Rotherham United 1, Leeds United 2
Garry Monk was naturally pleased with three vital points at the expense of a fired-up Rotherham United side – but he was clearly not a happy bunny after the final whistle, and you could see why. Leeds United, two up at half time and facing a depleted home side, after a senseless act of thuggery by Millers madman Peter Odemwingie brought him a well-deserved red card, should have been able to engage cruise control and ease to a comfortable three or four goal win. Instead, they allowed the complacency they’d been warned against during half time to creep into their play – and they came within one skied close-range finish of dropping two precious Championship points.
Such are the wrinkles Monk is doing his best to iron out of this Leeds United squad, and you have to say that there has been obvious progress within what he continually refers to as a young group. It’s live and learn as much as sink or swim in second-tier league football and, if the group can learn something from such a laissez-faire second-half display and still get away with a victory, then it’s been a good day after all. The record books will show that goals from Chris Wood and Souleymane Doukara were enough to see Rotherham off, despite Richard Wood’s late effort which only just beat an acrobatic Rob Green. At the end of the day, Brian, it’s all about results.
Still, Monk’s post-match demeanour left nobody in any doubt that the paint had just been blistered off the away team dressing room walls; the young group had been treated to a savage analysis of their shortcomings that, we can but hope, will lead to rather more focus over the next few games. That focus will be sorely needed for the stern tests that lie in wait for United; first at Anfield in the EFL Cup quarter-final, and then rather more importantly in massive league games against Aston Villa and high-flying Brighton and Reading outfits. If Leeds can emerge from that little lot with an honourable exit from the Cup and six or seven more league points safely banked – well, there won’t be too many glum faces around Elland Road.
If Garry Monk really is the real deal at this level – and there seems no valid reason so far to doubt that – then he will be adept at the art of dealing with matters in-house and by the judicious use of both stick and carrot as the occasion demands. All great managers, together with those aspiring to greatness, have had the common sense to know that sometimes an arm needs to go around the demoralised shoulder – and other times a boot needs applying to the relevant backsides. Young teams will wax and wane, it’s part of the process of becoming battle-hardened and consistently effective. Today, some of Leeds United’s players were found wanting – and got away with it. But it must not happen again.
On Tuesday night at Anfield, there will be nowhere to hide – and the eleven men in United shirts must have the message of what is expected ringing loudly in their ears. Whatever kind of side Liverpool put out, a display of the sort we suffered through in the second half at Rotherham will leave us needing an abacus to keep the Reds score, and headache pills for afterwards. The important thing today was the win and the three points – but if we were to gain the bonus of improved displays over the important games coming up from whatever bollocking was delivered in the dressing room – then today will have been doubly productive.
There are testing times ahead but, as the ancient scholar said, it’s a case of “per ardua ad astra” – through hardship, we can reach the stars. It would take a stellar performance at Anfield to survive another stage of the EFL Cup, and league points will be hard to come by over the next few league games; still, with the right proportions of carrot and stick from our bright young manager, you just never know.