So the marshmallow men march on to Elland Road this evening still recovering from a series of self-inflicted wounds that have gone beyond the superficial. More than skin deep, these have left scars that will take time to heal.
Corluka losing his man on Saturday, or Keane and others inability to hold onto the ball or even to negotiate the simple injury time run into the corner in the first match, then collective frustration against Hull and Liverpool – all symptoms of the same malaise. Over the past couple of weeks our collective failings have been ruthlessly exposed. From Accrington to Wolverhampton we have sent a message foghorn loud that we are soft to the very core.
Self-harm is a pernicious condition. For those who look on and care, it evokes sadness and helplessness. The self-loathing and lack of esteem that is the root is hard to overcome. As much as we might delude ourselves, we fans will never truly understand the mind of a professional footballer. Although well rewarded, at least in the higher divisions, on match day they face huge pressure that weighs heavily on individuals and their psyche. As the final whistle nears, the body’s exhaustion invades the mind. Clear thinking is nigh on impossible. I remember reading the Glory Game (the book about Spurs in the early seventies) where Peters and Chivers I think were saying that the worst aspect of fitness was the concentration. They came off the pitch with a headache from the effort.
Whatever the difficulties, collectively this team has to find a solution. It may come from team bonding, the inspiration of a never-say-die individual, the canny play of experience or from a blinding bit of sheer good fortune. Something has to change. they must find a way, otherwise Leeds will roll right over us this evening and so will the rest of the league.
Regular visitors to TOMM will know my fondness for tactics, ideas and shape, but not now. Clear heads. Ninety five minutes. Bottle. The rest can come later.
Regulars will also recall that they have been threatened with a discussion of resilience, a theme throughout the season – we’re not really learning, are we. But a while back I mentioned something else that comes to mind again now. I suggested that because we will never be able to organise ourselves as well as, say, Villa or the teams that have thrown a defensive shield around their goal, we should play to our strengths and keep scoring. We will score one more than you.
In fact, our defensive record is better than I anticipated but the problems lie more in our lack of ability to score enough at the moment. We are getting goals, but not making as many good chances as once was the case and in particular not taking with the necessary precision. We need to re-focus on the striking partnership. Settling on Crouch and Defoe provide consistency but is proving to be wasteful in terms of what the big man is providing to team mates. He wins so much but then wastes so much too. His movement and distribution is largely predictable. JD is not quite on song – there’s that telling extra touch or moment’s hesitation, or then as the match progresses his frustration emerges in the no hope blast.
Elland Road was always a tough ground to visit. They can really hate up there and our boys cannot succumb, or else they will be, um, toasted…
The good seek also redemption, so if we can come through tonight’s ordeal, and despite my justified concerns about our well-being I believe we will, this could be the turning point.