Whilst unable to sleep last night following Leeds United's systematic mauling by 14th placed Blackpool, several thoughts inevitably hover in your mind. A few years ago there is no doubt I would have been utterly mortified at this result, it would have invaded my very being, sandpapered my nerve endings and I would have been muttering ‘Why? Why? Why?’ to myself until the light began to peep through the curtains. Today, I am able to take a step back and consider whether this is truly an epoch-defining moment. What can we learn from this? Was it really as bad as it looks?
In the cold light of day, as your head clears from a troubled sleep, it is clear, that, yes, it really was as bad as it looks. But at least we can look at some pretty huge contributing factors.
Let’s get one thing straight right from the off. I have been watching football live, at grounds, since 1978. In between times I have also watched an unhealthy amount of football on television, and digested match reports and news items about various games in various countries throughout the world for 33 years, probably more. In all this time, I have never known a goalkeeper to be subbed for ‘tactical’ reasons. It may have happened, and maybe someone can put me straight, but last night I saw this for the first time ever, and nobody at Elland Road, save maybe those in Tangerine, could have argued with it.
I don’t wish this to become a witch hunt against our unfortunate reserve goalie Paul Rachubka. He’s been hunted and found, so we should just leave him alone with his thoughts, but let’s just say we now know what the silent ‘c’ in his surname stands for, and let’s just conclude that I have never known anything like the catalogue of errors that he has cack-handedly committed over the last five games; an abject lesson in how not to grasp the nettle.
Certainly it is undeniable that the first three goals last night were directly attributable to Rachubka’s basic handling errors, and had those not occurred Leeds may have found their way into a game they had sluggishly negotiated in the first ten minutes. The sending off of Tom Lees in an incident that lead to Blackpool’s penalty for the second goal is another example of a generous subsidy gifted to Blackpool. Whilst Elland Road recoiled in unified horror at Rachubka’s tragic juggling of a routine dolly catch, Blackpool striker Lua Lua rammed the loose ball goalwards where it struck Lees on an outstretched arm. Now, I can just about understand the referee’s decision to award a penalty (on the linesman’s advice I might add) as Lees had prevented a certain goal, however, I can’t see a justification for sending Lees off when it was clearly not intentional, and from three yards there was very little he could do about it.
I suspect he was just being kind, but he also stated with sage perception that good clubs run on energy generated by everyone involved; the fans, the players, the board
The loss of Lees affected Leeds at a time when their heads were already spinning. He is the fifth Leeds player this season to see red, and somehow, being a man down seems to adversely affect Leeds more than any other team. Even going back to previous years, when we have ten men it looks like we actually have six, conversely, when the opposition have ten men it looks like they have twelve, such is their rejuvenated spirit in the face of affliction. Having said that, Manchester United lost 6-1 having gone down to ten men, so clearly we can take some meagre solace from that, but the reality is that when Plan A goes out of the window there is rarely a Plan B.
Amidst the self-destructive atrocity of last night it should be noted that Blackpool were evidently an accomplished team. Even at 0-0 they controlled the game without doing anything spectacular. They played simple pass and move football, with men finding space, they had pattern, conviction and energy. Everything that Leeds lacked, and following on from the frighteningly inept first half performance against Cardiff on Sunday it was indisputable that nothing had been learnt from that experience. Such has been the frequency of these lapses in Leeds collective vigour, and such is our inordinately manifest requirement for a natural leader on the pitch, that most Leeds fans who watch the team regularly would admit to themselves in a quiet moment, that a night like this was never far away.
Bearing that in mind the reaction of the fans at 5-0 was the one uplifting factor from the sorrowful proceedings. It shouldn’t take a 5-0 defeat at home to trigger the root emotions of a typical Leeds fan, but that sums up the level of draining discontent that currently surrounds the club. The berating of Rachubka was mercifully brief, as the majority had the gumption to realise there was little to be gained from that. The collective spirit shown by the fans in the last ten minutes demonstrated that Leeds are never more passionate than when brutally wounded. Impaled and exposed, the heartfelt defiance was there for all to see, drawing appreciative applause from the visiting keeper when the final whistle brought an end to the harrowing spectacle.
The fans support was also praised by Blackpool manager Ian Holloway who in typically circumspect fashion was honest enough to conclude that “…things went our way tonight…” He noted that Leeds could have scored in the first ten minutes with the game at 0-0 and things could have been a lot different. I suspect he was just being kind, but he also stated with sage perception that good clubs run on energy generated by everyone involved; the fans, the players, the board. Whether he was referring to his own club or to Leeds I am not sure. But certainly it can be applied to both in terms of what has carried one a long way and what is glaringly absent from the other.
The one tangible hope we can take from last night is that Simon Grayson made the brave decision to publically criticise one of his own. Whilst Rachubka obviously operates in a more exposed position, the need to replace him was beyond rational discussion, and in an area where Grayson has perhaps shown misguided loyalty to certain players, it was refreshing to see him act as he did, and to hear him categorically lay the blame post-match. What he does from this point is a bigger question. Rachubka’s hopeless display should not change the focus from our obvious ineptitude in other areas. Can this be turned around? Is the answer somewhere within the camp? How quickly can the steadying triumvirate of Lonergan, O’Dea and Lees be re-established? Is this the watershed moment that Leeds fans have been waiting for? This is a testing time for Grayson and certainly he needs to find the answers.
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