leeds 0 – 1 qpr: inchesBack
I nearly saw the greatest goal I’ve ever seen in my life.
That it would have secured a draw would have been mostly irrelevent; the last minute spectacular just something to add to the telling. It was a moment – I’ve timed it at 1.2 seconds from the moment the ball left Rodolph Austin’s foot, to the moment it struck the bar – that could exist without context.
Since Tony Yeboah nearly broke the crossbar against Liverpool in 1995, nobody has really worried that it was scored in the 50th minute, or that Leeds won a mundane match 1-0. All they’re interested in is the goal: the paces Tony takes backwards and right, his body’s sudden shift forward, the mathematic beauty of the ball’s arc, a journey that silenced the crowd so it could better hear the crack as it hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced down. You replay it again and again, and don’t worry about the rest of the match.
So it was – or nearly was – with Rudy Austin’s effort on Saturday. I’ve defended Austin’s shooting before by pointing out that one day, when it works, he will do something truly awesome that none of us will ever forget. Until then he just has to keep trying. He had one go in the first half that curved tantalisingly away from the junction of crossbar and post, and given our shortage of goalscorers, and of goal creators, a ration of one piledriver blockbuster per half is not unreasonable.
And the last minute effort has given us a taste of what could be. It was more composed than Yeboah’s strike; the ball falls nearly as far, but Austin took it on his chest rather than volley it first time – not unreasonable, given that he was a good ten yards further out than Yeboah. I make it six steps that Austin takes as the ball bounces into space; the wondrous thing about Yeboah’s goal was how he sourced the energy for the strike despite moving backwards as the ball fell – he was like a wind up toy, whereas Rudy was bearing down on the ball, leaning forward the whole time, building forward momentum.
That’s why the shot, when it came, had a flatter trajectory. Yeboah was leaning back at the moment of impact, sending the ball high into the night and trusting gravity to bring it down at the right moment. Austin was more hunched, but then his shoulders are one of his trademarks, meaning the ball stayed low – but not quite low enough. Throughout its journey over the penalty area it seemed bound at any moment to take a sudden swerve upward, to change course and miss by disappointing yards; it never quite flew free. The equation was in almost perfect balance – Rudy Austin’s right foot + football + physics + gravity = goal – but one element was fractionally wrong. We’ll never know which.
All we know is that, as collectively we gathered ourselves together to understand how the shot had hit the top of the bar, instead of the bottom; as we realised the ball was in the Kop, not in the goal; as we followed the trajectory backwards through memory to a second and a half earlier when Austin controlled it with his chest, and pieced together what we’d just seen; all we know is that we lost to QPR and the greatest goal I would have ever seen remains a fantasy.
A 1-1 draw wouldn’t have been unfair, although QPR would have been justified to point out that only a thirty yard wondergoal would have got us on the scoreboard. QPR didn’t look special, but they looked efficient, and neither our first front three of McCormack, Varney and Hunt or our second of Poleon, Smith and Diouf were much trouble to their defence. McCormack dropping deep is fine, but whenever he did he found Joey Barton and Karl Henry there, neither player likely to allow him much room, although neither was able to dominate a midfield that had Rudy Austin in it. Austin’s presence and QPR’s reliance on battlers rather than crafters in midfield – despite what Barton will tell you, he’s no artist with a ball – meant QPR didn’t have much themselves, and Adam Jubb at Fear & Loathing in LS11 was right when he said: “Imagine Leicester a couple of weeks back, change the stadium, the kits and throw in one handling error and in a nutshell, there you have it.”
To lose to that error was irritating, although I’m not sure whose error it was: Smith could have cleared the cross, Kenny could have dealt with the loose ball. Errors at the back are still too common at Leeds, and perhaps we were fortunate that despite QPR’s wealth of – well, despite their wealth, they didn’t create much for Charlie Austin or Andy Johnson to have a go at. Maybe we dragged the Shepherd’s Bush All-Stars down to our level; or maybe, this is their level, despite what Joey Barton thinks a season in Ligue 1 turned him into.
Our level, though, seems to be a rung or two on a short ladder below theirs, but that’s okay. We’re five games in now, with only one defeat; we’ve scored more than we’ve conceded and, while we haven’t set the transfer window alight (“There’s still time!” reminds Jim White, yelling) we looked to have recruited well, particularly in the form of Murphy and Wootton. Blackpool are top of the league despite having almost nothing in terms of a squad, and QPR are second despite having everything; the differences are still measurable in inches.
An inch or two lower or a step further out, Rodolph Austin would have scored the best goal I’ve ever seen. But the momentum and the trajectory were enough to get me dreaming. 1.2 seconds of awe at the end of a home defeat; Austin’s shot was our entire season, and that’s a reason to be glad.
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