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leeds united 1-1 fulham: point unproven

leeds united 1-1 fulham: point unproven

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It’s never good to hear a Leeds United player being booed by the Elland Road crowd. Worse, though, is seeing a Leeds United player running to the crowd with his ear cupped, as if he’s proving a point; at least the fans are always on the right side of the ticket/wages transaction in this argument.

The nadir, though, is a player thinking he’s proven a point to the supporters when less than five minutes earlier he, Chris Wood, a striker, a number nine, has missed a header from three yards out. What point, exactly, did Chris Wood think he’d proven, that was worth visibly making to the Kop? That if he was actually as good as he’s supposed to be, he would have scored that bloody header and we would have won?

The overhead kick that he did score with was pretty great; you could see it coming while the ball was still dropping, and the only question was whether he’d bugger it up like he buggered up the header. He didn’t, because as I pointed out repeatedly last season, Chris Wood loves a volley but hates a header, but still insists (or has had insisted upon him) that he’s an old fashioned number nine.

The overhead kick was good enough, and enough of a relief, to rub the header off his deficit chalkboard and let us all move on; but Chris didn’t want to do that. I don’t actually know what went through his mind. Wood hasn’t been ‘abused’; he’s been criticised, and subjected to audible moaning and frequent sarcasm, that his performances merited. And his goal didn’t ‘prove’ anything; for 89 minutes against Fulham he was again as lumpen and passive as he ever is, only this time he threw a missed sitter into the bargain.

I don’t know what went through his mind when he had that chance, either. A striker would have scored it. Any striker. Instead Wood headed the ball as if he’d never headed a ball at goal before, and it bounced so sharp and shallow into the ground that of course it ballooned up and over the bar.

I can only conclude that as much goes through his head as connects with it whenever there’s a defender so much as breathing on him: nothing. Yet another below par performance from him could have passed mildly by under the cover of his point-saving goal, but as soon as I saw him celebrate, the joy drained from the moment and I wanted nothing more than to find this keyboard as soon as I could and tear into him.

Which, as mentioned at the start, is far from ideal. But even Billy Paynter got this. Paynter, when he scored that goal at Preston that one time, didn’t act as if he’d just scored one over the fans who had sarcastically barracked him for not scoring for so long; instead he recognised that the switch from brickbats to bouquets was genuine, that the delight in his goal was real, and joined in with the mood of carnage that a goal by Billy Paynter was always going to generate. Billy got that, and that’s why years later when I talk about that goal at Preston, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and you smile.

Chris Wood is well paid and handsomely supported when his football is handsome; when it isn’t, as it frequently isn’t, he’ll hear about it, and if he doesn’t like it, he can fuck off.

I was confused about why Wood hadn’t been fucked off long before he missed, then scored, in a generally confusing end to the game. By the closing stages Garry Monk had made so many changes to the personnel and the formation that I couldn’t really tell who was playing where anymore, and neither could a lot of the players; long debates were had on the wings about who should make attacking runs, and Fulham usually ended these discussions by stealing the ball.

Leeds had started with a very attacking teamsheet, that only translated into a modified version of the side that couldn’t cope with the second half against Birmingham; Pablo Hernandez was again side by side in central midfield, with Kalvin Phillips this time, with much the same result as Saturday; Hernandez ineffective, Fulham dominant in the centre.

This became a diamond after half-time, and Hernandez, playing further forward, became a threat; but as the side showed beginnings of playing well, Monk seemed to lose his nerve, or players lost their fitness, as the substitutions began. Eventually Leeds rallied for an all-out final ten minutes, but that seemed more down to effort than finesse.

Fulham’s goal had quality, curled into the corner from distance after Leeds had failed to deal with a set-piece — parts of that sentence may sound familiar. Most of Fulham’s close chances — they hit the post too god damn often, meaning just inches between us and a serious scoreline — were quality; their quick passing, that bamboozled our defence, was quality. The better attacking team, that created the best chances, that missed them by the narrowest margins, should have won.

Quality means doing the simple things well, which brings us back to Chris Wood far sooner than I would have liked. Quality also comes from recognising the qualities in your players, which returns me to Hernandez being played as an old fashioned centre-midfielder, a point which has burned since Saturday.

And quality also means better players, which is why performances so far need to be interpreted not only through what happened on the pitch, but through what was going on in the stands, too. Twitter was abuzz with speculation about which rumoured loan signings were at the game; Verboom and especially Jansson — a six foot five Swedish international defender — sound like the right kind of players to improve us.

And Liam Bridcutt, at long last, was at Elland Road, a registered Leeds United player. He should play — has to play — at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday. He shouldn’t, though, be used as a reason to persist with the midfield as it has been, with Hernandez next to him. Pablo was signed to play as a no.10, so let’s play him as a no.10, and play to his strengths: quality and creativity, two things Leeds United sorely lack without his influence.

This Leeds team needs more, but elements of more are being gathered and brought; a little later than we needed, but brought all the same. But until the elements are in place and doing their good work, let’s not pretend like scrambling home draws at the death proves a point; to anyone, or about anyone.

Let’s use Chris Wood here as a metaphor for Leeds United; because until we’re not scuffing headers from three yards, we’ve not proven anything, and there’s nothing to gain from being cocky.

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