leeds united 3-2 reading: the right reasonsBack
I wrote here last week about individuals within team dynamics, and then on Saturday I walked with around a thousand other people from City Square to Elland Road before Leeds United played football against Reading.
It wasn’t an easy route. The landmarks of ‘new’ Holbeck — The Midnight Bell, The Cross Keys, The Northern Monk Refectory — and the Water Lane shortcut were given a swerve as we went the long way along Globe Road to Whitehall Road, then cut back along Springwell Road. From there it was into ‘old’ Holbeck, St Matthew’s Street and the moor, to Elland Road. It took about an hour, an hour that could have been easily spent in the pub.
The duration is as important as the numbers. As declining attendances show, these are apathetic times at Leeds United; my other measure is the North East upper bar, where half-time queues have dwindled to nothing, because people just aren’t that bothered about having a drink, going to the game, taking part in their old Leeds United rituals anymore. Or, those that are sticking to it, are stuck to their rituals so rigidly that they’ll not vary from a lifetime’s routine.
Either way, trying to convince large numbers of steadfast individuals to alter their Saturday to take in an hour’s walk through Holbeck is a challenge on a par with trying to win a football match; you have multiple motivations, plans and intentions all clashing together as you try to gather individuals into a coherent team where those clashes align and create harmony.
We see, every game, how hard it is to do that with eleven professional footballers. To do it with a thousand football fans is a massive achievement, and sends a powerful message. Season ticket renewal time is creeping closer, especially now that we know what division we’ll play in next season, and those marchers represent in cold finances half a million quid that Leeds United can’t afford to lose.
The marchers have proved themselves among the most motivated of Leeds United supporters, willing to give up an hour of their Saturday to walk two-and-a-half miles to demonstrate their concern for the future of their football club. The challenge for the football club is to motivate those people to buy tickets for next season. Those who care most want to be there least, and that’s not a good sign for any club.
After arriving and chanting outside the East Stand — which was more prolonged and sustained than at the end of the Time For Change march in the Ken Bates era — there was actually a good game to watch, which can happen when too poor sides play.
Neither side seemed able to get its defensive act together, which gave Luke Murphy the chance to get a grip on the game for once; either that or he’s been on the phone to Steve Thompson and been reunited with his mojo. Toumani Diagouraga was a powerful presence in the middle, too; only Lewis Cook didn’t enjoy himself, unable to find a place on the pitch to play, and easily knocked off the ball when he did.
Reading took the lead when Giuseppe Bellusci, much as the tried to deny it, gave away a typically clumsy foul on the left side; then, as the ball was swung across to the back post, Bellusci ran under the flight of the ball and behind Cooper (Liam) and Cooper (Jake), completely losing the player he should have been marking (Michael Hector) who scored easily.
Their equaliser was no great shakes either; as Murphy and Dallas disputed a throw in, the whole team switched off while Reading hit the crossbar and Rakels was left unmarked in the six yard box to finish off the pinball. Bellusci was closest to him but seemed to be marking Silvestri, but none of the Leeds defenders seemed to have noticed Rekels’ arrival.
Leeds had scored twice by that point, profiting where against Burnley last weekend they’d lost, scoring headers from crosses instead of sending them wide. The better of them was scored by Diagouraga, who nodded in a deep cross from Berardi; the second was scored by Chris Wood, who had sent a diving header wide of the near post after a cross from Charlie Taylor, and as near as damn it missed again when he played the ball wide for Taylor then connected with Taylor’s cross himself on the edge of the six yard box. It was clever movement but not a clever connection; Wood just can’t seem to head a football properly, and this time he took all the pace off it as it scuffed the inside of the post and over the line before Al Habsi could get a hand to it.
More sharp movement from Wood won the game, as did using his feet instead of his head. As he tried to deal with a flicked on Silvestri goalkick, Cooper (the Reading one) slipped outside the penalty area with Wood already bearing down on the gap between him and Al Habsi; Wood quickly gathered the ball with his right foot then slid a shot low past Al Habsi with his left. It couldn’t have been better placed in the bottom corner, and it took Wood to a mighty eleven goals for the season.
With finishing like that, I wonder how many Wood would score if we didn’t keep pinging the ball at his head; but from Burnley to Reading pinging crosses from Dallas, Taylor and Berardi seem to be our new thing now. With Wolverhampton Wanderers visiting on Tuesday, Leeds have a chance to try it again before no doubt reverting to 4-5-1 for the trip to fourth place Hull City.
Those are Steve Evans’ two default modes, and they’ve guaranteed Leeds safety from relegation with four matches still to play, triggering the moment when he and Massimo Cellino are supposed to talk about the future. “The president will meet me for talks when he is ready,” Evans said after the game, but his president is rumoured to have been meeting Fabio Cannavaro for talks instead of paying attention to Evans and events at Elland Road, which is one hint of a possible future for Leeds United.
A future with Fabio Cannavaro as head coach would certainly be a handsome one. Look at him, he’s gorgeous, which we know from Cellino’s introductory remarks about Darko Milanic — “His particularly qualities? He’s good looking, what can I tell you?” — is one one of his preferred coaching characteristics. It’s actually Cannavaro’s only characteristic, because he certainly has no pedigree as a coach.
Cannavaro, if appointed, has all the hallmarks of glitz above substance that Leeds United don’t need, a return to the days of Instagram’s Eleonora Cellino wearing a towel on the LUFC hashtag after a defeat. No doubt it’ll get a few to suggest he should be given a chance, that maybe Cellino will have cracked his watermelon trouble this time, that we should dutifully buy up season tickets and see how it goes for another year.
Whether it’s a persuasive enough argument for the thousand who marched is another matter. They’ve shown they’re willing to get off their backsides and do, for the right reasons. Massimo Cellino needs to find a way to give them the right reasons.