leeds united 1-1 milton keynes: gorgeousBack
Unlike when Leeds nabbed a draw at Nottingham Forest, there were no fist-pumping gestures from Steve Evans at the end of this one; perhaps the sight of the segregated South Stand confuses him as much as it appals me, and he doesn’t know where to aim his pie-chucking arm anymore.
More likely he knew that this was a bad start to 2016 and that he had no choice but to head down the tunnel and own up to it in his after match interviews; and to keep pressing, insisting, begging if need be, for new signings, and soon. Oh, and to refer to some bizarre feud nobody cares about with the no-mark manager of a fake football club. Cheers for that, Steve.
Leeds United ended this game with a central defender at right-back, a right-back at right-wing, a left-back at left-wing and a right-back — making his second senior appearance — at left-back. And people wonder why this team looks so disjointed, incapable of passing a ball ten yards, as Evans ruefully noted. It’s because this isn’t Ajax 1970, and they can’t all just play anywhere.
Some of them can barely play in their own positions. I’ve had to watch Sol Bamba through my fingers since he returned to the side, chewing on my palms as the ball bounces in front of him and loops over his head, or rolls through his legs as he collapses like a ballerina, shot mid-performance by the scorned third of a love-triangle (she lives, and performs again; her dance as elegant as before, but now somehow sadder).
Souleymane Doukara had his shot at the Chris Wood role up front, and took less than the first half to make ‘Evans has made a new player of Doukara’ the first trope to fall in 2016; not so much because of his play, more his refusal to play as a striker. Doukara seemed to be winning more in the air than Wood usually does, which caught his teammates out as they stood watching and waiting patiently for their precise chips/clueless hoofs to be swept up by the defence. But he was also gallumphing off to the verges at every opportunity like a horse got loose on a motorway and was never where he needed to be.
It was actually one of our better players who struggled for the Milton Keynes goal. Charlie Taylor looked unsure about their forwards, tracking them back and cooly raising a hand to let Liam Cooper know he’d got this; then realising these sons of guns were nippier than they looked, that he hadn’t got them at all, and that he really wished he’d given Cooper the agreed signal for ‘clatter him’. Instead Taylor had to make last ditch tackles on Robert Hall that twice nearly cost a penalty, and after half an hour Cooper no longer trusted in his left-back’s semaphore, so they were both sucked in to sort of standing near Nicky Maynard, who took advantage of the space Cooper had left to find Hall, who scored.
We’re playing a lot of defenders these days, and we’re not really conceding a lot of goals, but a lot of that is due to Silvestri’s continued shot-stopping brilliance; and the players at the back sure do look jittery, while that overload of defensive heads leaves us short of ideas. We’ve taken to getting eleven players back to defend corners, which doesn’t quite make me yearn for the days under Rosler when everybody would line up and hold hands, but does highlight how little this team has going forward.
For sheer numbers of full-backs on a field at once Evans is getting into George Graham numbers, but while Graham was happy with the inevitable dour results, Evans stills seems to believe that what he’s putting out every week is some sort of attacking team. Quality in the final third is all he seems to think is lacking, as if he hasn’t noticed that the formation and personnel meant we could barely leave our own defensive third.
While Graham loaded the defence he made sure his attack had one thing — pace — with Brian Deane, Rod Wallace and Lee Sharpe all ready to gallop forward on the counter attack, and give the ball to Ian Rush, who would miss. But nowadays Leeds’ counter attacks are like water torture, a deadly drip-drip-drip down the field until the move breaks up and we go mad. This isn’t helped by Lewis Cook entering the first rough form of his young career (soon to be followed by our fickler fans asking, ‘Was he ever all that good anyway?’ and then ‘If we can get £10m for him, we should cash in’), but it also doesn’t help that the one true quick and unpredictable forward we have — Jordan Botaka — is still not even making the bench.
Botaka so far has looked inconsistent and lacking in end product, but by turns terrifying and mesmerising to Championship defenders. He’s a chance, a joker, but Botaka is absent, as if unpredictability is the last thing we need; when it’s the first thing we lack. Watching Scott Wootton gaze mournfully at the six or seven miserabilists stood like pitiful monuments to slow living in front of him, how I wish for someone in a Leeds United shirt who might just run about a bit, maybe take an opponent on and beat him; someone to grab the whole damn snowglobe and smash it on the kids’ bedroom floor. That’ll show them we mean business, in ways that a square pass to Bamba never will.
As it is we’re relying on opposing defenders to supply the unpredictability we need; Preston’s Alan Browne now joined by Anthony Kay as Bizarre Og sneaks up our top goalscorer charts. Opposition defenders are pretty much the only players getting anything on target for Leeds these days, and as the Kop sang ‘Sign him up,’ Evans no doubt wished he could. Or that he could sign anybody.
Everybody is making lots of positive noises about Liam Bridcutt, not least Liam himself, but that’s making me a little bit uncomfortable, as if everybody involved thinks that if they talk about it enough it’ll happen. At one end of that deal, though, is Sam Allardyce, and at the other is Massimo Cellino, and that’s not a phone call that’s destined to go smoothly.
Meanwhile Leeds are nine points off the play-off places, three points away from Cellino’s golden six point promised land of transfer ambrosia, and Evans has begun talking as if oh, that funny old agreement, well I’m pretty sure Massimo is going to back me anyway, never mind that.
Sure. But Evans had better hope he does. Because the absurd thing about that arrangement is that as we drop further away from the play-off places, the need for reinforcements becomes more desperate, but less likely. Who would sign up for a stupid deal like that, anyway? Oh, yeah. We’ve got two of them in charge now, haven’t we?