Number 1 is Michael Brown,
And number 2 is Michael Brown,
And number 3 is Michael Brown,
And number 4 is Michael Brown…
You’ll have to forgive the indulgent Michael Brown love-in, but yesterday was a day for the maligned to be celebrated, where for a precious 90 minutes the underdogs bit back, the seemingly irredeemable gained redemption and those who stood witness to it all were reminded just why they continue to pay for the privilege of turning up to Elland Road week in, week out…because just every now and then, for an all too rare 90 minutes, it really can be worth the time, trouble and expense.
For 90 minutes, the spectators actually outnumbered the empty blue seats, the opposition were a wholly recognisable collective, and most pointedly for 90 minutes, those in white resembled a team; a wholly committed, disciplined XI that possessed a game plan and rigidly stuck with it; a team that where possible, kept the ball on the floor – and this wasn’t purely a byproduct of Luciano’s enforced absence, but rather more about a willingness of players to be brave and express themselves on the big stage – perhaps unbridled from the heavy weight of expectation that usually appears to weigh so heavy in the league.
For 90 minutes, Ashdown was able to start a Saturday afternoon fixture and was again able to show that Paul Rachubka is now but a dark, distant memory and his slip in the Chelsea game was an isolated faux pas.
For 90 minutes, the back four played like a cohesive defensive unit; Aidy White’s disciplined play drew nods of approval instead of despairing groans as Tottenham’s threat down the right was stifled to a far greater degree than anyone expected. In the centre, Lee Peltier’s display delivered another hammer blow on behalf of those advocating his removal from the left back spot to play there since almost the season’s beginning, while Tom Lees, inexplicably moved out to right back and then to the bench only last month to accommodate Pearce and Tate, reminded all of his status as the best defender at the club.
Then there was Sam Byram; for many at this stage, still a better attacking threat than a defender, yet here he was adding Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon to his list of conquests. In a first half where Spurs saw plenty of the ball, they struggled to make any meaningful impact down the Leeds right; Bale and Lennon for a time switched but to no avail. Come the second period, Bale stepped up his game, but still for the most part the crosses were delivered from deep rather than the touchline – the pair of them shouldn’t feel too bad, Wilfred Zaha got even less changed out of our teen.
For 90 minutes the midfield pressed, harried and kept it’s shape; the eulogised Brown, captain for the day and the outstanding leader throughout – Scott Parker, ahead of Euro 2012, heralded England’s outstanding midfielder, rendered impotent by the tigerish play of 36-year old while his partner Huddlestone alternated between attacking threat and rattled recipient of a niggly challenge or choice back-chat – Oscar and Lampard, this wasn’t! Out wide, Diouf, still labouring rather than pacy, held up the ball and used it as well as he’d done in months.
And finally for 90 minutes, up front, Leeds were a threat. Displaying better movement, afforded more space by attack-minded opponents and benefitting both from more intelligent service from midfield and the absolute inability of Caulker and Vertonghen to deal long balls – it was all a recipe for an a degree of attacking threat that exceeded all expectations when the starting line-up had been announced.
For 90 minutes, Luke Varney emerged from the shadows of Billy Paynter; although also sound in general play, where he really feasted was on those occasions that Leeds elected to go from back to front quickly; while very effective in the air, he benefitted most on the flat-footedness of the opposition’s backline, and through that he was able to deliver the opening goal. Michael Brown, receiving a pass in his own half, flicked up the ball then hooked it over the top – Diouf’s stray boot failed to connect, Tottenham froze and Varney raced clear… 6 months of experience, McCormack unmarked at the back post and an onrushing Brad Friedel all screamed “SQUARE IT!!” – Varney didn’t, instead he slipped it past the keeper into the bottom corner.
A mixture of pandemonium and confusion broke out as delirious supporters both celebrated and questioned what they’d seen at the same time. Varney marked the moment coolly in a ‘matter of fact‘ kind of style – whether it was through indignance at the doubters or plain shock was unclear, but January 27th, remember the date, the evening on which the Pritt Stick came out and page 1 of Luke’s ‘LUFC Scrapbook‘ was finally used. Choruses of “Varney Army!”, so mockingly chanted during at St. Andrews, resonated again from the Kop, but this time with far greater gusto and even a degree of affection, if not absolute conviction.
Alongside Varney for 90 minutes played McCormack; for 45 he was in the supporting role, but after half-time the stage was his own; his running off the ball, pace, movement and confidence all evident to a degree rarely seen on all but his very best days. He provided the second goal, another direct ball from the back, again Diouf failed to make initial contact but when Ross laid it back, the Senegalese forward then provided a lofted ball for McCormack to chase down, the Spurs defence again failed to react, a touch to wrong-foot a chasing Caulker then a glorious sweeping finish beyond Friedel.
The American keeper looked to the skies in disbelief as McCormack charged to the bench for an embrace with ‘Ass Man‘ Mick Jones before taking a moment to tip a nod to Warnock – “This is why I should be playing as striker, gaffer!”
At that moment Leeds looked comfortable, but fittingly, within minutes, the home side’s one defensive slip of the day was punished to complicate plans for a pleasurable closing spell, as Bale crossed and Clint Dempsey nipped across Tom Lees to head home. That was the sign for Spurs to throw everything at the home side, but it just didn’t happen – Ashdown in fact was barely troubled, indeed at the other end a slip from Assou-Ekotto presented McCormack with a chance to finish it for Leeds, but this time Friedel was able to get a hand in the way.
Ironically, the only major scare in the closing stages came from a long ball played from inside the Spurs half as substitute Obika raced clear, but just as he prepared to apply the finish, in flew Lee Peltier with a goal saving block. In recognition, the stadium rose to acclaim him – it could only ever be a good day after that!
In the dying seconds, Brad Friedel joined the melee of bodies vying to get their heads on to one final Spurs free kick, but could do nothing to retrieve the situation. The ball was cleared, the whistle went and now The Etihad is in view.
Had the visitors stolen a draw in those dying seconds, doubtless there would’ve been furious fingers pointed at Michael Brown for his needless crunching tackle on Scott Parker by the touchline. As it was, they didn’t and that challenge, the anger and frustration written across the face of the recipient and the angelic pleas of innocence from the assailant …and his master for the day – it all just seemed provide the perfect epitaph for that 90 minutes.
Hard Graft 2 Reputation 1.