nottingham forest 3-1 leeds united: continuing themeBack
Leeds United continued in some very same-old ways at Nottingham Forest, and are finding habits difficult to lose and form hard to gain.
One thing that continued was young players from the Academy scoring stonking goals. In midweek it was Tyler Denton, setting fire to the top corner of Luton’s net like an eighties Millwall fan with a molotov cocktail for a left boot.
Then against Nottingham Forest Kalvin Phillips stepped up, and although his free kick looked further out than was reasonable. Phillips struck it unreasonably well, sending the ball flying through clear air and inside the near goalpost.
Lovely. If that keeps up then we can expect something spectacular from Ronaldo Vieira against Huddersfield, and if those young players want to keep taking it in turns to score the best goals game by game that’s absolutely fine by me.
It’s worth remembering that last season Giuseppe Bellusci would have taken that free kick, sending the fans behind the goal cowering. Bellusci has gone, but that same-old habit hasn’t; that of surrounding our bright young goalscorers with inept defenders who can’t defend, who render great goals by our lads meaningless before they’re even scored.
Before this game Kyle Bartley and Luke Ayling stood out as new signings who had yet to provoke much aggravation (they all provoke some aggravation eventually), but they both lost that record at Forest. To be fair, neither were as culpable as Liam Cooper, but we’ve had that from him before. Bartley and Ayling are new, and they’re supposed to be better, and now we’re know they’re not, not really.
Robert Green gets roped in here too, although his solid reputation lasted only four minutes this season. Collectively, this crew were supposed to a) improve the defence and, consequently b) stop us conceding crap goals from set pieces.
And yet, and yet. Here’s a corner for Nottingham Forest, and it’s bouncing in the six yard box within booting distance of both Bartley and Cooper, on its way to Pajtim Kasami, who has got ahead of Ayling at the back post. That’s one-nil. Now here’s another corner, and as the ball flies over Cooper is edging backwards until he’s behind Damien Perquis, who he was notionally marking, and then he’s standing with his legs akimbo and his boots rooted to the soil and Perquis scores a header.
Finally it’s a throw-in, in the corner, where Forest might have been tempted to run down the clock, but not when Ayling is making himself so turnable that Oliver Burke can’t resist, and Cooper is so easily brushed aside that Burke might as well brush him, and when the gap between Green and his near post is so wide that it would be daft not to put the ball there and into the net.
And it’s all so familiar; three set-pieces, three embarrassments. I’ve abandoned all hope of coaching improvements now; I believe in it, but after so many years of regressing defenders, I no longer believe in it at Leeds. Perhaps we fell foul of a curse, and need Norman Hunter and Jack Charlton to bless our centre-halves using whichever parts of their fists are most persuasive.
Instead hope relies on Bartley not having gone full Zaliukas just yet, and Pontius Jansson only being tested by Luton so far, so we can still pretend he’s going to be great. Perhaps he will; perhaps Bartley and Jansson will be the keys, and they’ll get Ayling on his game too.
Elsewhere on the pitch it was another day to blame Pablo Hernandez, who was the only change from the side that trounced Sheffield Wednesday, and therefore must be to blame. Old Pablo looked as great as you’d want when he moved to the middle of the pitch, zipping through balls to Marcus Antonsson and moving keenly; unfortunately he was supposed to be playing left-wing, and when he did, he didn’t.
Hernandez remains a conundrum, because the win at Sheffield Wednesday — unfortunately — hasn’t turned out to be a solution of any kind, and after the first month of the season we’re still trying to work out where Garry Monk is going with all this.
The side that beat Wednesday and lost at Forest bears such a curious lack of relation to the side that lost at QPR, it’s impossible to know whether QPR was a one-off brainplosion where Monk got it all completely wrong, or whether it was a carefully planned and developed long-term strategy, that was completely wrong.
Matt Grimes played that day and was awful, and he played again at Luton and was awful, and didn’t even make substitute at Forest. See also Toumani Diagouraga, who was so awful at QPR that he’s not even been allowed on the bench since then. Leeds played Grimes behind Wood at QPR, then Hernandez behind Wood at Fleetwood, but then this business of playing with a no.10 hasn’t been heard of since and Hernandez has begun to look like an impulsively bought cushion that doesn’t match our expensive couch.
Transfer talk still rattles the wires, as it will til Wednesday, and that might provide some answers. I said after the QPR game that Garry Monk might want to scratch that and start the season again, but here we are after five league games, and unfortunately that still applies.
Maybe against Huddersfield we’ll finally see a first team that’s really a first team, with some of the best of the story so far, and less of the story we’re tired of.