Come 4.57pm yesterday afternoon, the Leeds players left the Elland Road pitch elated, Neil Warnock was f**king thrilled, and around 22,000 of those in the crowd were of a similar mind. It’s important to remember these things at a time when matters on the pitch almost appear to be a mere sideshow, a support bill, for the epic TOMA soap opera that rumbles on, seemingly indifferent to the needs on the team.
Victory was worth celebrating; although it came against a club, the likes of which Leeds United should expect to regularly beat at home, it was achieved against a team we had little right to expect victory against. While 11th position in the Championship is, and should always remain, a long way off an acceptable state of affairs, it’s a credit to Neil Warnock that we even occupy such a modest place within the league hierarchy; 6 of the 7 sides we’ve faced so far have boasted superior (some, vastly so) line-ups in terms of quality than Leeds can muster, it’s only the determination and discipline installed into the side that has been sufficient to see us get to where we are at this stage. Although the manager has come to resemble a broken record, stating after every game that “the players gave everything” – it is not said without justification.
Alas, as much as the back-biters and snipers may have you believe otherwise; as much as the fabulist tweets of Duncan Castles may lead those willing to believe them, into cul-de-sacs of mis-truths; as much as it would be nice, just for once to forget about it, the only undeniable truth of the here and now is there is no avoiding takeover talk, simply as, it is that and that alone that continues to hamper the progress of this football club.
Mercifully, it appears that even Bates is getting fed up of the whole affair, or at least the increasing agitation it’s bringing him, so he finally chose to break his silence before the game. Under his stewardship Bates has ‘educated’ the supporters into believing the process of reviving the club to be a process of “slow arousal” leading to eventual orgasmic fulfilment; this, on the surface at least represented the polar opposite as the trailing tweets from Yorkshire Radio and LUTV staff, hinting at something major, stirred the online community quickly to the brink of climax, only then to be left flaccid by a barely coherent monologue that merely represented a progress report.
It was a classic Bates performance, the usual splenetic ramblings against LUST, and more recent enemies, twitter and Phil Hay. There was also the priceless revelation that part of the delays in talks could be attributed to it just “being too hot in the Gulf” during the summer to negotiate. Little in the way of new information was brought to light, but at least it was now afforded the rubber stamp of officialdom, and the fact that Bates himself chose to go public, suggests admittance on his part that the sale will now go ahead.
Whatever way it was viewed, it represented a positive development, a fact reflected by the pre-match mood inside the stadium; the meek rendition of ‘Leeds, Leeds, Leeds’ that has become commonplace, giving way to a far more impassioned diapason chorus from the Kop; the buzz, so reliant in recent times on performance, in place for kick-off.
All that was missing was a decent musical accompaniment for the players’ entrance – what the anonymous piece currently in use does to stir the emotions is beyond me. While ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is clearly quite dated, it evokes memories of when a trip Elland Road represented every visiting player’s worst nightmare, a time where every player and every fan would be “at it” from the first minute to the last; it’s a piece indelibly connected with our last promotion campaign and perfectly dovetails with the abrasive personality of our current manager. Ironically, for a man obsessed with hotels, Elland Road has been the most hospitable of places for teams for the most part of Bates’ reign. Perhaps such a retrograde move may just be a small step in the right direction?
Regardless, the players mood matched those in the stands from the off as they dominated the first half. Becchio and Diouf caused a shambolic Forest backline no end of problems and the patchwork Leeds midfield somehow wrestled control of the game. As such, Becchio’s 14th minute opener was no surprise, perhaps only his method was, finally scoring by the way of the boot, rather than his head, seizing on a loose ball following good wide play from Diouf.
At that stage Leeds were rampant, on 25 minutes they doubled the advantage, this time Becchio’s hesitancy when presented with a clear sight on goal benefitted debutant Dominic Poleon who raced onto the loose ball to lash home from 16 yards and Elland Road was treated to the sight of a delirious teenager racing to the bench, as if to say “F**king hell! Look what I’ve done, boss!!” – Warnock responded with applause then a warning that a bollocking would be imminent if he didn’t get his head straight. It was a glorious moment, but an isolated highlight however from Poleon, who on the basis of the rest of the game still looks some way off being a genuine option over 90 minutes.
Shortly afterwards, Becchio had a chance to add a third in front of a boisterous South Stand, but side-footed over from 6 yards. It was an awful miss and could’ve killed off Forest at a stroke, as it was it provided the lifeline the visitors needed ahead of the second half.
After the break, Forest came out a revitalised outfit; the introduction of Lansbury and McGugan changed the game as the Leeds midfield four, comprising two 19 year-olds (one a striker on debut), the rusty Michael Tonge and Austin, became the weak link many had feared. The visitors started to dictate play, and perhaps unsurprisingly for a side who have Camp at the back and Cox up front, proved rather more effective as an attacking unit. That said, most of their most threatening moments came from corners and throw-ins, including the goal, where Paddy Kenny came for a ball he just wasn’t able to see in the glare of the sun.
Warnock made changes, substituting the injured Peltier and the struggling Poleon; it was just a shame it had to be with Aidy White and Luke Varney, the former of whom appears a lot better without the ball than with it, and the latter who just resembles a startled deer, every time the strange white spherical object arrives in close proximity. Forest continued to press and Kenny twice over redeemed himself with superb saves from McGugan’s curling effort and Cox’s close range lob.
When Andy D’Urso decreed that an inexplicable 6 minutes added time were justified, it was easy to fear the worst; then something quite remarkable happened… Leeds suddenly adopted the hitherto unseen appearance of a team confident in their ability to see out a game, spending the majority of the closing stages collecting throw-ins and corners in the Forest half. Diouf especially, who’d been exemplary throughout along with Byram, played a key role. That said, the man really at the heart of matters was (again) Austin; his lung bursting run in the 90th minute from his own half to the corner flag was a joy to behold; a man who should be in no physical state to jog, somehow sprinting beyond all, then still possessing the strength to nonchalantly push away any defender who dare try and dispossess him – eventually as a third opponent moved in, he settled for a throw-in by the corner flag and the ground rose as one to acclaim him. Our beloved Jamaican had set the “No surrender” tone for the closing minutes and the team as one, followed.
When the final whistle blew, a jubilant Warnock hugged Austin as if he was his son, then ushered his other charges in all directions to acknowledge the support; it’s been a long time since the club has had a manager who’s so in tune with the supporters. We can only hope that very soon we’ll have a man blessed with similar qualities applauding with approval from the chairman’s seat in the East Stand, and with it, ataraxia can replace the acrimony, and once again, the football is all that everyone is talking about.