brighton & hove albion 4-0 leeds united: if not you, then who?Back
Even the scrapping was half-hearted. It began after Leeds were 4-0 down, and there were niggles until the final whistle; the odd booking here and there. Liam Cooper was called over by the referee, at one point, to calm things down. But there was never any real risk of this match boiling over.
No true fight, no true spirit, no, no, no, no, no. The second half was better. But all that taught us was that Leeds United’s players can avoid conceding goals to a team that has decided to stop trying to score them.
What we’ve been able to hold on to, for a while, is that this hasn’t happened to us for a while; Leeds United have not been so thoroughly dismantled for several months. Even at home to Blackburn, when Rovers scored within a few seconds and then again within a few minutes, the avalanche slowed and halted before it swept LUFC breakneck back to the chalet.
At least we had 1-0 defeats and 0-0 draws to cling to; the idea that only being narrowly poor was some sort of improvement upon the days when Ipswich, Watford, Bournemouth, Reading, Bolton and Sheffield Wednesday would line us up for scoring practice.
That’s gone now, though. How much more has gone is yet to be seen. Steve Evans’ failure to appear before the press after the game at first sounded spineless; as talk grew that Massimo Cellino had given this as an order, on his way out of the stadium at half-time, it developed from spineless to Massimovellian. Those sorta signs — plus two wins in thirteen games, and only ten goals — suggest Evans might be gone soon.
Along with Steve Evans will go Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor and Alex Mowatt, if Steve Evans is to be believed, at least; Steve Evans thinks the promise of the team Steve Evans is going to build will be enough for them to resist the pull of the Premier League and be part of Leeds United’s promotion push.
If Evans stays, though, that promotion push could be a push from League One, not a charge to the Premier League. In fact, if Evans goes, that promotion push could be, etc. Leeds United are nine points clear of the relegation places, and there are seven teams below them in the table. The trouble is, some of those teams can demonstrate the bare competencies required to win football matches and stay in the division. With Evans or without him, relegation is a near prospect.
What happened in the first half against Brighton went far below competence. The first goal was an eye-roller of inevitable Wootton-style clutziness, the sort of clumsy and disorganised penalty teams concede when they play central defenders at right back, or play Scott Wootton anywhere. This was written in advance, written in the stars, written all over Wootton’s sorry face: the guy who was too mentally broken by his own goal at Watford to play in the next game stepped back into the starting eleven and broke. But that was just standard.
Brighton’s second goal set new, lower standards. Sol Bamba, with the whole pitch and twenty-one players to choose from, gave the ball to Brighton’s Baldock, and from there Brighton found scoring pitifully easy. That the ball bounced into the net off Cooper’s foot shouldn’t be taken as an indication that Cooper was somehow close to preventing the goal; nor should the fact that Silvestri ended up prostrate as the ball hobbled past him into the goal suggest he might have saved it. Leeds United’s defenders were doing things independent of what Brighton’s attackers were doing, and unrelated, as if they were playing some other game, in some other world, with no impact in the Amex.
2-0 after twenty minutes was enough. I’ve criticised the fight shown by United in the second half as half-hearted, but so was my own interest in what happened after Brighton’s second goal. The third barely registered. Another Bamba mistake — the ball is in Leeds’ net again? By this time it didn’t feel important, because it didn’t feel like too long before I’d see similar again. And that was the fourth.
There’s a weird mentality that takes over in times like this when I begin to want the opposition to twist the knife, and even at this post-match remove I don’t feel like four goals were enough for Brighton to thoroughly make their point. Albion essentially let Leeds off in the second half, and in that respect half-time — which clichés dictate couldn’t come soon enough for the Leeds players — came too soon for me as, counter-intuitive as it is, at 4-0 I began to hope Brighton would rattle in six or seven or eight. When you’re nailing a coffin shut, you want to make sure the body is staying dead where it lies; Brighton left United crawl space that wasn’t deserved.
And Steve Evans, whether instructed to or not, crawled off into the night, belly depressing the mud; Cellino had crawled off long before, snake-like, barely leaving a trail. Players, restless on the coach or in the hotel room, dipped apologetic toes into Twitter, but the anger at them was dissolved in a sympathy that Evans, had he fronted up, would not have been granted.
Evans has been insufferable when Leeds United have won this season; in one way I’m glad he didn’t speak after the game, as my own sanity and this report might have been in the same tatters as the team. He’s been increasingly puffed up lately about his prospects at Leeds, beyond anything form or history should indicate, taking the credit for every minor, incremental improvement he can. For example: “Without Digaouraga, without Bridcutt and without Carayol coming in, do they [the fans] think we would be a in a relegation fight come the end of the season?” Well, let’s wait and see.
I wouldn’t have suffered any explanation for what happened to Leeds United at Brighton, not from Evans, not from Cellino, but while the absence of an explanation might have meant fewer things to go to sleep raging over, it also meant going to sleep with less anger spent.
But then again, I went to sleep with less anger than I maybe ought after watching Leeds United play football like this. Wootton gives away a penalty? Shrug. A Bamba mistakathon? Oh well. Evans not talking? Ah, this rotten fruit I was going to throw at him will still be rotten tomorrow. 4-0 away to Brighton; well, what did anybody expect?
Should I take to Twitter and take this result out on Lee Erwin, who fessed up to his fifteen minutes on the pitch, and admitted to being in the worst form of his career? Probably not, no. So if not him, now, then who, when?