Finally, after weeks of abject misery, a chance to leave Elland Road at 4.50pm with something approaching a state of happiness…well contentment, no actually scratch that, just relief that for once, it “wasn’t all that bad!” A day when the customary, soul destroying, anaemic spectacle of 90 minutes football was cast aside, giving way to an almost mildly diverting experience!
Enthusiasm come 3 o’clock was hardly all-consuming; the football over the last few games has become something almost incidental that occurs in the background, while thoughts are trained on concerns more worthy of attention, like what to have for tea; the sight of 11 players moving around aimlessly, initially intriguing but soon losing its attraction – a bit an aquarium…but without a visible ‘war chest’.
Today was different though, the instantaneous apathy that greets the kick-off replaced by an energy, zest and hunger that United maintained for nigh on 5 minutes! But what a 5 minutes; the recalled Billy Paynter twice presented with gilt-edged chances to end his 14 month scoring hiatus, only to prove himself more adept at finding the stray boots of defenders rather than the bottom corner.
Inevitably the high intensity took its toll, and after such a blistering opening, the players retreated back to their default awfulness; arguments and abdication of defensive responsibilities aplenty. Tom Lees, now playing in the customary ‘taken out of the firing line’ right back berth looked suitably horrified every time he received the ball, desperately gesticulating for a sympathetic team mate to relieve him of his ball retention nightmare, to absolve any responsibility of running with the shiny, spherical white thing that seems to intimidate him so. With Pugh on the receiving end of a tongue lashing from Clayton and O’Dea setting the benchmark in backing off, it looked like being another afternoon to endure rather than enjoy.
The early exit of ‘The Robbie Rogers’ added to the despondency; two challenges now made at Elland Road, two premature exits – thousands of females mourned his departure, while thousands of males sighed with despondency as Danny Webber replaced him. Gone was the poster boy, but moments later, stepping into the void was a new poster girl; the Peterborough physio; a rather striking, petit lady with fair shoulder-length hair who made her Elland Road bow to the predictable chorus of wolf-whistles and sexist remarks before leaving the pitch to the rather more original chant of “Fergie’s gonna beat ya!”
It was a moment of light relief, temporarily distracting the crowd from the task in hand of witnessing a defensive capitulation, but on 38 minutes, everyone was firmly back on task. Charlie Taylor, having shown promise on his debut in the Autumn, quickly proved his suitability in his audition for the Leeds United defensive unit by inexplicably giving the ball away on the edge of the area, Joe Newell burst through, going past Danny Pugh as if he was…Danny Pugh and slipping the ball through the large gap Andy Lonergan had opened between his legs. Warnock, who’d waved his fist frantically at the concession of possession, was apoplectic – Same old Leeds, same old shit.
Then, in the dying embers of first-half injury time it all changed; Billy scored (seriously, he did). Apart from the final touch not coming off his arse, it was the exactly sort of goal every fan visualised, the ball falling to Paynter via a goalkeeping fumble and a centre half’s back – inexplicably, Billy chose to aim between the white sticks and…GOAL!!! Paynter peeled away, rubbing his eyes; whether it was a gesture to symbolise shedding tears of emotion or articulate his disbelief was unclear. As he left the pitch for the interval, he gave his shirt to a spectator in the West Stand; the star exhibit for the new museum, senselessly discarded.
Half-time arrived, playing host to the usual Ben Fry show; our presenter smugly parading about the pitch, resembling a potato wrapped in a hot water tank insulation blanket, plugging LUFC Insurance services and reminding everyone how taking up membership is the only way fans can guarantee tickets in a half-empty stadium. His fawning attempts to sound hip by commenting “Ooh, very casual” during the ‘You Bet, You Score’ challenge as Felix – a man who exuded ‘dudeness’ – chipped in from 35 yards, failed miserably to mask his everyday persona of gimp-cum-muppet-cum-octogenarian arse kisser.
Come the second half, come another 5 minute whirlwind, though this time it produced two goals, both for McCormack; the first from a Bromby throw, a far post finish fumbled in via the keeper, the second a tap-in after Clayton covered acres of ground on the overlap to lay on an inviting cross. In less than 4 minutes of football, Leeds had scored 3 goals and Peterborough had capitulated; thoughts immediately strayed 100 miles south where Mrs Ferguson was most likely hiding away the cat and frantically booking into a Novotel for the night. In contrast, flummoxed Leeds supporters joyously chanted “What the f**k is going on?” Snoddy responded by holding his arms aloft in puzzlement as he jogged back to the half-way line with a smile on his face.
From that point on the game was over; Leeds had somehow found a side more mediocre, de-motivated and defensively shambolic than themselves, from here it was more a case of how many more the team could score. There was certainly plenty of opportunities over the remaining 40 minutes, though sadly most fell to Danny Webber; the amount of time and space afforded to him down the left and through the middle was astonishing, yet time after time he produced the square root of f**k all. Leeds United committed a cardinal sin some years ago by releasing goalkeeper Nicky Byrne to unleash a reign of insipid pop terror through the medium of Westlife; it appears that karmic retribution has been had in the guise of JLS reject, sent to Elland Road on a short-term contract, his mission: to screw up every goal scoring opportunity that presents itself.
Another goal did come though, and it was Billy, and it was a good striker’s goal (really); just reward too for a man who was transformed after his opener – it was glorious spectacle, like watching the moment when Forrest Gump shed his leg braces and then suddenly, anything was possible! Run Billy, Run!!! …True balance was only restored in the universe when ‘Barn Door’ sliced his big hat-trick opportunity into the South Stand.
When the final whistle arrived the players were, just for once, able to look at the crowd in the eye as they applauded…
…all in all, that was almost fun!