Phil Hay's Verdict: It never rains, it only ever seems to pour for Leeds United at Portman Road
THOMAS CHRISTIANSEN is learning the old dictum that when it rains for Leeds United it usually pours. He has navigated some difficult weeks in his job but nothing like the one behind him, culminating in a 1-0 defeat to Ipswich Town which summed the whole mess up.
Results have gone against him at a time when Leeds wanted their season to lift off but the real cost to their head coach, even after the embarrassment of an FA Cup exit to Newport County last Sunday, is the collateral damage around them.
In the days before Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Portman Road, Christiansen lost Samuel Saiz to a six-game ban for spitting and Luke Ayling to season-ending ankle surgery. Neither player can help his current predicament. At Ipswich, Eunan O’Kane was red-carded after 37 minutes and three more points were lost. It took a majestic finish from Bersant Celina to pick Leeds off but in the circumstances a goal was bound to come from somewhere. It is a few weeks now since Christiansen saw anything go his way and Liam Cooper missing an open goal was the finishing touch.
Christiansen looked distressed at full-time and the passionate nature of his defence of O’Kane exposed his sense of injustice at the end of what Christiansen called a “very tough” week. O’Kane spent Friday talking about the consequences of Saiz spitting at Newport’s Robbie Willmott and of the penance the Spaniard would pay, but 24 hours later the midfielder was in the same boat, penalised for a headbutt on Ipswich’s Danish defender Jonas Knudsen.
The incident was fleeting, missed by many and strangely out of character; the first dismissal of O’Kane’s career. He banged foreheads with Knudsen after O’Kane brought down Callum Connolly as Connolly tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick at Ipswich’s end of the field. Robert Jones, the referee, was on top of the clash but Christiansen pointed the finger at Knudsen, accusing the centre-back of “provoking” O’Kane and claiming Jones had “fallen” for Knudsen rolling on the ground.
“The opponent went to him (O’Kane), they touched each other, yes, but the one that went down was the opponent and it was him that came and provoked,” Christiansen argued. “They touched each other but there was no sign that he (O’Kane) goes to reply. The one who goes to the ground is the one who stayed on the pitch.”
Mick McCarthy, sitting with his traditional post-match cup of coffee, did not see the incident clearly and said only that O’Kane “deserved to be sent off” if a headbutt had taken place. McCarthy was more concerned with Ipswich “scrapping it out” and ending a run of three defeats. Amid the debate over O’Kane’s red card, it was not in dispute that Leeds were controlling the game at the time of his dismissal.
Pawel Cibicki had fluffed a gold-plated chance wide before limping off in the 28th minute and Kemar Roofe was closed down by Knudsen and Luke Chambers as he shaped to shoot after Pablo Hernandez played him in behind Ipswich’s defence. Leeds had been looking for those passes from the start, encouraged by Ipswich’s high defensive line, and Hernandez’s control from number 10 compensated for Saiz’s absence.
“I believe that if we play 11 versus 11 we take the three points for sure,” Christiansen said. “But I’m happy with the response [to the red card] too.
“At half-time my message was the same. We want to take the three points and we believe in that. That was the spirit of the team, fighting to the last minute of the second half but it was not enough. Every player gave what they had. For me there is no complaining.”
It did not take long for the effect of O’Kane’s red card to take hold and Ipswich struck the same post twice before half-time; Martyn Waghorn direct from a corner and Celina with a dinked finish which the body language of Felix Wiedwald suggested was in.
It told Christiansen what would happen if Leeds defended in numbers and having used Hadi Sacko to replace Cibicki early on, Conor Shaughnessy relieved Gjanni Alioski at half-time. There was defiance and feistiness in Leeds’ reaction, enough to make McCarthy concede that a 1-0 win had taken a fair amount of resistance. There was a sense of comfort too until the 68th minute when Celina, the 21-year-old Kosovan on loan from Manchester City, skipped away as Kalvin Phillips lost his footing, steadied himself as Leeds’ defence backed off and picked out Wiedwald’s net from more than 25 yards.
“It was a nice goal, no doubt,” Christiansen said. “Perhaps you can defend it better by coming out to stop the shot but there’s nothing to say there.”
McCarthy talked about “risk and reward” and joked about Celina’s capacity to be as frustrating as brilliant. What followed from Leeds was worthy of a point.
Roofe failed to sweep home a low cross from Sacko, denied by Knudsen’s sliding tackle, and Cooper blundered nine minutes from the end by meeting Hernandez’s flighted ball a few yards from an empty goal and sending it over the crossbar.
In injury time, Dean Gerken dived at full stretch to turn away an attempt by Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Christiansen’s final substitute, to find the far corner from an angle.
Pontus Jansson reflected the mood by the end, his fuse blown by two heavy tackles on him and a demoralising scoreboard. Having booked Jansson for dissent, Jones calmed down two separate clashes with Joe Garner, ensuring that a brace of red cards in a week did not become three at a ground where Leeds so rarely win and too often finish with 10 players.
“It’s been very tough, very tough” Christiansen said as he looked back on the events which have drained his squad of numbers and knocked Leeds down to seventh in the Championship. “But like the players in the second half, we are warriors. We want to fight back.”