It’s never good to be reflecting on the loss of a two goal lead. It’s even worse when you’re denied the euphoria of that lead in the first place, due to a glum premonition that Leeds United were flattering to deceive and that it would be all downhill from here. That was the situation at Elland Road yesterday; when I should have been overjoyed at Rudy Austin‘s terrific strike putting daylight between the Whites and a more than decent Watford outfit, instead I had this horrible feeling that it was all about to go pear-shaped – that we were going to be stung by a second swarm of annoying insects in our own backyard over the space of a few weeks – and I said so to my neighbour, predicting the eventual 2-3 defeat. She did not appreciate my pessimism one little bit.
Sadly, my glass-half-full prediction came to pass, much to my horror and much to the disgust of my fellow fan, who still isn’t talking to me. But I’m not going to take the blame, nor am I about to accept the title of Jonah. The bare fact is that two-nil leads should be built upon, used as a basis for grinding the opposition into the floor, giving your own followers a rare day off from biting their nails down to the elbows through fear and tension. They should not be a signal for relaxing, backing off, becoming complacent and offering hope to what should be a doomed enemy. That’s basic professionalism, surely. And Leeds have form for this kind of capitulation; for snatching defeat from the very jaws of victory. It’s nowhere near good enough: as fans, we not only have a right to be upset and disappointed – it’s positively our duty. After twenty minutes on Saturday, I should have been thinking that Leeds were going to answer my prayers for a fine victory in tribute to my late Dad who passed away this week. The fact that I was right instead to be so pessimistic obviously gives me no pleasure at all, especially in those sad circumstances.
However, all is not gloom and doom. If we had won yesterday, then the value of the victory would have been for and of itself, rather than with any slim hopes of pushing for play-offs and the unlikely like. The midweek 0-2 defeat at Brighton should have choked off any unwise, sudden optimism on that score – and yesterday’s surrender to the Hornets, in the wake of that abject pecking from the Seagulls, confirmed that we certainly won’t be departing this league in the upward direction. But it looks increasingly certain that we’re safe also from any plummet through the trapdoor below. For that, we can thank our good friends from Bermondsey, Millwall FC, whose team and fans were both on familiar form at Rotherham yesterday; the former cravenly sinking to yet another defeat, the latter launching one of their mob frenzy attacks on those who simply wished to watch or police a game of football.
You can’t say anything too nasty about Millwall, as some of their fans are delicate little flowers who take offence easily and tend to run crying and complaining if some Big Bad Blog should be too overtly critical. The curious dichotomy of fans who indulge in what some might term deeply uncivilised behaviour, side by side with those who cry foul should anyone raise a peep of protest, will not be lost on connoisseurs of bitter irony. Riotous scenes at Rotherham’s weirdly-named New York Stadium were tiresomely familiar to anyone who has followed the touring habits of the Millwall faithful. Those images of violence will not attract any sympathy for manager Ian Holloway‘s previously-expressed view that his club’s fans had cleaned up their act and should be free of the travel restrictions that saw their following at Leeds the other week reduced to one man and his dog. On this evidence, the movements of the Millwall away following must continue to be subject to the most stringent controls, as they are clearly incapable of conducting themselves as adults and should not be trusted to do so.
On the pitch, things worked out very well for Rotherham (and indeed Leeds) – and ominously badly for the Lions. They too chucked away a lead – only one goal in their case, but the outcome was the same. In what was a genuine relegation six-pointer, Rotherham – who could have found themselves ahead of their opponents only on goal difference – now have the luxury of a six point gulf between them and Millwall, who are in real danger of being cut adrift of safety along with Blackpool and Wigan, who also both keep losing, and who look ever more certainly doomed.
For Leeds, the Millwall defeat was shiny bright good news, as it preserves a healthy ten point margin over the bottom three. With the rate at which the clubs at the lower end pick up their meagre ration of points, and with just twelve games to go, it seems highly unlikely that United will now be dragged into the dogfight (fingers crossed, touch wood). It looks as though we’re safe – and our unlikely saviours are indeed those cheeky, chirpy, loveable cockneys from down Bermondsey way who, by their noble self-sacrifice, will see the Whites survive while they themselves take the big drop.
Leeds, then, face what appears to be a dead rubber of a remainder to the season. They should be able to pick up the few victories still needed to confirm Championship status for next time around, and they can afford to view the scramble for safety lower down from a lofty and impervious position – and with a certain amount of malicious glee. None of that detracts from the bleak dose of reality that Watford served us yesterday, nor does it assuage the pain and frustration of defeat from a winning position – but in a dog-eat-dog league, there are compensations in the greater pain of others.
Well done to Watford for showing the character to come back from the dead yesterday – and well done to Rotherham for a similar feat. Shame on the Millwall fans who have besmirched their club’s name for the umpteenth time – and let’s hope that Leeds learned a few lessons this weekend ahead of the visit of Whites fan Mick McCarthy and his high-flying Ipswich Town side on Wednesday. If the Whites can get a result in that game, the day after Middlesbrough have (fingers crossed again) put another nail in the Millwall coffin, then perhaps we can all relax a little more, and look forward to the summer – and some very necessary regrouping.