leeds united 2-0 rotherham united: magical noiseBack
Perhaps it would be better if we all had old fashioned clacky rattles. That might bring the magic of the FA Cup back; old fashioned clacky rattles. We could all stand — sorry, sit — and click and whirr and think about the good old days.
What won’t bring the magic of the FA Cup back is scheduling the Saturday before a long midweek away trip to Ipswich, and an expensive Saturday away trip to Sheffield; or setting the ticket price of the next home game so ludicrously high that nobody has any cash left for a cup game. Even just going to this match was an inconvenience; moving seats, buying tickets, turning up. I left a bustling and invigorating post-Christmas city centre for a half-closed and desolate Elland Road, and paid twenty quid for the privilege.
And what was the reward? Rotherham bloody United. I mean, we just played them, for crying out loud. The FA are desperate to create some magic around esoteric elements like the FA Cup draw, but when all that ball-spinning tension is said and done, and you end up with a draw like Rotherham at home, you wonder if the cup gods are dead.
Last time we played Rotherham there was at least the drama of a Neil Redfearn comeback to grab attention, but this sequel came far too soon for that to be interesting again. Only the truly bitter are invested in any sort of rancour with Redders, and this time he brought the most loveable Leeds double act imaginable to sit on the bench with him, Andrew Hughes and Luciano Becchio tugging at the heartstrings just by being there. Next on Redders’ shopping list: Lucas Radebe, Vinnie Jones and Ellie the Elephant.
Not all the reunity was unified. Frazer Richardson is fine, although he’ll probably regret coming back after the way he let Souleymane Doukara in for Leeds’ ridiculous second goal. But once the game, such as it was, got underway, two things stood out. One, Doukara and Mirco Antenucci can’t play together and stay onside. Two, Luke Murphy wanted to kick Paul Green, and Paul Green wanted to kick him back.
Perhaps Steve Evans has been on at Murphy to get a bit tougher, show a bit more bite in midfield, so he immediately started picking on the freckly ginger kid; perhaps there’s some history there. Perhaps Luke remembers, as I do, Paul Green’s attempt at Cruyff turn on his own halfway line at Pride Park that let Derby score; one of the worst pieces of play I’ve seen at any level in the last ten years, which Green should never be allowed to forget. Whatever the reason, what we had was two soft lads chasing each other around midfield with rolled up copies of Take a Break! magazine in what was not exactly a thundering battle of the hard men.
The other points of interest were the debuts of Mustapha Carayol and Lewie Coyle. After initially paying attention to Coyle my attention drifted somewhat; right-back isn’t really a very exciting position, when it comes down to it. I didn’t really notice Coyle after that, but that’s a good thing when you’re talking about a young lad making his debut — he stepped seamlessly into the side without a problem.
Mustapha Carayol made more of an impact, although at first the signs didn’t look promising. This wasn’t a great game for anybody; Leeds barely got going in the first half an hour, and in the second half we attacked as well as could be expected in torrential rain with two strikers who can’t stay onside. The conditions and the opposition (and us) meant Carayol never looked like he was going to take the game by the scruff of the neck and Messi the whole life out of it, so with first impressions so important, what he did do would have to be good if he was to get fans excited about his signing.
It didn’t look good. Racing away from our penalty area with the ball, Carayol was dragged back by Grant Ward, who was pulling his shirt; ripped it, in fact. So he stopped running, turned to the referee, and started complaining; and kept complaining, while Grant Ward raced away with the ball towards Charlie Taylor; and kept complaining, as Ward (Grant) crossed for Ward (Danny) whose header was only half cleared as Rotherham scented blood.
Leeds got away with it, but Carayol was still complaining when the ball eventually ran out of play, and it was hard to tell whether the majority of the boos were for the referee who had failed to award a clear free kick, or for the player whinging about his torn shirt in about as severe a misjudgement of the prevailing Elland Road mood as it’s possible to make. Nobody cares about a torn shirt mate; Leon Best tore Gaetano Berardi’s nose off last time Rotherham were here, and he just got straight up and tried to kill him, and that’s what Leeds United are about. You certainly can’t just stand there bemoaning the state of your Kappa gear when a player who, by fair means or foul, has just absolutely done you is putting the whole team on the back foot, and I can’t imagine what would have happened if Rotherham had scored.
It was a small incident to make a big deal out of, but I feared for him. Jermaine Beckford scored seventy goals for Leeds, but people still complained he wasn’t putting the effort in and was only playing for himself; more recently, Jordan Botaka seems to have been bombed out of the squad for a perceived lack of hard work, and Carayol is essentially his replacement. The last thing you want Leeds fans to remember your debut for is that you gave up running because you didn’t like the ref’s decision.
Fortunately, what Carayol’s debut will be remembered for is the way he took the ball from Charlie Taylor’s smart cutback and absolutely lashed it straight at Lee Camp’s head and into the back of the net. What it lacked of some of the grace of Alex Mowatt’s recent goals it made up for in sheer catastrophic energy; Camp, let’s face it, was diving out the way. It’s a goal so good that LUTV have faked the crowd noise on the highlights so it sounds as though it was scored at the Maracanã, but it absolutely deserves that treatment.
Did it make the whole game worthwhile? Am I glad to be able to tell people, I was there? No, not really. It looks better on the highlights anyway, and it sounds like the fake crowd were having a better time than me. But we’ll take what we can get; Lewie Coyle can definitely do it, and Mustapha Carayol, after a close scrape, can definitely do it. Carayol’s lucky there were’t many there to see his initial mistake; he’s unfortunate there weren’t many there to see his goal. But that’s the magic of the FA Cup for you; he’ll just have to do it again in a game that matters.