I really like Bill Murray. There are often times when I wish I could’ve walked a mile in his shoes. I mean, who wouldn’t have liked the opportunity to throw on a proton pack and do battle with a 100 foot tall marshmallow man? How about spending stolen moments with Scarlett Johansson, all pink hair and pouting lips, during a short stopover in Tokyo? Anyone else game for that? I don’t think we’ll be needing a show of hands.
However, as celebrated as the film is, I would never envy Bill the time he spent on the set of Groundhog Day. Repeating the same scenes, over and over, all in the presence of the insufferable Andie MacDowell…surely, that there is the definition of movie ‘romcom’ hell? Transpose those thoughts to the world of football and this is how it feels to be a Leeds fan at the moment. Match days are our Groundhog Day, while a cast of about half a dozen players fervently compete the role of Andie MacDowell; only unlike Bill (obliged within the contents of the script and his contract), we don’t want to clutch our chosen Andie in a loving embrace come the final credits, instead utilising a large sack full of ballast and a trip to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal would be both more befitting and edifying.
Yesterday’s leading lady? Step forward Paul Green.
Much like his contemporaries, Green seems to still have a Leeds career of sorts simply because of the inherent inconsistency and in many cases the awfulness of those who typically exist above him in the first team pecking order. He’s like an ex-girlfriend, one who was never right for you, but in your darkest hours, you suddenly find yourself re-evaluating; come the Bournemouth game and with his current belle, Luke Murphy, showing more interest in grooming products than the long term goals of their relationship, Brian found himself in a moment of weakness, staring into the abyss, looking back was Paul Green…a cheeky wink later and he was back in the mix.
So on to Pride Park and with Leeds under the cosh and there we have our leading man Brian, thinking to himself, “well maybe it might work this time”, when suddenly afore him, Green is caught in possession. No harm comes of it, but those doubts are beginning to surface. Five minutes later it happens again, this time there is no escape, the sight of Jamie Ward, flanked by Green, Pearce and Lees squaring to a totally unmarked Chris Martin to stroke home, elevating a shambolic concession to a farcical one.
With that the die was cast. Within 3 minutes Johnny Russell strode through a flat footed defensive line to double the advantage. Derby, while managing to appear eminently beatable, now found themselves coasting. Leeds in response upped their possession in the middle of the park while doing very little with it. Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, punt, loss of possession…pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, punt, loss of possession…only Alex Mowatt remained detached, resistant, uninterested in becoming hardwired into this philosophy; for the opening 45 minutes, his undimmed enthusiasm for running with the ball, looking for space and delivering a pass at just the right time shamed the senior pros who surrounded him. Respect your elders? Not on this evidence.
But still, for all Leeds’ headbangling cumbersome build-up play, Derby were still there for the taking. On the rare occasion that Leeds injected a hint of dynamism into their play, the home side looked suspect, like the sort of outfit that’d be capable of shipping four goals in front of their own fans, just as they’d proven four days previously. This was a team being organised by Steve McClaren, essentially the Rolls Royce prototype from the Kevin Blackwell School of Overly Qualified but Ultimately Useless Coaches. Hope still lingered. Then it happened…
As stoppage time loomed, Peltier swung in a deep cross, Lee Grant failed to deal with it and the ball was nodded back into the path of Jason Pearce; as he rose, a little over 6 yards out, unmarked and with an open goal to aim at, the 4,000 who travelled were already in the throes of delivering that well worn lament…”F*** sake Pearce!!!’ but enlightenment; the JPDog’s cranium and the ball, in an astonishing moment of coalescence combined perfectly, the departing trajectory, straight, true and into the back of the net!! A psychological blow for the hosts, a miracle to toast for the visitors – the momentum was ours.
Well, it should’ve been. As it was, those furious outpourings that McDermott confessed to in the dressing room seemed to deflate and confuse rather than rouse and inspire. Leeds should’ve returned ready to take the game by the scruff of the neck, instead they retreated into to their shells. The diamond formation and its subtle variations have been long bemoaned, but at least they hinted at a semblance of organisation, of a system. Throughout the second half it was impossible to decipher who exactly was playing where; the introduction of Smith merely exacerbated the situation, as Mowatt, the one shining light, was dragged further infield and lost in the melange.
When Derby inevitably broke forward with pace and purpose, it was left to Pearce to deal with an onrushing Will Hughes; many fans’ minds were already drifting in the direction of the M1 before Hughes delivered the inevitable coup de grace.
Leeds were dead and buried. Twelve minutes of producing nothing was the collective response to a goal that in turn was the culmination of 33 minutes of producing nothing. One or two players mustered a couple of pathetic displays of faux passion, offering dissent in the face of a few borderline refereeing decisions, but there was nothing more than that; 10 chancers in beige going through the motions while those in the stands could only look on forlornly, hoping that our latest Thorp Arch prodigy doesn’t drown in this sea of apathy. Meanwhile, the home supporters mockingly enquired of the steadfast Leeds following, “Why are you still here?” – you had to concede, it was a legitimate question.
McDermott has a lot of thinking to do over the next fortnight. If he really does have trouble sleeping after defeats, I can only wonder if he’s had to hit the horse tranquilizers by now. The most promising signings of the summer (Murphy and Wootton) have been sidelined to make way for those players who have proven many times over that they’ll never be good enough for a progressive Leeds United team. On the outside, the manager seems to be suffering a slight crisis of faith, his belief in players already at the club, eroded by the promise of who he might yet bring in and compounded by a slavish reliance on a pattern of play that current personnel can’t cope with.
Yesterday Paul Green may have claimed the title of leading lady in the latest Leeds & Derby Players’ production of Groundhog Day, but ultimately it’s not all about Green. It’s also about the likes of White, Varney and increasingly Warnock and Hunt, players who saunter around the pitch appearing more pre-occupied with being elsewhere, at a club that doesn’t come with an expectant fan base, that can offer them the funds for another Land Rover and provide them an escape from playing in beige. Players like these are if anything an even bigger burden to carry than Brown and Norris, at least those two only drain the wage bill these days, as opposed to our spirits come Saturday.
The question needs asking, do these players really share McDermott’s ambitions, his dreams? Andy Hughes has always maintained that his proudest achievement was helping Leeds United get promoted in 2010, even though he accepted that deep down, progress for the club would be at the cost of his own involvement. Could the same be said about those fringe players that ply their trade at Elland Road these days? Do turkeys vote for Christmas.
Without new blood, either promoted from within or imported from outside, stagnation beckons. Groundhog Day upon Groundhog Day but without the promise of a Hollywood ending.
An international break has never felt so enticing.
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