So to the second home game of the league season and to a reality check; the long queues, the baking heat, the capacity crowd, all but a fond memory; the large banks of vacant blue seats, the accentuated paucity of pace, the want for width and clamour for creativity a reaffirmation of the task that lies ahead for Brian McDermott.
While yesterday’s game wasn’t a spectacle to savour, it was another to offer hope of progression. Much like the exchanges at the King Power Stadium suggested, what Leeds lack in quality, they do at least possess in discipline and organisation and until the former is addressed, it is those grittier traits that offer our best hope for sneaking draws and victories in the short term.
Wednesday arrived at Elland Road having done their homework; inevitably with three consecutive defeats behind them, Dave Jones’ ambition was limited to a game plan designed to stifle Leeds, a compact midfield line that invited Leeds to find a way past – for much of the first half the home side failed miserably; Ross McCormack offered the only real moment of excitement, his deft chip forcing Chris Kirkland to tip the ball over the bar.
Other than that, there was nothing; in his free role Ross dashed around in constant hope of providing a spark, but as he wandered, lost amidst a sea of slow moving bodies and even slower moving minds he was left to floccinaucinihilipilificate about the hopelessness of his mission. Luke Murphy flirted with the Geldard, offering fleeting glimpses of the poise and passing so long lacking in the Leeds midfield, but with Poleon shackled, Varney only offering his head as a target down the flanks and an aching deficiency of willing runners from the full back positions, those glimpses remained nothing more than that.
At the back, a fair degree of solidity; for a second consecutive game, Pearce resembled a centre half, though in truth the visitors did little to test him or his team mates. That was perhaps an unsurprising revelation, being that the back fours’ Achilles’ heel(s) is not to be found in dealing with the physicality of an opposition, nor indeed when having to ‘dig in’, but rather in their ability to handle pace as games become stretched, deficiencies in organisation at set pieces and a collective attention span that bears comparison with a goldfish suffering PTSD…
Thirty-two minutes in and the opposition win a corner. Two free headers and a vacated back post later and Zayette’s turning to celebrate a first goal for his new club; the ripped up betting slips that cascaded across N11 like confetti obscured the cluster of Wednesday bodies as they embraced the defender and the all too familiar chorus of sighs served to muffle the distant cheers from the West Stand – but neither could mask more defensive shortcomings.
It was an undeserved lead, but one that highlighted the desperate need for another centre back at the club; a new Richard Naylor (circa 2009, rather than the model from the autumn period of his Leeds career, you understand…oh, and quicker) is essential, a talker who can cajole, organise and help eradicate these all too common losses in concentration.
If Leeds did respond, it bypassed most in Elland Road as a further 15 minutes of attrition followed. But like at Leicester, the midfield scrap did offer Austin another chance to excel and the Jamaican didn’t disappoint, one thunderous, perfectly timed sliding challenge was followed by another, each further predicating Brain McDermott’s logic in naming him his captain; by the end of the half, it seemed that even the ball itself had forgone its futile resistance and started gravitating towards ‘The Beast’ while his opposite numbers’ maintained a safe distance. An impotent Paul Green could only look on and ponder his place in the universe.
An answer wasn’t to be long in arriving for Green as come the start of the second half, he discovered his natural place was back on the sidelines as Michael Tonge replaced him, offering the promise of poise and passing ability, if nothing else. As it was, that was enough to help Leeds gain the upper hand; McCormack was now being found with regularity and Peltier, with an even greater void down the right side to run into was suddenly bombing forward.
McCormack it was who delivered the goods, taking the ball on the run, slipping it past a flat-footed Zayette, before collecting the ball in his stride to slip beyond Kirkland; one cherished moment of sublime beauty, it stood alone, wholly out of step with the pig ugly spectacle that had preceded it. With weeks of constant speculation behind him the goal represented a release, marked by a suitably manic act of recognition. Cupped ears were offered in the direction of the East Stand as chants of “Ross McCormack is not for sale!” cascaded pitchward; the actions of a man content at his club, but possibly not secure there?
With the goal came the momentum, as the decibel level rose, so did the pace, but little was created. While Peltier’s energy levels in constantly providing an option on the overlap were to be admired, his final ball could only be berated; on the left, Poleon offered an outlet but was targeted as the chosen matryr of a consistently awful referee who chose to take the square root of f*** all, halve it, then serve it on a plate with a side salad to the youngster; frustrated, but never browbeaten, he gamely battled for 85 minutes before Diouf entered the fray as a last throw of the dice.
Like Smith, who’d replaced Varney earlier, Diouf had little time to effect a contest that had slipped back into stalemate; if anything the visitors offered a greater threat in the closing stages as the game became stretched, but in all honesty, a victory for either side would’ve been a travesty…and a third goal, a complement way too worthy of the spectacle.
Solid but unspectacular, a cake without icing…mid-table mediocrity or a punt for the play-offs? The movements during the fortnight of this transfer window will do much to shape the 8 months that follow it.
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