Given the way the rest of his afternoon went, Junior Firpo was an unlikely candidate to shake a morose Elland Road in the minutes after Pat Bamford’s penalty miss against Newcastle. Leeds started the match by providing two things Sam Allardyce had asked for. Luke Ayling smashed a rebound into the net, giving United the first goal, and the crowd something to shout about. Elland Road obliged; a falling-over-the-seats celebration rolling into a raucous riot. Until Nick Pope and Callum Wilson killed the mood.
The shouts became murmurs for ten minutes after Wilson’s equaliser, supporters waiting for another moment to raise the roof. As Kieran Trippier attacked down the right wing, a loose touch presented Firpo with a 50-50 challenge. Firpo swung his left leg wildly, winning the ball and leaving both Trippier and himself on the floor. It’s the type of tackle Elland Road loves, even if the roar it earned was as much out of surprise as appreciation.
Jackie Harrison came away in possession, dribbling past the closest Newcastle player before being met by a similar swing that sent the ball in the air to be easily claimed by Joel Robles. The sequence only lasted eight seconds, and it was as ugly as the bottom of Sam Allardyce’s toilet bowl, but it allowed the crowd to forget about the dark cloud above Bamford’s head and remember there was a game to be won.
As the Kop cheered, Robles waved his arms, telling his teammates to calm down, before repeating the gesture to the fans behind him. The next passage of play explained why no, Joel, we will not calm down. Weston McKennie passed the ball straight to a Newcastle player, won it back, then took too long and was robbed again. Sam Greenwood picked up the pieces, a silky body swerve belying a nervous performance and creating space, in which he only dawdled and allowed another attacking opportunity to be foiled. Commentating for LUTV, Tony Dorigo was groaning along with the fans, his soothing Melbourne accent unable to hide the frustration we were all feeling. “We seem to be doing something good,” he said, “and then something quite bad straight afterwards.”
It says a lot about Leeds United right now that a goalkeeper who seemed intent on shithousing himself into a red card in the build up to Wilson’s second penalty is our calmest player on the pitch. Robles has been good since replacing Illan Meslier, deservedly receiving praise at the weekend from Allardyce, who called him “excellent”. Crosses into Leeds’ penalty area no longer cause anxiety attacks, and while he couldn’t stop either of Wilson’s spot-kicks, he has made the saves he would be expected to make — the same type of saves Meslier was making look difficult.
That doesn’t mean he’s immune to causing fright. In the same first half he was asking the crowd for calm, he wandered over to the left wing to take a free-kick ten yards from the halfway line, then stood admiring his hoof as I worried whether our ‘keeper was ever going to return to his goal. When Wilson was preparing to take his second penalty, Robles was practically standing in the South Stand, returning to the box to get booked and start practising pull-ups on the crossbar. Moments before Newcastle had a third goal ruled out for offside, Robles strolled out of his box to sweep up a long ball over the defence. Rasmus Kristensen got there before him, and again Robles lingered in midfield for a few more unwelcome seconds before sauntering back into position, unfazed by all the fuss.
Judging by Allardyce’s praise, he agrees with Robles that he’s got everything under control. If Allardyce has learned anything in three decades of management, watching goalkeepers train in repetitive routines that would bore the brains out of any other player has brought him to the conclusion that, “They’re a bit daft, a bit mad, aren’t they?”
Robles has been watching Leeds from the same side of the touchline as the fans for most of the season, so he should probably know it’s a bit late to ask for calm. Saturday was Allardyce’s first taste of coaching Leeds at Elland Road, and it left him needing two valium afterwards. It might be worth the club including some diazepam in next season’s membership pack, but until then, we can take some comfort that, in Robles, at least one Leeds United employee is still keeping their cool. ⬢