Leeds. We all hate Leeds right? I actually have an odd relationship with Leeds United, based on the odd flirtation during my youth. You see, my Uncle and my cousin – both born and bred Wolverhampton boys – are Leeds United fans. Proper, mind. Season tickets, the lot, which I commend in all honesty. Anybody who gives up their time, money and love for their football club I doff my cap to.
My brief flirtation with Leeds actually began as a 5-year-old, during the 1998 FA Cup Quarter-Final. This is where the family connections came in handy as we lodged ourselves with the home fans. Now we all know how that game went and I’m sure you can imagine how two 5-year-old fanatical Wolves fans reacted when Don Goodman dinked the ball over Nigel Martyn. Cue celebrations akin to walking into a Lions den and mooning them right in their faces. We were in close proximity to the Wolves fans and I’m pretty sure we spent a portion of the game waving at our own. It’s an odd experience watching your people from a distance rather than being part of it all. How I’d love to have been in amongst it now. Being 5 years old meant the Leeds fans showed what little mercy they have and conveniently ignored the taunts of us toddlers while my Dad and Uncle tried their best to restrain us.
Subsequently Elland Road became an infrequent destination for me and provided my first taste of Premier League and also Champions League football. I saw Leeds take on Barcelona, with the great Rivaldo scoring an injury time equaliser. It all just puts into perspective the magnificent fall from grace the club has suffered. They haven’t had even a sniff of Premier League football since. Not that many people in the world mind that to be honest.
I spoke to my cousin regarding the vitriol spouted towards Garry Monk during their victory over Middlesbrough at the weekend. He said Monk had ‘turned his back on the club’. Lovely way to treat the man who got them closer to a return to the Premier League than anyone else has. I’d suspect there was more to it than that given that this, of course, is Leeds. Perhaps the turning of backs is treated as treason for many in the heart of Yorkshire, although their staunch defence of Jimmy Saville points to further odd behaviours. Perhaps it’s best not to delve into the psyche.
One thing Leeds do always bring to the party though is unity. Unity translated into a hatred for the club that stems from many moons ago. A unity that translates into the first midweek full-house in years. And what a sight it is to see Molineux full under the lights, thousands of faceless people getting behind a team on the up and willing them to tear apart the opposition. And for 45 minutes that’s exactly what Wolves did.
Just the other week I spoke about footballers developing relationships and coincidence playing a massive part in players’ careers – click here for more on that. On the theme of relationships our current front three are swiftly making us forget about that ex that got away – as I know Mrs Kular will be reading this I must declare I am very happily married and am not longing for any former flames to be reignited, it was merely a convenient metaphor! This front three are well and truly wifey material though. It’s been a while since all 3 have been in perfect harmony and individual performances have got us through some games, but in the first 45 minutes they combined to produce our most fluent attacking performance of the season so far.
Bonatini acted as the thread that knitted together Jota and Cavaleiro, with this particular performance more reminiscent of our early season form. I can’t remember Bonatini having a decent chance at scoring but he was still excellent. Cavaleiro was untouchable in the first half, while Jota was a little more laboured but still wreaked havoc in his incessant, relentless style. Wave after wave of attack swept forward and were it not for a poor final ball/shot or a cynical foul, more chances or goals would surely have come our way. As it stands we settled for just the 2. I’ve not seen a free-kick more emphatically dispatched than Barry Douglas’ effort. This was key as it allowed the front three breathing space as Leeds had to take more initiative in the game. Cavaleiro came into his own and his turn and shot to score the second was devastating. More miraculous however was the fact it came from the situation shown below:
Diogo Jota, surrounded by 3 Leeds players, without a teammate in sight, manages to find Leo Bonatini who sweeps the ball out wide for Doherty to feed Cavaleiro. The rest is history, How many times in this situation would a ball bounce off a Wolves player’s shin, or they would have simply cowered into giving the ball away. This is Jota’s one outstanding attribute – bravery. Not that bullshit tackle-with-your-head rubbish that people think is brave, but is in fact idiocy. I mean that get-on-the-ball-in-the-face-of-defenders brave. A run-at-your-man-and-make-something-happen brave. A taking responsibility kind of brave. Mix that in with his obvious talent and you have one heck of a player. He may as well have waved a red piece of fabric in front of these defenders and said ‘watch what mugs I make out of you three.’ The finish for his goal was also sublime. Goodman-esque, if you will.
While the first half-performance had 4 goals written all over it, we actually came out of the blocks slowly in the second-half which led to us conceding a very good goal by all accounts. This jolted us – particularly Jota – into action though. He promptly grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in almost literal terms. The way he worked back to win the ball and march towards goal leaned upon all of the traits I’d mentioned in the previous paragraph. That Ronaldo Vieira lunged in on him in an attempt to make his own mark on the game was testament to the aura Jota holds on the pitch. Many teams have tried to put one on Jota, but it generally amounts to their own downfall – as proven here. Leeds weren’t falling apart again. This time they were ripped at the seams by an angry Diogo, You won’t like him when he’s angry.
Wasn’t it lovely to see Helder back on the scoresheet? Slowly he’s beginning to regain some confidence after missing pre-season and he showed again with a jig down the line that led to a Leeds defender sitting down in front of him just how devastating he can be. The rest of his game will come. The winning of the penalty was prefaced by a timid shot which Andy Lol-ergan somehow spilled and the penalty itself wasn’t the most comfortably dispatched but it will come for Costa. Bear in mind it took him a while to get going last season and that was with 90 minutes in the bank on a few occasions. He has the perfect opportunity to play himself into fitness and form with his pals doing an excellent job in his stead.
A warm, fuzzy moment ensued as our Portu-geezers – minus Vinagre – gathered in front of the South Bank to celebrate the goal with Costa. It showed true spirit. Nay. It showed true ‘Espirito’. We’ve had spirit before. This is spirit with an ‘E’ and an ‘O’. It’s spirit with ‘Excellence’ and ‘Oles’. It’s ‘Electrifying’ and ‘Omnipresent’ spirit. It’s spirit by Nuno. Espirito. It’s a thing, trust me.
I managed to catch-up with my cousin regarding the game. I’m not a wind-up merchant. I imagine living in Wolverhampton that the next few weeks will be difficult enough for them without me throwing my jibes into the mix. Lonergan was high on his list when it comes to his assessment of the game – something we all have in common it seems. He also commented on how amazingly well Nuno has stamped his ideas on the team and the discipline and patterns of play we exude. As with all opposition teams, finances were high on the agenda, but that is no guarantee of success as we all know. Nuno is the key.
And so, we sit atop the Championship table, now with breathing space. We can have a yawn and a stretch and take our foot off the gas, no? Never. Even at 4-1 Nuno was out on the edge of his technical area, booming out instructions, coaxing performances from his troops and dealing out the odd dressing down when necessary. This is a man who needs perfection. We’re still not there. And that is a massively frightening prospect for any of our opponents.
My friend who accompanied me to the game hasn’t been to Molineux for a while. He commented on how nice it was to not experience a toxic atmosphere, where everybody is singing off the same hymn sheet. How nice indeed.
Throw them to the Wolves and the Wolves will tear you apart.
Leeds, Leeds were torn apart, last night.