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derby county 1-2 leeds united: lit up

derby county 1-2 leeds united: lit up

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When you’ve got one of those lighters that just won’t draw, no matter how many times you flick it; no matter with what determination flicking turns to coaxing to relentless, grim grinding of flint against metal. And you’re dying for a cigarette.

And then you crack it, and the flint and the metal do their job, and the flame stands tall and true; and other factors kick in, like the fact it’s raining and there’s a gale blowing and you’re cigs are damp anyway and all you light is the tip of your nose before you’re back to square one. The lighter drew, but that’s all it can do, draw. And your cigarette is no nearer to being smoked than it ever was.

This would be a good time to quit. Because remember, smoking is bad for your health.

As is watching Leeds United, by and large. The three main threats to a United fan’s wellbeing so far this season have been familiar ones: expectancy, hope and undefinable disappointment. Expectancy, because with Uwe Rosler around, Chris Wood expensive, and last season’s young quarter still here, Leeds fans have had reason to be optimistic. Hope, because at times this season United have looked like fulfilling that optimism, instead of leaving us all carrying an echoing painful abyss through another meandering season. And undefinable disappointment, because nobody can really be angry about loads of draws, can they, just as they can’t really be happy about them; so we end up a bit miffed, not sure what to think about things, waiting for something to happen and happen properly.

That thing could quite reasonably have been a defeat. That’s what we usually get from trips to Derby, and at least it would have been a reminder of what it’s like to feel something after a result. Imagine if we’d gone there this weekend and been hammered. You know, been really battered, with scandalous performances from half our team and substitutions that defy reason. Three-nil down and we bring Doukara on for Cook and lose by six, that sort of thing. Imagine how it would have ruined your afternoon, your whole weekend, not even the Rhinos could lift it; neighbours keeping their pets indoors, fragile ornaments removed from front rooms. It would have been terrible. But it would have been better than another draw.

Leeds United, remarkably, looked like they’d solved the problem in a different way in the first half against Derby. Five games into the season, the heavy metal Uwe Rosler promised was finally delivered down the M1 on an outsize flatbed truck, courtesy of Lewis Cook Hauliers; he wasn’t the only one to up his game — or no longer look too knackered to compete — but the way he took a grip on this game on his return from suspension confirmed one of the theories about the lacklustre last few games: we’ve missed Lewis, and we need him.

With Cook as the pivotal figure, Leeds attacked in unpredictable waves; the only thing you could really predict was that Cook would be involved in it somewhere. Well, that, and that the attack wouldn’t come to anything, but we’ll come on to that. Right, left or centre, Leeds streamed forward in two lines of three, creating space for the players in the second line to break through the first and constantly putting Derby on the back foot. These were the echoes of the tempo and the intensity that had rung like a bell as soon as Rosler announced his style of play at his first press conference, and like a shockwave they knocked Derby down.

Almost. It still took a short corner routine to make a goal, Adeyemi left alone by Derby to head a Dallas cross in at the back post. If this intense 4–3–3 has a drawback, it’s that even when it works, it seems to only make us good at attacking the edge of the penalty area; if the goals were on the eighteen yard line, we’d be golden, but all that fervour and menace seems to dry out when we get to the edge of the penalty area and realise that there’s only really Chris Wood who can score a goal from open play. And there’s still not a lot of confidence in him so far.

The other drawback is that if our opponents sort their lives out and decide to take control of the game, they can do so fairly easily. Sheffield Wednesday ran the midfield last week, brushing the tired looking Phillips and Adeyemi aside; in the second half on Saturday Derby County began to win all the battles, to press our midfield the way we, in the first half, had pressed theirs; and they did it better than us. They pressed harder, tackled better, passed more swiftly and more crisply, scored a good goal and overall looked much more dangerous than Leeds had when we were on the top of our game.

They only scored once, though. And the steam was already running out of Derby when steady old Murphy came on for the anonymous Byram; neither side was content with writing another dreary X on the coupon, but the gale had dropped, the rain had lessened, there was no sign of distant thunder and, amid the drizzle, everyone had found a dry, cosy cigarette. Let’s smoke this in peace and get out of here. Anyone got a lighter?

£3m is a lot of money to pay for a lighter, but that’s what we paid for Chris Wood, and while I won’t attach the significance to his winning strike that some might — Sky Sports were talking darkly about the chances of Leeds manager under Cellino surviving so many winless games — I will stand back and admire the way he put his foot to the ball, like metal to flint, and lit our season up.

The first touch into space, the turn and the unexpected snapshot of incredible power; the precise point the ball found inside the post, into the bottom corner; the embarrassment of Scott Carson, his feet like heavy tombstones in the grass; this goal was reminiscent of the very best of Jimmy Hasselbaink, from the days when the club was shaking off the dour lack of feeling of George Graham’s first season, when whispers of smoke and then flickers of flame were precursors to the inferno of our Champions League run.

I said I wasn’t going to attach too much significance to Wood’s goal, and I’m really not; the above is just hyperbole, honest. But it’s hyperbole brought about through a profound sense of relief. To lose to Derby this weekend would have been a reminder of what it’s like to have something to feel about Leeds United; but to win, and to win with a goal like that, and a first half performance like that, is all the better.

I’ll even take the second half beating we took from Derby as a positive. The goal and a few fluttery moments aside, Leeds withstood it, overcame it, and often the results you have to work for are better than an easy win; see Middlesbrough away last season.

The second half was also more evidence that Leeds United can do it. We can withstand pressure from a determined, relentless and skilful team. In the first half we showed that we can be a determined, relentless and skilful team ourselves. And Chris Wood showed that he can do it, too; he’s had a slow start, and we won’t dwell on the header he should have done better with at 1–1, but he’s begun, now, to score, and score good goals.

This isn’t any better than a beginning; Leeds United need to get better. But at last we’ve begun, at last.

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