qpr 1-0 leeds united: getting worseBack
I’m almost at the point where I might feel sorry for Steve Evans. But not yet.
Perhaps, like other Leeds United head coaches, his exit will be so swift I won’t ever get there. Massimo Cellino doesn’t allow fellowship to be cultivated between fans and head coaches, anyway; should it happen, he’ll burn it down with pettiness.
I didn’t feel sorry for Dave Hockaday because he was still indulging in bizarre wittering about progress and the journey to the Champions League when he was losing the games to Watford and Bradford that cost him his job. Darko Milanic, Uwe Rosler? They were hardly here long enough for me to care. Neil Redfearn had been here for a long time before he was made head coach, so there was plenty of sympathy for him, but that turned out to be part of the problem.
Now Steve Evans is the latest proud man to take on the proudish challenge of managing used-to-be proud Leeds United, and the latest to find out that working for Cellino is the football equivalent of following that advice about turning your toaster on its side to make cheese on toast. (Hint: don’t.)
“I never thought I’d have to give this advice,” a fire brigade crew manager said recently, “As it’s painfully obvious, but if you want cheese on toast use a grill not a toaster.” These days it’s also painfully obvious that if you take a job at Leeds United it will end in a cheese fire that will consume your hopes and dreams.
Steve Evans is still at the stage where he’s stubbornly fighting the idea that he’s been fooled like a fool, though. The self-confessed teary eyes of the win over Cardiff gave way to sullen belligerence after defeat to QPR.
“We ain’t got a six yard box striker,” he told Adam Pope of BBC Radio Leeds, like a man who just had his fingers caught in a slamming emergency loan window. Evans did get one player in, Liam Bridcutt, after weeks of planning and scheming and cajoling when Evans would much rather have had him in training; “I thought he was fantastic,” said Evans, and he then went on to list all the things that weren’t fantastic about Bridcutt’s debut. “Little bit of rustiness at times when he overan the ball, he maybe gave it away sloppy at times, got caught the odd time… And I tell you what, in two weeks time, he’s going to be the best player in the Championship, Bridcutt.”
He’ll have to be. With the emergency loan window squandered, Evans is now playing a dangerous game, of betting his future on the players he wants to bring in, which won’t be until January now, or won’t be at all, if Bridcutt doesn’t do what Evans is promising (“This guy, I sign the cheque, he no better than Backley, why no one tell me Sunderland is Black Cats, is unlucky”).
“We know what we need to do to the playing squad,” says Evans. “Approaching the November window was never a good time to do that. We know what we need to do. We’ve affected it by one player.” How many is he planning? Eleven?
What Evans actually needs to do to the playing squad is get the players that are here playing better than this. The first shot on target was from Lee Erwin, who didn’t even get on the pitch until the eightieth minute, and that’s not acceptable. QPR may have many advantages over Leeds United: Premier League players, parachute money, the management team — okay, perhaps not the management team — but Leeds United should never go eighty minutes without getting a shot on target against a team in our division.
That management team — Neil Warnock and Kevin Blackwell, of all the bastards — didn’t even do anything special. For Sandro, Hoilett and Austin, the three players that made the difference, read Cook, Botaka and Wood, at least in theory. Warnock never does anything interesting. He has a dominant midfielder, his Brownie; one flair player, a Taarabt or a McCormack (he explained recently that couldn’t keep Ross Barkley at Leeds, because “unfortunately I already had McCormack”); and a striker, a Morison, but never a Becchio (or, in his last stint at QPR, about a hundred strikers who he played one at a time as if he chose them with an eight-ball). The rest of the team are generally pretty rubbish.
Leeds could do that. Evans complained after the game that while we have lots of “good players,” we don’t have enough “very good players”; I think that’s rubbish. We don’t have a striker as good as Charlie Austin, true, but we have a midfielder who ought to be considered the best in the division, in Lewis Cook, and a fearless and almost unplayable attacker in Jordan Botaka. You could argue that Botaka hasn’t shown an end product yet, and that’s true; but Hoilett didn’t have an end product on Saturday, either. What he had was danger, and ability that worried our defensive players and disrupted our game. If Botaka can occupy the opposition for eighty-nine minutes and then we score from a corner, happy days.
We also have Alex Mowatt, devastating on his day; Charlie Taylor, back from illness and straight away back to form; and Scott Wootton, who must be brilliant to still be keeping Sam Byram out of the side. Although against QPR, Wootton was booked for another of his fouls on the halfway line as a player raced past him, something he was nearly sent off for when he kept doing it against Huddersfield, and something he does because, as a right-back, he has no idea what he’s doing.
As results get worse for United, Byram’s absence is becoming more of an issue. Evans claimed on Saturday that he’s out of the team due to form; but what form can he show on the bench? Byram was poor against Blackburn, as every player was, but as the old saying goes, form is temporary, and class is permanent. And the only way for form to recalibrate with class is for a player to play.
There’s only so long that Evans can stand idly by while Byram’s replacement does even worse game after game, pretending that much better teams than ours don’t look at Sam Byram and see someone who would improve their team.
“If we’re thinking Sam Byram is the saviour of Leeds United we’ve got problems, haven’t we Adam?” asked Steve Evans at the end of his interview with Adam Pope. As rhetorical questions go, he can shove that one up his arse, because there is not a single person suggesting that Sam Byram is the “saviour of Leeds United.”
What people are saying is that they’re sick of seeing someone who could help make the team play better being left out of it for reasons that, one suspects, have more to do with the owner’s petty reaction to a player being wanted by other, better teams, than with form. Look at the calibre of oik that Cellino surrounds himself with, hanging on to his britches and adjusting his QPR duvet because he’s the nearest thing they’ll ever touch to money, and see why Cellino can’t understand when someone with actual useful and transferable talent isn’t blindly loyal to him. And see the results; in this case, 1–0 to QPR.
Leeds United can’t afford not to play the best players available. Steve Evans might be content to muddle through until January and then bring in some Steve Evans players in the transfer window, but a) he’s naive if he’s not learned from the emergency loan window that’s he’s likely to get sod all and b) I tremble with fear when I imagine what a “Steve Evans player” might be like.
He’s also ignoring the fact that we have to play six games before we can sign anybody — eighteen points that we can’t afford to squander. At this rate, and playing this way, squander them is what we’re going to do, and January won’t be a question of whether we will regret replacing Rosler with Evans, but how much. Neil Redfearn isn’t going to be around to save us this season. Neil Warnock might be available again, but sod that.