The term “bouncing back” is often associated with Alan Partridge, and perhaps that’s not an unfair comparison for Leeds. After all, the Cellino years often did feel like the kind of mental illness that make you drive to Dundee barefoot, shovelling Toblerones into your mouth as fast as you can. Equally, “bouncebackability” is a pseudo-term coined by Iain Dowie defining a team’s ability to respond to a poor performance – and we’ve found that too.
Leeds were utterly embarrassed by West Brom in the second week of November. It was comfortably the worst we’d seen Leeds perform under Bielsa (and indeed it harked back to the disjoined cluster-fudge we came to expect under Heckingbottom). It was perhaps the kind of performance I expected to see on the opening day of the season against Stoke when we were still trying to grasp Bielsa’s system. However, to be so utterly turned over in November was upsetting. We’re also anxious in moments like these because we remember what damage a bad result can do to these players – after Millwall last season Leeds had been “worked out”, as Liam Cooper put it, and everyone else knew how to bully Leeds into irrelevance.
The fact that Bielsa’s Leeds found a way to bounce back from this shambolic mess to 3 consecutive victories with 3 clean sheets is remarkable. It’s even more remarkable when you consider we’ve had to do it with a makeshift back-line. We’ve had to hand two senior debuts to Academy players, whilst playing a mediocre right-winger at right-back. It’s not what clean-sheets are made of, if we’re honest. It’s a struggle at the best of times because we’ve committed to the Peacock and he’s only 22 – so we accept that mistakes are likely (and therefore clean sheets are also unlikely). But we’re managing it.
Bristol City was up first, a slightly dull game until the second half where Leeds started to assert themselves more. A low shot across the box was turned in by Roofe at point-blank range, before a beautiful Saiz lobbed pass was carefully cushioned across the goalkeeper and into the corner of the net by Pablo. 2-0.
Reading was next and was also a challenging game, but a slick bit of interlinked play between Douglas and Hernandez allowed the left-back to fizz a dangerous low ball into the 6 yard box. Roofe lunged at it forcing a writhing mess of bodies to block the shot. The ball spilled to Dallas who had an open goal to fire into. 1-0. A penalty was awarded for Reading in the dying moments of the game after a clumsy challenge by Douglas, but a superb stop by the Peacock secured the 3 points for the whites.
Finally we had Sheffield United – a real test. Unbeaten since the opening day and high in the table on merit. Some phenomenal refereeing decisions meant that the Blades should have been down to 9 men in the first half, though we appreciate that as Leeds fans we don’t get sensible officials for our games. A draw would have been a fair result, if we’re honest, but a horrendous goalkeeping mistake as a result of Leeds’ high press broke the deadlock. A risky back-pass put Henderson under pressure, while Clarke and Hernandez chased him down. He tried to cushion a ball to the nearest defender but instead served it onto a plate for young Jack Clarke. The 18 year old changed direction with deft agility, transferred his weight to his standing foot and chipped the ball over the outstretched leg of the panicked Henderson to ping a precision ball to Pablo who had an open goal to hit. 1-0. Leeds go top of the league (albeit briefly).
Alioski is losing his place because he’s simply not performing. Clarke is benefitting because he is performing. It’s simple. Alioski will play again and he’ll play well again, but now isn’t his time.
Leeds are in the automatic promotion spots and playing well. Our next run of games are QPR, Bolton, Villa, Blackburn and Hull. That’s us playing 11th, 23rd, 8th, 10th and 19th. If we are serious about this season we should get a good haul of points.
God, it’s good being a Leeds fan.