“O Middle Eastern bidder, Middle Eastern bidder, wherefore art thou Middle Eastern bidder?”
By the hours of mid-morning, rumours were abound of an appearance by Leeds United’s very own Romeo Montague at Elland Road; the elusive, secretive figure(s) at the heart of a summer of TOMA-related torture, finally stepping out from the shadows of anonymity to reveal himself/themselves to an already love struck public; the man/men who would be at the forefront of a revolution marking our transformation from a failing, ‘small time’ property developing business back into competitive, ‘big time’ football club.
Any dreams of the hero(s) of the piece, parachuting down from the skies, landing on the centre spot to sign the papers just ahead of kick-off were to be cruelly denied; but we’ve learned to harbour modest expectations at Elland Road these days – a decade of abject misery does that to people. However, it seems he (as it turned out, it was just one) was here, and if the photographs and the scientifically groundless work of the WACCOE facial recognition team are anything to go by, the man in question was a certain Sheikh Sauod Bin Adbulrahman Al Thani: sports fanatic, vice-president of the Qatari Olympics bid and member of the family that bankrolled the successful World Cup bid and are worth a cool $85bn – “Dare to dream” indeed.
In a sudden, perverse reversal of roles, the Leeds support found themselves cast into the role of Romeo; gazing up at very their own Miss Capulet as their suitor looked out from their elevated East Stand executive box balcony vantage point. It mattered not to those below that this new love of theirs wasn’t a beautiful brunette, with pale silken skin and wispy hair that daintily danced on the breeze, for marriage into the Al Thani family also brought with it the promise of eternal happiness and riches…
And so it began, a new courtship; the Leeds fans on their best, vociferous, supportive behaviour as they tried to consummate a bond between a Yorkshire footballing dynasty and one from a distant land, while a diminutive fella sporting stubble and shades exchanged niceties with Ken and Susannah. But are we finally close to the line? Is the altar in sight? Well Andy Couzens claims the deal will go through in the next 24-48 hours – and who are we to doubt someone who played a handful of games for us in the mid-90s? – so that’d mean we’re now entering the fabled “Two and forty hours” period ahead of the resolution of the tale… let’s just hope we avoid the unpalatable spectacle of thousands of grief stricken supporters plunging daggers into their midriff.
Anyway…avert your longing stares from the stands and on to the pitch as suddenly a game was about to intrude upon the centre stage and a new league season kick-off; the buzz in the stadium a stark contrast to the mood as a defeat to Leicester brought the last campaign to a close. The first starting XI of the campaign featured 8 debutants, 7 of whom were summer signings – testament to the exhaustive work carried out in by Neil Warnock since April 28th. Finally (give or take a marquee signing or three) the man in charge was able to field something approaching a team formed in his own image; players that will compete for every ball, that won’t go missing during games…now bring on the pace and flair!
From the first whistle, everything promised was delivered in a lively opening half; Leeds started at a tempo and didn’t relent. At the back Pearce and Peltier, starting only their second game as a defensive partnership, keeping Doyle and Ebanks-Blake very quiet throughout the 45 minutes, while 18 year-old Sam Byram, after a shaky opening, slowly started to dominate Ryan Jarvis. In the midfield, Austin, Norris, Green and Varney worked relentlessly as Leeds gained the upper hand, and yet, it was down to the remaining three players to deliver the defining moment of the game.
Collecting the ball in his own area, Paddy Kenny struck a glorious long pass straight to the feet of Ross McCormack – a ball of such quality that Adam Clayton would’ve still been dining out at Nando’s on the strength of it, come next Spring – who in turn killed the ball dead with a single touch, before striding down the left and delivering a perfect low cross for Becchio who provided a stooping heading and diving celebration reminiscent of the Millwall play-off tie – 18 minutes in, 1-0!
It was just reward for a United side that had already gone close moments before through McCormack and earlier in a goalmouth scramble that produced blocks aplenty, the ovation at half-time suggested that few home fans had any complaints.
The second half was a rather different affair; initially it was more even, but as the Leeds midfield started to feel the effects of the hard running they’d put in, Wolves wrestled the initiative and spent the final 25 minutes very much in the ascendancy. While the undeniable work ethic running through the new line-up is once again creating a Leeds side that fans can identify with, the issue of a quality will ultimately define our season.
As the visitors dominated and gaps inevitably started to appear, the team became their own worst enemy; while Wolves patiently kept hold of the ball, looking for openings, Leeds consistently wasted possession when it was presented to them, looking for long passes that weren’t there to be made – as much as it pains to admit it, there was only Diouf who effectively kept hold of the ball in the closing stages. When Leeds were awarded a corner in the 82nd minute, Becchio gestured to a member of the crowd to keep hold of the ball for a few seconds… that summed up the balance of play at the time.
But United held on and collected what could represent as huge 3 points, against what on paper is arguably the strongest side in the league. Peltier embraced the captain’s role while the outstanding Pearce played like one regardless. In Byram we have a potential star, while in Austin we seemingly already have another; the way he deposed Kevin Doyle of the ball in stoppage time, then while still being held, slid tackled Doumbia to win a throw-in was a joy to behold.
So all in all, a very positive start to the new season; it makes you wonder just what Warnock might achieve if our ‘Juliet’ gets his arse in gear and these two star-crossed lovers can be as one…