playing style didn’t suit the exciting young talent at the club wasn’t a great idea in the first place. But these are the things Leeds United is faced with every time we, instead of building on what momentum we have, grind to a halt and start again.
Steve Evans is not my choice as Leeds United manager, but I suppose now he’s here he deserves to be given a chance; the start, on the pitch, has been okay. The problem is we’re running out of chances to give, the further we get from good.