charlton athletic 0-0 leeds united: scoreBack
Tom Adeyemi had done it. Head down, arms outstretched, elbows pumping like pistons on a steam train, Tom Adeyemi had done it.
There’s not a lot of space behind the goal at Charlton, so as he hurtled he needed to adjust his body weight or he would have ended up, Brendan Ormsby style, somewhere further than anybody could reach him; bending his run towards the corner flag, he still would have gone further than anybody could reach him, because Tom Adeyemi had done it.
The quick free kick from his midfield partner Liam Bridcutt had started things off. Bridcutt has changed things for Leeds, as Steve Evans said he would; when we look for reasons why Leeds have had chances in the last couple of games, threatened goals, it’s to defensive midfield and Bridcutt we have to look.
Adeyemi is there too, and that’s the point. The first few months of the season have shown that Adeyemi is not solid enough on his own to have lightweights like Murphy, Cook or Mowatt next to him; but put the tiny, tenacious Bridcutt there, and suddenly the side is solid, suddenly Bellusci and Wootton can be part of a defence that keeps clean sheets.
And suddenly Cook, Mowatt and Dallas, and Murphy or Botaka if they play, can have the freedom to attack and create and not worry about protecting the back line. Adeyemi and Bridcutt can do that, relieving the pressure of all the players around them, so the defence can organise, the attackers can go play.
Leeds have had this tandem midfield before; Batty and Bowyer used to team up in the middle, before Bowyer moved wide and left the centre to Batty and Dacourt. You and your mate, you run things; if one goes forward, one stays back, and if there’s a particular danger that needs dealing with, you do it together.
“We’re a long way away from buying [Bridcutt],” said Evans after the game, who is adamant that a gentleman’s agreement will keep Bridcutt here on loan until the summer, and who is probably wrong, meaning we’ll be back to square one. Back to trying to find solutions with the players we still have come January or February, back to trying to work out what Massimo Cellino wants when he goes on his mysterious visits to away ground dressing rooms at half-time, back to wondering why we can’t have nice things.
But for now, it was Bridcutt who started this, with a quick free kick near the half way line. The foul had been on Adeyemi, who was scrambling to his feet as Bridcutt dropped the ball and played it to Stuart Dallas, as always working hard, as always providing an option. He turned and played a through ball down the channel to Wood, whose game isn’t really the channels, and didn’t look as he clipped the ball back from the byline in the general direction of the penalty spot.
Wood had been strong to hold off the defenders but that could have been the end of the move, were Charlton’s defenders not such confused souls. Alarmed, Harry Lennon stumbled over the ball as if it was the vicar’s new puppy yapping at his feet, and Jordan Botaka took command of the situation.
It’s an interesting thing about Botaka, that his stepovers are what everyone has been focusing on (and scoffing at, in his manager’s case, who thinks that sort of thing is for Ronaldo and nobody else), when what most stands out about him is the way he uses his body to create space. He’s tall and rangey, with long limbs, and those stepovers are like a boundary-defining swoop that creates a forcefield around the ball and gives Botaka room.
He didn’t even do a stepover here; in fact he didn’t touch the ball for what felt like ages, yet by moving towards it and adjusting the shape of his body, he made the Charlton defenders disappear. That gave him space and time, and anyone who wonders whether Botaka has an end product in him should look at the way he used that space and time not to give the ball straight to Dallas, who screamed for it a few yards away, but to spot the run from where the whole move started of Adeyemi, to swivel and with his first touch to place the ball between two defenders into his path. Here was Botaka’s first statistic, his first product; his first assist.
The pass was perhaps a touch too strong but Adeyemi wasn’t bothered. He killed it with his first touch, absolutely dead was that thing the moment it hit his boot, and carrying it towards the diving goalkeeper we knew how this script ended; Lee Bowyer, bursting through, a kill to control then a jab to send the ball into the net.
Adeyemi jabbed, using the outside of his right boot; he beat the keeper. Tom Adeyemi had done it. Head down, arms outstretched, elbows pumping like pistons on a steam train, Tom Adeyemi had done it.
Tom Adeyemi had missed.
More accurately, he’d hit the post, but it was the outside of the post, and the ball bounced away for a goal kick. Tom Adeyemi didn’t bounce; he didn’t go further, he didn’t bend his ecstatic run. He hurdled the advertising hoardings and came to a standstill in front of the Leeds fans on the raised bank above him; not quite a standstill, because even before he’d stopped running he was crouched over with his head in his hands.
Wherever Tom Adeyemi was mentally in that moment, physically he’d gone to a good place; right in front of the Leeds fans, and as many as could reach him leaned across to pat his back, hold his shoulder, offer what sympathy they could. Nobody could be cross about a miss like that. Tom Adeyemi had done it, he really had; he’d done everything right. He just hadn’t got a goal for it.
Leeds didn’t get a goal for anything they did against Charlton on Saturday. “It was an absolute annihilation, but they held on and got the same return as what we did,” said Steve Evans, and that’s what will linger from this game.
We won’t have players as good as Liam Bridcutt for long, and we won’t get chances like Tom Adeyemi’s all the time, and we won’t play teams as bad as Charlton very often. Charlton are awful; a goal difference of minus fifteen can be explained by just looking at the defending for Adeyemi’s chance. But we couldn’t get a goal off them, and they got a point off us, and when we needed it to be our day, it wasn’t our day.
Football. It’s so easy though! And Tom Adeyemi even did it. Next time, all he has to do differently is score.