burnley 1-0 leeds united: not okayBack
It’s hard not to get drawn towards and join in with the groaning when people complain about the lowered expectations of today’s Leeds United, especially when you were raised as a Leeds fan in the nineties, when missing out on Europe was seen as failure.
It’s important to retain some sense of proportion, though. In ninety-seven years, Leeds United has been outside the top division as much as in it, its trophy winning years concentrated into one ten-year and one three-year spell. Those of us who saw Billy Bremner or Gordon Strachan lift a trophy were the lucky ones. Glory has never been the norm, and we shouldn’t expect it by right.
That said, being grateful that, after being a goal down after a minute, we didn’t lose to Burnley as badly as we lost to Brighton or Huddersfield is too far at the other end of the spectrum of expectations. The 1-0 defeat at Turf Moor left Burnley top of the second division by a point, and us fifteenth, two points off 21st place. And the performance was met with such ah well, at least we tried acceptance that it was almost as infuriating as Chris Wood’s attempts to head a ball into a goal.
Chris Wood’s price tag often gets mentioned, sometimes when, as against QPR, he slides in to finish a neat pass from Murphy and score; but more often when he closes his eyes to a golden chance to score and lets the ball bounce off his shoulder and wide. But why ever it’s said, the sentence is normally left incomplete. What gets left off the phrase ‘The £3m signing is’ are the words ‘from Leicester’, because I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not think about that link right now.
Jamie Vardy scored another two goals for Leicester this weekend, and Leicester are now seven points clear at the top of the Premier League, a hair from qualifying for the Champions League, a moustache away from winning the god damn title. Leicester signed Vardy from Fleetwood Town for £1m, and we signed Wood from Leicester for £3m, and look how it’s all turned out. Just look at it.
I’d like to not scapegoat Wood for the defeat at Burnley, because he did score a good goal in midweek, and he has been out of the side injured for a long while. But then, Leicester fans warned us about his fondness for a recurring injury, while Steve Evans insisted he’d only been out for so long so that he’d come back as twice the player and more he was before he knacked himself.
There’s no sign of it. The player he was struggled to get on the end of the few crosses Leeds delivered to him because he had no clue about timing, and the coaching of Evans and Raynor has obviously had no impact, because here he was at Turf Moor, straining to bury a hot, hot cross because he was standing in the wrong, wrong place. I could get misty-eyed and nostalgic about how Lee Chapman would have timed his run and tucked away those headers, but christ, John Pearson would have timed his run and tucked away those headers, and nobody ever spent £3m on him.
The bright side is where a lot of fans have chosen to dwell after this match, and to be fair, yes, there was more in this for Leeds than there was against Huddersfield or Brighton, or even against Rotherham or QPR. You can look at the corner count — 11-2 to Leeds — or the shots counts — 3-2 on target, 13-3 off, both to Leeds — and conclude from the stats that Leeds were dominant. But all those stats are linked; the corner count was so high because Leeds’ shots from ludicrous distances were constantly being deflected wide. Great attacking play this was not, and the less said about the corners, the better.
Better to rely on the evidence of our own eyes, and these eyes were surprised by how much of the game United had, especially given the relative league placings. Without ever being in total control, Leeds were the better side, enough to wish that Evans hadn’t wasted all his ‘unlucky to win, felt we dominated’ wolf-warnings on such blatant falsies as the Rotherham game.
How much of that was down to some moment of tactical serendipity, and how much to an out of sorts Burnley struggling to get their act together after a run of three draws isn’t clear; Burnley’s 1-0 headstart probably affected things, too. Leeds are easy to figure out, and showed it again here; you can give Leeds the ball, because they grimly uncreative, and if they do manage to create something, they generally won’t finish it off. After going ahead in a minute, and after two more chances — one similar, one virtually identical — within twenty, Burnley could reasonably feel that they didn’t have to turn too much on to get three points.
That goal is worth a word. Giuseppe Bellusci was dropped after Evans realised that what he had mistaken for humility, and what we had all taken for monumental arrogance, was apparently mental instability; my gut instinct was that Sol Bamba would respond with some sort of epic own goal hat-trick, but instead it was the whole damn lot of them at the back (and Stuart Dallas) who were snoozing through Arfield’s goal.
Bamba missed the first header, Cooper didn’t get close as Gray controlled it, Dallas didn’t track Arfield back, Berardi didn’t ever look like getting a tackle in and Silvestri didn’t ever look like saving it. I’m going to take this opportunity to point out that it was the right side that was most at fault here, the right side where Leeds’ best player used to roam, either as a defensive-minded winger supporting Berardi, or as an excellent right-back himself. They said we wouldn’t miss him. I’m not so sure about that.
It depends on your expectations, I suppose. If this’ll do for you, then you don’t need a Byram; a Berardi will do just as well. A Vardy? Nah, Wood’ll score in his next game, he just needs four or five chances. And who will be creating those chances? Well, Carayol scored that goal in the cup, so we’re not due anything from him for a while. Maybe Dallas? He’s okay, isn’t he.
That’s the important thing; that we’re okay. We go to Birmingham on Tuesday night feeling okay about things because we played okay against Burnley, so we should be okay. If you know your history, though, you’ll remember Birmingham City on a Tuesday night for four Zigic goals and a goodnight to Simon Grayson, and you’ll know the nasty habit history has of repeating on Leeds United. If you know your history, though, you’ll know already that none of this is truly okay.