Funny old business football. This time last month Leeds United hadn’t won a home game, and yet we were all super positive and excited, like Santa had arrived and the in-laws had just announced they weren’t coming after all. Leeds then proceeded to win all three home games in September and went top of the league in the process, and yet by the end of the month we are sat solemnly staring out of the window contemplating whether we should jump straight through it. And yet we are still fifth in the table.
The nature of the despondency, though, is not just the polar opposite form the club is showing in the last few games, or even the slow creeping realisation that maybe we aren’t as good as we thought we were, but mainly the paralysing fear that we are still stuck in the murky abyss of being a mid-table team with no clear plan or idea as to how to get out of there. I am here to wholeheartedly confirm that is not the case, however, having witnessed the last 15 years so closely that I have seen the whites of its eyes and suffered its ungodly body odour, I can sympathise with those who cannot shake this interminable worry.
Yes, despite winning all three home games in September, Leeds United also thrust upon us the bothersome inconvenience of losing the last three away games. Sandwiched in the middle, we shouldn’t forget, was the epic League Cup win at Burnley, where a much-changed side fought hard in a tight game against Premier League opponents, and then won the game on penalties after having twice looked like winning in the last crazy ten minutes of normal time. This, we thought, was the shape of things to come, and a clear sign that we could step up and match a quality side as and when we needed to. It was also the perfect response to our first defeat of the season at Millwall, a result so depressingly predictable but one that you could put down to the ‘unique’ occasion that a visit to Millwall is, and hence something you hoped to dismiss as a one-off.
The step up in quality we appeared to match at Burnley we hoped to also navigate in the games versus Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday, but those results were comprehensive reminders that we are far from the finished article. Whatever could go wrong in those games did so; injuries, sending offs, kamikaze defending and a goalkeeper, about whom the jury was previously still out, confirming that he has a lot to learn in the game. That said, it is hard to find a part of the team that isn’t left open to criticism after the last two games, and of course the manager is there to be shot at too. But a little perspective is needed at this juncture I feel, and while the last international break came at a frustrating time for Leeds, having just beaten Nottingham Forest 2-0 and gained some considerable momentum, this one gives us chance to lick our wounds in the sanctuary of Thorp Arch, and work out a strategy to return to our former, if fleeting, greatness.
We shouldn’t forget that September included the thoroughly brutal destruction of Burton Albion, a display so overwhelmingly one-sided and ‘complete’ it looked like it had been designed by a FIFA 17 maestro. The home wins against Birmingham City and Ipswich Town were far harder work, but showed some excellent qualities and overall it bore well for the rest of the season. Just over a week later and we’re back in a familiar routine; arranging a viewing for 15th place and being fitted out with a zero goal difference again, just like old times.
The key is, of course, that we have the personnel at the club to do great things. We’ve already seen it. What we have to do is work out an adaptable system for certain games, and have the know-how to be able to navigate tricky periods, or tricky fixtures as a whole. It is as much about having a specific mindset as anything else, particularly at places like Millwall and Cardiff City, but it is also about being able to change your system to suit specific games, and while it is admirable to stick to certain principals, especially when they are very attractive looking ones, the mark of a great side is knowing when to approach a game differently, ie. when to play and when to pitch in and battle.
It was very easy to get carried away after the Burton performance, but equally we need to sit tight and not get too downhearted now. It is true that Thomas Christiansen is new to this league and a relative novice as a football coach in general, but he is an intelligent, studious man, and is backed by a team of professional coaches and analysts of football and the next two weeks should give them ample time to spot where Leeds are going wrong. There isn’t one specific answer, but every game is a learning experience and hopefully the management team are taking something from each one that will help us further down the line.
October at first glance looks quite sparse with home fixtures. There are no games now until the 14th, when Reading are the visitors to Elland Road, before away games at Bristol City and Leicester City in the League Cup, but then the month is rounded off with two home games right at the end. Sheffield United visit on Friday 27th October before we entertain Derby County on Tuesday 31st October. Just one Saturday afternoon fixture is a bit of a blow, but we are doing our best to make the Friday night fixture against Sheffield United a traditional party occasion. From 5pm, we will have our new BBQ food available as we have started doing for all midweek fixtures, but we will also have our resident band The Snapp playing live in the beer garden from 6pm, a rare privilege usually only reserved for Saturday afternoons. With it being half term week, and a Friday night, we felt people might have a bit more time to get to Elland Road and would also be in more of a ‘weekend’ mood than a ‘midweek’ mood, so hell, let’s pretend it’s a Saturday!
And hopefully by then we will have shaken off the Autumn blues we are suffering after the Sheffield Wednesday game. So keep faith, remember the good times that weren’t so long ago, and let’s get behind the lads as they seek to find that form again.