Middlesbrough 0, Leeds United 0
If Massimo Cellino is indeed confirmed as the new owner of Leeds United sometime next week – and social media comment from his son seems to indicate that Monday might be a significant day – then it is somehow appropriate that over a decade of bleak poverty and tightly-knotted purse-strings should be brought to a close by such a mess of a match as we saw on Saturday lunchtime at Middlesbrough’s Meccano stadium.
In financial terms, the poverty of ambition Leeds displayed in this frustrating encounter – together with a complete lack of composure and, in some cases, ability – was an apt summation of the years of penury and deprivation we’ve all suffered since dropping off our Premier League perch in 2004.
On the other hand, should you wish a theatrical metaphor, this match ranged from slapstick comedy to low farce as two inept attacks somehow failed to breach two dodgy defences. Comedy and farce could have morphed into tragedy if debutant United keeper Jack Butland had been cruelly denied the clean sheet his immaculate display most definitely deserved. Butland averted that tragedy by his own efforts. Commanding and assured, he gathered high balls, pulled off one spectacular save in the first half and one brave Schmeichel-like block in the second. He also found time to prevent a Warnock own-goal and, in general, he was man of the match by several country miles.
In truth, it was a match that defied any attempt to sit back and watch your favourite team playing your favourite sport. Although the result could have been worse, the experience was about as enjoyable as having wisdom teeth extracted without benefit of novocaine. It was a game to anger any fan who has invested faith and money in supporting Leeds United.
All was frenzy, everything was done in such unseemly haste and there was a distinct lack of any apparent ability to pass to a man in the same colour shirt. It was annoying, it was depressing – God alone knows what Cellino & Son must have thought. Major surgery is needed to transform this squad into one which might challenge next year. If only the heroic Jack Butland could be part of that recruitment programme. But, surely – even Mark Hughes can’t be that daft?
If this appalling game does prove to be the last before our shady Italian is at last approved by the League, then it’s a suitably low note to end a very low period in the history of Leeds United. But any new era is, at least initially, likely to bring us more of the same. Next week’s opponents, QPR, are highly unlikely to be as forgiving of our defensive shambles as shot-shy Boro were, and the Sky cameras a week on might well witness a bit of a battering for our heroes. But, with Leeds, you just never know. And after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the Cellinos could no doubt confirm.
Surely, today’s game was confirmation, if any were needed, that this season is a dead duck for Leeds. We’d have to pull off a miraculous run to go into the play-offs – and even then there’s that pesky fundamental law of creation that dictates we just don’t do play-offs, so it’s perhaps just as well not to even think about it. And we’d have to suffer a disaster of X-Factor proportions to fall into any real relegation danger – surely there are enough truly awful teams down there to ensure at least our safety for participation in next season’s Championship campaign.
No, this season now is all about doing the best we can on the pitch while more important matters are being sorted out off it. What measures will be taken, what changes might be made – that’s anybody’s guess. You have to assume that Cellino is itching to engage with the club and start putting his stamp on the whole place. Whatever dull and depressing football the remaining matches might have in store for us, the events behind the scenes, at least, promise more entertainment than we’ve had for a good long while.
Bring it on. Let’s get behind the new owner as soon as he’s confirmed at least as “fit and proper” as the Porn Kings who run West Ham, and the various other dodgy geezers in boardrooms up and down the country. We’ll have to trust that the Cellino Effect might have a galvanising effect on our beloved club, such that – hopefully – performances such as I’ve just witnessed and ground my teeth over will be a thing of the past.
Meanwhile, I’m glad to say I’m helping a mate celebrate his birthday this evening and, in the course of that celebration, I intend to drink enough to forget all about the events today in Smogland. With my luck, though, I’ll have a great time tonight but then have nightmares about next week’s likely drubbing in Shepherd’s Bush.
It’s a hard life being a Leeds fan. But maybe not for too much longer…