And so they emerged, from the midsts of the chemically laced smog, from a morose industrial wasteland, long disowned by God’s own county, but on this day taking the long road into to its very heart, all in the name of berating that which they both envy and covet.
Middlesbrough were back in town, the chips that rest steadfastly on their supporters’ shoulders, today resembling fully intact King Edwards; their fury not just fueled by their innate hatred of anything to do with Leeds, but also from a very public rejection by their summer love. The Ross McCormack transfer saga was awkward spectacle to witness; Tony Mowbray playing the role of Romeo as he tried to allure the object of his infatuation, he did all he could to seduce, he whispered sweet nothings, he spoke of fate, the promise of riches and the sort of opulence his current suitor couldn’t offer him.
Alas for Tony, Ross was a more romantic soul than he’d anticipated; money may seduce and initially infatuate, but it can’t buy you love – the cars, the house, the holidays…shallow, materialistic constructs comparative to the happiness, warmth and security of a mutual loving bond; United’s number 44 was all about soul mates, not team mates, getting played, not getting ‘payed’ (IN YOUR FACE, RYAN HALL!!!) Without a true connection, without that spark, that sense of belonging, everything else is redundant, and without Ross, soon too was to be Tony.
But while Tony sat at home, watching Soccer Saturday through his tears, his old apostles were in no mood to play the passive scorned lover. From the moment of his first touch and every subsequent interjection in play, the boos and spittle rained down on McCormack from a dark corner of the West Stand where 2000 Boro fans had congregated. Armed now with a choice of targets – player or club – at which to aim their vitriol, the Smoggies were practically hyperventilating!
It wasn’t to last though, as a game that for 35 minutes had shared so many attributes with those who were visiting, finally dragged itself out of the bleakness in which it had become entrenched…needless to say, at the command of McCormack. Frustration accrued on the back of two fruitless penalty appeals and the barracking gave way to joyful abandon as he scooped home at the back post following Tom Lees nod back. Always being a man partial to making a point, Ross made a beeline for the Boro support and made hay on the chest thumping and badge grabbing front. Bar the odd expletive and finger-based gesture, his tormentors stood forlorn, rendered impotent by a flick of the head.
Leeds fans seized on the chance to twist the knife, the Kop belting out a chorus of “He said no, Boro. He said no!” Misery complete.
Before those loyal to the visitors’ cause could recompose themselves for a fresh, impassioned verbal assault on the wee Scottish heartbreaker, Jason Steele served them up a whole new horse s**t sandwich to digest, taking the inadvisable decision to employ Kung Fu as a means of halting Dexter Blackstock’s progress while 25 yards out from goal. A red card inevitably followed and that should’ve been that. Half-time and all was good.
It took only 7 second half minutes for Leeds to relocate their metaphorical double barrel shotgun and aim it squarely at their own boots; Danny Pugh, to that point, uncharacteristically steady in his first league appearance at Elland Road since the Triassic era, rediscovered his inner lethargy and let Albert Adomah skip away from him completely unhindered by a challenge, as he ambled back in pursuit, Tom Lees rushed over in an effort to snuff out the danger but couldn’t as Mustapha Carayol swept home Adomah’s low cross in a manner that Blackstock had failed to do from the same position in the game’s early exchanges.
With chances strictly limited and inspiration even more so, this was a worrying sign. It seemed that something special was needed…and we got it.
Four astounding instances combined in one short passage of play; first Leeds took a short corner and somehow conspired NOT to fritter possession away, instead Mowatt and Peltier exchanged a flurry of quick, incisive short passes; NEXT, Peltier showing a fleetness of foot and skill hitherto absent from the game wrong-footed his opponent to created the space needed to deliver a cross; THEN with his left foot Peltier produced the most delicate and precise of balls to the back post where lurked Jason Pearce to compound this whole accumulation of eyebrow raising moments by angling home a header past the despairing fingers of the goalkeeper. Praise be that there was 30,000 other souls to testify that it REALLY did happen, even the JP Dog appeared overwhelmed by the enormity of what had just occurred as he struggled to deliver a definitve celebration.
That the winning goal should be the product of the work of two defenders was wholly apt on a day where it was the back five who caught the eye. Pearce is now finally passing a striking resemblance to the player Warnock was describing back in May 2012, Tom Lees was again solid alongside him, Peltier again turned in a credible display and Pugh, the goal apart was fairly adequate (praise indeed).
He who caught the eye most though was the new guy from Lithuania; in Marius Zaliukas, Brian McDermott might just have struck gold. From the start, Zaliukas played with the sort of poise and composure seldom seen from an Elland Road centre back since the days his opposite number in the Middlesbrough back line used to grace the pitch here, week in, week out. His ability to anticipate and intercept, time after time was a joy to behold and his unruffled authority brought a collective sense of calm to those playing around him – he might just prove to be our best acquisition for a number of years.
Ahead of him, only Mowatt affected the game in midfield, while up front the lively McCormack faded after the break and Blackstock for most part, courted anonymity. It was a game that was there to be won, and come half-time it was a game that had to be won. During Leeds’ bad spell McDermott stressed the need for his players to develop a mentality that allowed them to see games through and collect the points. Today marked another step in the right direction.
Love is all you need.
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