The nightmare for Paul Rachubka – forgetting, if he can, his public humiliation on Wednesday night – is the realisation that he is better than this.
You do not make 240 league appearances or anywhere close by regularly committing the number of errors he has in three weeks at Leeds United.
The 30-year-old would like his time again, no doubt, but this transfer and this opportunity has swallowed him. The walls caved in spectacularly against Blackpool but the seeds of his demise were sown four games earlier on the night of his full league debut. Rachubka was in arrears from the moment he coughed up an injury-time goal and gifted a point to Coventry City.
Anyone who doubts the effect of a mistake which came at the end of an otherwise steady performance should revisit Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Cardiff City. Rachubka was not culpable for that result but his demeanour was anxious; the sign of a player who knows people are doubting him even if he is not yet doubting himself.
It is convenient to claim that Wednesday’s implosion was coming but his awkward introduction warned that it might happen. Rachubka has been treading water ever since.
There is no pleasure or satisfaction in saying that. Rachubka is a thoughtful and honest goalkeeper who, with unfortunate timing, spoke candidly and honestly about his own failings earlier in the week. He was not in denial about the attention on him or flippant about his mistake against Coventry. “I want to impress,” he said, believing he still had the chance. That boat sailed on Wednesday evening.
All that can be said in Rachubka’s defence is that he had a hard act to follow. Andy Lonergan, the keeper lost to a broken finger last month, was exemplary before his injury and almost error free. One mis-kick against Bristol City is his charge sheet in its entirety. Simon Grayson was careful to avoid categorising Lonergan’s absence as a damaging loss, but it is starting to look that way. The internal solution has come up short.
Grayson was right to pull Rachubka from view after 45 minutes against the Tangerines and he would be justified, and compassionate, in omitting the keeper altogether at Leicester City on Sunday. It is hard to know precisely when Grayson will feel able to use him again, or when Rachubka will declare himself ready.
It is a critical problem at an inconvenient time and the call for a loan signing was inevitable. Grayson had no other viable alternative as he assessed the fall-out of a 5-0 defeat.
It would not, after all, seem fair to ask Alex Cairns to do a job which a player 12 years his senior has struggled to. Many a junior player has come of age in opportunistic fashion but the circumstances for blooding him now look treacherous. There is, in any case, more to be done before Leicester than decide who should occupy United’s goalline.
The cost of Wednesday night was not merely the result or the loss of points but the suspension incurred by Tom Lees. With Darren O’Dea suffering from a head injury, the keeper chosen to play at the King Power Stadium will take to the field minus the central partnership in Grayson’s ideal defence. Leeds cannot afford to waste this weekend’s game but the international break will come at a useful time. They look like a squad which needs a chance to regroup.
Sunday is now a test of the strength of Grayson’s resources. Rachubka’s fate would appear to be sealed and Lees will not play either, but there is an argument for changes which go further than that.
Grayson stated before this passage of seven matches in 23 days that he would use the furthest reaches of his squad in response to a crowded fixture list, but there has been little in the way of squad rotation. Eight players have started every match and those who haven’t – O’Dea, Lonergan and Robert Snodgrass – were dragged out of the team by injury.
This is not how Grayson would have chosen to freshen his team up, but the timing feels right nonetheless. It is going some to claim that Rachubka was the bad apple in a stellar performance on Wednesday.
Grayson highlighted Rachubka’s 25th-minute fumble, leading to a Lees’ dismissal and Blackpool’s second goal, as a critical moment, saying his side had been “right in the game”. That is a generous appraisal of a side who, until Rachubka’s most glaring blunder, had been pulled around the pitch by Blackpool’s sharp passing. As their manager, Ian Holloway, said afterwards, Rachubka made mistakes but the Seasiders intent was not immaterial.
A look at United’s past record under Grayson shows a trend of unexpectedly bad results thrown into extended passages of good form. They do not usually hang over the club for long. As he did at Scunthorpe United 12 months ago, he will attempt to smooth the waters immediately on Sunday. Rachubka’s position is untenable, or so you would think. Perhaps the cuts should go deeper than that.