Leeds United 2-0 Brighton & Hove Albion: Cryptic Principles
The song still works if you change the players. As Luke Ayling was suspended, there was plenty of time to practice before this game.
What you have to do is replace the hard-hitting “Luke” with an even-toned “Charlie”; “Luke” is hit so hard there’s always a pause after it, so it fills a two syllable space anyway. “Luke! pause Ayling, and Berardi” becomes, “Charlie Taylor, and Berardi.” Not a problem.
There wasn’t as much time to work out how to cope without Pontus Jansson’s name to sing, though; there was barely enough time to cash out the ‘Leeds to win’ bets and search the bookies for odds on own goals. So the United fans didn’t falter, and actually they didn’t bother getting Charlie Taylor’s name into the most popular song of recent weeks; “Luke! Ayling, and Berardi; Pontus Jansson, Kyle Bartley.” It’s as catchy as sinning, and almost as much fun, and was sung lustily throughout the game, while Charlie Taylor and Liam Cooper made fifty percent of it redundant.
Its future as a song fell into doubt after the game. Where once fans couldn’t get away from Elland Road fast enough, lying as they claiming to be “beating the traffic” from an attendance of 19,000, now fans stay in the ground after full-time and cheer the players as they warm down. As he sprinted up and down the pitch, Jansson was encouraged to salute the fans in the South Stand with a fist-pump of joy; he ignored them, leading to confused, half-hearted, and half-good natured boos.
Garry Monk, meanwhile, was being asked why Jansson hadn’t played. “I will always do what’s best for the group, be that the opposition or my principles,” he replied. “I’ll always do what I feel is best for the team. That goes for who we’re playing against, the set-up, but also the principles we have to follow on a daily basis.”
Right. So is anybody any wiser about why Jansson didn’t play? No. And that, of course, means rumour rumour rumour, with everything from convoluted avoidance of suspension to actual bodily harm against the manager doing the rounds of social media since the match.
We forget sometimes, amid all this season’s success, that Monk is still a young manager, who has only managed a team through a full season of football once before. One thing that he doesn’t seem to have learned is that sometimes a simple answer is the best way of dealing with a simple question.
Jansson was on the bench, and even if that was only because there wasn’t anybody else, it still suggests that rumours of him ‘never playing for the club again’ are wide of the mark, and that whatever he did that transgressed Monk’s “principles” — if that’s even what Monk meant — wasn’t that serious. Would it have been too much for Monk to forget about sounding intellectual for five minutes and answered, “I haven’t been happy with Pontus in training and there’s been one or two minor disciplinary issues, which have been dealt with. Liam Cooper has earned the right to play, and now it’s up to Pontus to win his place back.”
Without that kind of concrete explanation, with some clear next steps, the game itself was almost lost behind a curtain of whispers. Which, if the second half had been anything like the first, might not have been a bad thing. United, with Liam Bridcutt challenging Cooper for a place in the defence alongside Kyle Bartley — or so it seemed, as he spent enough time back there — were at their ponderous, blunt worst, passing the ball from side to side like a low rent Reading, then punting it forward aimlessly when that became boring. With our best defender benched and our ideas bleached away, I began to wonder if Garry Monk had been kidnapped, if Oompa-Loompas were going to appear, rolling Steve Evans down the tunnel to the dugout. The best chance of the first half fell to Liam Cooper, who almost turned the day into a full-on festival of last season by testing his own keeper’s reflexes with a close range flick. Robert Green somehow, even at his age, still has better reflexes than Marco Silvestri, and he pushed the ball away from the goal. Green is staying for another season, and that’s a good thing.
United stepped the second half up, and that was a necessary thing. Bridcutt started playing in Brighton’s half, working there with Ronaldo Vieira, who was biting into tackles and taking advantage of space and, dare I say it, bringing the best out of Bridcutt. It was Vieira who gave the ball to Gaetano Berardi, to create the best chance of the game for Chris Wood; Berardi’s cross bounced past Pablo Hernandez, who miscontroled pretty much everything in this game, and reached Wood, who jabbed it at David Stockdale in the Brighton goal.
Wood hadn’t scored in two games, a long time for him nowadays, and I had dark thoughts about his confidence, and a spring of unendurable misses. Then Vieira won the ball in midfield, and Hernandez swapped passes with Taylor, took on but couldn’t beat the right-side of Brighton’s defence, and tried a shot, that rebounded to Taylor. As if he’d never been away, Taylor went for a drive around the outside, crossing from near the byline, a high, slow, looping thing that dropped at the edge of the six-yard box. Wood was there; Wood has never yet convinced me that he’s as good a finisher with his head as his feet; Wood aimed his header back across Stockdale, generating all the power it needed to go beyond the keeper’s dive and nestle in the side of the goal. So that was all good.
Brighton hadn’t look like a team worthy of automatic promotion, not like, say, Fulham, but a couple of near misses and a shot from Glenn Murray that Green blocked nearly brought them into the game. Leeds shut all that down from a surprising source. Souleymane Doukara was on as substitute and took the ball wide on the left; in a move almost as surprising as his volley against Forest, he nipped the ball inside one defender, swayed outside another, and as he was about to beat a third, he was brought down. Heaven knows what might have happened if Brighton hadn’t stopped him.
Chris Wood, closing down communication from all his nerves, fired the penalty straight into the space left by Stockdale’s dive, and the night became a party.
A party with a clean sheet, against a high scoring side, that wasn’t all down to Green; although he had a Cooper special to deal with, and there was a touch less organisation at the back than usual, there was nothing to stop anybody singing ‘Charlie Taylor, and Berardi, Liam Cooper, Kyle Bartley.’ Same syllables, same results. There was nothing to stop the mystery, though, the mystery of Leeds’ potential promotion, the mystery of Jansson’s disappearance in plain sight, the mystery of Garry Monk’s cryptic principles.
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