Nonsensical Leeds United and the sliding doors moment - Graham Smyth's Newcastle United Verdict

No matter how this all ends for Leeds United there will be no making sense of any of it.
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Jesse Marsch was supposed to represent the next most natural thing to Marcelo Bielsa, yet instead of smoothly taking the baton from the Argentine he appeared to be running in an entirely different race.

The need for a number nine was supposed to be met in the summer, but a variety of forwards of wildly differing profiles were pursued unsuccessfully before a winger was brought in at the very last second.

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Even at the second attempt, in January, Leeds went shopping for an essential and came home with a luxury item in Georginio Rutter, one they've barely used since. The winter window was spent backing Marsch. Most of February was spent sacking him and chasing, fruitlessly, after replacements. Javi Gracia seemed a sensible appointment who had a grip on reality until the reins slipped from his hands. Enter Sam Allardyce, just 14 months on from Bielsa, with four games remaining.

If you were still trying to wrap your head around the Whites' 2022/23 campaign when they kicked off against Newcastle a Elland Road, the events of the next 90 minutes told you in no uncertain terms to stop bothering.

A goalkeeper signed to be the number two and suddenly thrust into the number one spot, a central defence comprising January's 'left-back' signing and a right-back, a central midfield boasting a centre-back and a youngster signed as a striker, one winger, two strikers - three points? Not quite.

Sam Allardyce was brought in to bring some order to the chaos and though his team sheet was initially a head scratcher, some logic did peek through as the first half progressed. Robin Koch featured in defensive midfield under Bielsa so wasn't completely alien to his surroundings as a stopper in front of the back four, where he helped to prevent the visitors from playing through the middle.

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Sam Greenwood's presence in the middle of the park was less easy to understand, given the importance Adam Forshaw had taken on against Manchester City, not to mention all the talking he did in press interviews previewing this game, whose matchday programme cover his image adorned.

SLIDING DOORS - Patrick Bamford missed Leeds United's penalty with the score 1-0 to the hosts and Newcastle United soon levelled with a spot-kick of their own. Pic: GettySLIDING DOORS - Patrick Bamford missed Leeds United's penalty with the score 1-0 to the hosts and Newcastle United soon levelled with a spot-kick of their own. Pic: Getty
SLIDING DOORS - Patrick Bamford missed Leeds United's penalty with the score 1-0 to the hosts and Newcastle United soon levelled with a spot-kick of their own. Pic: Getty

Allardyce would later explain that the medical team had granted him 60 minutes of Forshaw against the Magpies, but he instead opted to keep the veteran in reserve to come on later and add experience.

In any case, how a midfield that had so much money spent on it has come to be so reliant on Forshaw and a centre-back like Koch, is almost impossible for anyone to explain.

Greenwood struggled to lay a glove on Joelinton in the opening minutes, yet it mattered little as Leeds landed the first telling blow.

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More than once last week Allardyce expressed the belief that it was out of possession that Leeds needed the most work. With the ball they were alright, he felt. That raised a few eyebrows given the concerns about this team's ability to keep the ball. There were enough wayward passes in the first few minutes of this one to suggest that nerves were at play, but there was nothing wrong with the way they swept down the left to take the lead. Jack Harrison's instinctive brilliance and close control allowed him to dink the ball over a defender for Patrick Bamford. Switching onto his right foot, the striker crossed for Rodrigo whose header was palmed out only as far as right-back Luke Ayling, who fired in a seventh-minute opener.

Form book be damned, Leeds were ahead against the Champions League chasers and Elland Road erupted.

Control has eluded this team all season and though they were giving away the ball, and free-kicks, they were giving Newcastle no big chances and with half an hour played they themselves were given a golden opportunity. Another really well-worked move, involving Harrison, Greenwood and Firpo, saw the latter bundled to the floor in the area for a stonewall penalty.

This was it. Stick this away, go two goals up and Big Sam it to the finish with Elland Road cheering every block, clearance and delayed restart. Bamford picked up the ball. Not Rodrigo? Somebody make it make sense. One has looked decidedly bereft of confidence in front of goal, the other has 14 goals to his name. A stadium held its breath, then was duly winded as Bamford's tame effort was kept out. Allardyce's hands went to his head as he turned away in disbelief. Bamford taking responsibility was brave. Leeds' allowing him to do so was foolish.

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It had sliding doors moment written all over it and as night follows day, Newcastle went down the other end and won a penalty of their own. A week after Pascal Struijk received a rollicking from his manager for diving in and conceding a spot-kick at the Etihad, Max Wober took a turn, clattering Alexander Isak after Junior Firpo slipped over.

Callum Wilson drilled his 12-yarder low and hard into the corner and it was 1-1.

What followed was all-too frantic and summed up by one madcap passage of play. Weston McKennie gave the ball away, won it back and gave it away again only for Greenwood to win it back, run forward and then give it away. Expecting control, or composure, in the dying embers of a season that has lacked both so painfully, is folly.

But Newcastle, for their part, looked beatable. Bamford teed up Sunderland export Greenwood for a half chance that sailed over the bar and at half-time Leeds were right in it.

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The arrival of Forshaw, for Greenwood, made them a bit better too. Even if he couldn't put a leash on the game, he put a foot on the ball when it was possible and a foot in when the visitors were anywher near him.

Just as common sense threatened to break out, Firpo reminded everyone that that nothing is ever straightforward with a studs-up challenge on Bruno Guimaraes that VAR took a good look at. Fortunately for Leeds, Simon Hooper's yellow was considered sufficient.

Willy Gnonto came off the bench and Elland Road was right into it, McKennie scooping over as the hosts continued to have little moments.

That's all this team has been capable of providing this season really, moments, rather than whole, sustained performances, because in amongst any good stuff has been a lemming-like attraction to disaster. In came a cross from the left, up went Firpo with his hands high above his head in an attempt to highlight Isak's challenge on him. All VAR saw was the ball brushing the left-back's fingers. Both Gnonto and Robles took yellow cards for delaying Wilson's second penalty, the keeper furiously gesticulating that the striker should go left with it. All Wilson saw was net, with a cool-as-you-like finish down the middle.

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At 2-1 down Leeds could have crumbled and Newcastle could have killed them on the counter, Allan Saint-Maximin and Anthony Gordon coming off the bench to pour on the pace and the pain. They did add a third, before an offside flag ruled it out, and then caved to the Elland Road chaos theory and a Leeds refusal to give in.

Right-back Rasmus Kristensen, playing centre-back, was the unlikely hero, shooting home from 18-yards off the head of Newcastle right-back Kieran Trippier.

The Whites were right back in it and Elland Road was baying for three points, until the left-back left the stage with the red card that was always threatening. Gordon was bursting onto a ball over the top, Firpo brought him down and Leeds were down to 10.

Stoppage time saw them fend off a number of attacks, while Eddie Howe had to fend off a technical area invader's inexplicable remonstration before stewards could intervene.

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When the final whistle brought the madness to a close, Elland Road made its peace with the point. Results elsewhere this weekend will add further context, of course. Maths will melt minds and permutations will pickle powers of intellect. There's no predicting it and there's no sense in trying. What will Leeds produce at West Ham? What kind of side will Allardyce produce?

At some stage most have reconciled themselves with the inability to make sense of Leeds. At this stage, whatever they do doesn't have to make sense, it just has to make them a Premier League club.