All aboard the football fun bus once more – destination Molineux, for a clash between two battered heavyweights from days of yore: the hosts, seemingly intent on plummeting back down through the leagues, the visitors an object lesson in how little can be achieved once down there. Two clubs who at the moment, appear more adept at locating the ‘self-destruct’ button than any other. The omens were not good.
While to have any meaningful recollections of top flight football, Leeds fans have to be beyond school leaving age, Wolves of course were flouncing about their Premier League bling as recently as last season and the signs remain there at Molineux. To our right, stood the brand new Stan Cullis Stand; it’s large scale shining modernity, brightly coloured seats and half-populated state, an epitaph to unrealised ambitions and broken dreams; to our left, the Wolves squad warmed up on the pitch, still dotted about within, players of Premier League pedigree and wage packets; then straight ahead, another byproduct of the big time – flag wavers!
I’m not sure how employing people to stand on the touchline, waving massive club flags to greet the teams – and in the case of Wolves, to even accompany the warm up – has crept into the game, I just know I hate it. This is nothing to do with tradition, it’s not a revival of something that used to happen, or even a trend that’s inevitably permeated from foreign shores – have we really got to the stage where football’s cynical marketing machine is now taking tips for enhancing the ‘match day experience‘ from the latest FIFA games? Screw you, EA Sports!!
Notwithstanding this soulless, corporate branding exercise, the most disturbing aspect of it all were those complicit in the whole spectacle; typically it’d be the role of the ball boys and junior players to perform the roles of flag wavers, at Wolves, they were employing pensioners to do so – the old fella stood ahead of me looked on the point of keeling over, long before his duties were fulfilled; maybe B&Q have filled all their part time posts in the West Midlands?
I digress. Back to those of a pensionable age who stood more central to the drama of the day. Neil Warnock, keen to prove that he wasn’t yet a spent force, wrong-footed one and all by selecting a line-up that screamed “BALANCED!!” The temptation to throw Austin back in, regardless of what state he was in after his travels was resisted, which meant an opportunity to twin a defensively minded Brown with an attack minded Norris, while out wide, Green and Varney are probably as much as we can muster in terms of width (unless you’re buying into Ryan Hall – I’m not), while up front and at the back the side looked to be potentially as strong as it has done all season.
As the first half progressed, the signs were promising. Wolves offered nothing more than the odd flash of quality. Peltier and Lees again looked very accomplished in the centre, while down the left, Stephen Warnock’s contribution recalled the exploits of Michael Gray, much more than those of Capaldi, McCartney et al. The game was there to be won, if only Leeds were able to take it by the scruff of the neck – this is again where the side were lacking. Ahead of the back five, only Brown was showing himself in the midfield, meaning that McCormack’s movement and work rate up front was largely in vain. Norris, Green and Varney were peripheral while Morison, one header apart, was a virtual bystander.
It was only after about half an hour that the rest of the midfield came to the party and from that point onwards, Leeds had the look of the likely winners. Chances remained at a premium though and the concern going into the interval was that Saunders would send out a rather more cohesive Wolves outfit after the break.
Not that many Leeds fans dwelled upon that; with the bar still open, selling outrageously overpriced, warm lager, there was half-time fun to be had. The old 2 Unlimited based canticle to Neil Kilkenny had a new use, a new focus…
“Na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na Stephen Warnock!!
Na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na Neil Warnock!!”
One of those simplistic, stupid and yet undeniably amusing tributes that can only ever be the spawn or restless minds and excessive alcohol consumption.
Come the second half, Leeds started well again. Norris, largely anonymous during the opening 30 minutes was suddenly at the heart of most Leeds attacking movements. Varney was imposing himself down the left, while Green and Byram alternated their runs down the right – all the signs were there…for an opposition goal. It came, both against the run of play and via a Leeds boot on 57 minutes. Green, working so well with Byram going forward abdicated responsibility for tracking Ward who was subsequently played in down the left and his low cross found the inside of Kenny’s near post. Most media reports credited the own goal to Peltier, but it seemed unclear from replays whether the final touch came inadvertently off Warnock.
Regardless, it was harsh on either party and harsh on Leeds; it demanded a response, which was quickly forthcoming. The visitors remained in the ascendancy and 7 minutes later were back level; Byram fed Norris in the box, his blocked shot spun back to McCormack at the edge of the area, the Scot neatly nudged the ball between two defenders into the path of Varney to his left, who curled in from 12 yards. This time Varney’s celebrations were rather more animated than for his strike against Tottenham, culminating in a knee slide towards the bench where Warnock and Jepson looked on like proud parents.
The game was now there to be won and Leeds continued to press, albeit without overly exerting Carl Ikeme in goal. Redemption came in the form of Byram; as Green strode forward down the middle, the right back (well in this game…to me he’s still best as a midfielder) stormed onward and once Green delivered a slide rule pass, all it was ever going to take was a combination of momentum and an obliging nudge – Sako obliged: PENALTY!
If a relatively unremarkable debut by Morison was causing some minds to stray back to Luciano, the penalty reward certainly brought his absence into sharp focus. On this occasion it was up to McCormack to fill the void, he obliged with aplomb, calmly stroking home. In contrast to Varney, Ross chose to make a B-line for the Leeds fans (via a cheeky, detour to take in some abuse from the Stan Cullis Stand), throwing in a manic Leeds salute for good measure – deciphering the fan’s favourite from the manager’s favourite wasn’t a particularly testing challenge.
The Leeds fans, packed along the lower tier of the Steve Bull Stand rejoiced, then turned backwards to mock those looking down from above:
“We’re winning away, we’re winning away…
How sh*t must you be, we’re winning away!”
Any confidence in Leeds is of course, often misplaced, though for once it seemed it wouldn’t be. Leeds looked confident, Wolves looked condemned. A third goal was in the offing, a third goal would finish things, but it never came. Warnock started to grow agitated in his technical area and as the minutes ticked by and the closer the 3 points were, the more unsure of themselves Leeds looked. The default ‘throwing on Jason Pearce to shore things up gambit’ was in place, but the referee didn’t heed the desperate pleas. Morison lost the ball on halfway with a poor touch and from there a corner was conceded; more manic signaling from the bench as Kenny needlessly helped an effort on goal out of play. Pearce remained stood there, forlorn and helpless from his chalk lined prison as near post corner flew in, Kenny rose high to punch away, but it fell to O’Hara who looped it back towards the edge of the 6 yard box and on to the head of an onrushing Danny Bath. 2-2.
Again, a series of defensive mistakes had combined to condemn Leeds, culminating in the tallest player on the pitch being afforded a free run on goal in stoppage time. From the recriminations and finger pointing that followed, it appeared that Morison, stood with his head bowed and covered by his palms was the guilty party.
Back on the bench, Warnock ranted and Pearce disconsolately slipped his coat back on and retreated the murky and morose depths of the Leeds bench. Little over a minute remained for Leeds to muster a response…they couldn’t.
So for a second consecutive weekend, a decent performance tainted by incidences of incompetence; seven days could’ve heralded six points, instead it’s brought one. In the post-match interviews, Dean Saunders bemoaned the fact that his side’s defending from set plays – considering the circumstances in which his team snatched a point, the irony was inescapable.
Staying positive though, next up we face Boro; a team that’s now lost five games on the spin and have never beaten Leeds at The Riverside. It’s a result that can surely only go one way…
Oh the joys of watching Leeds United.