leeds united 2-0 nottingham forest: doukaragoooooooolBack
This didn’t feel like a night when reputations would be made, or memories fixed in history.
It just felt cold, and gridlocked, and inconvenient; this would have been a cracking big match on Saturday, but then we went and beat Cambridge United and so, it was moved. As was, at one point during this game, the planet earth, off its axis.
Here’s what I saw: I saw Souleymane Doukara kick the football. I could tell he’d hit it really hard. But all I knew about the rest of it were flashes, glimpses and sounds; a sphere blinking faster than I can blink, moving more rapidly than my eye movement, smacking a bang out of the bag at the back of the goal, as load as a pistol crack, as aurally breathtaking as an overpacked firework.
I’ve been watching football a long time now so when this sort of thing happens my brain can instantly put all those pieces together and rebuild a picture of the goal: the muscle movements, the trajectory of the ball, its destination. But I didn’t really see it. Nobody can really see a goal like this. You can only experience it.
Once the fans had recovered their senses, chants of “Yeboah!” were struck up, but Souleymane Doukara can’t really be compared to Anthony Yeboah: his arse just doesn’t have the muscular definition of Yeboah’s enormous peach. Doukara’s goal, too, won’t become embedded in popular history the way Yeboah’s against Wimbledon did, either. Yeboah scored his live on the gogglebox, Monday night football on Sky, so many more people experienced it in real time, heard the whip of the crossbar — and saw it live from the perfect camera angle, so that even if it was unbelievably good, it was still instantly comprehensible.
We live in more jaded times, too, where social media frequently hosts thrilled comments from real, live viewers, and then disappointment from armchair killjoys who say, “It’s been built up too much,” or, “The way people were carrying on, I expected more than that.” No doubt some will, today, see a small-screen pixel-reply of Doukara’s goal and make some pixels of their own, to say it wasn’t all that.
Maybe it won’t be all that from that perspective. But that won’t lay a glove on the goal itself, which will remain true, clear, untouchable. What it is, is an argument for watching football from inside the stadium, where goals like this are rare, but worth feeling rather than simply saying. Which is an argument for cheaper ticket prices and more sensible scheduling, so more people can be in the ground to feel it, which is a digression here, but a valid one.
Doukara’s goal won’t change everything, but it might change some memories of him. He plays for Leeds carrying three significant albatrosses: one, his part in the ‘sick six’ incident; two, he bit a man; three, the worry — that creased many brows at Cambridge and Barnsley — that he isn’t a very good player, overall. Of the first two, I suspect he’ll always carry a few of those unwanted feathers, and so he should; it’s possible to forgive some things, and to give chances for amends, without forgetting altogether. Of the third, well, he started on the bench against Nottingham Forest.
But at least, now, there will always be something good to say whenever Souleymane Doukara is talked over by Leeds fans, years from now. And it’s good to have good things to say.
We should, strictly speaking, be saying all these good things about Chris Wood, not Souleymane Doukara. This was the night when Doukara hit twenty megatonnes of football into the Kop nets; but before that, it was the night when Chris Wood hit twenty goals for the season. From a corner — and I’ll save for another day whether we should be worried about our reliance on set-pieces to score — anyway, from a corner, the ball was headed down across the box and, as against Barnsley on Saturday, Wood just forced himself across and through the path of the ball, almost carrying it over the line in a protected pit formed of his body. Twenty: and he and the team celebrated as if it was a bigger milestone than Wayne Rooney’s 250th at the weekend. Which, I would willingly argue for hours if only to annoy denizens of Stretford, it was.
It was important in this game, too, and perhaps in the… what do we call it? Play-off push? Promotion charge? I’m scared to use these words. After losing to Barnsley, Garry Monk made three changes, but had a Leeds team in the first half that still look out of sorts and out of fight, at least compared to Forest, who were battling. And fouling, often enough, but winning the ball often enough too. Shortly before halftime, Gaetano Berardi was taken out on the touchline by a slide tackle, man, ball and all; surely the wrong way round. Then a moment later Pablo Hernandez played a lazy pass to nobody in particular that almost set Forest away for an attack. This is how far Leeds were off their best: Berardi bullied, Pablo wayward.
It didn’t all come together in the second half, but Liam Bridcutt and Eunan O’Kane put a bit of distance between themselves and their own centre-halves and began to be a bit more like midfielders again; O’Kane still doesn’t look like he fancies a tackle — he’ll charge at a player, then check sideways to block a possible lay-off, instead of trying to win the ball — but Bridcutt did enough for two. He was helped by Wood, whose constant running down of defenders and goalkeeper contributed to the way Forest lost their impetus to get among Leeds in the second half, and helped win the game.
On another night, Wood’s performance and his twentieth goal might have meant a reappraisal here, something about the story of a player changed completely even from what he was at the start of the season. Perhaps some other time. We’ll probably — hopefully — have plenty of time to talk about Chris Wood, and lots of different things to say about him. But right now Souleymane Doukara has given us a moment, and if it is only a moment, it’s a moment worth stretching as far as time and space will allow.