Landspeed

Rotherham United 1-1 Leeds United: Standstill

Written by: Moxcowhite • Daniel Chapman
Crysencio Summerville, one eye half closed as if he's aiming, is indeed aiming a shot low past an attempted block by Lee 'Pelts' Peltier

Good players play the game at their own pace, and great players dictate the pace of a game. And then there’s Lee Peltier. In Rotherham on Friday night, it looked for a while like playing at the speed set by the Millers’ 36-year-old right-back was leading to the cricket score Leeds should have got against Huddersfield. By the end, I was wondering if Pelts might be a tactical genius.

Crysencio Summerville scored for Leeds after just six minutes and the way it happened looked cruel to our former captain. Peltier had already crunched through Georginio Rutter and did worse later to Dan James, but it’s hard not to feel a strange fondness for the player who used to write such diligent emails to the fans in the build-up to games, asking us to ‘get behind the lads’ or, stretching the favour a bit, ‘buy season tickets’. These were never very tempting offers, but that was only Peltier’s fault in the sense that part of what was not tempting was paying money to watch him play. As novelty marketing, the fact fans still remember them a decade later says something about how effective these emails were. That United’s average attendance stayed under 22,000 says something else.

When Leeds communicated their intentions towards his wing on Friday it was with all the speed of a giant stone tablet being dragged to a distant continent, which is to say, before Liam Cooper gave the ball to Glen Kamara he was just standing about with it, and in possession Kamara didn’t move much faster. He didn’t need to. Pelter is old, and his centre-back Daniel Ayala is not much younger, and as if they’d had a word in the tunnel and suggested a leisurely game of walking football, Kamara ambled over to their part of the pitch, and waited. With extremely perceptible slowness, Georginio Rutter walked towards him to take a pass, while Summerville strolled over to stand behind Peltier and spend some time pacing out the offside lines. From a Leeds point of view, it was like watching some peacock-clad safe-breakers clicking patiently, gently on the right combination. Kamara passed to Rutter, he flicked the ball through to Summerville, whatever pace Pelts and Ayala were born with was no longer part of the equation, and Summerville stroked the ball around the goalie. He turned to celebrate as if he was ready to do it again and again and again.

This early lead should have been the template for its own extension, for making the game exactly what Leeds needed. The international break meant they’d not had much team practice, and the three-in-a-week fixture list ahead doesn’t leave much time for more, so winning at walking pace felt like a great way to forget Rotherham by half-time and start thinking about Swansea and Middlesbrough. But, not so fast. Or slow. Because while Leeds held eighty per cent of the possession for fifteen minutes after scoring, there was only one more attempt at bypassing Peltier – Summerville putting Rutter behind this time, with enough promise to suggest they should keep trying it – while instead his static presence was seeping into Leeds’ minds and legs. United kept the ball, and kept passing it, slower and slower, sleepier and sleepier, as if while trying to lull Rotherham into danger, they were only hypnotising themselves. It took twenty minutes, after taking the lead against such wilted opponents, for Leeds to have another shot; six more minutes to hit one on target.

There’s a slightly dull undercurrent to Leeds manager Daniel Farke’s favoured football, which I guess is the price we have to pay if we don’t want every game to be a 7-7 shoot-out (don’t we? and why don’t we?). He has his moments, like the all-out comeback at Norwich, which was resurrected here. But United’s usual pattern is of conservative patience, sometimes toppling into boredom, between outbursts of inspiration from Summerville or Rutter that send the fans home with great memories of a fun win. Farke will put a lot of attackers on the pitch, as at Rotherham with a playful front four, but behind them are four defenders and two defensive midfielders, with the idea that the forwards are pretty much on their own up there. Sometimes at Rotherham, Kamara tried zipping a pass from back into the front, but there were better times when Summerville dropped deep and did that part himself. Otherwise, with a lead to defend, it was safety first and let the chances come when they may. Which they did, but as Leeds knocked the ball around, I wondered if those chances might be better with a bit more dictation.

There are two possible answers to that. One is moving Archie Gray into midfield again, where he combines what I suspect is the ability to dribble, swerve and create like Summerville with the stern self-discipline of knowing when not to. This might happen when Djed Spence is finally ready to take over at right-back – hopefully another source of dynamic forward movement – but will it really be fair to drop Kamara, who is good? Another option is, in January, to buy a creative no.10, so the back six can stay solid while the front four get new impetus. But who to drop here, out of Rutter or Joel Piroe? Playing as a centre-forward, Rutter is already a Championship chance-creation machine, but if current no.10 Piroe is dropped, it’ll feel like going back to square one in the quest to replace Podcast Pat.

A third possibility is kicking them all up the arse. Farke denied that Rotherham’s equaliser just before half-time, when Leeds seem to love conceding, was down to being “sloppy, or complacency”. But Leeds looked like they’d become so used to the game being so easy that, when they had opportunities to stop Rotherham’s attack, they didn’t take those chances either. One blue player after another seemed to be leaving the situation alone, thinking that because someone had always dealt with the danger until now, someone else would be along soon to deal with the danger. “We expected always the best instead of expecting the worst,” as Farke put it, which is not a very Leeds state of mind. Had Peltier been on our team, I imagine he would have hoofed the ball downfield, feeling a phantom clap on his back from Neil Warnock. Instead a few Leeds players gestured at tapping it away, a couple missed their tackles, and Hakeem Odoffin beat Illan Meslier at the near post.

The goal was enough to shock Leeds but they discovered, as we discovered in 2012, that once you’re used to playing at Pelts’ pace, it’s hard to change gears. So the second half began with Joe Rodon passing the ball against a Rotherham player’s head, Ethan Ampadu heading the rebounding ball into Sam Nombe’s path, and Liam Cooper getting back to clear his shot off the line. With twenty minutes left Farke tried going 3-1-6 and it should have worked. Leeds still looked lethargic, but when Peltier fired his studs over the ball and into Dan James’ shin he should have given away a penalty and got a red card. And when Jaidon Anthony finished Wilf Gnonto’s cross, Bamford should have stood six inches onside instead of off.

Those ifs, buts and maybes either get forgotten when the season turns out how you want it to, or haunt you as you hunt backwards to find where it all went wrong. What’s better said now, though, is that in the first half Rutter and Summerville against Peltier and Ayala should have meant a goal for Leeds every six minutes, like clockwork, making it 8-0 by half-time (one in stoppage time, obvs, maths fans). Then everybody could have done a nice bit of standing still in the second half and we could have all relaxed. ⬢

(Photograph by Scott Llewellyn/MI News & Sport, via Alamy)

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