For 41 minutes we looked on; a desperate, dispiriting spectacle unfolded before us, a collaborative creation of 22 men that possessed as much charm, invention and narrative interest as an Adam Sandler film. A home side fighting a losing battle with their own inadequacies and lack of belief, and against visitors, hell bent on stifling any evidence to the contrary with a high tempo, pressing game.
Yeovil had come to town, full of a vigour that betrayed their position in the Championship’s basement slot; their players buzzed around in their change kit of nuclear yellow and black hoops, akin to radioactive wasps who’d lost their sweet tooths and had now developed an all consuming attraction to excrement, much like many of their lower order cousins. In response, the devotedly stalked Leeds players looked overwhelmed, moments of danger were becoming increasingly fleeting and the impending half-time whistle loomed in the distance like a beacon of mercy.
Then it happened. After manfully ambling up and down the left flank, Stephen Warnock was forced to accept his fate and his number up in lights on the touchline. In a touching moment of compassion, he stopped just short of his departure to pick up a carrier bag, as if to perhaps to spare one less party the ordeal of seeing anything more…
On came debutant, Marius Zaliukas – we now had FIVE centre halves playing. What did McDermott have in mind? Well, Wootton is said to be comfortable at full back, Lees has played there before…maybe Peltier will take one for the team and switch flanks? Woah! Wait a minute? Jason Pearce at left wing-back? JASON PEARCE AT LEFT WING-BACK?
This had to be a joke, right? In a minute we’ll reorganise, because seriously…JASON PEARCE AT LEFT WING-BACK?!? But no, there he remained. There was no Plan B, this really was it! McDermott had no other contingency back-up. A game that barely registered was suddenly rendered compelling, as if a new philosophy pervaded the stadium – if you don’t laugh, then you’ll cry. It seemed especially cruel on Pearce who’s made a better fist of impersonating a centre back than any of his contemporaries, so far this season. From the stands it felt like being an onlooker at an ‘inclusive’ sports day where a twisted teacher has entered the kid with calipers into the 110m hurdles.
But as well as re-igniting a spark of interest in the game, it also galvanised those on the pitch and in the stands. As Pearce gamely adjusted to his circumstances, so those around him raised their game in an effort to minimise his ordeal, just before the interval Leeds could’ve even snatched an undeserved lead had Austin played in Mowatt rather than take the default speculative shot option. He didn’t, the scoreline remained goalless, a wholly appropriate summation of a dire 45 minutes.
As the slightly nauseous feeling in the pits of stomachs left by the half-time pies made way again to accommodate the slightly nauseous feeling inspired another half of football, it became evident that the modified 3-5-2 was here to stay. Thankfully though, so too was a renewed sense of spirit; a togetherness and urgency, partly the product of adversity, but perhaps even more so, a half-time boll**king. It took little over a couple of minutes to manifest itself in goal form, Austin collecting the ball in his own half before storming forward and slipping McCormack a ball in the vast expanse vacated by an AWOL McAllister. McCormack lashed the ball home before losing himself in self-righteous celebration, choosing to kick the advertising hoarding while eyeballing a perceived ‘hater’ in the Kop. An indignant tweet about proving people wrong, already being composed in his mind.
Leeds were suddenly at ease and the Kop in full cry. Peltier, liberated by no longer feeling like the most awkward wing back on the pitch, bounded forward like a Scouse Cafu, while back on the left, Pearce was able to go about his day with increasing comfort, understandably content to be the less adventurous one and especially comfortable in his aerial battle with the midget on the Yeovil right. McCormack hounded and harried and Austin seemingly interjected into play at will, whenever the whim took him.
However, Yeovil remained in the game, possession was theirs, territorial advantage arguably too, but as an attacking force, they resembled an outfit that could happily accommodate a sullen Luke Varney, as he looked on from the confines of the bench.
By the midway point of the half the game was over. Austin again, exhibiting the appearance of a seasoned pro playing in an Academy fixture, held off the close attentions of opponents before striding forward and finding McCormack. This time the Scot had a little more to do and did so brilliantly; a great first touch to set himself and a calm finish to conclude – he even chose to enjoy the celebration this time.
Happiness had returned to Elland Road; Ross was smiling, the Kop were back serenading Brian McDermott, the gaffer was back offering shy, embarrassed waves in return; Norman Hunter was doubtless, contentedly look down from the executive boxes, toasting a secure looking 3 points with another wedge of birthday cake and a pint of mild. Everything was well in the world.
During the closing 25 minutes Dexter Blackstock continued to chase every ball with the enthusiasm of a man hell bent on securing a starting place with a goal, while McCormack did so in a desperate forage for a hat-trick opportunity, but the rest of those around them appeared happier to just go through the motions. Alas, neither player’s hopes were realised, but then again, on a day where Leeds were so awful in the first half that a merely adequate second 45 minutes was enough to warm the soul, where the visitors dominated possession and where JASON PEARCE PLAYED LEFT WING-BACK, 2-0 still represented one heck of a good return.
On the grounds of showing cutting edge, you could argue that Leeds just about deserved the points, the 25,000 who turned up on a grim afternoon did deserve them and Jason Pearce certainly merited them.