A lot of Leeds United fans find it very difficult indeed to negotiate a whole weekend without their “fix” of the Whites – no matter what form our heroes currently happen to be in. Lately, the fare has been quite poor – to the extent that the most recent defeat, a somewhat harsh and narrow affair at home to league leaders Leicester last weekend, was hailed as “refreshing” and “encouraging”. Clearly, when we’ve drawn a blank again and lost, and yet we seek comfort from this, a break is not a bad idea. There was no choice in the matter anyway; after our humiliating Cup exit to lowly Rochdale, we were without a game this weekend – so it was a matter of filling the time as best we could. Leaving aside those unfortunates who would have been dragged out shopping, the options seemed quite clear-cut: discuss the mess and confusion at Elland Road with like-minded sufferers on the internet, or watch other, more progressive teams do battle in the 4th Round.
I’m among the number that quite welcomed a Leeds-free weekend. There’s definitely something missing, but at least we don’t suffer another loss and the bleak down of depression that follows. There was also the small matter of continued lack of progress on the TOMA and transfer fronts to chew over and, in the absence of much in the way of information from the suddenly tight-lipped United owners, the various social media platforms were abuzz with debate, with plenty of virtual rocks being flung in the direction of the suits in the boardroom. That kind of thing certainly fills some time and – given a wide enough circulation – it can prompt some defensive tweets from various of the protagonists. But it doesn’t do much to cheer up Leeds fans who are starting to suspect that our bright new start is becoming more of a dull old continuation of the same, depressing story. As things stand, TOMA 2 (or 3, depending on how you count these things) appears to be in doubt, and incoming transfers appear to be a tantalising but remote prospect. In other words, it’s shaping up to be a January no different from the last few. Not a happy thought.
So that’s the mixture of respite and paranoia that dominated the mood in which all things Leeds were discussed, argued over and complained about over this lost weekend. The net effect was negative; we might well have enjoyed some Leeds-free time a little more if other matters were looking up, but they aren’t, so we didn’t. The main source of diversion from all of this gloom was the FA Cup, which was having somehow to stagger along without us. The offerings at #LLUUE Towers were limited to good old ITV, as BT Sport is just too kitsch to contemplate. The best games were reserved for highlights anyway, though I did watch Bournemouth against Liverpool when our Championship fellow-travellers did well against one of the top teams this season, without enjoying much luck. There was a slightly grisly sideshow too, as Martin Skrtel had to have his head stapled back together at pitch-side. If they’d have let him bleed a bit, then that godawful Liverpool away shirt might have ended up looking a bit more familiar – but you couldn’t fault the lad’s stoicism.
The real down-side of the ITV coverage is having to endure the burgeoning bromance between Adrian Chiles and Roy Keane. It should be said that this appears largely to be a one-way love affair, with Chiles clearly smitten with unrequited adoration of the alleged tough-guy Keane. Royston’s “hard” image seems to be something that all ITV staff are contractually obliged to big up; the references to “ooh, I’ll let you tell Roy that” bespattered the commentary of the match as well as the studio exchanges, during which Roy sat there, trying his best to look appropriately tough. Adrian does appear to have it bad though, and it must be said that his is not a face designed to show hormonal devotion to its best advantage. When you look, as Chiles does, like a warning for what may happen if cabbage patch dolls are allowed to breed, the last thing you should be doing is simpering foolishly on camera. Every time the lens focused on Keane, we were treated to a trademark glower, and Chiles swooned anew. It was hideously uncomfortable stuff.
There’s more of this unedifying spectacle to come, presumably, with Chelsea v Stoke lined up for us later on. Stoke City have just released former United loanee Jermaine Pennant, so there’s bound to be speculation as to whether we might be making a move for him at some point in the remaining days of the window – or are we all wingered-up now? In any event, the subject of incoming transfers is likely to remain on the back burner while renewed bids for our skipper of one week, Ross McCormack are still likely from West Ham. The Hammers seem to have deduced from their 0-9 reverse in the League Cup semi that more firepower is needed, and there are whispers that the next effort to recruit Ross might involve a bid not unadjacent to £5 million. David Haigh has said that our position was made clear in the summer when we refused to sell despite months of nagging from Middlesbrough. But £5m is a LOT of money, and the next seven days might be just a little too interesting for comfort – particularly for anyone with a memory for United’s tendency to sell a vital player or two at this time of year.
Any weekend without Leeds United is liable to be less fulfilling than normal, and this one has certainly felt like that – even without the sting of defeat that has become so familiar. The discontent out here in fan-land, the relative silence from the club, the speculation over Ross and the conflicting stories in the press over whether our saviour might be Italian or simply non-existent – all of this has conspired to make it a respite without much in the way of relaxation or comfort. Things will get back to something more like normal on Tuesday when we meet Ipswich at Elland Road. A repeat of the performance against Leicester might yield a better result, particularly if Jimmy Kebe continues his improvement in form and match fitness. Depending on that result, and on other developments – who knows how things will be looking seven days from now?
Whoever does know – they’re not saying, for the moment. Tune in again throughout the week, for the very latest on the tragicomic Leeds United soap opera.