leeds united 1-0 ipswich town: new complaintBack
The last Saturday afternoon match at Elland Road ended with a torrent of rancour aimed at the cowering players, whose performances had embraced every awful synonym for terrible as they allowed Huddersfield Town to beat them 1-0.
Saturday afternoon, in autumn sunshine, after watching United beat Ipswich Town by the same score, I groped for faults as for a passing lilo in a flooded street; I needed some stability, and at Leeds United, that meant I needed something to complain about.
Bloody Leeds United, I thought, eventually. Trying to walk the bloody ball into the net! Not clinical enough. Should have been more.
That hit the spot. With a levelling grump as a baseline, we can move on, and praise, praise, praise.
That moan, absurb as it sounds, is a valid criticism of the Leeds United performance. United were dominant and could have had a bunch of goals, especially in the second half. Hadi Sacko established his wasteful credentials in the first half when, with the ball under control in the Ipswich penalty area, he fired it into the roof of the South Stand. Second half he was at it again, striding on to a deflected effort from Chris Wood and, with the goal widening and goalkeeper diminishing, slotted it firmly into the Kop.
In the second half, though, he was mostly at Jonas Knudsen, Town’s beleaguered left-back, and Sacko deserved at least a goal or an assist, but never seemed able to make the right decision. He would fire a ball across the box, but find Wood and Hernandez had paused for a pull back; he’d get to the byline and turn back towards the penalty spot, and find his team mates barraging into the six yard box. Other times he’d get mixed up with Luke Ayling; other times he’d shoot, and miss.
Whatever happened, though, Kalvin Phillips or Eunan O’Kane would keep shifting the ball out his way and letting Sacko do his thing; a graceless thing, as wing play goes, more about power and determination than tricks, but an exciting thing, especially when he so clearly had the better of an opponent. Leeds fans behind the goal could sense the panic in the Ipswich defence and roared with joy at the way United kept at them and kept at them.
The frustration that such power play didn’t mean more goals was only slight, although Chris Wood seemed to feel it most, gesticulating and instructing Sacko after every misplaced cross. Earlier in the season Wood’s heavy footed style was shown up by the swift twists into space of floppy haired new boy Marcus Antonsson, but against Ipswich Wood appeared to have rediscovered movement. He also, in the early stages, very nearly rediscovered the striking power he showed that one time against Derby County, when an angled shot from twenty yards hit the far post, but we need to build up slowly to a netbuster; for now, scoring headers will do.
Wood orchestrated the header he scored against Ipswich, a nice little trio with Stuart Dallas and another of Elland Road’s unfavoured sons, Charlie Taylor. First, Pablo Hernandez, booted all over by Ipswich players, scrambled the ball away from two of them, and gave it to Sacko.
His ball was a little behind Wood; he stuck a heel out at it, then did a sort of turn by protecting the ball and shuffling his feet until it rolled into a better place. From that better place he passed outside to Dallas, who faked a shot and then passed with the outside of his boot to Taylor.
Taylor was overlapping and in the centre Wood’s right arm was flapping; he’d run to the near post but was waving to the far, and Taylor took a careful moment to swoop the ball to the middle of the goal. Wood, normally restrained by gravity, leapt above his marker and his downward header was Goldilocks: not so short it bounced up and over, not so deep it went over the bar, but just right, on the goal line, into the back of the net.
You might wonder why Charlie Taylor, for one, hasn’t been doing this all season: getting to the byline, sending over deadly crosses. And some in the East Stand were on his back about exactly this in the first half an hour; you could say rightly. But he’s done it so little, this season, I can’t help but wonder if it’s in response to an instruction from Garry Monk to be defensive first, attack second, and not, as has been assumed, due to a lack of interest because he’d rather be elsewhere.
The space Taylor ran into for this goal was often, on other occassions, filled by Pablo Hernandez, who favours a wide drift from his no.10 position, and generally provides the support Stuart Dallas requires, meaning there’s not much need for Taylor to get up there too when he’s got a counter attack to watch for. This time Hernandez was over on the right, where he’d started the move, and Taylor wasted no time getting forward into the space that opened up.
Chris Wood, meanwhile, simply played better. Garry Monk claimed he couldn’t understand the criticism Wood got earlier in the season, but as a critic of Wood I’ll stand by everything I’ve said about him. A combination of high balls from the back that didn’t suit him, a lack of movement, and a series of missed headers added up to a player that was not playing well, while a handsome Swede with a cheeky grin promised Somma-style volleys whenever he played. Contrast that with Saturday: the balls were consistently played to the playmakers, Sacko, Hernandez and Dallas, and Wood’s movement was better; he got a chance, and he buried it. Nobody asks for more than Wood gave on Saturday; but we do notice when he doesn’t give it.
That more intelligent ball, going to a ballplayer, owes a lot to Eunan O’Kane, who is a hard player to notice. I’ve admittedly let him go under my radar in his first few games, and even when making the effort to watch him in this match, I struggled to actually find him on the pitch. That didn’t matter, though, because he would generally pop up where he needed to; doing the hard jobs, filling in for others, as well as keeping the ball moving alongside Kalvin Phillips, who had one of his best games so far.
It’s also down to a Swede with a cheeky grin and a thirst for impact. With Brett Pitman lying in a heap Pontus Jansson roared terrifying incantations at the Kop; as Pitman limped off, the players around Jansson must have revelled in the extra security of having an unhinged colossus like Jansson protecting their goal.
The love for Pontus is increasing, and the imitation haircuts must soon follow, but it’s justified. Jansson first showed this commitment and power on that dreadful afternoon against Huddersfield, and afterwards he didn’t sugarcoat his assessment of his new team’s style of play: there were too many long balls, and the good players didn’t have the ball enough. That is exactly what has changed in the four games since then, and it’s hard to know to whom to credit the change: Garry Monk, or Garry Monk’s fear of Pontus Jansson.
A word about Ipswich Town might dampen the delirium: bad. They hardly troubled our goal and we must allow a little reality into our hearts and add that, as Leeds haven’t dominated a team like this for so long, that team must rate as pretty bad. United travel to Bristol City on Tuesday night, who have put together a tidy little side, with Frank Fielding, Lee Tomlin and teenage loanee goal machine Tammy Abraham, where trying to walk the ball into the net might not do, and where Jansson will have to have his kill instincts well tuned.
But then, we always say that after runs like these; that the opposition was poor and the next game will be a sterner test. It might be true, but it shouldn’t detract from a good afternoon out at the football, so different from before.