“But they haven’t played anyone good yet” is the predictable cry heard from fans of other clubs when the press dare report that Leeds United at top of the league. While the perilous, unfamiliar heights of 1st place are giving us nosebleeds, the growing validity in what our detractors say makes a little more sense. Or, it did.
A savage mauling of Burton aside, Leeds have routinely been pushing opponents aside this season (if we ignore Millwall as an annual blip that you could largely set your watch by) but the easy (yet semi-valid) justification of this form is that we haven’t had to topple Wolves, Boro, Fulham, Wednesday or any of the other dozen sides who could viably consider themselves playoff contenders. Though this argument came crashing down as we played Ipswich.
Ipswich have been good value this season. If they win their game-in-hand they could be 4th. Mick may be a Leeds fan but there’s precious little he’d be willing to gift us here, yet Leeds played with intent and positivity, though you could pull the game apart for ages if you wished. Anita seems to be less defensively robust than Berardi, meaning twice we’ve seen sides expose us down our left. Wiedwald is an enigma, keeping us from an embarrassing scoreline against Millwall yet gifting Ipswich a lifeline with the kind of mistake you simply don’t expect from someone of his caliber. Though Leeds do have a challenging relationship with goalkeepers and even Rob Green was perilous at first.
With a deserved (if not occasionally uncertain) win against Ipswich, Leeds have shown they can beat better sides than Sunderland or Burton. The next big test comes from Neil Warnock’s Cardiff tomorrow night.
Not only is Warnock a bitter man of yesteryear, a proponent of “direct” football and someone who will throw every tool in his box at beating Leeds United. It’ll be Millwall again, though Cardiff have demonstrated themselves to be a side of real quality. This is a huge game, for us and for them. I’m yet to be convinced that this Leeds side can truly go the distance, not because I’m not excited or infatuated with the squad, but because the very Leeds-ness is clearly still present. The Leeds that will lose important games. The Leeds that might only need 1 point against a side that hasn’t won all season, but will find some way to lose. Maybe it’s a decade of unhappy results and broken promises, but I’m still wary.
Cardiff is an early “pressure game”, as I’d put it. A game where the world is watching on Sky against a side joint on points, managed by an ex-manager, led by an ex-player. A bogey fixture, too, given Leeds have only won the away fixture against Cardiff once in the last 6 games (conceding 10, scoring only 3). Everything you could hope to look at statistically would suggest Leeds are the underdog in this game (and the bookies are backing this, with Leeds at 3.6-1 vs. 2.3-1 for Cardiff). Winning this would be a real declaration of intent, especially if it was convincing. But equally, a loss doesn’t end the season, but if we’re to continue this belief that Leeds can – on their day – beat anyone, then we need to start with beating Cardiff.
Finally, Lasogga is back and with a slightly bigger family. His first-born arrived in the world on Friday night. The player elected to keep this a secret in order to play the game, before flying back to Germany to meet his child (and presumably furious partner). While I’d be 50 shades of dead had I attempted anything like this with my other half, I admire his commitment to Leeds (a club he owes very little to, it’s worth noting) to miss such a life-defining moment for. This is the kind of thing that becomes a footnote in a remarkable season and I’m delighted that he managed to bag a lovely goal to mark the occasion. He’s either brilliant, stupid or incredibly brave. I don’t care which, because when he latched onto that thru-ball from defence, tracked his run beautifully before firing a precise shot into the bottom corner past the outstretched keeper, it didn’t matter anymore. Friends, family, fatherhood, all faded away into that one beautiful moment where I was no longer concerned with his personal status or the testicle-shattering greeting he’ll get from the mother of his child, but concerned only with the goal and the prospect of 3 points.
You sometimes look at moments like these; games like Ipswich, looming fixtures like Cardiff and think “football really is brilliant isn’t it?”. If this is going to be a season that we remember for a long time, a new father doing the unthinkable to help Leeds achieve the unimaginable would be a beautiful moment to reflect on. “Side before self” may be stencilled onto Elland Road, but the fact it’s being stencilled into the souls of the players is what makes me believe Leeds can beat Cardiff. Against any rational thought, statistics, probability or holy-man blessing the pitch, you win through desire. Leicester won a title because they wanted it more than anyone else. A man we had on loan wanted a single goal against a town he’d never heard of more than he wanted to witness his first child being born. If that’s not remarkable then what are we even doing anymore?