GILES SMITH'S THURSDAY THOUGHTS

Posted on: Thu 20 Dec 2012

The build-up to the game was as much about the past as the present but having watched his team shrug off a potentially tough cup tie, columnist and supporter Giles Smith has plenty of Elland Road-related points to make…

 

Given some of the reports of our Club World Cup adventure, it was amazing that our players found the strength to turn up in Leeds at all last night - let alone turn up, stuff the home side 5-1 in highly perilous meteorological circumstances, and advance into the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup, there to meet Swansea.

One newspaper described the squad as 'devastated' and 'at rock bottom' after the defeat in the final in Yokohama on Sunday. Another made reference to the 'humiliation' of that 1-0 loss to Corinthians. Was anyone ever humiliated by a defeat to a top Brazilian side by the narrowest possible margin in a Club World Cup final? Yes: apparently, our team was.

You would have assumed that the absence of success in this ultimately unimportant but contractually obliged two-match campaign (where victory would have been pleasant but where the consequences of losing were always going to be negligible) had delivered a crushing blow to morale and caused psychological scarring from which the club as a whole would be a long time recovering.

It didn't much look like that, though, did it? And if a team had been reduced to a quivering wreck by a recent trauma on the other side of the world, then last night's cup tie was the sort of occasion which might have revealed at the very least a hint or two of it.

You had the classic ingredients of a sopping wet winter's night, a hostile environment ('up north', indeed, where foreign players, of whom we have plenty, are routinely believed never to 'fancy it') and a buzzed-up mid-table Championship side sniffing five minutes of glory.

Leeds fan

Stir in an allegedly demoralised and physically exhausted team and you had all the makings of a crushing defeat to an inferior force. Albeit in the Capital One Cup, which is a bit like the Club World Cup in being a competition in which it is always pleasurable to win but never entirely distressing to lose.

Anyway, final score: 5-1. So maybe the Club World Cup wasn't such a demoralising experience after all.

As for the jet lag and the possibly confusing sense of cultural dislocation which a lot of people seemed to think would be a factor last night - come on. Leeds isn't that far away.

I guess there was some small part of me (and maybe of you, too) that was hoping to be transported back to 1970 by last night's match, and to experience a dim but thrilling flavour of the great and formative FA Cup Final between our two sides. I don't know about you, though, but it didn't really happen for me, when push came to shove. It just felt totally different - like meeting up with someone after many years and expecting everything to be the same, but then discovering that you don't have anything in common any more. And I mean absolutely nothing. Too much water under the bridge, I suppose.

Maybe if the pitch had been rubbish, it might have helped forge a link across those 42 years. But unlike Wembley in 1970, the surface at Elland Road last night was made of grass and entirely lacked both ruts and bomb craters. There was no point of comparison.

Hard to feel any historic rivalry on the pitch, either. Only one player in our starting 11 last night (Frank Lampard) had ever had the pleasure of coming across Leeds before in any competition, anywhere. Plus, of course, it's inevitably a long way from Leeds under Don Revie to Leeds under Neil Warnock. And the contrast between what was represented in footballing terms in 1970 by, say, Eddie Gray, and what is represented now by El Hadji Diouf with his 'do you want mayonnaise with that?' hairstyle, could hardly be more pronounced.

I guess we have to accept that the past really is another country, and move on.


Just to make last night's challenge more interesting, we went a goal down, entirely against the run of play, after David Luiz set off upfield on one of his now familiar countryside rambles, and ended up mis-hitting a pass.

But did that make the goal his fault? Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink and Jamie Redknapp on Sky Sports clearly thought so, and even wheeled out the footage of our much-loved player coming forward and losing the ball against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, as if compiling a catalogue of goals-against that could be attributed to the centre back and his passion for a forward surge.

The fact is, though, David Luiz was only about six yards short of the Leeds penalty area when his pass hit the defender, meaning that Leeds still had to travel three quarters of the pitch and work the ball from one side to the other before they scored. So you could argue that the problem was with the defensive cover, rather than with David Luiz's attacking instincts.

However, people, clearly - and especially in the TV punditry seats - have decided that the player represents a liability, so we're now seeing the facts getting squeezed to fit the theory. It's one to watch out for. I blame Gary Neville.

If I did PR for Rafa Benitez, I would look into the possibility of him coming up against Leeds United more often. In the battle for hearts and minds among the supporters at this club, which the manager continues to find himself obliged to wage, I can't see how a few more games against the Elland Road side would do him any harm. Or certainly not if Neil Warnock can be relied upon (as he did this time) to try and work up a spurious controversy over the pre-match handshake between the managers by raking up some ancient argument, long buried, of the 'bald-men-and-a-comb' variety.

Even those among our number who remain vocally sceptical about the appointment of Benitez will, surely, have had a moment's pause here. I can only speak for myself, of course, but if it's Rafa v. Warnock, I know whose side I'm on.