Uwe Rosler promised himself a stiff drink on Saturday night and he was not alone in needing one.
When the walls close in on managers and head coaches they close in from multiple angles: results compounded by problems, compounded by results.
A defeat to Brighton would have stung Leeds United badly enough without the additional cost of players lost before and during the game. Rosler was confident of riding a broken ankle suffered by his second-choice goalkeeper, Ross Turnbull, last week but with Liam Cooper and Charlie Taylor also missing for unconfirmed periods of time, United’s boss is beset in every conceivable way.
Those absences are not as severe as the club’s league position – 18th and falling after a sustained loss of the plot Leeds set about writing in August – by they will badly hamper Rosler’s attempts to address his predicament quickly. “At the moment things go very much against us,” the German said at full-time. “But that is life. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”
There were several facets to Saturday’s defeat – a wizened Bobby Zamora popping up in the 89th minute to convert a winning goal which would have pleased him in his prime; Cooper hobbling from the field a few minutes earlier with no more substitutions available to Rosler; and Chris Wood failing to take one of two chances which a £3m striker should.
On a different day and with different fine margins, a limited Brighton team who nonetheless head the Championship by four points would have swallowed their first defeat of the season but Rosler does not have the luxury of using performances as protection, even if this was far closer to the mark than previous games at Elland Road. It is not saying much but in seven months without a home win Leeds have not played better in the surroundings of their own ground. Brighton’s goalkeeper, David Stockdale, called it “one of our poorest performances.”
“That’s what you get when you’re in the lower part of the league,” Rosler said. “Things tend to go more against you than when you’re on the top.
“When you’re on the top you think ‘we got a win today. Where did that come from?’ I felt that was the case with Brighton, with all due respect and with all due respect to Chris (Hughton, Brighton’s manager). They didn’t create a lot but with every little thing they had they punished us.” Hughton agreed.
“That’s the way it is,” Rosler said. “I’ll have a good drink and I’ll be ready on Monday again.”
There is no sign of United’s owner, Massimo Cellino, rushing to evict Rosler from his job and the irony of any grumbling among the club’s support is that Cellino – famed for an appetite for culling coaches – seems genuinely intent on sticking this out.
The Italian likes Rosler and is largely sold on a man he describes as “very professional”. It will, conversely, have pleased Cellino that Rosler stuck to his guns tactically against the Championship leaders. Cellino has said more than once this season that his priority is to see his head coach “go with his philosophy.” Yet at some stage and some stage soon, the philosophy has to work.
Rosler intimated that concerted changes would come after a 2-0 defeat to Birmingham City before the international break but his action on Saturday was not drastic. Had Taylor not been diagnosed with a virus ahead of the game, forcing Gaetano Berardi to move across to left-back, Tom Adeyemi and Jordan Botaka would has been the only new faces in a similar system.
The difference was United’s pressing; the intensive, advanced pressure which Rosler’s tactics rely on. Brighton were hassled into errors and misplaced passes but true to form, Leeds conceded after 14 minutes and at the end of Albion’s first attack.
Beram Kayal won the ball from Adeyemi – a flat presence in the first half but more biting in the second – and dodged a sliding tackle from Sol Bamba. Solly March had the run on Scott Wootton and sprinted onto Kayal’s weighted pass before thumping the ball into the far corner of Marco Silvestri’s net.
“I feared the worst at that moment,” Rosler said. “I feared the worst but we got the goal.” Eight minutes later, Cooper equalised when he met a free-kick from Alex Mowatt with a glancing header which found goalkeeper David Stockdale flat-footed on his goalline.
Where Cooper was clinical, Wood proved wasteful. Late in the first half, Mowatt found the striker’s head with a peach of a delivery but Wood nodded the easiest of chances wide. The situation repeated itself in the second half when, with Brighton under the cosh, a corner deflected to Wood who bundled the ball up and over the crossbar from a yard out.
“There were three key moments in the game,” Rosler said. “The first was their first goal – one chance, one goal. The second was Chris Wood (Wood’s missed header). We didn’t take that unbelievable opportunity. Then the third key moment was Liam Cooper’s injury.”
After a gruelling start to the second half, a period in which Leeds badly needed to score, Brighton took the sting out of United’s pressure with two quick chances after the hour, a shot from March which smashed off the crossbar and a backheel from Tomer Hemed which Silvestri saved with a leg. At the other end, Stockdale’s lazy clearance struck Alex Mowatt and careered off a post but though Rosler added Will Buckley and Mirco Antenucci to the mix, a 1-1 draw drew closer and closer.
Cooper, however, was hurt in an 83rd-minute minute challenge on Kayal, soon after Rosler had used Sam Byram as his last substitute. Cooper tried and failed to shake the injury off and Brighton realised immediately that they would have the freedom of the closing stages against 10 men.
With Byram moved to right-back and Wootton in the middle of the defence, Gaetan Bong caught them square with a pass into the box and Zamora – still at it in his 35th year – advanced onto the ball before chipping is beautifully over Silvestri’s reach.
“It looked like the game was going 1-1 which I would have taken in the end because we played the best team in the league,” Rosler said, reflecting on a third successive defeat. “But not only in football, in life as well, there are a lot of people worse off than us. We have to pick ourselves up, concentrating on the positive things, and go again.”
Saturday was United’s 96th birthday and 11 games without a win their worst ever run at home. Cellino picked some of the pre-match music, choosing Twisted Sister’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ as the penultimate tune before kick-off. Aimed at the Football League after the debacle with away tickets last week, it unintentionally summed up the mood at Leeds. Nobody wants much more of this, and Rosler least of all.