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rotherham united 2-1 leeds united: tactical hiding

rotherham united 2-1 leeds united: tactical hiding


“Tactically,” said Steve Evans after the game, and my temples throbbed, my eyes filled with tears of frustration.

“Tactically,” he said, and I wished I had one of those Charlton CARD stress balls, wish they’d thrown one to me instead of on to their pitch; “Tactically,” he said, and the porcelain spaniel I’d held in my hands was smashed to so much dust.

“Tactically”; that word alone, from that mouth, was enough to end my weekend then and there, given how I’ve been subjected to Steve Evans’ tactics since he came to Leeds. But I knew it would get worse because I knew there would be more. “Tactically,” and he was going to say something else next.

“Tactically,” and when Evans had done talking about tactics, there was Neil Warnock to look forward to. “Really, I mean, haha,” and then more.

It’s bad enough dealing with our own head coach. “Tactically,” he said. “Tactically, we’ve got it right today.”

And lost 2-1 to a team 20th in the table, a poor side exhorted into barraging the keeper and elbowing Berardi by Neil Warnock and Kevin Blackwell, a side who were down to ten men for most of the second half, when Leeds could — should — have turned a losing scoreline into a win. But, “Tactically…”

Last time out, against Huddersfield, stupifying team selections, defensive disorganisation, poor game management, desperate substitutions and a general lack of preparation lost the game for Leeds, and there was nowhere for Evans to hide. This time, though, stupifying team selections, defensive disorganisation, poor game management, desperate substitutions and a general lack of preparation were hidden behind one crucial factor: Giuseppe Bellusci.

“I’m a different manager and head coach than I was after Huddersfield,” Evans also said; “I was pretty distraught and down, but I’m not down with the performance today. I’m just down with a horrific individual error that cost us.”

And as Evans turned to Paul Raynor as full-time blew, and glanced over at Paul Hart — oh, well maybe not him — anyway, at full-time, he could puff out his newly sallow cheeks, raise an eyebrow and think to himself, ‘Well, if we’re gonna lose, at least we’ve got someone to blame it on.’

Leeds could justifiably claim to have been unlucky to concede the first goal, and sometimes the fates do seem to be conspiring unnecessarily against a team that is quite capable of destroying its own future, thank you very much. It was a ball to the knackers that undid Leeds for Rotherham’s opener; a ball to Charlie Taylor’s knackers, specifically, that left him grasping and wheezing on the floor, and unable to properly track Frecklington on his way to meet Mattock’s cross.

There’s something to say about the way Rotherham were able to take the ball from left to right without any Leeds midfielder intervening, something teams have been finding very easy to achieve in the last few weeks, despite the efforts of Bridcutt and Diagouraga; there’s also something to say about Charlie Taylor, but I’ll whisper it, because I don’t want him to hear this sort of thing, but he’s not been playing very well for a few weeks now. It’s his first full season in the Championship and he has mostly been quality so that’s fine, but I hope there’s a coach at the club keeping an eye on his development before he goes full Lees/Byram and has to go make good elsewhere. The best he’s had at the moment is a ball to the knackers and the incredulous moans of Sol Bamba once the ball had hit the net.

That was unlucky, but then Luke Murphy’s equaliser was lucky. Not only the deflection that took the ball past Lee Camp; but the deflection though. But also that Murphy had been shuffled on to the pitch to make up for the absence of Lewis Cook, who had been taken off earlier as part of a plan: “We always had a plan to introduce width,” said Evans after the game, analysing the tactics he’d got right, ignoring the fact that removing Cook and Mowatt for wingers removed anybody from the middle who could give the ball wide. Murphy came on for Berardi to bring that back, got the goal, and then Evans added, “The final ball into the box from wide areas for the last fifteen minutes wasn’t quite what it should be.” The plan to introduce width, though? “Tactically…”

Leeds had a man advantage, a fortunate equaliser, and all the momentum against a team at the foot of the table, and while Lee Camp was made to work, Leeds still conspired to lose. Luck?

You make your own luck in football, so they say, and the winning goal was an A-B-C of the luck that Massimo Cellino has made for Leeds United Football Club over the last two seasons. Chuck in a D for Doukara, quietly banned for eight games for biting — biting! — but then skip to the pitch and Antenucci, giving the ball away cheaply. As he does.

The next thing you know Giuseppe Bellusci is flat on his back, his arm upraised, and Marco Silvestri is panicking; that’s the next thing you know, because the bit before it, when Bellusci, with his feet on the air and his head on the ground, tried his trick, instead of just heading the limpid cross clear or over the bar, it all flashed faster than comprehension.

You can only work out what happened in retrospect.

‘What was he — what did he just do? Why is he on the floor?’

‘It’s Bellusci.’

‘And why is Silvestri being sent off?’


To use Silvestri to complete the trifecta is harsh; he was landed in awful trouble by Bellusci, and Frecklington made the most of the opportunity to go down when the ball squirmed out of his reach and away from the goal. But Silvestri is partly culpable; he’s played with Bellusci enough to know that an overhead kick can happen anytime, anywhere. Silvestri should be the boss of the penalty area, claiming balls like that before Bellusci has a chance to fail. And if he sees even a hint of an overhead kick, Silvestri should knock him out cold and get to the ball first if he has to.

Perhaps I’m asking too much, but it’s hardly the first time. Cardiff last season; Middlesbrough this; sure, Sol Bamba loves a mistake too, but nobody quite sees them through like Bellusci and Silvestri. Bellusci also has a unique knack of piling insult on top of idiocy, in his attempts to apologise; like Cellino, dishing out a letter of apology for the whole Hockaday thing while acknowledging that he’ll probably learn nothing and will definitely get it wrong again, Bellusci is always eager to show contrition — this time by wearing the green no.1 shirt to face the penalty — but not even slightly eager to learn.

As Cellino, as Bellusci, as Evans; offering apologies, hiding behind each other, learning nothing from their mistakes. Evans, still playing hokey-cokey with Lewis Cook in the line-up, has shown no sign of learning from the Huddersfield game, but he’s got someone else to point at this time, so can sleep easily. “Tactically…” Argh.

The only one learning anything is Gaetano Berardi, bless him; his fury taken out on the pitch this time, rather than on Matt Derbyshire. Leon Best was temporarily unavailable. I would will him to take Neil Warnock for a punchbag in his place, but Brer Berardi is a peaceable maverick these days; blood-soaked, furious, but peaceable.

And maybe the Leeds fans are learning something, too; season ticket renewals are due this month, a month in which Leeds United play QPR, Burnley, Birmingham, Reading, Wolves and Hull, a month in which it’s hard to see anyone that Leeds are going to beat. Giuseppe Bellusci has a contract for two more seasons. Who fancies watching all this again?


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