Jon Howe: The bare necessities

Jon Howe: The bare necessities

Weekly column.

In his latest column for, lifelong supporter Jon Howe reflects on the scenes following last weekend's victory over Watford.

Howe is the author of two books on the club, ‘The Only Place For Us: An A-Z History of Elland Road’ - which has been updated as a new version for 2021 - and ‘All White: Leeds United’s 100 Greatest Players’ in 2012.

Jon Howe

Shortly before kick-off against Watford last Saturday a friend asked me for a score prediction. I replied “a comfortable 3-0 win” and we all laughed. Because I’d made a joke. True story, and as it happened, I got the scoreline right, but not the description.

Leeds United don’t do anything with a degree of comfort, although I guess we could relax on 85 minutes when Jack Harrison drilled in the third, allowing us five precious minutes of serenity and calm which, compared to the last two wins, was enough time to get the Soleros and the sun cream out. Alas, before that it was a game to make you anxious, agitated and irritable. But then, in a situation like the one that faces Leeds United right now, does that matter? Not one little bit.

The bare necessities of our plight are being satisfied, and yet, I’m as guilty as anyone of squirming in my seat and watching the game through my fingers when passes go astray, players get caught in possession and aimless punts forward ruin the aesthetic of the perfect win we all set out in the hope of. Given we aren’t awarded extra points for the beauty and craft of any particular victory, you would think we would be satisfied with the nature of any three points and take its life-affirming significance at face value, but no, we cannot describe the win without adding a caveat which neatly describes the preoccupied exasperation we have just lived through: “yes, we won 3-0, but…”

Of course the anxiety comes from the fact that we desperately needed the win, particularly in the light of other results leading up to kick-off at Vicarage Road. And the anxiety also comes from the fact that we’ve seen Leeds concede so often this season that the vision of an opposition forward homing in on Illan Meslier’s goal with venomous glee, is laser-etched onto our eyeballs and is all we can see when we close our eyes at night. And the anxiety also comes from the fact that we know Leeds United are better than this. And at least that is some form of comfort.

In each of Jesse Marsch’s games in charge of Leeds so far, the team has crafted together some decent attacking football and had spells of control and pressure, even for a short period in the 3-0 defeat to Villa. I’m hard pushed to say that was the case last Saturday, but it doesn’t matter. We still demonstrated our superior quality in three succulent, bite-sized chunks, and that was enough. We had done the bare necessities.

And Leeds have become quite adept at that. Our record against the bottom three teams was excellent last season, winning all six games against the teams that eventually went down. We have done much the same this season, as the bottom three currently stands, beating both Norwich and Watford twice but only taking four points from Burnley. Indeed, I believe the draw and defeat to Newcastle this season are the only games versus a bottom three at-the-time team we haven’t won since our return to the Premier League, and to be honest, those games still rankle and make me uncontrollably itch with vexation that we didn’t win them both.

Over the last two seasons we have largely won the games that really mattered; the minimum required return you might say. Many clubs have based their entire modus operandi on that joylessly bleak ambition and of course we have more lofty aspirations, but when the dust settles on this glutinous porridge pot of a season, we can at least say we stood up to the pressure when our backs were truly against the wall.

The four game mini-season consisting of Norwich, Wolves, Southampton and Watford always felt pivotal and hopefully it will prove to have been so. We would all have ravenously snaffled 10 points from those four games, and while there was a tinge of frustration and disappointment with the Southampton draw, had we won that and drawn at Wolves, everybody would be falling over seats in celebration. But hey, we did that anyway.

Anxiety also comes from the fact that we want to see how a Jesse Marsch team is meant to play and what our future might look like. We have experienced that in parts, but injuries and the desperate need for results have dictated that we can’t draw too many conclusions from what we have seen. When the root and branch post-mortem dissects the grisly details of this season in the summer, we would hope that something resembling how Marsch wants to play comes out of it, and we can judge him from that point onwards. But for now only one very clear objective is important in the world of Leeds United, and we’re looking after the bare necessities in that respect.

Ultimately, fans want to see results, and by and large we’re not too bothered how they come. I mean, had things gone better on the day in the 2006 Play-Off Final, Kevin Blackwell might now be residing in the top five most-lauded Leeds United managers, just think about that for a moment. And his style of football was largely effective, but rarely easy-on-the-eye. We want to see some direction, purpose and spirit first and foremost, and in these most pressing of circumstances, and Marsch has delivered plenty of that.

It has felt this season that we have lost the ability to frustrate the big Premier League teams, as we did with some hugely impressive results in last term’s behind-closed-doors matches. And other than the unfortunate defeat at Chelsea, those fixtures have largely seen us blown away this time around. I do wonder whether, in this brave new world of clean sheets, zonal marking and spinal robustness, we might find a way to be a little harder to beat in incoming fixtures versus Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea. Other teams without European Super League pretensions and sharing our more humble realm of the Premier League have done it, and certainly, we aren’t viewing these fixtures as the foregone conclusion we did a few weeks ago. And with this rejuvenated spirit of battling to the very last, might we spring a surprise result in one or two of those fixtures?

What can’t be doubted is that the fans deserve it. I think all things being said, the Leeds United fans have been remarkably patient and understanding this season, and now they are being rewarded by an unbeaten run at the right time and against the right opponents. But with work still to do, the biggest reward could and should be yet to come. Thus far we’ve done the bare necessities, and while that is enough in the circumstances, it would be lovely to do a bit more.