The ball rolled into the goal for Sheffield Wednesday’s winner, and it was followed by Gaetano Berardi, running and trying and failing to keep it out. He hit the net, and hit the roof.
First to feel Berardi’s anger was the net itself. He got his arms and legs all caught up in its stringy holes, that may have reminded him of the defence Sheffield Wednesday had just gone straight through to score. So he started fighting it, until he was free, then picked up the football: a footballer’s enemy, because they want it to be their best friend.
With the ball under his arm Berardi turned and looked from the goalmouth to the pitch. There was more about the weather than simple snowstorms on Saturday. There was a harsh wind, and a sniping, oppressive gloom. The far end was shrouded, and the wise among United’s players stayed anonymous in the blizzard, away from their furious captain.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell was nearest, downed, sitting in the snow, at the end of another competent performance, contemplating two more goals against him. Felix Wiedwald somehow had the knack of playing much worse than this but keeping clean sheets. Maybe Peacock-Farrell could learn that trick, but it’s a symptom of where Leeds have got to that we can wonder about training a player to be worse. They’re supposed to be getting better. But they’re not.
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Peacock-Farrell was irrelevant to Berardi, though. His eyes were on Matthew Pennington. He didn’t rush to him, but approached him slowly, as if by getting too near too soon he might do something he regretted. Peacock-Farrell wasn’t going to get between them, so Berardi had to hold himself back. He did, physically, but not vocally. I have no idea what Berardi was shouting at Pennington during what felt like a full minute and more of unfiltered Swiss-Italian fury, but I assume it had a lot to do with the way Pennington had allowed himself to be pushed to the ground by Atdhe Nuhiu, who then ran through and scored. As Berardi raged, Pennington just stood and listened. I don’t imagine he had much choice.
The rant went on and on, and there must have been some home truths in there. If there were, I hope they sank in. On Friday Berardi had dismissed Andrea Radrizzani’s comments about the lack of passion and fight in the team, assuring the press that if he and Radrizzani were going to discuss that, they’d be doing it face to face, not by relaying messages back and forth through journalists. Now here was Pennington, showing exactly the lack of fight Radrizzani had been talking about, not even for a win but merely not to lose, and here was Berardi, taking the opportunity to say something about it, to his face, at length, at top volume.
Pontus Jansson got some of it too; a defender of his quality should be able to deal with a simple chipped ball forward, but he’d wilted in an aerial challenge and allowed the ball through to Pennington. Finished with Pennington, Berardi sent some words to him, presumably asking where this supposed tough guy had left his bollocks, if not also his brain. After Jansson, still clutching the football like either a stress reliever or a primed grenade, Berardi approached the referee, telling him to get the game restarted; then it was over to the Sheffield Wednesday players, to find out when they were going to stop celebrating.
Berardi was, by this point, raging at everybody, and it was probably the only good thing I saw at Elland Road all day, because it epitomised the rage we all felt. Rage, as a response to the absurd situation of defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, the only team in the league playing worse than Leeds United, a week after a draw with Reading, who were only better than Sheffield Wednesday because they didn’t have George Boyd wandering on their left side like someone’s hippy dad filling in for his feckless son’s absence. And rage, as an utterly futile gesture that will not do any good, because there doesn’t seem to be anything anybody can do that will do any good for Leeds United now. So if that’s the case, we might as well choose rage.
Indifference is the alternative, but that seems to have contributed to getting Leeds into this mess. For Sheffield Wednesday’s first goal, all Leeds had to do was defend a throw in, but Jansson seemed to have no awareness of where Adam Reach was, or what trouble his header might cause in the penalty area behind him, and let him get on with setting up Nuhiu to score. Although Leeds did find an equaliser — after quietly starting to score for the Under-23s, Jay-Roy Grot noisily levelled with a close range header from a Pablo Hernandez cross — something that should have felt like a glimmer of fun was ruined by the late winner. I mean, Jay-Roy Grot scored, but just like Berardi’s goal at Newport, we can’t even cling to that.
There’s very little appetite for these possible clings, anyway. This is the paragraph where I should discuss all the good things Leeds did in this game, but here’s all I’ve got to say about them: I don’t care. Why should I? Ezgjan Alioski worked hard to be creative, only letting himself down with poor decisions, but at least not giving up. So what. A Gianni Vio free-kick routine worked wonderfully, only for Caleb Ekuban to shoot straight at the keeper from inside the six yard box, where Adam Forshaw’s quick pass had placed him. Big deal. Tom Pearce arrived from the Under-23s to the left-back spot, quickly made Wednesday aware that he wasn’t going to be a soft touch down that side, then showed some good passing as he got used to the game. Does it matter?
At the end of it all we lost to Sheffield Wednesday, so why should I care? In the next game Alioski will probably be poor but Dallas will play well instead. Same difference. Eunan O’Kane, who was jeered off when he was substituted, will probably be replaced by Kalvin Phillips, who was jeered on in O’Kane’s place, and it’ll still be Adam Forshaw doing all the work. Peacock-Farrell will do alright, concede two, and we’ll all agree that we need a new goalkeeper. But we can’t have one until the summer, so what’s even the point; what’s the point, if all we’re going to do is lose?
Leeds keep playing matches, but we’re gaining nothing, and learning nothing, except that the team is turning out worse than we feared when we lost to Wolves but consoled ourselves it was only Reading and Wednesday next. There’s no material change in circumstance from game to game, but all each match is doing now is supplying more ammunition for the fans to be even angrier about the same stuff they were angry about last week. That’s not healthy, and the only saving grace I can think of now is that we don’t play again until the end of the month.
Perhaps, by then, Berardi will have calmed down. Or maybe, by then, some of the other players will have cottoned on, and will come out to play against Bolton Wanderers with the same rage as him. The only antidote to angry fans I can think of right now is angry players. We’ve got one. Ten to go. ◉
(feature image by Lee Brown)
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