Leeds United 2–0 Queens Park Rangers
2nd November, 2019: the day I turned 35. Those digits could signify many things: my seat number (I-35), the number of points Leeds should have by now. Maybe the spoonfuls of sugar Alioski adds to his morning coffee. Or the number of months since Leeds United, under Gary Monk, won 2–0 at Elland Road, Roofe and Wood scoring.
Halfway to seventy, still somehow older than Pablo Hernandez. Apparently this will always be true. It’s like any other milestone: the threshold is triggered with minimal fuss. The changes are gradual: the cynicism, the rising retreat to nastiness. The realisation you have to work to feel the way you felt by default in breezier days. Micro-realisations: you’re here now, there’s no great event to look forward to, no Future You who’s achieved those dreams you spent your teens concocting. Gravity pulls us down: we have to thrash and fight if we want to remain afloat.
The sky was flat, uniform grey, daubed with gauzes of rain. Liam Cooper was back; Pablo was on the bench. Leeds United produced one of their best 45s. They changed formation constantly, shifting between back threes and fours, reconfiguring, jabbing Dallas’ square peg into various holes. The effect is disorientating, and God knows how QPR felt, decoding that constant swirl. The fans got their wish in a roundabout way, Tyler Roberts frequently partnering Bamford. It makes me wonder whether the plan was to start Eddie and Pat together, before the former pulled up late with unexpected knack.
This was a scurrying, busy performance from Jack Harrison. We know what he brings by now: energy, diligence. A flawless first touch. He’s also shown, in recent outings, a willingness to play with his right as much as his left. Not for raking balls or crosses, but plenty of little pokers, stabbed passes after the defender’s stumbled, improvisations diverting from our sometimes over-methodical patterns. Yes, he was frequently wasteful, but he’s in the team on merit. He, like Stuart Dallas, was moved from pillar to post, playing at wingback for most of the second half. This is becoming a habit. I suppose the natural way of things, faced with a packed box, would be to abandon defence, beyond a basic sense of graft once the ball is lost. Patrick Bamford at left-back can’t be far away.
Two goals. Wow. A sense of relaxation rarely found at Elland Road. A goal and assist for Harrison, each with that aforementioned right. We faced the final stretch relatively serene, the last ten minutes stripped of their usual tension.
Tyler Roberts — a constant creative presence — looked absolutely shagged after the final whistle. It must be months since he played a full match. Well done, Tyler, and steady walking off the pitch; we don’t want any more knocks.
The biggest trick Bielsa’s pulled is convincing us it’s normal to have Pablo and Jack, two definite wingers, playing wingback, stretching the space. Nobody grumbles; they just get on with the job. We confusedly mutter, rather than tut, when Dallas plays all over the pitch. Thank God we won’t be ordinary. Trust me, I’ve seen some basic Leeds teams over the years.
We shouldn’t forget: this is not normal. It may be fruitless yet, but let’s luxuriate; at least for the blissful final 10, when daylight opens up.
Let’s savour the madness any-which-way. The next birthday could be the last.