Proof, if proof was needed, that football management is bad for your health. Karl Robinson’s face was thunderous and even Uwe Rosler’s smile betrayed the stress of the mayhem which brought about Leeds United’s win in Milton Keynes.
“I’m very happy,” Rosler said, taking in a deep breath. “You might not see it but I’m very happy.” The sight of Robinson carrying a laptop into his post-match press conference implied that he was not and the scene was set for a scathing post-mortem with referee David Webb at the centre of it.
“If he referees next week then it’s poor,” Robinson said, replaying two key incidents. “He’s had an horrific game.”
The Football Association might not like those comments but Leeds’ victory over MK Dons frayed nerves, strayed tempers and left both camps shattered at the final whistle. Someone was bound to crack. “I’m a little bit drained,” Rosler said, with casual understatement.
He would have felt worse had Robinson’s players ridden a 2-0 deficit and a second-half red card to equalise with an injury-time corner which pinged off United’s goalline and Saturday had shades of Bristol City last month, where Leeds contrived to implode in similar circumstances.
Rosler admitted that the events of Ashton Gate – two concessions at the tail-end of that match – were “at the back of our heads” as MK Dons flooded forward but a collapse was averted and the German drew a line under United’s first defeat of the season.
“Overall we found a way to win,” he said. “We had a little bit of luck but I’m happy to bounce back from our first defeat.
“We’ve not been used to winning games this season. We haven’t lost many games, only one, but we haven’t won many either. The Bristol City game was in the back of our heads.
“Sometimes you have to ride it out and we did. Over the season you have moments where you’re fortunate and moments where you’re not so fortunate. I think they level themselves out. The whole dressing room is happy.”
Rosler’s body language made it clear that last week was a trying one. Beaten by Ipswich Town on Tuesday, four days after a tense draw against Brentford, his job seemed to weigh more heavily on him before Saturday. Whatever the circumstances, he and his players needed the reassurance of another win and two streaks of class from Charlie Taylor were enough to force it.
Rosler warned beforehand that MK Dons would hurt his side if Leeds “let them play” and for the first half-hour, Leeds did exactly that. Minus Tom Adeyemi, gaps appeared between Rosler’s defence and midfield and MK Dons attacked them constantly.
Then, on 30 minutes, Taylor lost patience with life in his own half and burst over 40 yards into MK Dons’ box. Carl Baker dived in and took the left-back’s legs from under him. Chris Wood drove a low penalty safely to the right of goalkeeper David Martin, redeeming his wild miss in last month’s League Cup defeat at Doncaster Rovers.
MK Dons struck a post soon after as Marco Silvestri’s instinctive reaction pushed Rob Hall’s volley onto the frame of the goal, leaving Sam Gallagher to lash an easy tap-in over the crossbar, and with 43 minutes played, Taylor intervened against the run of play again.
The 22-year-old attacked in an identical position and was given time to shoot by Kyle McFadzean who backed off when the ball was asking to be cleared. Taylor smashed it with his left foot and found the far corner of Martin’s net. “The boy is brilliant,” Rosler said, in admiration of Taylor. “The limit is the sky for this guy.” A 2-0 lead at half-time was rather more than Leeds had earned.
Rosler lacks the resources to consider resting Taylor – used in every minute of the season so far – and in that respect he was grateful. Rosler was pleased too about his decision to play Silvestri again, in spite of the Italian’s costly error against Ipswich last week. Silvestri’s saves were plentiful, culminating in his parry of a point-blank header from Antony Kay which was flying into the net in the 96th minute.
“People called for his head but you have to support him,” Rosler said. “He was excellent and he needed this. He showed what a good goalkeeper he is. It’ll do his confidence the world of good.”
Silvestri drawing praise and attention underlined the threat that MK Dons posed. Robinson had no complaint with United’s penalty but his argument with Webb began in first-half injury-time when Webb failed to penalise a clear handball by Sol Bamba inside Silvestri’s box.
Rosler claimed Bamba had been pushed in the back. “He lost his balance and then played the ball with his hand,” United’s head coach said.
“For me it was the right decision.” Robinson said Webb told him later that his view of the incident had not been clear enough.
Robinson rigged up a laptop to prove that the official was 20 yards from the ball, with full sight of the offence.
More controversy came after MK Dons pulled a goal back 16 minutes from time. Simon Church scored it, rolling home a cut-back from Josh Murphy who had earlier rattled a post, but midfielder Samir Carruthers was promptly sent off for a lunge on Stuart Dallas. Webb took advice from his other linesman before pulling out his red card.
Robinson did not like the decision, though he could as easily have pointed the finger at Carruthers for a reckless and needless tackle, a few yards outside Silvestri’s box and at a time when Leeds were starting to wobble. In any event, the dismissal had little positive effect on United. Rosler’s players had managed the first 25 minutes of the second half neatly, passing more fluently and keeping Martin busy, but the closing stages were an onslaught. MK Dons worked the ball upfield any way they could and Leeds hung on.
The dam almost broke in the sixth minute of injury-time when Kay met a corner with a close-range header which smacked off Silvestri as Rosler held his breath.
With Martin in United’s box and stranded a long way from his box, Leeds broke up field rapidly but Lewis Cook’s shot was hacked away from under the crossbar by a retreating Diego Poyet.
Though the match ran into an eighth added minute, MK Dons could not raise themselves again.
“All credit to Karl and his team,” Rosler said. “They pushed us to the limit.
“There is still a lot for us to learn.There was too much panic in the end. But with young players the learning never ends.”
It is, as Rosler said himself, easier to teach with another victory behind him. And after a week in which Leeds lost their way, lost their first league game and lost executive director Adam Pearson, a win was all Rosler hoped for.
Part of the battle in one of England’s most precarious jobs is producing the right results at the right time.
Saturday was one of those.