Leeds 0 Aston Villa 0
The puzzling thing is that, along the way to collecting a history degree from Princeton University, Jesse Marsch produced a 117-page dissertation entitled: “Shaken, not stirred; an evaluation of earthquake awareness in California.”
Football is not academia but, even so, the Leeds manager might have been expected to be a little more conscious of the disciplinary faultlines which, quite apart from preventing his side from displaying their true abilities on the pitch, threatened to produce a major tremor on Sunday.
In the end an often ill-tempered contest with two feisty yet inherently fragile teams – and like Marsch, Aston Villa’s Steven Gerrard’s tenure seems on the cusp between impending calamity and mid-table stability – concluded with just the one sending off, namely Leeds’ Luis Sinisterra for a ludicrous second bookable offence.
There were, though, moments when a game, sporadically illuminated by Philippe Coutinho’s skill, threatened to descend into a full-on brawl. If Villa played their part in that, Leeds allowed themselves to be wound up far too easily; aggression may be a big, necessary part of their pressing game but they need to be much better at controlling it.
Ludwig Augustinsson was only six minutes into his Aston Villa debut when Stuart Attwell flourished a yellow card in his face. The Swedish left-back, on loan from Sevilla, was consequently left needing to mind his step after a late challenge on Rasmus Kristensen.
It was the 24th booking registered in only five Premier League meetings between two teams who do not particularly like each other and whose pre-season friendly in Australia turned acrimonious when the 16-year-old Leeds midfielder Archie Gray was stretchered off following a very poor John McGinn challenge.
Attwell could have wished for a less demanding officiating assignment than here and, sure enough, it swiftly became a very tricky game to referee with snide little off-the-ball fouls from both sides all over the pitch. By half-time Attwell had issued three further yellow cards with Marc Roca, Rodrigo (for dissent) and Sinisterra all going into the book for Leeds but, had he possessed eyes in the back of his head, there would have been a few more.
Indeed it was probably a blessing in disguise that Marsch found himself in the press box in the wake of his sending-off in last month’s 5-2 defeat at Brentford which prompted a one-game touchline ban. Without that suspension, few would have bet against the sometimes volatile Leeds manager and Gerrard crossing technical-area swords.
In between all the thinly disguised on-pitch hostilities, Ilan Meslier made a couple of decent first half saves from Ollie Watkins. If Watkins’ hopes of somehow gatecrashing England’s World Cup squad now look extremely slender, time has surely run out for Patrick Bamford to prove his worth to Gareth Southgate.
The good news for Marsch, though, is that Bamford is edging his way back to full fitness. He began on the bench here but was greeted by one of the biggest cheers of the first half as he ran through a stretching repertoire on the touchline.
By now Leeds were testing the patience of their supporters. Despite dominating with around 70 per cent possession and lacking nothing in intensity, they struggled to test the underworked Emiliano Martínez in the Villa goal, failing to properly challenge Villa’s sometimes insecure seeming central-defensive partnership of Tyrone Mings and Ezra Konsa.
Twenty-nine days had passed since that defeat at Brentford but, by the interval, Martínez had not had a single save to make while Meslier needed to react sharply to deny Leon Bailey following smart approach work from Jacob Ramsey.
With Watkins starting to prove quite a nuisance to Marsch’s defence and Coutinho gradually growing into the game, a much-improved Villa kicked off the second half.
Gerrard probably could not believe his luck when Sinisterra was sent off for the most idiotic second bookable offence imaginable. As the winger stuck out a leg to block Douglas Luiz’s attempts to take a swift free-kick, Marsch’s head sunk into his hands. The resultant dismissal was inevitable as Leeds paid the price for the sort of hot headed indiscipline which Marsch has failed to control.
Admittedly Luiz provoked the Colombian by arguably aiming his delivery at his shin but had Sinisterra – earlier booked for a nasty challenge on McGinn – not raised his foot he would have remained on the pitch. Elland Road chorused “you’re not fit to referee” in unison but Attwell could hardly turn a blind eye.
The Leeds manager responded by withdrawing Roca from central midfield and sending Junior Firpo on from the bench as, perhaps heeding the warning when Bailey played Coutinho in and the Brazilian’s volley ricocheted back off a post, he switched to a back five.
Bamford’s subsequent introduction in place of Rodrigo lifted the local mood but Coutinho had established himself as the best player on the pitch while Meslier looked relieved when Emiliano Buendía bent a shot fractionally wide of an upright.
Although Konsa’s outstretched leg possibly came between Bamford and a goal, this game was mainly about bookings with Robin Koch collecting Leeds’ fifth after hauling down Watkins. In the end the final score was Leeds five yellows to Villa’s two.