THE undeniable fact is that Pontus Jansson’s suspension was coming eventually. He likes a yellow card and at a rate of one every two games it was either this weekend or next, unless he turned over a new leaf and kept his disciplinary card clean for another two months.
The Football Association’s cut-off point for 10 bookings leading to a two-match ban is the second Sunday in March for Football League players, leaving anyone carrying nine in January with an awful lot of good behaviour in front of them. Had the amnesty been due to kick in shortly, Garry Monk might have held Jansson in reserve at Cambridge but by Monday this had nothing to do with avoiding a ban. By Monday the discussion was all about timing and a consensus on which fixtures Jansson could afford to sit out.
Passing judgement in that way is contrary to Monk’s way of thinking; the idea that Leeds need Jansson against Derby County tomorrow but can cope without him against Barnsley, or Nottingham Forest or Blackburn. Tactical yellow cards are not unheard of but it was widely felt that Jansson timed his previous ban – one game in November – nicely to coincide with a visit to Rotherham. Without him, Leeds finished that match in a certain amount of disarray, run close by a club who were and still are adrift at the bottom of the pile.
The most competitive league in Europe, some would call the Championship, and there is risk in dividing 23 teams between those who are worth losing sleep about and those who merit a weakened line-up.
None of this means Jansson won’t be missed against Derby and it is hard to paint the game tomorrow as standard Championship fare. The league table and the margin between the clubs speaks for itself and the gamble with Jansson on Monday looks bigger now that Liam Cooper is hopping around on crutches. But Jansson’s tally of cautions is such – eight in his last 11 appearances – that this suspension was in the post and having reached 10 yellow cards so soon, it will take some restraint on his part to avoid a three-match suspension for 15.
Derby are seventh but Jansson misses Barnsley next weekend too, and Barnsley are one place further back. In Barnsley you are talking about the second most prolific team in the league.
It would have suited Monk better to have lost Jansson for the FA Cup’s fourth round but Leeds might not have made it to that stage without Jansson wearing down Uche Izpeachu at Cambridge and reversing the initial cycle of bullying.
His influence was keen, even at the cost of a yellow card. An argument about priorities automatically comes in to play but Forest beat a Jansson-free Leeds at the City Ground in August. Blackburn beat Newcastle at Ewood Park two weeks ago. Monk took a chance with Jansson on Monday and he risks taking his medicine tomorrow but the moral of the story is that suspensions are never well timed.
Monk highlighted the issue of “cheap” yellow cards as far back as November 5 after Jansson was booked for jumping into the away end to celebrate his goal at Norwich City.
“They can cause you problems,” United’s head coach said. Jansson had four at the time. Two months later he is past the threshold of 10. On all sides his yellow card at Cambridge was seen as dubious, the outcome of a collision with Luke Berry which looked unintentional and without intent, but at different junctures there have been bookings for dissent, for diving and for celebrations which cross the FA’s sanctimonious line. Some of those were avoidable. If there was any obligation on Monk to attempt to time Jansson’s absence, there is as much on the centre-back to keep himself in play as best he can. He is too good – infinitely too good – for Leeds to lose him for another three games during the Championship run-in.
As for Derby tomorrow, the significance of the fixture and the chance to establish an eight-point lead over seventh place is not the season’s end-game or anything close. It would be tempting to think of Leeds as being beyond harm with an advantage so big or to think that Jansson is missing a defining moment but the Championship can be a slow burn. Leeds led Reading by 10 points by mid-February in 2011. It was Reading who reached the play-off final as Leeds finished seventh. There are 21 games left and that alone should make the point that there is more to the finishing straight than Derby at home and more to the finishing straight than Jansson alone.
This is not a good time to lose him to suspension. But frankly, when is?