leeds united 1-0 bristol city: party time, excellentBack
There were some right parties happening on Saturday; fun was breaking out all over.
It started in bright Norfolk sunshine. I remember when Leeds lost 5-4 at home to Liverpool, and it’s one of the most fondly remembered defeats in our history. It was different to the game Norwich City played with Liverpool this weekend; back in 1991, Leeds let Liverpool build up a commanding 4-0 lead by half-time and Liverpool, John Barnes in particular, looked untouchable; Leeds didn’t just touch them in the second half, Leeds bloodied their noses and battered their bellies, robbed of a 5-5 draw only because the referee disallowed what would have been a hat-trick goal for Lee Chapman because of the way he challenged Mike Hooper in Liverpool’s goal. (Fairly, by the way. Twenty-five years on, I can still tell you, Chapman challenged him fairly.)
The enjoyment for Leeds in remembering that game is in remembering the fightback; after being played off the park by one of the best teams in Europe for forty-five minutes, if the game had last an extra forty-five minutes Leeds won have won 8-6. We dug deep at half-time and came out that good.
Norwich won’t remember losing to Liverpool in quite the same way; the game was theirs, and they threw it away in the last few minutes. But even Norwich fans must have appreciated how much effort Liverpool put in to not only winning the game, but enjoying winning the game: celebrating the goal with enormous glee on the touchline, Jurgen Klopp’s disgust at his team’s defending turning to spec-smashing joy, because football. Some kinds of smiles are infectious; the smiles on the Liverpool players’ and fans’ faces made you want to smile, too.
Sam Byram looked pretty happy with his life, too, beaming next to Noel Gallagher and Russell Brand in the tunnel after making his Premier League debut against Manchester City. This was much better than skulking through the Elland Road corridors, trying to avoid Terry George in case he forced you into a photo with Verne bloody Troyer; this was real, except it looked like something that would happen on the telly, to other people, and instead it was happening to Sam, and he even got to kick Fabian Delph into the bargain. I’ve characterised Byram’s departure from Leeds as like waking up from a dream before it was concluded; I don’t think he or we expected his dream of playing in the Premier League to come true so soon. He’ll have enjoyed his Saturday night.
Meanwhile, at Elland Road, we got to experience what might be the most hostile reaction to a first half of football that I’ve ever heard, as both Leeds and Bristol City were roundly booed off and fans inquired impolitely about whether the players could answer for the previous forty-five minutes. The booing over, the same fans sat rigid in the newly mild air of 2016; I’ve never heard such anger at a first half of football before, and I’ve never seen fans so unwilling or unable to move at half-time before — business across our nearest bar was almost non-existent, as if everyone recognised that the depressive qualities of alcohol would only pile on the misery, not relieve it.
Then Souleymane Doukara scored in the second half and the 20,000 of us who were apparently counted through the turnstiles basically had to suck it up because we won, and three points on a Saturday afternoon is what it’s all about, and to ask for anything more from a Category A fixture that we’ve paid handsomely to see is just unwelcome, morale-spoiling dissent.
At the very least, I’d like a win to feel like a win; I’d like to leave the ground, eager to relive the best moments in the pub, then get home on a Saturday night, excited to watch the highlights on Channel Five. Instead I just felt moderately angry at having my Saturday afternoon expensively wasted watching twenty-two players who could barely pass to each other. Even the goal wasn’t that good; the ball dropped to Doukara in the box, and after a bit of a think, he decided to kick it into the goal. Hurrah, and be still my betablocked heart.
That was a rare occasion when Doukara, our lone striker for most of the game, was actually in the box; he spent most of the match every except upfront until Chris Wood came on, Leeds went 4-4-2, and we scored a goal. Steve Evans said he decided not to start with Doukara and Mirco Antenucci upfront, because Antenucci had spent most of the week in Italy where his wife brought them both a new baby (congratulations all), and apparently the tactical intricacies of playing 4-4-2 against Bristol titting City would have required more time to explain to the two prime thickos than was available.
Instead we set up defensively at home against one of the worst sides in the division, with a striker who won’t striker, midfielders who can’t pass, defenders whose lumping is woeful (Bellusci was some people’s man of the match, people who presumably enjoy him leathering the ball to Charlie Taylor, three feet and rising above his head), and a plan to absorb pressure from a side who couldn’t pressurise a deep sea diving kit. They managed to pressurise us, though; it’s lucky for Leeds that Bristol are rubbish, because a good team would have been 4-0 up by half-time.
That’s as much as can really be said about the football itself, and I’ve actually got nothing constructive to add about the formation or tactics or player selections. Perhaps Diagouraga will help — he sounds good — maybe Tomlin or someone else will come in and help too. But sitting numbly at Elland Road through the games against Milton Keynes, Rotherham and Bristol City, I’ve got nothing; nothing except the massive, bitter pill of watching other fans of other clubs watching teams full of our players — Milner, Howson, Delph, Byram in the two games of the day on Saturday — and having a great time. The bastards.
Make them play better, charge less, or fuck off.