Good, this, until circumstances got all too much. Events! This is something Leeds United have to be careful of. We learned more in Hull about how, eleven against eleven, Leeds can handle most Champo risks this season; Hull City are decent, but they didn’t look all that, which was United’s doing. United’s undoing, though, was not scoring before the referee intervened by sending off their centre-back, Joe Rodon. They might have to be sharper than this if being a good team is going to amount to what people will demand of them in May.
Nil-all wasn’t bad in the circumstances, but a third consecutive clean sheet depended in the end on Adama Traore reacting to an 89th minute tap-in chance by pummelling the ball off the post. Losing Rodon had weakened Leeds not only in numbers but because he’d been doing much of the clearing up whenever United’s full-backs, Luke Ayling and Jamie Shackleton, let things get beyond them – Rodon has some nifty pace when needed, and particularly down Ayling’s side, it is. After being out for ages Liam Cooper replaced him, and played like he’d arrived at school for an exam he hadn’t prepared for. The home fans gave him a good old boo and jeer, apparently because he played eleven games for Hull before he was 21. We football fans are a complicated tangle of odd grudges.
United’s other hindrance in the last half-hour was that Cooper had come on for Joel Piroe, whose quiet night didn’t lessen the feeling that he might be most likely to score. Georginio Rutter, who stayed on, was felt likely to hold the ball up in attack, though, but didn’t do that much. Rutter’s biggest contribution to the game was not scoring midway through the first half, when Crysencio Summerville pushed the ball beyond Hull’s back four on halfway. Rutter was through, with defenders chasing and Piroe moving square, so how come this didn’t end in a goal for Leeds? Rutter did well, but the goalie did better. Ryan Allsop has been around, mainly on loan from Bournemouth, and on his Hull debut he wasn’t fooled by Rutter giving him a striker’s infamous eyes, opening his body as if to shoot left-footed across to the keeper’s right, then leaning cleverly to swing the ball into the narrower gap to his left – a clever plan well executed, but foiled by Allsop’s knowledge of where to put his feet and when. From Rutter’s point of view, he’s got to be scoring those. From Allsop’s, he’s got to be saving them. Traore’s miss outranks this all, because his only foe was himself failing to distinguish space from post.
Allsop otherwise was fairly well protected by a defence that, once it was clear Leeds were taking charge of the play, dropped deeper to make sure chances like that didn’t come easily. Summerville had come on to replace Wilf Gnonto, who went off with an injury early on, and he was putting the energy into United’s attacks, trying with Rutter to set up Piroe. Trying to give Piroe the last touch often meant leaving him out of the build up, so he became anonymous. Perhaps this was another case of what Piroe blamed for his wandering in midfield against Sheffield Wednesday, of taking Daniel Farke’s instructions too literally.
It looks like one of Farke’s instructions is that Leeds should always stay calm, and this can also have an undesired effect of making it feel like the Peacocks lack urgency. The pattern of the first hour was that, whenever Hull had the ball, they would usually give it to Leeds without entering the final third; when Leeds had it, they would end up in Hull’s penalty area, even if it meant the wingers turning back and playing one-twos with Rodon, Pascal Struijk or Illan Meslier, over and over again. Leeds don’t have to attack immediately because they have the confidence that they will attack eventually, and that there’s enough time in every match to do that often enough to score. This was the way Millwall were beaten so well, and there was no reason why it couldn’t work on Humberside. It relied, though, on the referee letting the game go the distance, not cutting Leeds short with one soft yellow then a daft one to end Rodon, and United’s, night.
Farke correctly insists that the league table isn’t important right now, that performances are the priority, and a clean sheet plus seventeen shots is brimming with health. But a win at Hull was a little more important than just the climb towards a two points-per-game average because, despite the better mood, Leeds are still without a home league win since 4th April. Watford are coming to Elland Road on Saturday, and my hope was that a third consecutive away win would give Leeds the momentum to overcome justifiable doubts about whether they’re going to be able to play so well at home this season, to break teams down when they’re hunkering near their own goal.
But the worst thing any team can do after a thumping cheerful win is play another game. If we’d never been to Hull… well, I mean, what a dream, in life. But this week specifically, bringing a vibe from Bermondsey to Beeston for taking on the Hornets would have poured optimism into Saturday, pre-3pm anyway. A goalless draw by the docks? Now the form just looks that bit more meh, and Rodon won’t be available, and Gnonto got injured, and Piroe and Rutter didn’t score, and Shackleton wasn’t player of the match, and…
Even in mid-September, after seven games, football has that terrible grip preventing fans from taking ninety minutes in as self-contained enjoyment. Are games really only meaningful as mile-markers on the way to some destination declaring success or failure? How has it got so hard to enjoy watching a game without being concerned about its potential to adversely impact the fans’ post-season celebration of identification with their club and city’s status with all the implications about who that includes and excludes? Does a 0-0 draw in Hull have to mean we’re going up and Leeds is good, or we’re not and Leeds is bad?
Maybe Hull City will go up and Hull will be good. They looked okay. Even with the rugby markings, the pitch looked wide and lush, and they have a Premier League camera angle there that feels like it encourages stylised football, to make the most of it, to come true as Sky’s Red Button rival to the Champions League. Liam Rosenior wanted his Hull players to pass and move as much as Farke did, with heads up looking forward – they just weren’t as good at doing it. That meant both teams gave this game attractive flow, sharp passes, players moving neatly as they created spaces for taking a ball full of ping from a surprising angle, turning, having ideas. We only got an hour of it and it doesn’t seem like it’s anything people really want, but never mind. ⬢