I often think we build football games up too much, especially at this end of the season. Tonight’s Cardiff game marks our 10th league game and you can make an honest argument for either end of the importance spectrum.
Yes, 10 games is still early in the season and squads are only now starting to find their groove. Sides that started poorly and had a wobbly first 6 games are starting to get a run of form together, so their position after 10 games isn’t too telling. Conversely, this means we’re just over a fifth of the way through the season (21.74% to be precise) and points on the board are invaluable.
So does tonight’s game actually mean anything? Well, in the wider context of the season, probably not. A return of 3 points tonight doesn’t accomplish anything more than zero points ruins. But psychologically, I think tonight has significance. If the Leeds squad are to truly believe that they are capable of beating the best sides in this league, then we need to do that. While no-one would have levied such praise on Cardiff before the season began, they’ve shown themselves to be an incredibly capable outfit with some shrewd acquisitions and strong performances. They’ve conceded less than a goal a game and (like us) have only lost once. Like us, to a poor side.
Beating Cardiff is not so much about needing those 3 points, but more about the psychology of showing the league we’re not the fragile flash-in-the-pan some pundits are labelling us. We’re a rag-tag bunch of misfits, unknowns and players craving a second chance – to sit at the top is unthinkable, to demonstrate that we’re there deservedly would be brilliant. It’s about the performance tonight, not the result. A game where we heavily dominate but draw is still good, we just don’t want a repeat of Millwall where we were declawed and bullied into submission. We need to grab Cardiff by the scruff of the neck and authoritatively assert what type of game we’re playing. By bedtime tonight we’ll know how Leeds respond to high-pressure games like tonight, albeit where the pressure isn’t on the result but on whether we show the world that we’re a real threat.
As for Warnock – I hold no love for the man. Memories of his stewardship are unfairly tarnished with the abject lack of investment, meaning promises made by Ken Bates about being able to build a whole new Leeds devolved down to free transfers and a mini-bus of rejects from Portsmouth’s closing down sale. No one intends to build a sustainable and successful future and starts with David Norris. But Warnock isn’t blameless in any capacity, his tactics and heavy-handed coaching damaged important prospects like Lees and Thompson. He was elated to swap Luciano Becchio for Steve Morison. It’s hard to recall the various things done under his tenure without descending into keyboard-shattering rage. I don’t really like Neil Warnock. I don’t care for the “great group of lads” interview format he uses, when you know he’s unfairly shouting at a 19 year old for a simple mistake, yet holding a comforting arm around Michael Brown. Warnock will be gagging to beat Leeds, and that makes the result even more important for me. Not because I want to beat him, per se, but because I don’t want him to beat us.
Sol Bamba. A player who was unfairly labelled ‘bombscare Bamba’ from Leicester, yet showed some real quality in his loan spell at Leeds. A man who spoke out about Cellino’s absurd ownership. A man who celebrated with fans and was prone to the occasional bit of eccentric defending. I liked Sol. I admired his bottle to openly criticise the owner and be the voice many fans wanted to hear.
His performances at Cardiff are also showing how good he can be with a stronger partner alongside him, as he has been properly brilliant. Looking back, I have sympathy for him trying to defend alongside Bellusci/Wootton and in-front of Silvestri. But is he better than Pontus Jansson? Not in a month of Sundays. Anyone at Leeds who has watched both play would make the same assertion. As much as I like big Sol, I’m hoping that Saiz, Hernandez and Alioski run rings around him tonight.
As for promotion – I agree with TC. It’s too early to talk about these things. Though I’d probably say the same thing if we had 10 games to go and only needed 1 point to secure it. I’ve spent most of my adult life following an unsuccesful Leeds, so any talk of promotion, playoffs or anything equally fabulous can wait until it’s firmly in our hands. Last season showed how discussing prospective successes makes stereotypically tragic dips in form all the more painful.
So we’ll watch the game tonight, hope for a Leeds win and a performance that shows we’re top dog. If we don’t? Well, it’s not the end of the world. But for a million different reasons I want a top performance and a clean sheet.