Bright, Masterson, and contentious refereeing decisions - Knee Jerks
Tuesday, 21st Jan 2020 04:16 by Antti Heinola
Antti's six talking points from Saturday include QPR's in form winger, new found centre half treasure, and an afternoon of eccentric refereeing.
I suddenly noticed during the second half that I'm becoming calmer watching this team. Usually when we're 1-0 up I'm on the edge of my seat, desperately hoping for a bigger cushion (for the team, not for me) and praying for us to hold on. Now, I feel relaxed. Not because I think we'll hold on to the lead, but because I assume we won't. Accepting we'll concede at least twice is actually quite liberating, and when on those rare occasions when we don't, the pleasure is merely doubled thanks to the element of surprise.
Clive may comically deride this league for its desperate nature, its propensity to bear large similarities to a fight involving buns, and its drive to set records for sheer number of games to be played in the shortest month of the year, but I have to say, it is rather fun.
A big part of that fun is us. We are the funnest team in a division of fun. Our style means we rarely complete a game without being fun in some shape or form, but our style can also mean real fireworks. and when I say fireworks, I mean both kinds: the kind that we stare at and go 'wow! ooh! aah!' at, and the faulty kind that blow up while you're lighting them and leave you with a flayed hand.
It means that some sides, however good they are, will struggle against certain other sides that they should, on paper at least, beat easily. And others will beat sides quite easily when you might expect the games to be closer. For example, if the current Brentford side could pick a perfect team to play against, it would be us. Willing to attack, hugely vulnerable at the back, absolutely no chance of deciding to play for a 0-0 with a deep, packed defence and five strung across the midfield, no pace through the middle or at full back. We are made for them.
Leeds are not made for us, because they're a very good side. If you look at league positions, they should be beating us fairly easily. Yet despite them sitting above Brentford in the league, we were always going to enjoy more success against them. Leeds always have plenty of the ball, but they don't have the pace or the power of Brentford, nor do they have Brentford's stiff defence. They give you a chance, and with a team like ours, we don't really need to be give much of a chance. So while we had fortune in our win, Leeds never came close to the sort of dangerous domination Brentford enjoyed a week ago. They had plenty of the ball, but created very little. As Liam Kelly said, apart from the penalty, he perhaps only had to make two decent saves, and would have been disappointed had either gone in.
The difference in the two games was fascinating considering we were playing two teams of such a similar calibre. But that is the Championship. Teams are constantly going on long runs of winning and then of not winning - we're not the only ones. Teams have patches that propel them up to 8th, 7th, 6th, only for them to drop back down to 17th within a month. And vice versa. There isn't a team in the Premier League that has happened to this season except, perhaps, Southampton. And I love it.
I won't spend too much on our saviour of the defence as it's been done very well by plenty of other people on this site already, but he did have a very good game. Big ticks are his heading ability and positioning - he headed away a lot of the ball on Saturday - and his comfort on the ball. Not ruffled, not rushed, happy to receive it even if he's in a fairly tight situation. And he's not afraid of making himself heard, either, which is important for a CB and especially in a team like ours which is not the loudest you'll meet (for all Leeds' fans complaining about us and the ref, it wasn't our players constantly in the ref's ear for the entire game).
He was done rather easily by Bamford in the first half, but things like that can happen to any defender, let alone one making a rare senior appearance at the start of their career and is at least excusable. But I will add a couple of things. The first is to commend Warburton, who could easily have put Leistner straight back in the side this week but decided that Masterson deserved to retain his place. That is one huge plus I love about Warburton - if you come in and do well, you will get a run and not be dropped once an established first teamer returns. Eze is perhaps the only player who could not be kept out the side by someone else. Secondly, for all the deserved praise Masterson has had, it's worth remembering that he's young, that this is only a couple of games, and that young players very often come in reeking of adrenalin and that is enough to carry them through the early matches. It is after that, after the first 10-15 games, when you start to really see if you have a player. Comparisons with Alan McDonald, or suggestions he should play every game for the rest of the season are not really helpful. It should be, and is, a one game at a time thing. Criticism of certain players has been well over the top, but I sometimes think this comes from there being too much praise early on - witness some posters deroiding others now for saying positive things about Lumley a year ago, for example.
There are inevitable comparisons with this season and last season. Both games 1-0. Both games Leeds deserved more out of. But in other respects this was a different game. Last year we really were fortunate, winning with a bit of luck, a bit of skill, some tireless work and of course Luke Freeman playing like the devil himself. This time there was nowhere near the intensity, we didn't require a virtuoso performance, and what we got was solid performances, if no spectacular ones, from all over the pitch. Leeds meanwhile did not create anything like the same amount or quality of chances. This time, they looked beaten long before the final whistle and bereft once they went down to 10 men. There's much discussion about our progress and how much (if any) progress we have made (considering our similar number of points and similar league position), but this game did show the difference in how we as a team coped better with Leeds, and did not need superhuman interference to deliver three points.
Another mention for Bright. He's appearing here quite a lot lately, so I'll keep it brief. With no Hugill (who Warburton must've been wishing he could call on to give us someone to hold it up front and win the odd header), Wells did a brave job trying to compete for Kelly's long balls, but so did Bright. Using his incredible strength he constantly got his body between ball and marker and tried manfully to retain possession for us. I thought he battled really well and caused them problems all afternoon, and his one thrilling run where for a moment I thought he might somehow pick his way through a whole pack of chasing Leeds hounds, was almost the icing on the cake. Becoming a big player for us - that goal at Birmingham has transformed him.
It's taken him half a season, but he may now have finally won the left back slot, at least for a while. One of the reasons Warburton probably settled on Masterson in defence was that he had the option of putting Wallace next to him, giving him that valuable experienced head next to him. Wallace was also an improvement on Manning for his defensive side of the game, certainly stopping more crosses than Manning has been managing. That's not to have a go at Manning, who obviously has aspects of his game that are better than Wallace, but that bit of solidity at the back certainly helped us on Saturday -and maybe that added bit of organisation too made him a smart pick. Be interesting to see who plays against Wednesday.
I think it's fair to say it was handball - even under the old rules, when it hit Wells' right hand, it should have been disallowed. My rule on this is always to imagine what I would think if the decision went against us, and on this occasion I would have been annoyed. Not furious, because he did not know anything about it, and it was accidental, but certainly a bit cross it hadn't been seen by the officials. Having said that, the new handball rules seem to be nonsensical, where a handball in one situation is punishable, but not punishable in another situation.
Palace had a penalty awarded against them on Saturday which was then overturned after VAR. Yet it was a handball. Had Aguero used his arm in the same way and then scored, then it was no goal. But the Palace player doing likewise was not penalised, even though the intervention of his arm could have prevented a goalscoring opportunity. It is utter madness.
As for the Leeds penalty, there's no doubt Bamford dived, and no doubt Kelly tried to pull away. It probably should not have been given, but I wasn't too angry about it. Those ones tend to be given and I'd expect us to get similar ones in most cases (unless it involved our old Matt Smith). Fortunately, Kelly made a superb save, although I have to say he owes me a drink. Just before the penalty I stared at the ball, willing it to move, like Uri Geller did before Gary McAllister's penalty at Euro 96. I think it did just slightly move, causing his small scuff, that helped Kelly make the save. I'm claiming it as at least partly down to me.
Pictures – Action Images
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