THE pursuit of tactical yellow cards rarely ends well.
Financial penalties meeted out by UEFA are pocket-money for anyone employed by Real Madrid but when the dust settled on a ploy by Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos to deliberately time suspensions in the Champions League six years ago, leading to fines for four players and a ban for Jose Mourinho, the point of it all was moot. Never mind the fact that 2011 was Barcelona’s year.
Then there was David Beckham, clattering Ben Thatcher in an international between England and Wales for precisely the same reason.
“I’m sure some people think I’ve not got the brains to be that clever,” Beckham mused, before spending the days that followed backtracking and apologising for dereliction of duty as England captain. Like he said.
They are useful points of reference should Leeds United reach a juncture where suspensions are pending and certain matches loom larger than others. They are points of reference which make it convenient that Pontus Jansson is scheduled to pocket a 15th yellow card long before the Championship play-offs start.
Jansson kept his nose relatively clean through the first two months of his loan with Leeds but since October and a 2-0 win over Burton Albion, he has not been far off a booking a week.
A three-match ban for 15 yellow cards is a live punishment until the end of the season, including the play-offs, and Jansson has little chance of avoiding one.YEP chief football writer, Phil Hay
Two more for the centre-back equals a three-game ban and a continuation of his current rate might earn him a summons to the Football Association’s offices later in the year.
The FA does not set a mandatory punishment for 20 booking in a season, so rare is that tally. They call the guilty player to a hearing in London and read the riot act. Even if Garry Monk wanted Jansson to align a suspension with a convenient run of fixtures or dead rubbers, Jansson’s interests are better served by actively limiting his card count.
There was none of that against Sheffield Wednesday as another caution came for a sliding tackle on Fernando Forestieri. Jansson got the ball, some of Forestieri and none of the benefit of the doubt from referee Michael Jones.
Still, it was what Monk had asked for a few weeks earlier. “From a competing point of view, I’d never take that away from a player,” United’s head coach said. “You perform how you need to perform. We deal with everything afterwards.”
What was evident over the weekend, however, was the awareness shown by Luke Ayling and Kyle Bartley of their close proximity to two-match bans. Both are a booking short and both were notably wary of it. When Jones allowed Ayling to walk away from a trip on Callum McManaman, Ayling gave the official a grateful tap on the cheek. Bartley’s initial reaction to a Ross Wallace dive, head in hands as Jones walked towards them with his yellow card out, told everyone that Bartley was purposely trying to toe the line between going soft and going too far. His defence against Wednesday’s attack was a masterclass in finding the right balance.
Ayling and Bartley have more reason than Jansson to take specific care.
A three-match ban for 15 yellow cards is a live punishment until the end of the season, including the play-offs, and Jansson has little chance of avoiding one.
The cut-off point for 10 cautions leading to a two-match ban falls next weekend after Leeds’ game at home to QPR. They can conceivably hope to survive until the amnesty and it is, despite the undeniable reality that Leeds would be loathe to lose both simultaneously, a more professional way of thinking.
This week, as it happens, a suspension is Monk’s penance after the events at Huddersfield resulted in a one-game touchline ban. He will serve it at Birmingham tomorrow, the second time this season he has watched from the stands.
Monk accepted a charge of improper conduct reluctantly, arguing at a personal hearing on Monday than he was provoked into clashing with Huddersfield head coach David Wagner by Wagner’s reaction to the late goal which settled the derby in Town’s favour. At the time, he felt he was making a point by colliding with Wagner in front of his technical area but it did not take long before he was regretting an episode which put him on the radar of the FA’s disciplinary staff.
Leeds were beaten on the previous occasion when Monk served a ban, at Derby in October. Monk said his absence from the dug-out made no discernible difference, despite a 1-0 defeat and a performance unlike so many since, but it cannot have helped, either.
Nor would it be his preference. Steve McClaren has a habit of watching the first half from the press box whenever Derby come to Elland Road but there was no disguising the urgency with which he descended to the touchline while his players were being given the runaround by Leeds in January.
Managers can observe from any distance when the going is good. They prefer to be in the thick of it when the wheels come off.
Monk’s contrition over his clash with Wagner and the attitude of Ayling and Bartley in trying to fend off a cheap, costly booking says their attention to discipline is rigid enough.
Jansson is more of a loose cannon but Leeds’ record stands up to scrutiny. Just two Championship clubs have fewer red cards and just eight have fewer yellows. Monk’s squad are sixth bottom in the list of fouls committed. Their bookings have gravitated towards particular players but they need not become a fixation. They would be playing a delicate game by purposely looking for more.