Historical low points are just like busses, so it seems – you wait ages for one, and then two come along in quick succession. If we were looking for any sort of reaction from the team to the 0-2 defeat at Rochdale, then a 0-6 humbling at Sheffield Wendies most definitely was not the right one. It wasn’t exactly a cricket score but, let’s face it, six-love isn’t much to do with football either, or even “soccer”. The brains behind the San Francisco 49ers have their work cut out to salvage much from this particular sleeping giant.
Wednesday played OK, but they weren’t as good as the jubilant commentators painted them. They simply had nothing to beat – and in the event, Leeds took a massive swipe at beating themselves. How best to describe the men who wore those United shirts this Saturday lunchtime? How could I possibly do justice to the sheer depths of ineptitude and lack of any class or cohesion on display? Let me have a brief try.
Imagine, if you will a collection of punch-drunk boxers, their prime of fighting fitness a long way behind them. Let them addle themselves with cheap and dangerous alcohol until they don’t know which way is up. When they are sufficiently pickled, take them en masse and drop them into a Great War front line trench under artillery bombardment until shell-shock sets in. Add a smattering of trench-foot, such that – if invited to play football in No-Man’s-Land – they would be unable to trap a dead stoat. And there you have it – this was the appearance of the men who represented Leeds United at Sheffield Wednesday today. Apologies to any booze-ridden former pugilists who may feel insulted by this off-the-cuff comparison.
The high point of the match for the assembled Leeds United fans – who were as usual magnificent – came in the 72nd minute, when Austin somehow gained possession 30-odd yards out and managed to propel the ball vaguely in the direction of the Wednesday goal. As the home keeper, Kirkland, had to pick the ball up to stop it trickling into his net, this counted as a shot on target – and the raucous away fans celebrated accordingly, with more than a hint of irony in their celebratory chants about having an effort on goal. The sheepish looks this drew from the away dugout told their own story.
As I wrote last week in the wake of the Rochdale defeat: “This season is not going to be a season of on-field achievement – I will confidently predict that here and now.” I think it’s fair that I should stick by that prediction; the evidence to back it up was there for all to see on that performance – for want of a better word – at Hillsborough. To call it a disgrace would be a hopeless understatement. Somehow, miraculously, we will end today within shouting distance of the play-offs. But shout though we may, it would be a travesty if we were to compete in the end of season lottery. Better that we should simply get our heads down and see if we can somehow eke out enough points to stay in this league, hoping that we might be better prepared for a new campaign next time around.
It’s chastening, a defeat of that order. It tells you about the state of your club, about the state of your team. Clearly, we have been flattering to succeed. Elements of today’s performance deserve a place in any dungeon of horror. A man hailed until recently as the season’s saviour – Marius Zaliukas – appears to be going down the route plummeted by Lubo Michalik of recent memory. He looked good to start off with – then he got a new and improved, extended deal – and bang. He turned from a defensive tower of strength into a static clod, incapable of controlling a ball and always threatening to present a chance to the opposition. There is a crippling lack of confidence, the passing is awful and morale is so low as to be virtually undetectable. To put two new wingers into that mix, one of whom has hardly played, seems – in retrospect – almost cruel. Even Plan B, a belated reversion to 4-4-2, only lasted a minute before sub Matt Smith got himself sent off with a challenge which exemplified thoughtless stupidity. Sometimes, after a display like this, you might warn the next opponents to beware a backlash – but league leaders Leicester City, due at Elland Road for another live TV date next weekend, must be licking their lips.
The comedy point of the afternoon, for me, (apart from Kirkland ending up on his back again, this time courtesy of Sam Byram) was just after the final whistle when I received a tweet from a Hull Tigers fan, having a laugh at our miserable display even as his own team were losing at home. And therein lies the faint consolation for Leeds fans – however bad things are, however awful our team might be – we are still more important to fans of certain other clubs than their own deeply pallid and undistinguished teams. Tigers, Tigers, rah, rah, rah. However deep our own embarrassment – at least we haven’t sunk to those depths.