Stark Leeds United and Brighton contrast apparent as Graham Potter vows to cast Elland Road spell
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Leeds had won just two of their last 13 outings going into it and relied on the woodwork three times during a 0-0 that left them just three points and one place above the relegation zone.
The boos, however, came from Brighton fans, seemingly fed up after a nine-game winless streak. But that run contained just two defeats, one of which came at the hands of Manchester City, and they still sat eighth in the Premier League table.
Graham Potter’s face as discontent drifted around the Amex Stadium on the swirling breeze, said it all. Well not quite, because he felt the need to say quite a lot more in his post-game interviews.
“I am a little bit perplexed at the reaction in the crowd at the end because the performance was fantastic against a team that like to dominate possession, like to out-run you - they didn’t do that today,” he said.
“They are entitled to their opinions but I disagree with them completely.We are sitting eighth in the Premier League but maybe I need a history lesson on this football club.”
With two games left in the season, both Leeds and Brighton have slipped one place from the stations they occupied five and a half months ago.
Potter brings his side to Elland Road on the back of comfortable consecutive wins over Wolves and Manchester United, the latter who were smoked 4-0. In April Brighton beat Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in back-to-back away games.
The 46-year-old, who one day will be sorely missed by those who yelled ‘boo’ into the winter air when he makes the step up to a bigger club, expects a hostile environment from Leeds fans at Elland Road and is just as spot on with that assessment as he was with his tactics against Marcelo Bielsa.
“It’s Elland Road, the last home game of the season for them, last chance for them to support the team, so we’re expecting a hostile, tough, challenging environment,” he said. “You have to make [the players] aware because you don’t want them to just walk in and go, ‘what’s going on here?’
“We expect a hostile game, we expect aggression, we expect all of that because the supporters are going to be trying to help them as much as they can.”
This time when he pits his wits against Leeds he’s not up against Bielsa, the man-to-man marking system or frenetic, relentlessly attacking football the Argentine drilled to second nature at Leeds, he’s facing Jesse Marsch and a team who need to find themselves and a way to win, again.
By the time the Whites kick off against their visitors it’s possible that only a victory will be necessary to stave off relegation and take the fight into the final week of the season, but even if Burnley lose to Spurs the atmosphere will be white-hot in LS11.
It has been all season and it was only in the very worst moments of Bielsa’s last days in charge that Elland Road ever turned remotely on its team, manager and owners.
Although there was anger directed at the directors’ box on the night a shell-shocked Marsch watched his new charges battered by Aston Villa, the Leeds faithful has remained just that, even in the face of one-sided beatings at the hands of Manchester City and Arsenal. Their reaction to defeats has been in the starkest contrast to what was heard from Brighton fans in November and perhaps a lesson for the flightier elements in modern day football.
There was not only a defiance in their non-stop singing, that carried on long past the final whistle of the last two home games, but a recognition that they are needed now more than ever.
That will be the case on Sunday, too. But this is not Pep Guardiola’s squad of superstars or Thomas Tuchel’s reigning European champions, this is mid-table Brighton, a club who have never before finished in the top half of the top flight. This is one of the two games Leeds have been targeting as their realistic hope of the points they need to overhaul and pip Burnley on the finish line. The expectation is huge because the stakes are. And Brighton might well be in form, with a brilliant mind pulling their strings, but if Leeds cannot beat the teams making up ‘the rest’ in the Premier League then they will no longer take part in the Premier League.
So as long as Leeds are in the game, Marsch and his players can expect the same ‘phenomenal’ raucous support they’ve had even in their least deserving moments, and Potter can expect hostility his men likely haven’t faced elsewhere this season.
The latter is hoping that Brighton can change all of that, ideally by doing what Leeds’ last three opponents have done in scoring an early goal.
“It’s up to us to try to change that narrative and make it more difficult for them,” he said yesterday. It has taken every ounce of patience Leeds fans have to grit their teeth and sing through bitter disappointment this season and even going behind might not be enough to exhaust those reserves.
If, however, things go more seriously awry then the soundtrack, or the narrative as Potter puts it, will change. Patience is a finite resource even for die-hards.
Leeds’ Elland Road fate, if not their top flight status, remains in their hands. What they hear at full-time is down to what they do over the course of 90 minutes and that should be chief among a multitude of motivating factors. A meeting with the ownership could tell this squad nothing they didn’t already know about this game’s importance and a pat on the back from a man in a suit will count for nothing next to the reception they get if they produce against Brighton.
How it happens, how Marsch provokes a performance and how he bests Potter matters so very little, it just has to happen, now. The noise at 4pm will tell the entire city if it did.