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leeds united 1-2 charlton athletic: near enough

leeds united 1-2 charlton athletic: near enough

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The Elland Road crowd leapt to its feet and roared, applauding a thunderous tackle by Liam Bridcutt on the halfway line.

There was one problem, though. The Charlton player Bridcutt had tackled still had the ball; and, as the applause rang out, he ran with it past the prone figure of Bridcutt, who was lying on the floor.

Still, well done Liam. Clap clap clap.

There’s a metaphor for Leeds United’s season in there somewhere. Crowds of people clapping enthusiastically in the mistake belief that what they’re looking at is in any way good. Antenucci, he’s been great this season. Doukara, maybe when he comes back from his ban — his ban for biting — maybe he and Wood will form a partnership. Bellusci, he makes some mistakes, but he’s great on the ball, isn’t he?

Bellusci was left out of the squad again, so we didn’t get to see any of those cross-pitch, impossible-to-control balls that Stuart Dallas can normally only chest to an opposing player; the sort of passes that shift responsibility from Bellusci and onto the poor sod he’s firing them at. But we still got the sort of false conviction that characterises United these days, a team that can do a reasonable impression of being a football team, but ultimately is nowhere near the real thing.

The real thing wouldn’t lose to already relegated Charlton, and not only lose, but be painful to watch in the process. It doesn’t matter that, with nothing to play for, the result didn’t matter; it didn’t matter much in the previous four unbeaten games either, but that didn’t make Leeds play as badly as this.

For about fifteen minutes before half-time, which included Bridcutt’s ‘thunderous’ tackle, Leeds couldn’t get the ball off Charlton. That’s Charlton, who have scored forty and conceded seventy-seven goals on their forty-five match way to League One. That was the worst spell, and Charlton took advantage, Guðmunds­son racing to the front post ahead of Bamba and Cooper to score five minutes before half-time.

Half-time made little difference, and within four minutes it was 2-0. Murphy ran through the middle of the pitch, beat a player, and looked for a pass; with Leeds breaking forward in support, he had Botaka unmarked in space to his right, and over to his left, the far side of a crowd of defenders, was Stuart Dallas. Naturally Murphy aimed for Dallas and missed, finding instead a Charlton defender, and Charlton broke quickly themselves to the left wing. Lookman slowed the move down as he assessed his options, and when it became clear that neither Coyle, Bamba, Bridcutt, Murphy or Botaka were going to engage him, he slotted the ball from the edge of the area low inside Silvestri’s post.

A relegated side shouldn’t be strolling around Elland Road to score like that, whether it’s the last home game of the season or not; especially not when it’s the last home game of the season, in fact, with a mighty 25,000 people turning out to get a last look at the unsponsored Kappa home shirt, and probably a lot more besides. Lewis Cook? Charlie Taylor? Alex Mowatt? Mirco Antenucci? Steve Evans?

Something must have tugged at the team’s collective pride because, after Bamba scored a close range header from Taylor’s free-kick, they did mount one of the too-little too-late attempts at getting something from the game that we’ve seen a lot of this season. Wood hit the crossbar, Botaka shot just wide, Antenucci — surprise, surprise — tried to score from an impossible angle instead of passing to Wood, Cook had a nonchalant volley saved.

Evans kept moving things around, putting Botaka through the middle of a front three with Wood and Antenucci either side, presumably thinking that when you only have one player who looks to be thinking lively thoughts, you try to put him at the centre of things. It just blunted him. Botaka is dangerous on the wings, and played well after earning his start, but there aren’t enough players on his wavelength for him to have an impact in the centre. In the first half he showed a lovely bit of awareness, flicking the ball with his chest into the path of Cook, and Cook seemed so amazed to see such invention from a teammate that he couldn’t steady himself in time to do any better than volley over the bar.

And then it was over. I was in The Peacock before any of the players were back out for the ‘lap of appreciation’, because not many of them deserve my appreciation for this season, and after this performance, I wasn’t interested in theirs. More brave talk about raising standards and seeing improvement were shown to be hollow on Saturday; Evans was still aiming for tenth, as if that would be an achievement in this promised ‘beautiful season,’ but because we can’t even beat Charlton, now we can’t even do that. Leeds go to Preston next week aiming to take eleventh place from them — if we beat them by eight clear goals, that is.

I suppose it’s something to aim for. “I’m only sorry I couldn’t give these magnificent supporters a win on the final day,” said Evans to the crowd that remained in Elland Road after the final whistle. It was greeted with applause, like a Liam Bridcutt tackle. It’s not what we really wanted, but I guess it’ll have to do.

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