They would call Leeds United draw specialists if the Championship from top to bottom was not that way turned out.
Four from four after Saturday’s derby against Sheffield Wednesday and form which is nothing if not consistent.
Uwe Rosler talked all summer about consistency opening doors for Leeds but a streak like this was not really what United’s head coach had in mind. He is in good company, however, in a league where 11 clubs failed to win a game before Saturday. Eight are still without.
Rosler suspected at full-time that the press gathered in front of him were less than sanguine about a 1-1 draw with a blunt Wednesday team, but he was not about to start apologising for the run his players were on. His attitude has been set and increasingly defiant: against the backdrop of a fixture list which got his hackles up, Leeds took whatever they could get.
Saturday’s point was earned in that manner and the game at Elland Road came down to a trade-off of two classy goals in amongst long tranches of broken play. Rosler, a former Manchester City striker, knows English derbies like the back of his hand but his counterpart, Carlos Carvalhal, was left to wonder what the fuss was about. Not that he felt any less pleased with the result than Rosler.
“You know what? I’m delighted, absolutely delighted with my players,” Rosler said.
“Everyone who’s played football, and most of you will have, knows what it’s like to be in the third week of the season playing four games in nine days, three of them away from home.
“We came back from 1-0 down against a team who didn’t attack us in any form or shape. My players knocked on the door and did everything we asked. Yes, there were mistakes but we made it up with endeavour, with character, with everything. What more can I ask for?”
At some stage he and others at Leeds will start asking for a league win but his reasoning and his pointed views about United’s schedule would have sounded more hollow had Leeds been cut to shreds in the past fortnight.
On the contrary, the margin of a few minutes deprived his squad of a far better start; denied late on by Burnley and ambushed in injury-time by Bristol City last week. On a different day Sheffield Wednesday would have been there for the taking.
Change is afoot at Hillsborough and has been for some time but the foreign injection – a Thai owner, a Portuguese boss, plus several players from abroad – has not given Wednesday’s team a clear identity. Short of key players, including midfielder Lewis McGugan, Marco Matias shone the only light with a glorious goal late in the first half. Otherwise, the sight of Atdhe Nuhiu lumbering around up front was strangely familiar and wholly ineffective.
Leeds were not without their problems and the first half was blighted by mistakes, stray passes and a deep midfield which found Chris Wood and Mirco Antenucci difficult to reach. When Rosler acted early in the second half, introducing Luke Murphy and Alex Mowatt as substitutes, United pressed up the pitch and set about Carvalhal’s defence.
Wood equalised on 61 minutes with a draw not unkind to either team.
“We weren’t patient enough but they didn’t have one chance in the whole game,” Rosler said. “Their goal came as a wonder goal and we have to applaud the player. I don’t even call that a chance. Apart from that I can’t recall any chances for them.
“This was all about us coming through this schedule. I’ll repeat myself – it’s massively unfair. We want a fair competition for all teams. What we’ve gone through was not fair in any way. People pay a lot of money to watch a game of football and we’re not in a position to give them all that we can football-wise because of it (the schedule).
“But we’re still producing results. That makes me happy.”
The derby in the end was all about the goals and Matias’ in particular. A prolific striker for Nacional in Portugal last season, he caught Rosler’s defence on the run on 37 minutes by avoiding an off-side flag as Sol Bamba and Liam Cooper stepped out and collecting a lofted pass from Vincent Sasso.
With a flick, Matias chipped the ball over Cooper’s head and then smacked a volley over Marco Silvestri’s head, in off the underside of the crossbar with little shades of Tony Yeboah 20 years ago. The slickness of the finish made it look ridiculously easy. Rosler’s team found themselves behind for the first time this season and in the very match where the German was most worried about chasing a deficit.
“They scored that goal and it was a big blow psychologically,” Rosler said. “The atmosphere went down but that’s understandable. Everyone wants us to win.
“From all four games this was the last one where I was wishing to go 1-0 down. We knew the last game from this schedule was the hardest one. How can I blame my defenders though? That volley is a wonder goal. After that we came back and pushed, pushed, pushed.”
Rosler had Mowatt and Murphy warming up from the start of the second half. Kalvin Phillips, who ticked every box at Bristol City on Wednesday, was constrained by a booking in the first minute and found Saturday’s match to be more of an ordeal. Murphy replaced him on 58 minutes.
“Luke came on and it was the right thing to do with his experience,” Rosler said. “He gave us more structure. We switched more play, we were calmer on the ball and we were in a better shape to attack them.”
Three minutes later, Leeds equalised. Bamba carried the ball forward, Mowatt spread it out to Stuart Dallas and Dallas, having switched to the right wing, danced between Matias and Rhys Wiggins before reaching the byline and cutting the ball back. The chance for Wood was on a plate and the striker slid it in from two yards.
Wood had Wednesday’s goal in front of him for a second time eight minutes later but his header from Charlie Taylor’s cross dropped wide as Wednesday dug in during the last half-hour. There was, as Rosler said, little coming the way of a goalkeeper in Silvestri who needed a quiet afternoon but Carvalhal’s players were not overrun either. Scrappy, niggly and made worse by the inconsistent refereeing of Mike Jones, the derby never took light.
Rosler predicted as much three weeks ago; that the football in the Championship would be played once its 24 clubs had spent the first month scrambling around and trying to settle.
This reminds me of my team at Brentford,” Rosler said. “The strength of character is massive.” At the end of a fortnight which drove him to distraction, his team emerged unbeaten and unscathed.