leeds united 1-2 brighton & hove albion: voidBack
Leeds United played well enough to just about get a draw from this game. But, and at Leeds United there is always an ironic but, Uwe Rosler ended the day defeated, several ways.
I wrote on Friday that Rosler’s teamsheet for this game was as important as the result, and when it arrived, at 2pm, Rosler lost his first battle of the day. Leeds fans were looking for a statement after the Birmingham defeat, and after ten winless games at home, and after Rosler himself had seemed to offer changes after Birmingham: “In the future we also have to look at it [our playing style], simplify it and sacrifice some ideas to get points on the table.”
Rosler made only one really significant change by choice; Adeyemi in for Murphy was such standard rotation it was hardly noticed. Jordan Botaka replaced Will Buckley, and that was that; that was the sacrifice Rosler was willing to make to get points on the table. No Antenucci, no variance from 4–3–3, no noticeable alteration in tactics; just a fancy-pants winger. And although Botaka’s pants are definitely among the fanciest around, masterplans aren’t built on fancy pants. If this was the plan Rosler had spent the last two weeks coming up with, I wonder what he did to fill the other thirteen-and-a-half days.
In fairness Leeds were bright, but that was mainly because Lewis Cook was bright. Cook did lots of what he does best, and that’s take the ball from one place to another place, and then give it to somebody. What he does along the way is often as thrilling as anything Botaka does, only in a different way; while Botaka stands up straight and chooses a trick to beat the next player, Cook bends his knees and takes his centre of gravity as low as possible and then hurls himself through opponents, pressed to the turf like a crown green bowling ball, but moving as quickly and unpredictably as a marble.
The ball usually ended up with Chris Wood, though, who had all the chances he needed to win this game and took none of them; or it would be given away, putting Adeyemi under pressure that, particularly in the first half, he struggled to cope with. Mowatt did his best to match the quality of his midfield fellow, and would have had two assists if Wood had headed his free kick in the way Cooper did, but our remarkable averageness was always going to be second best against a confident Brighton.
Including Botaka was the change Rosler chose to make, but the other, enforced change on his teamsheet also put him way behind on points before kick-off. There was not much he could do about Charlie Taylor being missing with illness, except move Gaetano Berardi to left-back; where he looked more like the uncertain Berardi of old than the all-conquering right-back of this season. Taking Berardi’s place on the right was Scott Wootton.
The Price of Football report came out last week, highlighting yet again how expensive it is to watch football in this country, and how little is ever done about it. After January, fans at a Premier League club in this country will be paying more than £50 a game to watch Sam Byram play football. And yet, at Elland Road, he is left on the bench, and we pay anything up to £37 (if you paid on the day) to watch Scott Wootton. Much like the Price of Football report itself, I don’t know what mathematical formula I should apply to any of this, I just know that it doesn’t feel quite right.
Byram has been out of sorts this season, and we all know the reason why, but he hasn’t been terrible. And the laws that keep football a simple game dictate that if you have a gap in your team at right-back, and a future Premier League right-back available, you should play him ahead of the average centre-half who struggles every time you play him there.
Byram did eventually make it onto the pitch, but as part of Rosler’s mission to make his weekend as difficult as possible it was in place of Botaka, the only move that could have been less popular than not starting Byram in the first place.
Where the decision about Byram was made in the chain of command is open to question, but anyone who dismisses Massimo Cellino’s influence outright ought to pause and think back to before the game, when Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It blasted across the Elland Road pitch as part of the pre-match build up; the chairman’s choice, apparently. They should also consider how that song is related to Cellino’s declaration of war on the Football League on Friday, with our away support as his human shield, and realise that if there’s something to be meddled with, Cellino is going to meddle with it.
What doesn’t fit with the view of Cellino as arch-meddler is that Rosler is still in a job. That has been Cellino’s first option when he’s been restless; sack the head coach. Perhaps someone in the club has deliberately distracted Cellino with the cap on away tickets and the pre-match playlists in order to buy Rosler some time.
“I sack him today!” You can’t sack him today, Massimo, you’re sending concrete blocks by Freepost to the Football League today. “Okay, I sack him tomorrow!” But tomorrow you’re meeting Nikki Sixx to discuss the Mötley Crüe rewrite of Marching on Together. “Okay, I sack him the day after that!”
“At the moment things go very much against us,” said Rosler after the game, and he might include within that the effect his chairman’s away boycott decree had on the mood at an already miserable, winless Elland Road. Cellino is a dab-hand at a clumsy, ill-timed statement; back in February he announced he wouldn’t be returning as club president after his Football League ban, two hours before we played Brighton (and lost). Rosler had a bit more notice than Redfearn had that night, but he still found himself amid a destabilised and distracted club on Saturday morning.
But while things are going against him, and us, Rosler has to demonstrate that he has the ability to do something about it. The team sheet against Brighton on Saturday was a failure, a nothing, a void; a tweak in attack wasn’t enough, and the non-selection of Byram invited questions Rosler can’t answer. The performance was okay, but that’s not okay.
“That’s the way it is,” said Rosler. “I’ll have a good drink and I’ll be ready on Monday again.” And on Wednesday we go to Fulham, where Rosler can at least count on our away support to provide whatever it is that can’t be found at Elland Road; then he can count on them one more time, at Bolton, before that too becomes a void he can only fill with drink.