Daniel Chapman: The last thing Leeds United fans want is a turning point - please don't let this be a turning point
Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.
The last thing Leeds United fans want this season is a turning point.
Forward will do just fine, thanks lads. See over there, where we’re heading? Looks good, let’s keep going that way. Kiko, we said – wait! Hey, Gjanni, stop, where are you going? Oh, hi Pascal. Wait, Pascal? What are you doing here?
The first hour the Peacocks played against Cardiff City on Saturday felt like a zenith, a lofty new height of achievement. It was some of the best attacking football Leeds have played under Marcelo Bielsa, and they even scored goals.
Pablo Hernandez outdid himself with his vision to see, patience to wait and firm right boot to ping the ball into Helder Costa’s path for the opening goal. Costa was so good that a red card seemed inevitable for Cardiff’s desperate left-back Joe Bennett, unless Lee Peltier went for lunging into dangerous Jackie Harrison first.
Pat Bamford was wide awake in the box to score the early second, and had his slippers on by the time he won the penalty to score the third. At least, I assume that’s why he went down.
By going to Fulham and playing at this level Leeds would win, then push Preston over, batter Birmingham and take 11 consecutive wins to West Brom on New Year’s Day. Fanciful? It wasn’t if you were watching it. Scoring 10 against Cardiff would not have been outrageous.
But that was the first hour. The final 30 minutes left us fearing that by reaching a zenith, Leeds had also reached a peak.
After scaling the mountain we wanted Leeds to stay there, but they couldn’t even wait until full-time to start their journey down. Leeds being Leeds, it’s impossible to tell how far Leeds plan on falling, or how soon they might rise again. It is nearly impossible to win eight consecutive games in the Championship so, in some ways, a draw on Saturday was normal. 1-1 would have been frustrating but mostly fine.
Just as Leeds don’t do straightforward, though, they don’t do normal, and the way they chucked away their three-goal lead didn’t just raise doubts about the next game, it raised serious existential fears about the very meaning of life itself.
Not the sort of questions you want Scotty Parker to settle.
Thirty mad minutes on Saturday have turned the Fulham match into a question we didn’t want to ask. Will Leeds play the good way at Craven Cottage – or the other way?
The days when we didn’t know which Leeds United would turn up were supposed to have been settled by the recent form, but half-an-hour of jittery defending has brought the jitters back in a big way.
I guess, deep down, this is how we always feel. It might even have been reassuring to see that Leeds are still Leeds, after all, if we weren’t so determined this season that Leeds won’t keep being the Leeds of the last decade anymore.
But that was the plan last season, too. The Peacocks won seven in a row last winter, and looked unstoppable even when losing in stoppage time. Then they lost three of the next four. We know the rest.
With a 10-point gap to third place, Leeds could just about absorb a similar return against Fulham, Preston, Birmingham and West Brom – even if three of those four are our promotion rivals.
At least we wouldn’t have to worry about our open- top bus filling up with snow as it paraded the title in February. But I’m not sure our fragile hearts could absorb three points from 12 over the so-called festive period, not after last season.
Cruising to promotion has never seriously been likely, although for a while in the first half on Saturday I was ready to tick off every remaining fixture as a win and start thinking about summer. Seriously, wouldn’t it be nice?
Come back, Kiko! Get over here, Gjanni! Pascal, you just sit back down. Okay, so Fulham away is not a game in which Leeds United’s brilliance can continue seamlessly as we wished.
But Leeds are all about challenges this season, and now this is another. Back on it, please, straight ahead, with no reversals. Don’t let this be a turning point.