cardiff city 0-2 leeds united: performanceBack
Forget Bolton; this was the reaction the Brighton game required. Not just a ground out win against a poor team, but a win that we could actually enjoy.
Enjoy for its quality? Of course not. Leeds United have not suddenly become world-beaters since last Monday, or since Saturday. But, for all their lacks, they became Cardiff beaters, for the first time since 1984, and that’s what the night required.
On a pitch that resembled a school playing field United struggled in all the ways they’ve struggled in recent games. Kicking the ball to each other remains a massive problem. In the first few minutes, Sol Bamba brought back unhappy memories of the Amex Stadium by passing straight to a Cardiff player near the half way line; he won the ball back, then plunged us back into that nightmare by giving it to another one. Antenucci and Doukara had no click in attack, no way of relieving pressure on the defence, and Cardiff pressed and pressed.
The pressure only increased after Fabio was shown a second yellow card and Cardiff went down to ten men. Cardiff are on the edge of the play-off positions and came at Leeds like a team whose season is still very much alive; Leeds, with the increased space left by Fabio’s departure and Cardiff’s attacking, struggled to develop any kind of plan of passing to relieve the pressure.
Those things didn’t matter, though. I wrote about the Bolton game that Doukara and Antenucci played with all the harmony of wronged spouses in a divorce court, and while that’s still largely true, when it counted and Leeds were able to break, they suddenly had the old magic back from their first dates. Leeds attacking on the break is novel enough. With Cardiff committed forward, Antenucci had time to board his tractor and commence an agricultural trundle up the field; on the edge of the box, he spotted Doukara out of the corner of his eye, and gave him the ball like he’d give him a swipe right on Grindr. Doukara finished, and it was goals and dressing room selfies all round.
Doukara attempted to return the favour, charging down Marshall in the Cardiff goal and winning the ball — no, really, this all happened — and playing to Antenucci, who faced up to an open goal from twelve yards. Unfortunately I doubt Antenucci’s attempt at a shot would have even made it over the line, even without the defenders rushing back to clear; in the scramble of next twenty seconds he fluffed a header, Bridcutt had a volley saved, and Mirco had another shot saved by Marshall. Yeah, all that happened too.
Slow motion seems to be how Mirco likes it these days; his clinching goal seemed to take an age, between him picking the ball up on the wing near the half way line, and him poking the ball under Marshall into the corner of the goal. Antenucci took in the scenery along the way but importantly he got to where he needed to be in the end, and did what he needed to do when he got there.
The goal was necessary, because it cemented Marco Silvestri’s status as the hero of the hour. The cruelty had Silvestri conceded a goal at the end of the person would be hard to imagine, if it wasn’t exactly the sort of cruelty we experience all the time as Leeds fans. Well, not this time. Yes, he fell over whenever he cleared off the floor. Yes, he flapped at a couple of crosses. Yes, he was single-handedly responsible for the six minutes of injury time United had to endure. But he was also single-handledly responsible for keeping out about six certain Cardiff goals (and was helped by the woodwork for a couple more).
Reflex saves, mostly; camera-friendly too, but that was Silvestri before he ever arrived here — when he signed, I was about twenty seconds into his YouTube showreel before I declared him a showboat. But sometimes a camera-friendly showboat is exactly what you want between the posts — when it works, mainly, when instead of fumbling an easy corner, he’s nudging close range headers over the bar with his fingertips. What’s better, a solid goalkeeping display, or an acrobatic one? Well, we’re only ever going to get one kind from Silvestri, so we may as well appreciate it when it works.
That’s this game all up — you’ve got to appreciate it when it works. Thirty seconds before he scored the second goal, Mirco Antenucci was flailing around in his own half, giving the ball back to Cardiff so they could have another go at Silvestri. He wasn’t the only one doing it, but he was the one who thirty seconds later had put the ball into the back of the Cardiff net and was being toasted by the hard-travellers in the corner of the stadium.
Quality? Nah. But Leeds teams over the years have known, and shown, that when you can’t get the quality to click, you can make up for it in other ways: application, effort, an individual on a worldie. If this team have finally learnt that lesson, we’ll have more to enjoy. So let’s just enjoy what we’ve just been given, for now.