Paul Rachubka’s Leeds United career was officially buried around 9pm on November 2, 2011.
Rachubka knew it and his body language as he trudged from the pitch after 45 minutes in a 5-0 defeat to Blackpool was that of a goalkeeper asking to be saved by a substitution at half-time.
His manager, Simon Grayson, saw that Rachubka’s confidence was shot and as a desperate measure teenage keeper Alex Cairns made his Leeds debut and his solitary appearance for United on 59 minutes.
It was something of a shock that Grayson allowed Rachubka to start the second half.
Grayson had tried his best to defend Rachubka in the weeks leading up to the Blackpool rout. An experienced player, the former Manchester United keeper had stepped into United’s side after Andy Lonergan – an established and reliable first-choice at Elland Road – broke a finger in a 3-0 win at Doncaster Rovers.
The roots of Rachubka’s demise can be traced back to the following match, a 1-1 draw against Coventry City. Faultless for 93 minutes, he cost Leeds a victory by fumbling a cross into the path of Richard Wood inside United’s six-yard box.
“His head is in his hands but he’ll be fine,” Grayson said. “I’ve no problem with him.”
Little by little, that faith was tested. Leeds survived two soft concessions away at Peterborough but were beaten by Birmingham City at St Andrews after Rachubka palmed the ball to the feet of Nikola Zigic.
On October 30, four days before the debacle against Blackpool, Leeds were forced to fight back for a 1-1 draw with Cardiff after miscommunication between Rachubka and Darren O’Dea allowed Joe Mason to score early on. Rachubka spoke honestly after that game about his own errors and his attempts to eradicate them but the clash with Blackpool was a disaster.
Three mistakes by him inside 31 minutes left United 3-0 down and reduced to 10 men. Tom Lees was sent off for handling a goal-bound shot after Rachubka made a mess of an apparently simple catch.
Lomana LuaLua punished Rachubka’s first mistake and Jonjo Shelvey converted a retaken penalty after Lees’ dismissal. When Rachubka pushed a tame effort back into the path of Shelvey on 31 minutes, inviting the midfielder to round him and score again, the Elland Road crowd lost all patience. Bewildered on the touchline, Grayson aroused an ironic cheer by sending Cairns to warm up in front of the West Stand.
Rachubka emerged for the second half but was replaced on the hour. With Cairns in goal, Leeds conceded twice more through LuaLua and Shelvey, who completed a hat-trick in the 78th minute.
Grayson spoke carefully afterwards but left no doubt that Rachubka was finished.
“There’s not a lot I could say to him,” Grayson said. “He’s obviously really down but I felt I had no opportunity to keep him on. I felt for him, for the team and for the club that it was best to take him out of the limelight. Obviously his confidence was very low.”
Grayson conceded that a loan signing might be sensible and within a matter of hours, Leeds had lined up a deal to take Alex McCarthy from Reading. Maik Taylor arrived soon after.
Rachubka never featured again and by the end of November, a move to Tranmere Rovers took him out of the heat of Elland Road.
Name: Paul Rachubka.
Born: California, USA, May 21, 1981.
Signed by Leeds United: from Blackpool, June 2011.
Fee paid: Free transfer.
Previous clubs: Blackpool, Peterborough United, Huddersfield Town, Northampton Town, MK Dons, Burnley, Charlton Athletic, Oldham Athletic, Royal Antwerp, Manchester United.
Leeds United debut: Doncaster Rovers 1 Leeds United 2, League Cup second round, August 23, 2011.
Club appearances: 7.