They were the sort of games Leeds United are expected to win, so Peacocks’ fans can act with typically contrary disdain towards their seven consecutive victories.
What else was there to do with Luton, Reading and Middlesbrough, but beat them? Seven deadly wins might sound impressive, but they were the least we should expect.
And the team, always willing participants in this sort of LS11 logic, joined enthusiastically in. By the calibre of Cardiff, what Leeds fans expected was eight wins in a row. And we were almost given them, until Leeds snatched the eighth away and threw it in the bin. Won’t eat all your Christmas vegetables? Then maybe that Xbox you unwrapped this morning can go to someone who deserves it.
Leeds United have been guarantors of gruel at Yule through most of the 2010s, and it really wasn’t necessary. None of the last fifteen years of Leeds United has really been necessary, except to fit with the club’s determined contrary nature. Perhaps we did deserve to be taught a lesson after the glitz and hubris of the Peter Ridsdale era, although I look at Arsenal Fans’ TV now and don’t remember us ever that gross. Those Gooners seem hysterical over the possible loss of Europa League football; if that’s really as it painful as they make it look, why did we have to go all the way down to League One for our dose of hurt? I guess cuts are always deeper in the north, while our complaints are drowned out by a paper cut in the capital.
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Christmas over the last decade has been a particular source of dingy upset. 2010/11 wrapped all Simon Grayson’s best and worst under one tree: Max Gradel inspired a 2-0 win over Neil Warnock’s QPR that had us believing in a second successive promotion, before a 2-0 lead at Leicester was given back to them in four minutes as a 2-2 draw. After going 2-0 up against Portsmouth at Elland Road inside the first ten minutes, in the second half a 3-1 lead became 3-2 within a minute thanks to an Andy O’Brien own goal, and became a 3-3 draw in the 93rd minute thanks to an Andy O’Brien own goal.
We didn’t know how good we had it. A year later we got three defeats: 1-0 to Reading and Derby, 4-1 at Barnsley. Then Neil Warnock brought us a 4-2 defeat at Nottingham Forest, a 2-0 at Hull, and a 1-0 home win over Bolton on New Year’s Day that was one of the miserable afternoons of my entire life. Brian McDermott? Draws with Barnsley and Blackpool, then defeats to Forest, Blackburn, Rochdale in the FA Cup and Sheffield Wednesday, 6-0. Although Leeds turned it around in the next game by only losing 1-0 at home to Leicester.
Neil Redfearn’s winter was four defeats and three 1-1 draws; before Steve Evans brought all the cheer you’d expect from a Christmas pudding soaked in butter and Tennent’s Super and served on a bed of chips: three score draws ending seven games unbeaten. He harked, like an angel on a reinforced cloud, of better times ahead, when Garry Monk brought us a 4-1 win over Preston on Boxing Day in the middle of five wins and a draw; then Thomas Christiansen’s second good run, also five wins and a draw, ended with a thump after Boxing Day, after which Leeds only won three. At least we didn’t have to suffer Paul Heckingbottom arriving any sooner, dishing out coal and dead kestrels to the kids, reminiscing about the Leeds fans that used to menace him on Barnsley’s back fields.
Which brings us to Marcelo Bielsa. Although he seems likely to use the coming of the Coca-Cola truck to lecture on the evils of capitalism, he was as generous last Christmas as Simon Grayson in reverse, swiping last minute winners from high-scoring thrillers, until an unwelcome slump around New Year and an unfestive interruption from Frank Lampard, a bitter elf complaining that what Leeds got for Christmas was distant views of his set-piece practice.
That all came after seven consecutive wins, and that’s the eerie fear as the nativity star rises again over Beeston. We gave our hearts freely last Christmas, watching Gaetano Berardi, his face like a lover with a fire in his heart, just stopping short of tearing Salim Lamrani apart. Wham! have several practical theories on how to save yourself from tears by not doing that again, but here we are, wrapping our hearts up for the same manager, the same team, with the same note saying we love you and we mean it. But then, look around. Do you see anyone else as special?
This should be a good thing. This summer was the first since Simon Grayson when a manager has taken his second pre-season with Leeds, and now Bielsa is following his feat of consecutive Christmases. Instability has done us no favours in the 2010s, when every promise made in the early part of a season has run out of optimism to sustain it by March. Now the best manager we’ve had for years has kept together the best group of players we’ve had for years, and kept them performing at the best level we’ve seen for years: all this should fill us with confidence for a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
We need one. No pressure, but the next four matches, against Fulham, Preston, Birmingham and West Brom will dictate the start of the new decade: we’ll soon know whether we’ll be chasing promotion in 2020 ahead of a luxurious gap to 3rd place, or a chasing pack breathing heavier on our necks than Pepsi and Shirlie in a craven Alpine cottage.
Marcelo Bielsa has kept hope burning longer for the hopeless than any Leeds manager in a decade. Even after the play-off debacle, this hasn’t become another in ten years of false dawns; it’s just a dawn, the start of another tough day of being Leeds United. Never mind the last ten years, or fifteen; we’ve been waking up to Leeds every day for one hundred years. You’d think we’d be better at handling it by now, but here we are again, with the same questions, the same nerves, the same evenings of anxiety. This will only be the most wonderful time of the year if the year is still wonderful in May; Christmas eve, this year, is less important than promotion eve. ◉
(Read Moscowhite’s new book: 100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019.)
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(photo by Lee Brown)