“Fame is fickle, and I know it. It has its compensations but it also has its drawbacks, and I’ve experienced them both.”
– Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was right; one minute you’re up, the next minute – before you know it – you’re crashing down, everyone turns against you and the world can feel like a lonely place. That’s fame for you, but fame has nothing on football.
To turn momentarily to a cliché: they say a week is a long time in football. There’s a grain of truth in every cliché, and Leeds United embody perfectly the truth within this cliché. Saturday 26th February saw the team’s deficiencies, not to mention those of the entire club, exposed fully on Sky Sports. Despite being the team’s only defeat in near-enough half a season, it hurt like hell. It felt as though we’d been winging it thus far and our unlikely push for promotion was nothing but a happy accident. The Swans’ victory suggested the world was righting itself, and Leeds United would now stop it with the silly overachievement and would return to normal.
As with the reaction to all defeats, the loss at the Liberty Stadium allowed us to wallow a little in the misery of our own shortcomings. Indeed, I wrote at some length on this blog about the club’s transfer policy coming home to roost; our failure in two years to strengthen the team in the areas so obviously lacking was finally coming back to bite us, as a realistic chance at automatic promotion slipped away.
Only seven days later, and Leeds United smashed five past one-time thorn-in-the-side Doncaster Rovers. It’s no exaggeration to say that it could have been ten, such was our attacking prowess. At the conclusion of the 90 minutes at Elland Road, the team – restored to optimum 4-5-1 formation – managed to erase the bad memories of the previous week’s shocker in South Wales. Well, they almost did.
United’s defensive frailties were on display on both sides of the half time break as a poor Doncaster side cut through the back line with worrying ease. It certainly helps you overlook the team’s defensive failings when you score five, but it would be stupid to suggest that anybody is any less sure that the defence needs some serious work.
What this emphatic victory brings, however, is a reminder that we are unparalleled going forward, as proven by our Goals For column. So, while the problems certainly remain the same, the victory against Doncaster was a much-needed reminder of our strengths; our ability to shine in spite of those weaknesses.
In the aftermath of defeat to Swansea it was easy to suggest that Leeds United would ultimately get nowhere defending the way they do, but as the league table shows, this is simply not true. The statistics bear it out: we’re sixth in the league table and we have only lost eight times this season. Cardiff have now lost 10 games, Swansea 11. Based on the available evidence, we have every chance of going up. Sometimes it just takes a good result to remind us, especially on the back of a comprehensive defeat.
If anything, the Doncaster game was the anti-Swansea. Not for the first time this season, the team demonstrated its finest qualities: slick, intelligent passing; movement; determination; a never-say-die attitude. It’s very rare that this team knows when it is beaten. It’s a refreshing change from the nervous, flaky attempts to get out of League One. That now feels like a lifetime ago, as does the Derby game that opened the season.
Our collective spirit and sheer attacking power may not be enough to see us out of this division (via the north exit this time), but it gives us a fighting chance. As I wrote in my previous blog, it’s strange to think that we have nothing to fear from any team in this division, yet the possibility of a Swansea or a Barnsley or a Preston always potentially lurks around the next corner. Such is the precarious line we walk with the current personnel and tactics. It’s a world away from the brutalist conservatism upon which George Graham’s entire philosophy was built.
Of course, it’s in our nature as Leeds United fans to be drawn to the negatives. Don Revie’s team set the bar of expectation so very high, and perhaps there’s a piece of that legacy that lives on inside us all. We hope for the very best, so perhaps our expectations will never be realised on the pitch, not entirely. That’s not to suggest that our demands of the present team are in any way measured against the Don’s team, just that we have high standards built in. As the song goes, we are the champions, champions of Europe.
In 1972, Revie’s team put seven unanswered goals past Southampton on the first Saturday in March. 39 years later, another seven goals were seen at Elland Road on the corresponding weekend in 2011. Alright, so they weren’t all in our favour this time, but we saw parallels of that famous day in the way we attacked Doncaster, and ultimately battered them into submission.
Leeds United’s present day attacking is something to treasure. It’s what we thrive on. Perhaps this week has shown us that we, like the players, should remain positive. A lot can certainly happen in a week, and, let’s face it, days and hours normally suffice for Leeds United. We’ve got a game against Preston tomorrow night, and depending on what happens, I reserve the right to change my opinion again.
Yes, football is fickle. The Beautiful Game.