For those with strong Christian beliefs, Easter Sunday was a time of celebration; a time to give thanks that an all-round good egg (pun intended) of a fella who had a penchant for preaching – and was also quite nifty at putting together a coffee table – had risen from the dead. The alleged ‘Son of God’, saviour of humanity and founder of the planet’s largest religion had really socked it to the haters…
For those who’d be more inclined to enter ‘Leeds United’ under the religious beliefs section of the Census, behold; another resurrection! Sadly, this was no footballing messiah, fabled to be afforded deity-like status in the annuls of footballing history; but a man rather more akin to the little donkey that Mary rode into Bethlehem on – yes, Paul Connolly was back! (Again!)
That seems to be where Leeds United is at currently. Twice now, Connolly’s been castigated, twice publicly crucified…and yet, he keeps coming back. Grayson didn’t want him, and it seemed that Warnock had surely seen enough after Watford – do we not use nails for our metaphorical crucifixions at Elland Road, instead favouring Pritt Stick? Paul Connolly and a pestilence of utterly incapable footballers – the Damned United, indeed!
In fairness to Warnock, I think deep down he knows that Connolly is bad for him, that he’ll only let him down when he needs him the most, that he’s gonna break his heart; but like one of those girls who keeps going back to bastard ex-boyfriends, despite being able to do so much better for herself, Warnock keeps looking around in the mistaken belief that there’s no one else out there – Neil, it’s not you, it’s him!
It’s little wonder that the Elland Road crowd were so subdued, the ovation to greet the teams, comparable to the reluctant applause that inevitably follow most home games (10 and counting). It’s been a long time since Leeds have played an ‘end of season’ fixture before the Easter break is up and they haven’t been missed. Not that you’d have thought it was a ‘dead rubber’ for Derby, their players joined for a pre-match huddle; I can only assume it was a motivational thing, as opposed a strategy to instil the courage necessary to perform at the ‘fortress’.
It took all of about a minute to have our worst fears confirmed, that’s how long the opposition took to find a gaping hole between centre back and left back. By the 6th minute, Paul Robinson was already ripping into Tom Lees for losing his marker; Lees looked forlorn – maybe some time in the reserves will do him good, after all, everyone’ll “do it for Redders!” If the writing wasn’t already on the wall, Michael Brown got out the spray can and went all Banksy on our asses – a tackle with the leading leg at a 90 degree angle is generally frowned upon, even a little bit at Leeds. Today’s #Brownfact – that was f**king stupid!
So onwards in the relentless pursuit of defeat; it didn’t take long to pick up the momentum, Craig Bryson joining the esteemed and seemingly never-ending list of players who’ve scored thumping long range efforts against Leeds this season. The game looked dead from that moment, and despite plenty of effort (but very little else), it was; 60 minutes of a jejune, somniferous spectacle, leading to only one conclusion.
Warnock, one of the football’s great pachyderms, but evidently despairing at the state of the playing squad, was quick to try and distance himself from many of the individuals that represented him today, quick to regale to the radio audience the tale of his conversation with Nigel Clough who was warned that he’d “never see another team of Neil Warnock’s like this”. Some may suggest that Warnock’s policy talking openly about the need to re-haul the squad is in some small way responsible for recent performances, if so, haven’t those same players implicated proved themselves to be of insufficient character to rise to the challenge of proving him wrong? With the season dead, I’d much rather hear straight talking rhetoric about team building and clear-outs, heaping pressure on Bates and Harvey, as opposed to sound bites about “pushing on” and “looking for a response”.
The only question I’d ask of Warnock is where he intends to start. In goal, Lonergan’s been far from our poorest player this season, but still a liability and not of the standard required for a promotion chasing team; Connolly, I could write a dissertation on… I think I’ll stick with the midfield on this occasion, or rather the lack of – could a midfield that has Brown and Pugh at its heart , not to mention Nunez even hope to cut it at League One level?
Brown is maybe good for another year, given a full pre-season and on the understanding that he’s not going to be an ever present, but somebody who’s utilised in certain games, particularly on the road. The other two mentioned though, forget it. Warnock commented on Friday that Pugh had shown him something new on Friday – I only assume it was his ability to foul. Buoyed by those words, Pugh spent the entire first half slide tackling; what, I’m not sure – there were never any players in his range, but he may have aggressively displaced some air. It’s a common theme for Danny, a man capable of losing his own shadow at a corner. It was no surprise to see Steve Davis drift past him as if he wasn’t there, en route to the second goal. As for Ramon…I found myself counting white shirts, just to make sure he was still there.
It wasn’t all bad though; ‘The Robbie Rogers’ came on for a run-out and having already been knocked unconscious and captained the side in his previous appearances, today, 49 seconds in, he finally touched the ball – it was a good one too; a nice pass down the touchline, Ramon’s Opta Index rating eclipsed in one deft flick of the boot. There was also Danny Webber: thank you Danny, for that effort when clean through on goal, it brought back memories of Enoch and Ricketts in their pomp. I’m still smiling about it now.
Apparently Warnock can’t wait for next season to start and has promised that “The team I put out at the start of the season will absolutely love playing at Elland Road!” I hope so, as I’d quite like to love watching football at the ground.
For now, there’s just four more games left to go, so as Warnock also says, “Let’s just grin and bear it”.