Commentator Cliché Overdrive as Leeds and Villa Win
The Championship Play-Off first legs were today, you might have seen them if you weren’t all footballed out from Kompany doing bits on Monday, Barcelona’s defence throwing fits on Tuesday, Pochettino in actual bits on Wednesday, and hattricks and spotkicks on Thursday. Had Friday off, did you? So did we. Felt like a hangover after all that football.
It was back to business today, though, and after a brief pause in dramatic comebacks making a comeback on Thursday, West Brom did their best to stop fans having more of where that came from in the lunchtime kick-off.
Early on, West Brom did their best to play football and looked quite good at it. Jay Rodriguez and his sumptuous manbun had the best chance to score the first goal of this season’s play-offs – a fact that is as pointless as it is certain to crop up in the commentary handbook of the future – but Dwight Gayle got that accolade.
I write that with all the confidence of someone who heard the man on the mic at Sky inform me that Leeds have been in “play-offs at all levels and have never been promoted through them.” I don’t even know if that’s true, but by this point I had stopped caring for the commentary, having heard Dwight Gayle described as “a thorn in the side of Aston Villa all season,” as if he had donned various guises throughout the past 9 months, putting the ball past Jed Steer for various Championship outfits - in fact he’d scored once in two league games against them this season – and not even the most recent one – and then heard the exact same expression to describe Kemar Roofe when he slotted past Derby’s Kelle Roos to make it 1-0 in the teatime kick-off. At least that usage wasn’t as banal: Roofe scored on both outings against Frank Lampard’s Derby this season, netting three in total.
Back to Villa Park, though, where Steer steered a dipping and curling first-time right-footed effort from Rodriguez over for a corner, with an excellent, high diving save and strong hand. It kept them out for now, but Glenn Whelan got all ‘where am I?’ and a bit ‘Steven Gerrard slip’ to let Gayle burst through one-on-one and send the visitors into the lead.
Aston Villa fans were pretty despondent at half-time, and I know this because I checked Twitter and people were saying this like “Short corners? Seriously. When we can't get the ball in the box in open play why try short corners FFS!”But people were also saying things like, “Whelan has been so good for us this year, but we’ve gotta get Hourihane in for him. Jack is having to sit way too deep to get the ball. Connor allows him to get forward and take people on”and “hope Dean Smith has the balls to bring Hourihane on for Whelan.”
I think Dean Smith must have been on Twitter at half-time because that’s exactly what happened. Jack Grealish, who still looks a lot like he did when he was in the Premier League – and that is to say a cross between a 70s footballer who only wore shinpads because it is the rules, and a Romford nightclub ejectee – had a much better second-half and Conor Hourihane did indeed come on for Glenn Whelan. He was part of a double substitution after 65 minutes, as Albert Adomah also made way, to be replaced by Andre Green. Those two changes makes this mana genius, albeit a very underappreciated one. Give him a follow.
The opening twenty minutes of the second half saw Villa turn up the notch labelled ‘pressure,’ and it felt like a matter of time before they scored. That time was 75 minutes and the scorer was Twitter favourite Hourihane.
Grealish was calm enough to slow the ball down inside the 18-yard box, to look up and pick out his teammate, who was criminally undermarked 25 yards out from goal. With a free passageway to make the pass, Grealish laid the ball off for Hourihane to whaz into the far corner. “A wand of a left foot,” cried out the commentator. Now, I’m left-footed and I’ll tell you this for free: you only ever hear that expression about a left-footed player and I defy you to prove me otherwise; likewise “put him on his right,” or “he’s only got a left foot,” is never reciprocated on a right-footed player.
It was a deserved goal: Villa were playing the better football and WBA were rather economic in their output. It was making for a bout reminiscent of a boxer who makes a career out of losing but seeing out enough fights to keep his license. That was until the 79th minute when Grealish again put it on a plate for a teammate to score. This time he didn’t get as far as making the pass to the scorer, because Kieran Gibbs fouled him in the box, so the said plate was the penalty spot, and Tammy Abraham didn’t make a mess of things.
Now it was 2-1, and it looked very much like Villa were being given a free pass back to the Premier League, what with Marcelo Bielsa letting them walk the ball into the net the other week, WBA imploding inside four minutes, and then, with the final whistle closing in, Gayle getting sent off, ruling himself out of the second leg. Phwoar – I bet it felt good to get that thorn out of your side, didn’t it, Villa?
On to the next game then, and Marcelo Bielsa looked very cool in his technical area, as he always does, in his Adidas Campus trainers. (I reserve the right to be incorrect about the exact trainers he was wearing). Having watched a lunchtime Midlands derby, I was now being spoilt with my second derby – the 32Red derby. Betting companies on shirts. Not a fan, really. Other than that it was a football fashionista’s dream: Bielsa’s footwear, a Kappa kit that looked like strobe lighting against a night sky, and those wonderful cuffs Umbro have had on their sleeves this season. The Championship has been a little bit sexy this year.
There were home comforts to be found in this tie, no more so than David Nugent puffing around a Football League pitch like he has seemingly done so forever. With Martyn Waghorn pulling up lame in training yesterday, Frank Lampard opted for 34-year old Nugent, who has only scored twice this season, instead of Jack Marriott, who, with 11 goals, had only been outscored by the injured Waghorn and Harry Wilson. The game ended with the home team failing to register a shot on target.
Leeds, however, did find the target; though they kept us all waiting until the 55th minute to do so. When Roofe did hit the round thing at the rectangle thing, it resulted in a goal, as he came in from the right to meet Jack Harrison’s excellent low cross from deep. He could have doubled the score line minutes later - if he had a left foot – but he opted to touch the ball right, requiring him to take another to pull wide of his marker, before he saw his shot saved.
Harrison, who played together with Lampard at New York City, combining for goals three times in 20 games, nearly did his old midfield partner a favour towards the end of the game. With a through ball into the box up for grabs, Harrison swung a boot at the ball, missed, possibly clipped the Derby striker, and landed on his rear-end. “Penalty,” the referee’s whistle and arm movement indicated. “No,” replied the linesman’s flag. After a brief consultation, the decision was changed and a freekick in Leeds’ favour was awarded.
With just minutes left on the clock, the camera swung past Richard Keogh, giving my wife the fright of her life. “He looks like he’s done a lot of drugs.” Lets hope the pee-in-a-pot-please man doesn’t ask, and she isn’t right.
The scores were 2-1 to Aston Villa, and 1-0 to Leeds; just in case that wasn’t clear.
More football tomorrow? Oh for fish fingers.