Wednesday, 16th December 2020

Well that was an absolute massive steaming pile of clart, wasn’t it? Not only the result but also the fact that due to the stupid bastard pandemic we missed out on a trip to Leeds, a cracking city for a day on the hoy. It’s not quite as enjoyable drinking a little bottle of beer by yourself watching a game streamed by a company owned by a real life Star Wars villain as it would be getting slapped stupid with drink and good patter at some of North Yorkshire’s finest hostelries.

As for the game, United’s usual average of facing 18 shots per game is not a problem when somehow a combination of the keeper, the opposition’s shocking finishing, last ditch defending, Brucey’s luck and the power of Jesus Christ mean you normally only concede one or two. United’s usual average of having two shots per game comes in handy when more or less both go in every single time and the press and FOSB tell us we’re stupid and that 17 points and 13th place is incredible, and a cup quarter final after beating Blackburn, Morecambe and Newport (on pens) is exciting and we should be grateful and STOP DEMANDING THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFICATION EVERY SEASON DELUDED GEORDIES.

Nar, this evening’s royal shellacking by the bucket-throned Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds was thoroughly deserved. United deserved to concede five goals and even if the penalty for the foul on Wilson had been given I am still convinced Leeds would have won. They had 15 shots in the first half, the most any PL team has face in 45 minutes this season, and it is not as if they were all hit-and-hopers from 35 yards out. Leeds dominated from the moment United took a surprise lead with a well-worked goal from Jeff Hendrick. Our very own Woodstock throwback Hendrick was deployed on the right of midfield in front of Jacob Murphy at right-back. The problem is that if you play a winger as a right-back and a central midfielder as a right-midfielder, the opposition might pick-up on the fact you can be targeted on their left-side.

I know there is a big cup game next week, and that Fulham at home on paper is an ‘easier’ fixture than Leeds away, and that players have had Covid but, dear me, benching Shelvey, Ritchie, Almirón and starting Joelinton ahead of either Mig or Gayle (even if the latter could only make sixty minutes) seemed like a madness. However, this season it does seem that most of Bruce’s decisions have turned out well, regardless of how much of the game United might have conceded, and when we took the lead I genuinely thought we would go on to win. Leeds were there for the taking.

Unfortunately, what seems to be a bit of a pattern with United when they take the lead is that they sit back and just invite loads and loads and loads of pressure, hoping that it can be dealt with and then another opportunity can be snaffled on the break. Tonight that did not work (we saw signs against WBA after taking the lead then letting them come from nowhere to establish a foothold) and inviting Leeds to attack was always going to backfire. They were clearly lacking confidence and as soon as we went a goal up, I thought that if we kept going and pressed them they were there for the taking.

Instead the Newcastle backline just got deeper and deeper and Bamford’s equaliser was no less than Leeds deserved. I thought we were done and it was game over when Rodrigo put them ahead, but they are so bad at defending set pieces that United were gifted an equaliser. Again, the thinking at this point was ‘are we going to get away with something again’?

The answer to that question was an unequivocal ‘no’. Leeds completely dominated the game from that point onwards (more so than they already had) and scored three rather easy goals. The third, after Longstaff gave possession away far too cheaply, and the final two from Newcastle corners. Leeds might not be too clever at defending corners but, it would seem, United aren’t too clever at defending their own corners. The finish for the fifth from Harrison was outrageous.

One of the most obvious differences between the two sides tonight was Leeds pace, fitness and ability to attack in waves. United were ok for the first 25 minutes, but the contrast in how dynamic the attacks from each side looked was so clear. I’ll be surprised if United finish above Leeds this season and, even if they do, Leeds will still be a lot more exciting to watch for their 43 points. We might finish 11th, they might finish 14th, but I bet their fans will have had more fun.

Positives were Fraser’s performance and two assists and, once again, some great saves by Darlow. Beyond that it’s difficult right now, less than an hour after the match, to think of any others. Leeds were fitter, stronger, better organised and deserved the five goals and the win. You know what though? Beat Fulham and Brentford and this time next week I’ll be happy to once again be told how good we’ve got it.

Norman Riley