A big night at Elland Road; a cheap night, tickets at £15 a throw behind the goals awarded with a full South Stand, testament to the success of the ‘Watch Leeds For Less’ promotion. The latest ‘must win’ game for a side finally finding a degree of form…if not a run of victories, but that mattered not for the opponents tonight represented as close to Championship cannon fodder as could be reliably sourced.
Peterborough, a club, seemingly forever resigned to a fate of striving to survive in the Championship, a team still tainted by the indignity of shipping two goals to Billy Paynter last Spring, an outfit more renown for being managed by a man whose moderate profile is chiefly attributable to being someone else’s son and his domestic violence misdemeanours, and for being supported by a man who somehow manages to stand head and shoulders above all the other gobsh*tes on Talk Sport. This was the game where the lowly visitors were to be swept aside in a sea of fervour as football, fortune and form finally coalesced magnificently to kick-start the long promised charge for the play-offs…
Elland Road expected, the referee signalled to his assistants, checked his watch, then blew his whistle, then…nothing. A big fat, no scrap that, an obscenely super-sized NOTHING! Leeds started the game like a team going through the motions, Peterborough like a side primed for rampant victory. The limp Leeds midfield unit, somehow almost adequate over the previous 5 games suddenly having its every flaw exposed: the lack genuine wide options, of any discernible pace, of a physical presence and of any recognised defensively minded presence all laid bare, in turn reducing the rock solid facade built by the back four to a crumbled heap of rubble – opportunities afoot for the enemy to rape and pillage!
They did so, showing little mercy. On 13 minutes confusion reigned in the 18 yard box, defenders and keeper chasing shadows while ignoring the general whereabouts of the ball, it finally broke to Dwight Gayle who rattled the crossbar. United escaped as Kenny, Peltier, Lees and Warnock retreated sheepishly back towards the halfway line. Two minutes later a goal kick, Gayle again latched onto it, Peltier the final line of the defence backed off while affording the striker just that extra inch of space to get his shot away with every backward stride, with the penalty area fast approaching and by now the option to plant the ball either side of the keeper, Gayle opted to go for Kenny’s right, he chose wisely. 1-0.
A wake up call? Time to grasp the mettle? Maybe not…instead another setback followed, Tom Lees unable to run off an injury he sustained was replaced by Jason Pearce; the loss of Lees, a big blow in itself, rendered a catastrophe by his replacement. Warnock was to later exalt Pearce for the physical presence he brought to the side, but as the next 60-odd minutes were about to prove, the self-proclaimed ‘JP Dog’ appeared utterly incapable of putting that asset to good use. Maybe that’s why Warnock seems so fond of his man: he’s a player who came to Leeds with a big reputation, played on being a natural leader and yet despite all expectations and strong words is giving the impression of a man out of his depth at a club of this size…common ground?
That may yet be untrue, but within minutes the first holes were being picked in the case of the defence as a mix-up with a flapping Paddy Kenny almost led to a second goal. Ahead of the backline, things were little better, a midfield rendered both redundant by their own ineffectiveness and long balls from the back; Paul Green ran about manically but made more loose passes than a Geordie Shore member on a Friday night out. Ahead of them, Ross McCormack was reduced to chasing after loss causes, like a dog still going after a ball, long after its owner has got bored with the novelty of engaging with the activity. Morison simply looked ineffective/injured/not arsed* (*delete as appropriate according to your perspective. Suddenly the goading/call generating pretensions, taken as a given within Adrain Durham’s 3-0 victory prediction…even they seemed questionable.
It took over half an hour for a moment of note to arise in the Peterborough half, Stephen Warnock half-volleying an intelligent McCormack cross well wide. Shortly after however, Pearce was to be presented with the best opportunity of the evening; unmarked he rose to meet Ross McCormack’s inviting cross, but the bench dwelling lummox somehow contorted his body in such a way that it became actually, physically possible to head over from almost under the bar. Nobody appeared to offer him any words of solace in the aftermath, though I’m not sure even the English language for its million-plus words is adequate to formulate the wholly appropriate prose for such a situation.
Half-time was greeted with a few isolated half hearted claps of encouragement, but they were lost for the most part in a chorus of sighs. Forty-five minutes remained to persuade the faithful that the season wasn’t essentially dead, though many were already penning post-mortems and wondering when GFH-C were going to start planning in earnest for August.
Diouf was Warnock’s half-time remedy to our woes; he replaced the anonymous Morison and while his pace, goalscoring and crossing offered little promise, there was at least solace to be taken in the possibility that the home side may keep the ball for upwards of 5 seconds at some juncture.
As it was, Leeds did pick up the momentum. Peterborough continued to threaten with pace on the break but Leeds started to dominate..not with a new found fluidity of passing and general panache you understand, but the players ran around with greater urgency and a few more of the ‘direct’ passes were sticking around the feet. With 56 minutes on the clock, Leeds were rewarded by the right boot of Sam Byram; not content with being our best wide attacking outlet and most notable aerial nuisance from corners, Sam is fast developing into Leeds’ most reliable man at the back stick…another nervous summer awaits.
So with a goal, territorial advantage and the momentum, finally time for Leeds to start that mooted ‘sweeping them away’ job? Not so. Any semblance of built momentum gave way to a fairly even final 34 minutes, Leeds’ puffing, panting and possession heavy play, countered by a swift attacking threat. Both sides had chances to win, but with Leeds desperate, the onus lay with them. Warnock with 9 minutes left made his move, removing the attack minded Norris with the more defensively sound Austin. Habibou, in the absence of a nearby mallard was left to throw a metaphorical strop, any remaining doubts remaining as to whether his loan spell has been a waste of time, surely answered.
Time remained for one more guilt-edged opportunity; another cross, another free header for Pearce from close range…the most charitable thing that could be said of it was that it wasn’t quite as lamentable as his earlier transgression. Moments later the final whistle blew. Rather than be greeted by loud booing that may have been the case not that long ago, there was merely silence, the odd unenthused clap, the shuffling of feet, shrugging of shoulders and odd mumble, punctuating the desperate air or resignation
Warnock it seems has now moulded a team in his own image; hardworking and straight talking, but ultimately, when it comes to the big stage and when the pressure’s on, wholly incapable of delivering and performing, time after time. Nine games still remain, but it’s already feeling like last Spring, all over again.
Maybe if Saturday disappoints, Huddersfield might just be doing us all a favour?
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