In the realms of physics, the Doppler Effect explains the change in frequency of a wave for an observer, relative to its position; most commonly the phenomenon is cited in regard to sound waves, illustrating why the received pitch from an approaching siren is higher than the emitted frequency during the approach of the vehicle, identical at the moment of passing and lower as it moves away.
This universal law is also one that is typically applicable to the mood on Leeds United match days; come the morning, the mood is good, anticipation is high, a communal sense of fever pitch builds in the pubs of the surrounding hinterlands, then as the ref’s whistle signals kick-off, a sense of perspective, a look at the relative strengths of the team and a degree realism corrects expectations; then as the game passes, so the vibe flattens, slowly dissipating until it is no longer detectable…
But not today, for Leeds United decided to cast aside the ‘The Big Book of Dubious Physics Analogies’ and subverted every fundamental truth within. Today the pre-match buzz was more of a pre-match “meh”, the intrusion of football on the weekend almost worthy of resentment following a blissful two week recess from misery and self-doubt, add the opposition, the early kick-off and the Sky TV factor and the indifference that infiltrated The Old Peacock’s beer garden was understandable.
All things considered, it was somewhat of a surprise that over 21,000 chose to pass through the turnstiles – for once it was a sound judgement call by those who did. Leeds strode out purposefully, sporting a new formation designed to address defensive frailties and shortcomings in wide areas…and it worked!
Opportunities, so often at a premium were conspicuous from the start; McCormack disappointingly spurned a one-on-one, Pearce characteristically cleared the bar with a header, but they continued to come. McCormack again threatened from a sweeping Austin pass but again found the keeper…a spectacle was unfolding in front of our eyes.
With 18 minutes on the clock a lamentable Blues backline joined the party. A lofted ball forward for Smith caused mass panic, Darren Randolph rushed from his line to take control of the situation, but not the ball, Austin pounced and laid it off to McCormack who leisurely swept the ball home from 20 yards. Elation and relief amongst the Leeds ranks as the scorer chose to mark the occasion with a salute; desolation and recriminations amongst the Birmingham ranks as Randolph brilliantly chose jumping up and down on the spot as way of expressing himself.
Euphoria cautiously punctured pockets of support in the Kop, even the spine chilling sight of Danny Pugh warming up following an awkward Warnock stretch couldn’t dampen the mood. Mercifully Warnock recovered and went on to produce one of his strongest performances in a Leeds shirt on a day when a few others could claim the same. Most imperious of all was Austin. In the 33rd he swept a sublime crossfield pass to the feet of McCormack who in return delivered the ball back into his path as Austin swallowed up the ground between the Leeds 18 yard box and the Birmingham 6 yard one – 2-0! A superb goal.
Birmingham looked shellshocked, the defence playing like strangers; it was like watching the Leeds backline at Pride Park, only today the goalkeeper had come to the party too. As half-time approached so did another catastrophe: three centre backs, two strikers, one goal…a free header for Smith and a free pop at goal for McCormack and then the ball came back to an unmarked Smith who sidefooted home. It almost felt cruel taking advantage of such a ramshackle showing.
Lee Clark looked on forlornly; the shadows of a 3-0 deficit even longer than those cast by his rapidly expanding waistline; the mumbling Geordie may have long given up claims of being unbeaten in the football arena, but clearly no ‘all you can eat buffet’ has yet to claim his scalp. He was already halfway to the dressing room as the home side marched off at half-time to ringing acclaim.
So to the Birmingham response: Nikola Zigic – who else? The man who always seems to treat Leeds with the same regard that locals have for pigs in Deliverance…a hint of apprehension around Elland Road was suddenly evident.
The visitors, Zigic and all, improved significantly and Paddy Kenny and Tom Lees both came to the rescue during their best spell, but Leeds too continued to threaten; Mowatt played both Austin and Smith through on goal, the former denied by the keeper, the latter by a marginal offside decision.
Shortly afterwards, Smith looked to the heavens/skies* (*delete as appropriate, according to religious beliefs) again as Randolph confoundingly clawed away a close range header following another fantastic McCormack delivery. If he questioned whether his luck was out for the day he was to get his answer inside minutes. Mowatt again broke forward, found Austin and gestured for a return pass, what happened next was so sublime that it possessed the power to make grown men cry…
The debates on just how good Alex Mowatt is has rumbled on ever since his debut, a precious talking point to take solace in while the team has faltered. Better than Byram? Delph? In the space of a few seconds, Mowatt did enough to suggest he’s not only potentially better than both of those…but I’d throw Lennon and Milner into the equation too; not since the days of Jonathan Woodgate has a young player slipped into the side and played with such astonishing assurance; while today (for once) he wasn’t the outstanding player on the pitch, he still provided the outstanding moment. Now back to that goal…
So Austin sees Mowatt call for the return pass and plays the ball back towards him, Mowatt then as he gets ready to receive the ball, casts the shortest of glances into the box, it’s barely a blink, yet enough for him to develop the clearest of pictures of what’s happening and where Matt Smith is, his eyes then return to the ball which he sweeps in first time in one glorious movement, straight into the path of Smith who simply couldn’t miss.
It was the sort of moment of which only the very best players are capable, such speed of thought, such an intuitive understanding of what is going on around him and the ability to deliver that final ball. While Byram, Delph, Lennon and Milner are all special talents, even at this stage, Mowatt has the look of player who can exist on an even higher plain, that to which the vast majority of pros can only ever aspire. His exchanges too with Byram, all speed of thought and fleetness of foot provided joyful vignettes to intersperse the rough and tumble around them.
You suspect the only dangers to Mowatt’s progress as things stand are injuries and getting lost in his own hype. In terms of the latter, on the evidence of today there seems little to worry about; when the Kop rose to acclaim him as he took a late corner, he shied away, choosing to keep his head down and concentrate on the game. Similarly, come the full-time whistle, he was the first to make his way to the tunnel, happy to applaud the crowd but shying away from milking the adulation.
Four goals, a clean sheet and the first clear suggestions that Elland Road is nurturing its biggest talent since the O’Leary era. Turned out better than expected, eh?
Follow Fear and Loathing on twitter.