A young child ‘blacked up’ in tribute to his hero, El Hadji Diouf; the defining image from today’s game. Whether those who saw it found the photograph hysterically funny, uncomfortably charming, profoundly troubling or downright offensive, everyone who encountered it have almost certainly got it indelibly imprinted upon their minds. My personal take on it was of a heartfelt, amusing, if slightly ill-advised gesture and it has been heartening to see that most of those on twitter have interpreted act in the spirit the young boy intended it.
Granted, this may seem an unconventional way in which to start reviewing Leeds’ clash with Bolton, but the fact is, despite the fake tan, gravy powder, or whatever those parents/guardians plastered the poor child in, he still managed to pull off a far more convincing impersonation of a Leeds United player than any of those on the pitch managed for about an hour.
The New Years Day hangovers in the stands were nothing as compared to those post-Hull, as a “hard working but hesitant”” (Warnock’s words) Leeds side set about shutting down Bolton, shutting up shop and shutting everyone else’s eyes. While regulars have become accustomed to a regular menu of desperate football over recent years, the opening 45 minutes somehow managed to even undershoot the most modestly established set of expectations.
During that tortuous opening spell, Bolton looked the better of the two outfits, if only on the grounds that they were able to keep the ball for longer spells before wasting possession, and on account of having Chris Eagles, the only player of 22 with an intention to run with the ball and shoot. It was he who had the only two notable opportunities of the half, the first a shot drilled wide of Kenny’s far post, the second, a long range effort that was clawed away from the Leeds keeper.
Other than that, there was nothing; one great big, depressing melange of absolute nothingness; even the first Eagles chance had been primarily the product of defensive error rather than inventive play – Alan Tate, taking a break from his typical ‘route one’ school of ball playing, to tap it instead into the path of an oncoming Bolton player.
It’s becoming a dispiriting spectacle watching Tate; after a promising start he’s slipped into the guise of a latter period Richard Naylor, slack with the ball, slow to pick up players, even slower over the grass… considering he’s built like a rhino, it’s tempting to think that some club officials abducted such a creature on a recent trip to Flamingoland, dressed it in a replica kit, popped on a blonde wig and tried to pass it off as a Premier League loanee.
Perhaps it would be churlish to complain as he at least inspired a momentary lapse from the mundanity of it all. By 3.20 the Kop was awash with supporters finding distractions to dull the pain, the phones were out en masse, faces illuminated from the glow of their devices potted all over and a soundtrack of soft mumbling and stifled yawns. On 25 minutes a discarded McDonald’s bag made its way onto the turf, fittingly skipping past Peltier unnoticed, before settling in a quiet spot down the Leeds right – that’s as compelling as the action got. Even the fourth official’s declaration of one minute’s added time seemed an almost insurmountable obstacle ahead of the respite of the half-time break.
Come the ritual playing of the ‘You Bet, You Score’ challenge, it seemed wholly inevitable that neither contestant would capable of keeping the ball off the ground and between the posts from a distance of 12 yards. When a third volunteer was desperately summoned up from the stands and succeeded, it almost felt humbling to witness such an act.
Back in the harsh reality of game time, it was more of the same, only the groans became more audible and the fans even more disinterested. With 55 minutes on the clock, the whole of the lower tier of the Kop were actually sat; a scenario the purple bibs could only ever usually dream of – supporters were looking for something, ANYTHING to hold on to, some of the natives in N11 were even calling for the introduction of Michael Brown – a broken limb from a psychopathic tackle, a needless booking, a wayward shot…such qualities suddenly seemed quite aspirational!
When Leeds actually won a corner, it was perhaps unsurprising that it generated a level of excitement way out of proportion with what had been achieved…nothing became of it; but then on the hour mark, Leeds were awarded a free-kick, a decision met with an almost maniacal degree of zeal – Diouf took it, it was nodded away and Norris skewed the loose ball in a direction opposite to that he intended – this was Leeds getting on top!
Then, a period of sustained pressure as Leeds kept their opponents under the cosh for a full 30 seconds; Green miscued horribly from 8 yards, McCormack got to the loose ball, a loose challenge on McCormack – PENALTY!! Up stepped Becchio and in a moment wholly out of keeping with the game, struck the ball truly and confidently into the bottom right hand corner of the goal.
Relief, joy and the customary adulation of the Argentine ensued and suddenly Leeds had awoken. Moments later, McCormack freed on the right swept the ball over the bar, then from 12 yards dragged another effort wide. For a few precious moments, Leeds vs Bolton resembled a Championship level fixture.
It didn’t last, perhaps mercifully as Leeds then dropped back, trying to see out the game and secure a fortuitous 3 points – in response, Bolton could offer little. With the exception of one scrambling moment of panic, the opposition failed to surpass their first half pomp of holding possession for longer before squandering it. Even the common, nerve shredding experience of watching Leeds cling on to a win made for remarkably tedious viewing.
Three precious points and nothing else.