Leeds United are sinking, fast, because they cannot bail water quickly enough after steering into icebergs.
Their chances of a win at Bournemouth were already at the bottom of the English Channel when Andrea Radrizzani, the captain of the ship, sent out what amounted to a distress signal in an apparent exchange of messages with a supporter.
The majority owner took responsibility, decrying the situation as ‘ridiculous’ and attaching an unprintable, four-letter summation of the situation. He’s not wrong, is he? His club are right in it, up to their necks in it and of late have only produced more and more of it every time they go out on the pitch.
A point above the drop zone with four horrible-looking games to go, there’s still hope after a 4-1 loss at Bournemouth it’s increasingly forlorn. That was the word for Javi Gracia’s general demeanour in his post-game press conference. Will Radrizzani and co keep him on board and trust him with the tiller? “If I am here, I suppose.” Hardly the defiant clarion call for support, time or another chance to get it right.
Even if he was to be replaced, at this late stage, who would take on such a mission and what could they do differently? It is easy to feel sorry for the Spaniard because, as he has now twice pointed out, the ship was riding lower in the water when he arrived.
But the real victims of the piece are the fans, whose enjoyment continues to be held under the water by this wretched 2022/23 season.
Take the three lads who travelled down armed not with tickets but an admirable level of expectation that they would get in to see the game. Even if their attempts to get their hands on a ticket succeeded, the reward was only more pain and suffering and a long journey home questioning their decisions.
It feels, increasingly, like the journey to the Premier League was better than the stormy top flight seas Leeds have sailed into. It feels, increasingly, like the most probably way out is a depressing return from whence they came.
Because if not now, if not at Bournemouth, then when and where will salvation come?
Gracia, at least, tried something different at the Vitality Stadium. In came a back three, Rasmus Kristensen, wing-backs and Willy Gnonto. Perhaps with no obvious, in-form and fully-fit candidate at left-back, removing the position entirely and making Jack Harrison a wing-back was worth a shot.
And in this new shape, Leeds were solid in the opening minutes. They attacked. Even when VAR changed a penalty to a free-kick for a handball Chris Kavanagh mistakenly placed inside the area, all was tranquil.
Ten minutes went by without a home chance. Leeds came close with a Harrison shot on the volley, which was blocked, and Crysencio Summerville had brought his dancing shoes, causing problems on the right.
The first signs of trouble came on the other side of the pitch, Dango Ouattara darting in behind Harrison and forcing a last-ditch block from Liam Cooper. Again the Cherries picked that flank and were once more rebuffed.
But when Harrison was beaten to a ball by home keeper Neto he had to sprint the length of the pitch to try and help stop the subsequent counter. Getting there was half the battle, because although he recovered his position, he did nothing to stop Dominic Solanke rounding him and though Cooper blocked Philip Billing’s initial shot, Jefferson Lerma was bobbing around unmarked on the edge of the area and sent a shot sailing into the net.
Illan Meslier was blameless for that one, but not the next one, flapping haplessly at a corner and palming it straight to Lerma, who lashed into the roof of the goal for 2-0.
A Patrick Bamford goal from a beautiful Gnonto cross was something to cling to but with skipper Cooper leaving the pitch injured, even that moment was bittersweet.
It cannot be said that Leeds gave up in the second half, for they made chances and made Neto work. Gnonto was at the heart of a lot of the best stuff. But even had VAR ruled out Bournemouth’s third goal, from the boot of Solanke with Leeds’ back line all at sea, the away end would not have changed their position because the course was set.
“We want Orta out.” “Sack the board.” “Make a sub, make a sub, make a sub.” “You’re not fit to wear the shirt.” Radrizzani’s first-mates, CEO Angus Kinnear and Orta, were present to witness another away end mutiny.
Gracia swapped Weston McKennie, a passenger, for Adam Forshaw, who did more than the loanee but could not plug the leaks that let Antoine Semenyo plunder a fourth. At full-time the players, the manager and the decision makers were sitting ducks for the away end broadside.
Leeds United are not down yet but they are floundering and giving little impression that they will not founder. Players can and will take their share of the blame, likewise Gracia. This is the captain’s mess, though, by the Italian’s own admission. Running too close to the rocks, too often, with recruitment decisions, or failing to jettison Jesse Marsch at the right time, has left Gracia and his squad ill-equipped to handle the situation.
Radrizzani apparently leaving cover on social media, fans turning on the team and Gracia struggling to find any words to mollify them are all symptomatic of the ship breaking up. There is an inescapable feeling that there are further icebergs dead ahead. Erling Haaland and Manchester City represent a whole glacier. This season is a wreck.