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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 01/10/05, 3.00pm
Leeds United
All rice, no curry
By Ian Grant

"If you like dubstep but didn't reach DMZ's fourth incredible Brixton bash, where were ya?" asks Martin Clark, by way of introduction to his vital monthly round-up of London's grime and dubstep scenes for the excellent Pitchfork site. And I don't have an answer to that, frankly.

That is, I know exactly where I was. I was tucked up in bed and fast asleep, like any self-respecting thirty-five year old with a fifty hour working week, a load of chores that never seem to get done, and a rapidly decreasing ability to recover from staying up until stupid hours in the morning while having my eardrums obliterated. But that's not much of an excuse, really. These things don't happen very often, after all; despite the media's attempts to convince everyone otherwise, there are only a few moments in a lifetime when a particular music scene crystallises into something that's more than a distraction. Into something worth an obsession.

The last time, for me, was back in the early nineties, when every week seemed to bring forth another clutch of impossible jungle records to soak up any excess income, each one oxygen-fresh, life-affirming evidence of infinite creative possibility. Shivers, just thinking of the moment when the needle would drop on a new Omni Trio twelve-inch; the moment of discovery, the crest of a wave.

I'd given up on that, I must admit. Older and wiser, head less easily turned. But it's 2005, and I'm in love again; just as dizzily, stupidly, expensively in love as if I were a teenager. There's just this goddamn noise - this dub-inflected, sometimes harsh, sometimes soulful, deep and dark noise, always hanging onto an absolute landslide of bass - and I simply cannot get enough of it. Dubstep bloody rules.

And, yeah, you just have to be part of it. Even from a distance, even in a quiet and slight and shy way, you have to be part of it. Dubstep hasn't yet reached the point where commercialisation allows casual observers to get an easily digestible scene summary on CD; while Youngsta's thunderous Dubstep Allstars: Vol.02 mix might be a tremendous introduction, it only covers a handful of names and a single flavour. You should still buy it, if only to test how snugly your windows fit in their frames, but you shouldn't stop there.

Without piling in and spending a wad on vinyl, without burrowing around in the wealth of downloads, you'll never hear some of the most giddy, pungent, brutal, sublime noise that 2005 has to offer. You'll never hear Loefah's endlessly shifting Twisup, as simple or as complex as your ears choose to make it; Toasty's imperious Angel, a perfect distillation of breakbeat science; Distance's 3rd Wish, an immense slab of industrial dub that roars and recedes like a winter tide on a pebbled beach; Gunman by Vex'd, pure chainsaw savagery that makes you wince even on the thirtieth hearing; Skream's incredible latest mix, the sound developing and deepening with each passing moment. And so much else. Christ, I could write a whole essay on the glorious new Digital Mystikz twelve, should you wish. (You don't? Oh.)

It's about the precious moments, loaded with possibility, before the sound is fully defined, before it's quite decided what it is, what it can be, what it might be. When it's still happening, the subject of feverish discussion rather than tedious nostalgia. Before patterns, templates, expectations start to encourage people to play safe, to please crowds with what they want rather than what they need. It's utterly thrilling, so much possibility. It's the crest of that wave.

It's the first half against Norwich, then...when the football was so ravishing that you hardly dared draw breath for fear of breaking the spell. For any club that doesn't exist to win trophies, moments like that are to be treasured purely for their own worth; you don't get dazzled often enough to worry about when it'll happen next. You just savour it, as much as you can, whether that means gazing at the glory of it all or proclaiming your manager's eternal genius. Because, inevitably, there'll be a game like this coming along soon enough. You can't ride that wave indefinitely.

Really, it would be deeply unfair not to praise several elements of Saturday's performance. The big fat nought next to our opponents' name might've been achieved with the aid of one bit of considerable good fortune, but there was an enormous amount of hard work involved too. From Lloyd Doyley and Malky Mackay, the former becoming a quite extraordinarily dependable and increasingly confident part of the defensive line-up, growing into the player that he always nearly was. From Jordan Stewart, much more robust and energetic, if not always entirely organised, since being dropped from the starting eleven at Crewe; from James Chambers, who seems to have recharged his batteries over the summer and thus, just occasionally, shows us that he can really fly.

In midfield, too...although you wouldn't want to get too carried away about that, for we were good enough to unearth large quantities of possession without doing anything especially adventurous with it. Matthew Spring is lively and committed, but has, you suspect, quite a lot more to show us over the coming months; Gavin Mahon's return is welcome indeed, but can't be rushed. The wingers were fitfully effective, undermined by the central flaw in the plan....

That we were never going to score. For all that Adrian Boothroyd's new era has been heralded by scintillating attacking play, the reality of this particular afternoon was somewhat more sobering: for pretty much the entire ninety minutes, we didn't have any strikers on the pitch. Or elsewhere, apart from the treatment room. We had plenty of attacking players, certainly, but that's not quite the same thing: Ashley Young, for example, has been a complete revelation when flitting delightfully around in the shadows thrown by a centre forward, but he's never going to bomb into the six yard box to stuff a loose ball past the keeper. Anthony McNamee is capable of quite exquisite skill, obviously, but his presence on the far post when a cross arrives is more executive than blue collar, if you know what I mean; Gabriel Agbonlahor is, on this evidence, not even vaguely a solution; Francino Francis did much better after struggling against Wolves, but doesn't appear to be that kind of player either; Joel Grant is being used as a right winger for the moment; Hameur Bouazza has had his chance and thoroughly blown it.

So, Leeds would've taken one look at that lot and decided to insure themselves against pace by planting their size tens about twenty-five yards from goal. Only very occasionally did we manage to tempt their defence far enough forward to engineer some space to break into...and then, we rarely had more than a couple of yellow shirts in the penalty area when push came to shove, the majority following their natural instincts and looking suitably useful elsewhere. In the circumstances, it does seem remarkable that Trevor Benjamin - the only fit (up to a point) centre forward in the squad - wasn't involved at any point. He would, at the very least, have given Butler and Gregan something to worry about on the countless occasions when the ball found its way wide; it would've provided some sense of purpose, even if that purpose had still been frustrated.

That aside - oh, and I'll throw in a quick mention for Bruce Dyer while I'm at it - this is observation rather than criticism. It's just what happens when you only have two front-line strikers, and the manager still deserves praise for recruiting those strikers, both of whom have performed superbly, in the first place. It's the reality of a long season and a small squad, that's all. Much as the manager would talk about injuries creating opportunities for others, sometimes they merely blow great gaping holes in your plans. A collective prayer for the speedy recovery and continued form of Marlon King and Darius Henderson really wouldn't go amiss, I think....

So, a real treat for connoisseurs of defending. A bit of a bore for everyone else, unless they somehow managed to avoid guessing the ending. The fact that we had to wait fifteen minutes for a goal attempt of any kind speaks volumes; the fact that it involved Jordan Stewart slicing into the stand from twenty yards says even more. Four minutes later, and a misjudged (and not altogether unusual) rush into no man's land by Ben Foster nearly gifted Leeds an opening goal, the situation rescued by Malky Mackay's tackle to prevent Hulse from capitalising. From the throw, someone belted a volley ten miles over the bar. A quarter of the game had already gone, pretty much. It hadn't been memorable.

Much of the rest was in the same vein, but only after the afternoon's one real treat. Twenty-four minutes, and Malky Mackay's hesitation allows Blake to burrow his way around and to the by-line; Ben Foster sprawls at the near post, yellow-shirted bodies start sliding this way and that inside the six yard box as Blake pulls the ball back towards Hulse. He doesn't have an entirely simple task: those bodies are in the way and he needs to side-step before finishing. He does it, though, albeit awkwardly. Behind the goal, the Leeds fans rise; in front of it, Hulse prepares to wheel away in celebration; a hundred yards away, we start to drop our heads. The ball hits the inside of the post...and it rolls along the line...and it hits the inside of the other post...and it rolls along the line...and it would've hit the woodwork again, I imagine, if Mackay hadn't curtailed one set of celebrations and started another by smacking it clear. So, yeah, we put in an awful lot of effort for that clean sheet, but it wasn't all our own work....

That's your highlight, right there. Because while we did build up some pressure around the half hour mark, and the corner count started to tick towards double figures, you never felt that a goal was imminent. Likely, even. A small child could've predicted our set pieces - given the lack of height throughout the side, what else are you gonna do with a corner but hit it towards the tall Scottish bloke at the far post? - and they produced virtually nothing throughout. In open play, we just didn't threaten the goal. All verse, no chorus; all rice, no curry; all doughnut, no jam; all attractive passing and quick-footed wingery, nobody in the box even if we did bother to deliver a cross. Time and again, we bought a lottery ticket and then didn't bother to watch the draw. Once, just once, we caught them on the hop, and Gabriel Agbonlahor flicked a rare header across to Paul Devlin, who whipped in a fine ball that required Kelly to head behind with Gavin Mahon in close attention. More often, we played in front of Leeds while they tried to feign interest.

That's not to suggest that this was a performance without character, however. Given a cutting edge, this would've been potent and strong, and a Leeds side that did actually contain some proper strikers was made to look lumpy and blunt. They're nothing special, and they produced little to test Ben Foster in the period following Hulse's miss: just a free kick and a tame header, both comfortable catches, either side of half-time, and otherwise quiet. In that respect, leaving aside the lucky escape, we did exactly what you'd demand in the circumstances: if you can't score, make sure that it remains goalless at both ends. Not quite as attractive as some of the things that we've seen since August, but it'll have to do, for now.

As if to emphasise the spirit around the club, the supporters played their part in lifting the team from a terribly flat spell after the interval, when the game drifted dismally in front of a silent audience. A bit of noise, a bit of encouragement, as Anthony McNamee tried to beat Sullivan with an ambitious curler from twenty yards. It didn't make anything happen, but these things are so much better when everyone's pulling together; Hulse floated a header at Foster from a quick free kick, Blake ambled off to the substitutes' bench as if on a Sunday morning stroll, Francino Francis replaced the ineffective Agbonlahor, the noise from the stands faded and then swelled again, and there were no goals in this game, quite clearly. No matter how hard you tried to pretend otherwise, hoping that your enthusiasm would somehow find its own justification, it was a nil-nil draw from start to finish.

There were a few moments worth recording in the closing stages, as both sides tried to balance their desire to win the game with the much more realistic and attainable goal of avoiding losing it. Not chances, as such, for there was only one serious chance in the entire ninety minutes, but half-chances and openings. Suggestions, nothing more. From a right wing cross, Hulse fired into the side netting with Foster covering the shot; Pugh struck a volley from the edge of the box, rather closer than the Rookery's derision suggested; Ashley Young was fed by a lovely touch from Francis, driving an angled effort at Sullivan's near post; Richardson broke down the right, his cross found its way through a crowd, and Pugh mis-hit a bobbling ball into Foster's chest when he might've done rather better. If I'm making this sound hectic, I should point out that this paragraph contains another quarter of the game....

When we looked back, there was just one moment to regret. On seventy-four, when Francino Francis suddenly found himself on the wrong - right - side of Gregan, with only Ashley Young and his marker ahead of him. Two against one. Space and time and opportunity. Just as quickly, it was all gone, as the defender pulled him down and received what he'd consider to be an entirely worthwhile booking. Somehow, while the yellow card was quite correct, it didn't seem completely fair: the importance of the situation had been inflated by its context, and we clutched frantically at the hint of a goal-scoring opportunity, despairing when it was snatched away. We weren't going to score.

Nobody was going to score. Not this team, not today. We'll take the point, and we'll keep a very keen eye on the treatment room over the next two weeks. Therein lies the answer, not elsewhere.