qpr 3-0 leeds united: get with itBack
“It was a kick up the backside,” said Leeds United’s new defender Kyle Bartley, and after being kicked up the backside Bartley and his teammates should do the decent thing, turn around, and receive the matching kick in the groin that every Leeds fan watching this game received as reward for their pre-season optimism.
United didn’t just lose a game of football to QPR, but in the first ninety minutes of the season managed to destroy almost every reason fans had to be optimistic about what might happen in the months ahead.
All is not lost; it’s only one game; and changes are yet to be made. Liam Bridcutt doesn’t just look nice to have, now; he looks essential. Pablo Hernandez, denied international clearance, still promises to be a talisman.
But why should we expect those moves to work, after this? Nothing else Garry Monk promised made its way to the pitch against QPR. Set up to play 4-2-3-1, with Matt Grimes taking up the no.10 attacking midfield role, Leeds proceeded to play as if Matt Grimes didn’t exist; behind him, Toumani Diagouraga and Ronaldo Vieira could barely get hold of the ball, and behind them, the back four weren’t interested in giving it to them, preferring instead a space somewhere thirty yards to one side or the other of Chris Wood’s head.
Hernandez might wonder what will be the point of pursuing his clearance, if he’s to join a team that is going to bypass him completely. Or perhaps this was Grimes’ fault, as a distinctly anonymous deputy; but in that case, why didn’t Alex Mowatt play there, as he has all pre-season?
The lack of pre-season preparation was my worry going into this weekend. A trialist and Lewie Coyle took right-back duties against Atalanta, but it was Gaetano Berardi, who hasn’t played a minute since he was injured at the end of last season, who started (and soon went off). Stuart Dallas played despite only spending forty-five minutes on the pitch for Leeds in pre-season, thanks to Euro 2016 and his wedding. Added to that, something that did look good in pre-season — Alex Mowatt in that no.10 position — was binned somewhere between the Atalanta game and Loftus Road, the job given instead to Grimes, who didn’t look like he’d ever played there in his life, never mind lately.
Given that the club hasn’t hidden its pursuit of new defenders, it was the new-look attack that had Leeds fans eager for the Monk era to start — we’ll score more than them, Keegan-style. But the anaemic midfield meant we saw little to nothing of Kemar Roofe, other than some enthusiastic defensive battling; Antonsson and Sacko came on to play their parts in a belated 4-4-2, but by that time despondency had set in among the fans and their cameos weren’t able to lift the mood. Our new look attacking forces didn’t manage a shot on target.
Ronaldo Vieira has also been prominent among the pre-season hype, almost as if the club wanted to distract us with a shiny new young player as Lewis Cook slipped away. If there was anything positive about this game it was Vieira, although the quality of his performance helped to highlight how poor Diagouraga was next to him, and it ended with echoes of Cook that we didn’t want. Dave Hockaday, remember, sent Cook on for his debut when Leeds were chasing the game in an opening day defeat at Millwall, only to watch Cook lose the ball then, chasing back, concede a penalty; proving there’s nothing new in football, Vieira will remember his first league start for a mistake that led to him giving away a penalty, on an opening day defeat in London. Hopefully, like Cook, he won’t let it get him down.
That was the second goal, by which time the defensive deficiencies we feared had long since been exposed, along with some we hoped had been sorted. Obviously, as QPR began to purr to victory, the TV cameras picked out Massimo Cellino for his reactions; and aside from the overall manner of defeat, Cellino will have returned to the performance of Robert Green as he ranted into the night. Of all the decisions Garry Monk has made so far, signing Green as his number one might be the most significant; and failing to move Marco Silvestri on will only make it more so. A free transfer, and a former England international, Rob Green will not have come cheaply to Leeds; meanwhile Silvestri, highly regarded by Cellino, will not be underpaid, and Cellino will have needed some persuading to finance a replacement.
The finance was forthcoming, but Silvestri, despite not being on the bench, has not been thoroughly replaced, and as of right now Leeds United have two highly paid goalkeepers in the squad, neither of whom seem capable of catching a football or defending their front post, along with two others, one of whom got a new and very public summer contract, but didn’t make the bench at QPR.
That’s the kind of overloading of expenditure an owner who used to wield a spreadsheet of the players’ wages as if it was a holy curse will not allow to pass unremarked; chief among Neil Redfearn’s crimes, remember, was not making more use of his president’s benevolent gift of Brian Montenegro. Cellino is always a danger to his head coaches, but when his anger is general he’s usually toothless. Monk won’t gain if Cellino has such specific and glaring causes for complaint.
It’s one game. And such harsh assessments could be described as a failure to give Garry Monk a fair chance. But before the fans — let alone Cellino — give Monk as a chance, he has to give himself a chance too. Everyone wants Monk to succeed, and everyone likes listening to him talk about the success he’s going to bring to Leeds United. But patience shortens in inverse proportion to promises, and no team in the Championship was beaten as thoroughly as Leeds United this weekend. And I’d wager no team in the Championship weighed itself down with as many disadvantages as Leeds United this weekend, in terms of player selection, playing style, and lack of pre-season preparation, or amid such positive expectations.
A kick up the backside shouldn’t be needed after the first game of the season, but it isn’t unprecedented. But it also can’t continue. I like criticism to be constructive so I will leave this on a note of constructive advice: Garry, go and smash Fleetwood Town in midweek, and start again properly in front of the home crowd at Elland Road next week. We’re with you. Keep us with you.