“As one door closes, another opens”, so they say – it’s a pity the same doesn’t apply for windows; Neil Warnock could certainly be forgiven for thinking so as he woke this morning to reflect on another afternoon that defied all logic at Elland Road.
Deprived of the marquee signings he’d tailored his summer recruitment campaign around, and not “holding his breath” over any incoming loanees, Warnock currently presides over a team that has the battling qualities of potential title winners, but a squad that possesses the quality and depth of mid-table strugglers. Ambitions for an entire campaign hamstrung at board level by one individual, incapable of either running the club sustainably enough to support his manager or predisposed to put any of his own money in, yet seemingly unwilling to let others do so.
Of course, Ken Bates was busy spinning a different tale; his own solipsistic take on matters in the programme proving not only a complete contradiction of everything that’s previously been stated about the takeover, but also an astonishing exemplar of hypocrisy of the highest order. Dear old Ken suddenly needs to feel assured the ‘investors’ can provide proof of funds; he wants to know who they are, whether they are ‘fit and proper persons’; he’s suddenly curious about their business plan and their reasons for investing in the club.
This rather flies in the face of the official club statement on the website – a place we are constantly reminded, provides solid facts about the club – that revealed back in June that a period of exclusivity had been granted to the bidders after discussions had left the club “very comfortable they had the financial resources to support the club” and satisfied that “they will no issues satisfying the Football League’s Owners and Directors test”… something really doesn’t tally up in Bates’ rationale, now does it?
In truth it was quite amusing to see our chairman try and paint himself as a man of integrity, whose main interest was to ensure he left a positive legacy; how he’d absolutely refuse to hand any controlling interest over to a party until he was completely satisfied with their credentials. I can only imagine all those years he’d spent happily representing owners he claimed to know nothing about have been forgotten since he bought the club back off them.
Still, there seems to be plenty of supporters out there, only too willing to swallow the latest shovel load of horse shit that Bates is dishing out, especially with two ex-players from the greatest ever Leeds side seemingly only too willing to validate it all. While Peter Lorimer already stands several miles beyond the boundaries of redemption for selling his soul for a fistful of Euros; Eddie Gray now appears to be emerging from the shadows of the club’s premier Gaberlunzie, religiously reiterating the propaganda in the face of all logic – please stop it Eddie, you’re so much better than that.
Insanity off the pitch was reflected in the madness on it, come 3pm. The huge ovation afforded to Paul Robinson as he made his way towards the goal in front of the Kop, a reminder of what the club used to be and could be again; the reciprocated applause and ‘Leeds salute’ an acknowledgement of a special time in his career and a deep-rooted love for the place. Meanwhile, up by the centre circle stood Jordan Rhodes, his presence, openly mocking any claims that Leeds will ever be any kind of force, even at this modest level under the current regime.
For 35 minutes the harsh reality of the situation was plain for all to see; Leeds struggled to stay in the game. The decision to pair Diouf with Peltier down the right hand side, ruthlessly exposed as the former, charged with tracking Markus Olsson failed to do so twice; the first time Olsson charged unopposed into the area to drill the ball home, on the second occasion he set up Gomes to sweep home and double the advantage.
At that stage it was painful to watch; the Kop stood forlornly as one, like a collection of parents, watching their young charges playing a big game against another school, looking on in despair as the kids from the other place with their privileged backgrounds and Adidas Predator boots cruelly exposed the shortcomings of those beloved to them, all while the referee laughed, smiled and obliged the tormentors as they toyed with the beleaguered Whites.
But then two things changed and with it, so did the game; with the near lifeless carcass of Leeds United almost pleading for a mercy killing, Blackburn decided to drop back rather than strike a decisive blow, while in the absence of anything more constructive, Leeds adopted a new tactic of pummelling high balls in and around the 6 yard box at high speed.
Success was almost instant; after a couple of close calls, Norris’ Saturn-bound punt had Becchio and Diouf bearing down on Robinson upon its eventual return to Earth; the ball was fumbled and eventually, several toe pokes later, Diouf put Leeds back in it – it was an eyesore of a goal, but ANYTHING would do at that stage. From that point, Blackburn crumbled; minutes later only Robinson’s fingertips denied Diouf a second as the visitors clung on for the interval in a game that should’ve been over.
The pattern continued in the second half; as a spectacle it resembled today’s Leeds United taking on last season’s XI, so lamentable was Blackburn’s defending. A simple long ball wasn’t dealt with and McCormack hammered in a shot that swerved passed Robinson to put Leeds level, then shortly after, another deep cross caused panic and Becchio’s header somehow evaded the keeper – 3-2: cue pandemonium.
That should’ve been it; Blackburn were in pieces and cries of “Kean out!” rang out from the Kop more audibly than from they did from the West Stand, it would’ve been it too had Pearce’s header been allowed to stand – few people could understand why it didn’t. It wasn’t of over course, not while Neil Swarbrick had a role to play; I was still bawling expletives from the back of the Kop over his ludicrous decision to award a free-kick against Tom Lees following Morten Gamst Pedersen’s pushing, as Ruben Rochina back-heeled in from the resultant corner with 7 minutes remaining.
It was the worst and most costly of a multitude of mystifying decisions made by a referee who spent the entire game trotting around the pitch like a Brylcream smothered show pony and a last gasp opportunity squandered by Diouf in the dying moments ensured he wasn’t to be spared the wrath of Warnock; come the final whistle, rather than walk towards the Kop to applaud the home support, Neil waited, and waited, and waited some more, until the official, surrounded by a bevy of minders made his way towards the tunnel. Fingers were pointed vigorously…
Warnock later branded that final decision as “embarrassing”; even that seemed fairly charitable, though maybe the referee was merely trying to fit in with the spirit of another perplexing day. At 3.35pm the home support were desperately looking at a damage limitation exercise; by 5pm many were fuming at being denied a win.