leeds united 0-1 huddersfield town: forever feelingBack
Pontus Jansson looked composed as he calmly passed the ball to his partner at centre-half, Kyle Bartley. Bartley didn’t rush things from there, maintaining possession and scanning the field ahead of him for an opportunity to play the ball forward. Liam Bridcutt, the new captain, showed for the ball and took it, turning to see how the game had developed. He couldn’t see an obvious way to penetrate the Huddersfield Town players, so he kept the ball moving, back to Jansson.
Such patient football is something we might applaud. But at 1-0 down in the closing stages of a local derby in front of one of the biggest crowds of the season at Elland Road, it was a disgrace. On the final whistle it got exactly what it deserved: vitriolic boos.
By the end of the game, one thought was repeating in my mind, that I strained to communicate to the players by desperate telepathy: look arsed. Just look arsed. Just one of you, please, look like you’re even a tiny bit arsed.
Brain to brain transmission is probably the wrong tactic with Leeds United players, for obvious reasons, but I don’t know what else might have worked. Also Souleymane Doukara had replaced Marcus Antonsson, so Garry Monk was clearly not picking up on any subtleties in the mood at Elland Road. The roars of complaint as soon as Antonsson started walking off might have been understood, though, and I’d like to know what message Monk took from watching Wood stay on to head limply into the ground, yet again, when he had time and space at the back post to do much more with Leeds’ one decent opportunity.
Two players earned mention for their efforts. Liam Bridcutt, restoring a Leeds tradition of giving the armband to the smallest player on the pitch, also restored a Leeds tradition of the tiny captain being the most committed to the cause. No cause was lost if Bridcutt was nearby, and nearby in his case meant on the same pitch; he chased and ran and challenged and, even if he couldn’t get there or couldn’t win the ball, he at least didn’t need to tune into my brainwaves.
Neither did Pontus Jansson, at least in the first half. He’d already impressed with a couple of commanding headed clearances and tackles when, tussling with a Town player, he went down and won the free-kick and then rose up roaring, his fists clenched, pumping his arms at the Kop in an exhortation encouraging volume. This was very welcome and it worked, for a while.
That desire seemed to fade from Jansson in the second half, as it did from the whole team, but overall his performance was encouraging. You will note that Leeds United did not concede from a corner in this game, and that was due in part to Jansson roaming freely in the penalty area when defending set pieces, attacking the ball whatever direction it came from and making strong headed clearances.
You should also note that the one Jansson clearance that was returned out of his influence ended up with Green punching Bartley in the back of the head as the pair panicked beneath a strange falling moon, otherwise known as a football. Worth mentioning, too, is that as an attacking threat Jansson offered nothing, but only because from corners and wide free-kicks Kalvin Phillips kept offering the ball to the nearest Huddersfield player, who was always happy to accept.
Beyond Bridcutt and Jansson, there was nothing that was good. Monk may say Leeds’ players got punished for their one mistake for the goal, but that suggests he doesn’t regard a Leeds player passing to a Huddersfield player instead of a teammate five yards away as a mistake, which is definitely worrying. There were simple mistakes all over the place, along with an inability to win the ball, put a move together, and a complete absence of urgency.
Huddersfield didn’t actually look much better, but they looked relaxed and in control, and that probably explains that. Nothing Leeds were doing forced Huddersfield to do anything other than keep the ball at the back and maintain possession; the only difference when they did it was they were quite good at it. Once they got their goal — a long range strike that Aaron Mooy took on when he was given time and space on the edge of the penalty area and easily beat Green — they didn’t have to do much else.
At the other end, Leeds’ inability to get the ball forward even when we were chasing the game was down to a complete absence of a plan. Leeds’ players had no idea what to do, or what they were supposed to be doing. Perhaps Monk doesn’t think there’s much to say to his team about a simple 4-4-2 formation, but as the game dragged on they clearly needed more help than simple like-for-like swaps, if we can even regard Doukara as anything like equivalent to Antonsson; and even Marcus, good so far for Leeds, wasn’t up to much in this game.
Leeds only used two of their substitutes and that only underlines the complete lack of ideas on the bench as well as the pitch. The early days of playing a no.10 behind Wood seem to have been comprehensively abandoned, but even after the two week international break Monk hasn’t come up with anything more creative than a bog-standard 4-4-2 that puts Mowatt on the wing. Perhaps he’s got something special planned for when he thinks Eunan O’Kane is ready, but we can’t keep hoping that in the next game we’ll see a plan, and for that plan to click, forever.
Forever is a long time, and Garry Monk doesn’t have that luxury. He didn’t like the line of questioning from Adam Pope of BBC Radio Leeds after the game, who pointed to Huddersfield Town as a club with an identity. “You’re able to see that?” countered Monk. “What was the identity you saw with them?”
“They know what they’re doing there,” replied Adam.
“Well, what is it they know they’re doing?”
“They have a pattern of play that seems to work for them and they’re consistent with it.”
“Do you know what that pattern is?”
“Well, maybe a little bit, I don’t pretend to be a head coach.”
“You can’t ask the question if you don’t know what you’re asking.”
Monk seemed to be suggesting that he’ll only answer questions from qualified coaches who understand his job as well as he does, but Pope could have countered that Monk doesn’t understand Adam Pope’s job. If Pope was a qualified football coach, he’d be coaching a football team; instead he’s a journalist, paid to ask questions, not to know the answers in advance.
“What is Leeds’ identity, Garry?” Pope was eventually allowed to ask.
“I’m not here to answer that question for you,” replied Monk, again perhaps confused about the roles in a question and answer session.
It’s a question Garry Monk was happy to answer in the summer, back when it was hypothetical and there were no actual football games to contradict him as he waxed confident. “You back your style and identity and you believe that it can win games. I proved at Swansea that more often than not we produced winning football,” he told Phil Hay of the YEP in the summer.
“I want the players to be excited by the football they’re playing and I want the fans to be excited by the football they’re watching,” he went on, when asked to define his coaching identity. “The worst thing for me would be people coming in, paying their money and watching what they think is boring football. I’ve got a responsibility there, definitely. But the bottom line at the end of it all is that you have to play winning football. You have to be a winning team.”
All of which perhaps accounts for Monk’s peevish, Kevin Blackwell level of response to Pope’s questions; because he knows what he has said about his identity as a coach when the pressure was off, and now the pressure is on and he knows that his team’s performance against Huddersfield was the exact opposite of everything he claimed it would be. The worst thing would be fans paying for boring football? Then Saturday definitely was the worst thing. Those still inside Elland Road at full-time gave vent to exactly what they thought of it. But Garry didn’t want to talk about it.
Perhaps that was understandable, given the post-match rumours of a new sporting director, an old confidante of Massimo Cellino, being installed above him; and of Cellino heading into the Leeds dressing room at full-time, with plenty to say. But Monk didn’t want to talk about his relationship with Cellino, either. “That’s none of your business,” he told Adam Pope.
Massimo Cellino, too, might not have the luxury of forever, if the takeover beacons being lit along the hills of Twitter on Saturday morning turn out to be accurate. And nobody has long to wait before Leeds play again at Elland Road, against Blackburn on Tuesday night. After Saturday, though, I wish the next game was forever away.