leeds united 2-1 blackburn rovers: the most important thingBack
It’s been a long time since Leeds United fans at Elland Road have been left open-mouthed in wonder at the wayward, savage power stored within nature’s mysterious creations. Since Rodolph Austin left, in fact.
The electrical storm that washed the skies above Elland Road with whites, pinks, and yes, purples was, thankfully, as inaccurate as Rudy’s right boot; the stadium escaped a direct hit. Imagine Massimo Cellino clambering up the East Stand like Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters, the keymaster in search of the gatekeeper, as the hot, thick air fizzled electric around him, and you’d have a more entertaining spectacle that much of what happened on the pitch while Leeds and Blackburn Rovers played football.
Entertainment wasn’t the point, though, which is probably more than nine thousand who watched Leeds lose to Huddersfield stayed away from this. The point wasn’t just not to lose, either; Leeds United had to win this.
That need was not due to any pressure on Garry Monk from Cellino, or his presumed new sporting director, or from the fans, or the media; it was simply because losing to the bottom team, the worst team, at home, would not be acceptable. Simply for status and the continuance of hope, Leeds had to win.
And they did. There are no spoilers when it comes to football in this day and age; I’m sure you’ve all checked your Green ‘Uns, and the headline at the top of this report, and know the score. What we’ve known less well is the feeling of walking away from Elland Road after our team has won a game of football — the close season and a shoddy start to this season mean that hasn’t happened since 19th April, when we beat Wolves — and it was great to have that feeling back.
Garry Monk started with the side that, give or take, I’ve been wanting to see ever since the game at Fleetwood gave me the gift of Pablo Hernandez; Chris Wood was dropped, Hernandez played behind Marcus Antonsson, and Eunan O’Kane was plucked from the midfielders mountain for his debut. The result was not instant alchemy; in fact, the first half was dire and time added for injuries made it feel never ending.
I can’t praise the second half too much either, but here’s what was better about Leeds. Hernandez, despite not having a great game, changes the way Leeds play simply because of what he tries to do, and Leeds benefit.
Against Huddersfield ball after ball was chipped from back to front vaguely towards Wood’s head, a foolish undertaking even when accurately aimed. Against Blackburn, Hernandez would move into an unexpected position in Blackburn’s half and demand the ball, setting his teammate the challenge of passing it to him. Then, when he passed the ball on, he passed it into space or to a position beyond his teammate, but within their reach, so that they had to go and get it. Suddenly we could see angles, and Pablo was drawing them.
O’Kane was fairly mundane but he and Liam Bridcutt were in control, while Pontus Jansson continued his countdown to cultdom with more of what we glimpsed on his debut; in the closing stages, as Leeds defended their lead, he headed a dangerous ball away for a corner and turned to scream at the South Stand. This guy, it seems, just loves defending.
Jansson also added to his reportoire, gliding upfield with the ball at his feet and almost creating a goal, and revealing that if an opposition player is going to fanny around with the ball in his vicinity then he will clatter him with relish. I’m looking forward to seeing what else he’s got.
It would have helped if someone had the willingness to clatter Marvin Emnes on the edge of Leeds’ box before he was allowed to score a replica of Huddersfield’s winner and peg Leeds back. Hadi Sacko had begun to show his worth by then and created a goal for Wood, on as substitute for Antonsson; Sacko just kept seeing a way past the defenders down the right wing until the only option left was to cross to Wood, who doesn’t miss from three yards into an open net when unmarked. At least, he’d better bloody not.
The equaliser was deflating but, there look, a Leeds United fightback; that’s quite a thing. It wasn’t the strongest but it did the job; Wood won a freekick out wide, and another sub, Alex Mowatt, swung the ball onto the head of the unmarked Kyle Bartley. We all needed that to go in, and it did.
It’s part of this Leeds’ team’s enigma that, after wholesale changes to the side — Stuart Dallas was back, too — the substitutes had such a big part in the win. That, along with Rovers’ status, lowing like cattle, means we have to stop short of declaring this a golden dawn or even drawing too many conclusions.
After all the talk at the weekend about Garry Monk and his team’s identity, or footballing philosophy, it was interesting to see what he’d been doing in the previous games so comprehensively torn up. Part of Monk’s objection to that sort of talk seemed to be the suggestion that he didn’t know what he was doing, or didn’t know his own mind. And yet here he was, a couple of days later, doing a completely different thing.
“Monk admitted that by going 4-4-2, he’s been sacrificing his philosophy,” tweeted Phil Hay of the YEP, from Monk’s post-match interviews. “Said tonight and 4-2-3-1 has reminded him to stick with principles.”
When a manager sacrifices his philosophy that way I guess the next question is: why? We’re longing for consistency at Leeds, for signs that somebody is thinking about the club beyond the end of next week, and Garry Monk is integral to that; we all know that Leeds need to give a coach time. But as part of that Monk needs to have courage in his own convictions, and believe in the long term of what he’s doing.
That might be a tough task at Leeds, but Cellino’s short-termism is an unmovable fact, and determination and fortitude might be the only things that can get around it.
That means building on tonight, not scrapping it. The game was pretty bad, the opposition were woeful, and Monk clearly needs to tell someone to watch the edge of the penalty area. But we should stick with this all the same, because what was better was more significant than what was still bad.
And Leeds United won. Which was the most important thing.