bristol city 2-2 leeds united: drawn, quartered and hungBack
After the Reading game I waxed not quite lyrically about Uwe Rosler’s determination to stick to his beliefs and philosophy, by changing things.
There was more of it at Bristol, and there needs to be even more of it against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday. If Rosler is brave enough to play Scott Wootton despite all the evidence contradicting that decision, he should be brave enough to look at all the evidence supporting a decision to drop Marco Silvestri, and drop Marco Silvestri.
That won’t, in itself, be the panacea that will guarantee Leeds United a victory on Saturday and for ever more. That’s more likely to come about, if it comes about, through the changes Rosler made up front, that were as brave and correct as it gets.
He didn’t give everything up, though. Rosler’s commitment to 433 seems to exclude the possibility of a second striker to support Chris Wood, but when your second striker is your in-form player, you have to find a way to accommodate Mirco Antenucci. Naming both looked at first like an abandonment already of 433 for 442, but it was more like a complicated modification of 433 that put Antenucci just behind Wood, just ahead of Phillips and Adeyemi.
He’s flexible, Rosler, but he won’t break; I don’t think we’ll see a traditional strike partnership while he’s in charge. If it works the way it worked at Ashton Gate, that ought to be fine, although I’m not sure how much I like watching Leeds soaking up so much pressure. Heavy metal football sounds very aggressive in theory, but it’s passive aggressive in practice; absorbing the attacks if you just don’t care, then getting a hard jab in when you spot a weak spot.
If the jabs don’t land, you can end up making your opponents look like world beaters; Bristol dominated possession, dominated shots on and off target, 17 to 3; they didn’t quite look the better side, because Leeds looked so dangerous on the counter attack, but if Leeds hadn’t made their chances count, we could have been miffed by much more than a draw.
The chances counted mostly thanks to Antenucci, who won the penalty, scored the penalty, and in his head was going to score the second until Bristol’s shutdown forced him to find Wood. Getting Wood off the mark was important, and it’s good that it was a fine goal; one of those situations where a world of fans yell ‘hit the bloody thing!’ and the player takes his time, edges inside the defender and picks his spot. Lovely. And he looked hella relieved.
It’s hard to understand where the pressure has come from for Wood; whether it’s the price tag, or just a continuation of the Morison situation where fans can’t get used to not having to moan about the big plank up front. The penalty at Doncaster (that we swear we won’t keep bringing up, honest) didn’t help, but two and a half league games isn’t an unusual amount of time for a new signing to find his feet. Whether the lack of a league goal in a Leeds shirt was weighing on Wood’s mind was answered in his celebration, though; yes, it definitely was, and the goal at Bristol was about stopping a goalless run before it started. He is not, and never will be, Billy Paynter The Second; small yays for small victories. Hopefully he can kick on and be much more.
With creativity and chances a rarity, though, Leeds have to rely somewhat on their opponents to not get the better of our defence. And that means relying on every opposing team that has seventeen chances to miss them all; and relying on our own defenders to keep out the ones that land on target. And this paragraph is taking a long way round to saying that we’re reliant on Giuseppe Bellusci and Marco Silvestri, and, well, if you trapped down a well and had to send one of them for help, you’d be asking if there wasn’t a dog there you could talk to.
Rosler’s stubborn refusal to leave well alone, or rather, his determination to impose his own tactical ethic, didn’t help matters. Although Leeds are deep in a crowded trench of fixtures at the moment, Sunday – Wednesday – Saturday ought not to be beyond the legs of Antenucci, and there wasn’t a hint of tiredness about the way he was playing when he was subbed off for Mowatt. Berardi for Byram, too, seemed like an assumption too far from Rosler that the game was all sewn up. To be fair to the bloke, he hasn’t seen Leeds United as much as we have.
He must, by now, have seen enough of Bellusci and Silvestri to know that a change has got to come. As at Doncaster, Bellusci wasn’t actually exceptionally awful; he was just generally weak, and got drawn into a pointless bit of antler-locking with Aaron Wilbraham, and just played as if he was deliberately all out to piss off Liam Cooper, sitting on the bench as another opportunity to forge a partnership with Sol Bamba passed him by.
Marco Silvestri, though, had the usual Marco Silvestri game, only I can’t recall a wondersave in this one to make anybody think twice. Characteristically lacking the character to deal with balls from out wide in the first half, his lack of backbone and inability to influence his defence cost Leeds when Bristol forced their backs against the wall.
Instead of a confident response to constant pressure, we got ill-discipling flapping and a lack of leadership; oh, Sol Bamba, if only you could wear gloves, too. Chances of Bamba saving Kieran Agard’s shot, that beat Silvestri at the back post? High, I’d say. Would he have palmed the ball out so Aden Flint could prod home the equaliser? Perhaps. He’s a central defender, not a goalkeeper, after all. But before it even got to that stage, I suspect Bamba in gloves would have found a way to deal with the corner, no matter who suffered, no matter how many innocents stood in his way. Then he would have smiled about it, beautifully.
Bamba in goal would be an exceptionally brave move by Rosler, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The solution is simpler and much less dramatic, at least, as far as anything at Leeds United can be ‘less dramatic’ than anything else.
If we’re to play counter-attacking football, we need to be able to deal with our opponents’ attacks; and to do that, we need a goalkeeper who is confident, experienced, commanding, communicative and a good shot stopper. Leeds United’s number fits one of those criteria, and to be fair to him he fits it better than Leeds United’s number 22. But Ross Turnbull can offer fair claims to everything else on that list, and he can offer a great deal to Leeds United’s defence when Sheffield Wednesday come to town on Saturday.
It doesn’t have to be permanent. While Rosler is decisive in his team selections, he also reselects frequently; from what we know of his time in charge of Brentford and Wigan, that’s not a symptom of our congested start to the season, but a managerial trait. Wootton may have started at right-back against Bristol City, but Berardi is likely to be back against Wednesday; Antenucci was man of the match and subbed presumably to save his fitness for the next game, but there are no guarantees he’ll start the next game.
So if Rosler makes the switch in goal, it doesn’t have to be forever; he’ll never say never again to a player in his squad with something to offer. Well, except Nicky Ajose. But if he doesn’t make the switch in goal, Silvestri will start to feel like he’s forever our blight between the sticks.
Speaking with emotion, it will be hard to be cheerful about the start of the game on Saturday if Silvestri is still there. That might be to do with the after-effects of the points thrown away at Bristol being so much down to him, but emotions are real things, with real implications. If Rosler wants a more calculated, evidence based argument for why there should be a change in goal, well, I’m sure he’s got a copy of the video. Watch that, Uwe, and then pick Silvestri again.