Leeds United Stories, Vol. 1

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the square ball week: doncastargh

the square ball week: doncastargh


Of all the witless, pointless, random and violent impositions on football fans’ dwindling time, resources and stamina, League Cup First Round football on a Thursday night is on its own level of moth-in-a-dark-room irritation.

There was no point, no benefit, nothing gained, nothing learned. Nothing worthwhile, anyway. So Sam Byram and Chris Wood can’t take a penalty in the rain to save a place in the League Cup Second Round draw. That information will come in handy this time next year, when we send Berardi and Doukara up instead.

Byram, by that time, may well have his feet up, waiting to see which minnows make it through the early stages to face him and his new teammates. That depends on how his recently reopened contract negotiations go, arguably a more important topic this week than the League Cup. The League Cup is the topic at hand, though.

We officially can’t scapegoat Lewis Cook for this, because he’s simply too damn good; now we know he can score a goal, too, which was the one thing missing from his game so far. His likelihood in front of goal had increased in preseason, as the outlines of Plan Rösler took fuller form; with only one striker, midfielders like Cook and Mowatt have a greater responsibility in the penalty area, and that’s exactly where Cook was when Antenucci cut in from the wing again and shot.

That seems to be Antenucci’s new thing in the first two games: cutting in from the wing and shooting, even in games like this one, where he took the central striker’s role. A confusing chap, Mirco. You might thing he drifts in from the wing on purpose, to demonstrate to Rösler that the wing is no place for a striker such as he. Played as a striker, he drifts to the wing, so he can drift in from the wing etc etc. It worked, though, supplying Cook’s goal, and almost worked later, supplying a great deal of grumpiness and distraction for Chris Wood.

Back with Lewis Cook, we also now know that he can take being sent off very well, although I think he was as surprised as anybody at how bad his tackle was. Like Sam Byram when he conceded a penalty at Yeovil, and slapped the ground like a toddler in a tizz, Cook knew the gig was up as soon as he collided with Taylor-Sinclair. ‘That,’ his face said, ‘Was a really stupid thing I just did.’

He stuck out his jaw and acted grown up about it, apologising to Taylor-Sinclair and walking away without making a fuss. Players like Cooper and Taylor came across to tell him to keep that jaw up, and Wootton, to whom Cook could justifiably have muttered, ‘But not as bloody stupid as the penalty you gave away.’

If we want to scapegoat anybody – and somebody simply has to be made to pay – Wootton is the one flailing around in front of the back four with his hand in the air, demanding to be blamed. Or, charging into Evina like a startled cow attacking an old wooden fence, giving away a penalty, the implications of which only became clear after Cook’s sending off.

Doncaster’s equaliser guaranteed that what followed was inevitably diabolically wearisome. It wasn’t exactly boring, just textbook tedious. At 1-1, there wasn’t enough incentive for Doncaster to come blazing at Leeds for a goal, and there wasn’t a great deal of interest in watching the vague ebb and flow of Doncaster attacking a bit… resting a bit… Leeds attacking a bit… Doncaster having another go for a bit… and nobody giving the game enough welly to knock it off the dead-ahead course for penalties.

Nothing anybody tried could prevent them. Here were all the players Rosler didn’t want to play: Luke Murphy, not fully fit. Chris Wood, shouldn’t have been necessary. Sam Byram, his every move one move away from a speculative headline. Uwe might have allowed himself an inward half-smile as he considered the second half with ten players, as if he’d sprung an intensive fitness session on them by stealth. But as he took an exhausted looking Stuart Dallas off after an ineffective follow up to his promising debut, and as he watched Luke Murphy risking his injury with minutes that could keep him out of contention at Reading – where a stand-in for Cook will be required, and hopefully a better one than Scott Wootton – he may have felt the first twinges of a feeling us Leeds fans know only too well: the feeling that everything around you is turning against you.

It isn’t turning out right for Rosler yet. He’s new, and this is all new, but through preseason and now the first two games of the season itself, we’ve yet to see his Plan A plan have a desired effect in a match. Against Everton and Burnley it took changes to produce goals; it would have been nice to see how Leeds kicked on after taking the lead midway through the first half at Doncaster, but instead we had to watch as his formation and tactics were readjusted so far from his original intent as to become meaningless beyond the end of extra time.

If we have got anything out of this game, it’s maybe a relatively harmless reality check. I mentioned this in my report on the Burnley game: that Vokes’ equaliser was necessary to prevent street parties and week-long revelry that the city’s infrastructure just isn’t prepared for. So too defeat to Doncaster. It’s not that feeling happy and positive is a bad thing as such, but we have to remember that this is football, and it makes you feel bad, and it keeps you up on Thursday nights for no reason, and that we see the good times the way we might see an unguarded suitcase full of money in an empty street from the window of an inter-city train.

Normality is something we’ve craved at Leeds United. To go to bed frustrated and tired after a wasted evening watching a game in the opening round of a competition neither side will win is normal. To have to swat away the yippees of a local team’s gleeful, giddy fans while trying to be properly miserable about Wootton wearing four and Cook banned for three games is normal. To go into the Reading match feeling moderately glum after six days of the season is normal. But, starting from normal, we can do something; like go to Reading and win.

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