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leeds united 0-0 qpr: don’t feel down

leeds united 0-0 qpr: don’t feel down

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If somebody said to you after this game that you shouldn’t feel too down about things, and reminded you that Leeds United are still fourth in the league, you should cherish that person, for they care about you, and you should heed their good advice now and in the future.

Leeds United are fourth, and they gained a point from this game, and what I said about the draw at Fulham also applies here; at least it’s exciting. Because that is part of it, right?

We’d all love to turn up to Elland Road every other week and watch Leeds United attacking like Barcelona, scoring goals in the top and bottom corners and from all kinds of distances; Souleymane Doukara versus Nottingham Forest, on an infinite loop.

But sometimes it’s good to remember that, in football, defending is also an art. That’s a good thought to concentrate on when you turn up to Elland Road and watch Leeds United getting absolutely battered — and yet they don’t lose.

To have come through the last two games and have only conceded one goal is some achievement; not only that, but Robert Green managed to notch his and our tenth clean sheet of the season in the process. At certain other times and with certain other players, United would have been on the wrong end of some hideous scorelines in two matches like these, so as our caring friend says, let’s remember that it’s not too bad, and that we’re fourth, and that our defence is very good.

Pontus Jansson was at his immense best against QPR, and Bartley did well to keep Mathieu Smith quiet; although the opening seconds, when Liam Bridcutt had a go at marking the Big Friendly Giant, made me wonder if there’d been some terrible tactical mixup. Charlie Taylor dropped back out and Gaetano Berardi moved over to left-back, and was as solid and entertaining as ever. A favourite moment was when he raced across the pitch to stop QPR breaking from a corner and was pushed to the floor by their striker; Berardi kept sliding along the grass until he’d got his head to the ball and put it out of play anyway. There was also some sort of unholy scramble down the left wing at one point, but honestly it looked six Berardis were tackling six players at once, so I’ve no idea what was going on there.

Luke Ayling was back at right-back after the birth of his daughter, unfortunately playing like a man who has had no sleep this week; this wasn’t too much of a concern, however, as in the first half Leeds played like a team who didn’t want to disturb Ayling’s attempts to catch forty winks. It was barely perceptible at first, but gradually became more and more apparent, that this game’s chosen midfield three — I’ve no idea who the first choices are anymore — were not going to be doing much to help Chris Wood improve his goal tally.

Liam Bridcutt, as I’ve been pointing out for weeks, is playing all over the park, but playing too much between his own centre-backs; Pablo Hernandez, for such a skilful player, can get into a rut of playing some clunky passes, killing a move stone dead, although to be fair, probably only he would see the pass he was attempting. Other times he just kicked the ball out for no reason. Ronaldo Vieira was good but not great.

QPR were okay too, and were much kinder to us than they were at Loftus Road on the opening day; thirteen shots and none scored? Cheers lads. Garry Monk said he wanted this game to be an indication of how far we’d come since then, but I think we all saw the progress the club was making as soon as he bombed Matt Grimes out of the team. What has happened since then is remarkable, even if only in terms of the turnover in playing staff; Hernandez was barely with us then, we didn’t know what a Pontus was, Ayling was a Bristol City player, Bridcutt played for Sunderland; we didn’t have Alfonso Pedraza in the squad, and we only just had Hadi Sacko.

Pedraza played for seventy-odd minutes this weekend, although he couldn’t get much going. The fans loved him on loan at Lugo this season, and I’m beginning to see why; there was a hint, when a foul not given was followed up by a thundering tackle in return, of a little touch of the psychotic from Alfonso, which would be welcome; Dallas and Barrow and Roofe and Sacko can seem to be two goody two-shoed for their own good. Roofe started on the other wing from Pedraza, and did his best, but when he’s on the wing, he really needs Hernandez to be at his best to set him going.

The same could be said of his replacement, Hadi Sacko. You might hear from a lot of people that, in the half-hour he was on the pitch, Sacko was rubbish. Unlike our friend from the start of this report, this person is not telling you the full story. Sacko was frustrating and ineffective, true, but we never, ever, ever gave him a pass he could do anything with. The Ayling-Hernandez-Sacko combination down the right has done good things for Leeds before, Ayling setting Sacko away on a run, so he can get a cross in, that would go nowhere near Wood. This time, Ayling seemed determined never to give Sacko a ball to run on to; equally, Sacko never looked like he was going to run behind the defence. Instead Ayling and Sacko just drew nearer and nearer to each other until every ball from Ayling was a five yard pass, leaving Sacko to try and start something from a standstill, with a defender in front of him.

The way out was to use Hernandez, usually just inside the wing, as a kind of wall Ayling could bounce the ball off on its way to Sacko, and vice-versa; but that was frequently too complicated. And the whole thing was just too rigid. After the game Ian Holloway praised Monk’s skill as a coach, saying, “He makes players better and gives them a pattern to work to.” I wonder if that pattern can be too restrictive at times. Sacko, bless him, did try to run in off the line once, darting into the penalty area, looking for a through ball from Hernandez; Hernandez just played the same ball to the wing he’d played the last six times, and was furious when he looked up and saw Sacko wasn’t there. Sacko’s case seemed to be that they’d got absolutely nowhere trying that, and he wanted to give something different a go; Hernandez’s case was that Sacko should stand where he was damn well supposed to.

This triangle of frustration was the main drama of the last twenty minutes, apart from referee Tim Robinson’s continuing commitment to ineptitude. He’d given QPR a goal kick at one point because he hadn’t seen who the ball had touched last, and the linesman wasn’t telling him anything different, so he’d just gone with goal kick; he indicated all this with a series of shrugs and gestures to the players that said, “I don’t know why you think this is anything to do with me.” That sort of thing diminished the authority he could wield when multiple brawls started breaking out in injury time; but he didn’t see any of those, either, and needed his fourth official to tell him who to book.

The boos at the end were directed at him as much as at the result, although frustration with Leeds was audible and understandable. It’s not so much this game, or the Fulham game. It’s the games we’ve got coming up — Brighton, Reading, Brentford, Preston, Newcastle — and the feeling that, if Leeds keep playing like this, those games are going to be as difficult as this. It feels like we’re setting ourselves up for a month of getting battered and nicking points, which might be the way play-off football will be secured, but it’s not exactly something to look forward to.

But hey, this is the price we pay for being good. It’s difficult to get to the top, but it’s even harder to stay there, right? It’s no surprise that the hard work is starting now for Leeds. But we drew, and we’re still fourth. We shouldn’t feel too down about things.

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