|Mullet added 19:56 - Sep 23|
“…Right up there com’t end o’t’season” said a local chewing chips, and all the vowels possible in my ear as we walked away from Elland Rd. today. His unsolicited interruption to me serenading Snr with breathless, sweaty, swear words and post-match expressions of pride down the phone was as unclear as the significance of today’s result. Whether he meant us, them or both we’ll never know.
It’s fair to say, before kick-off the black clouds and smiling locals rolled into suburban Leeds with ominous speed. Less “welcome to ‘Ell” more welcome to the dreary overpriced service station you’d rather not stop at but always have to on the ring road to the Devil’s residence.
Mick named a side with two changes and no clear formation until it took to the field. Bart started the game with flat banks of four and two strikers. Knudsen and Iorfa had Chambers and Spence in between them. Nydam and Ward the pinched wingers beside Skuse and Adeyemi. McGoldrick and Garner doing as they pleased way up top.
The game started with the first of many easy interceptions for Skuse. The westcountryman handed responsibility for getting forward quickly as Town first pushed down the right-hand flank, were turned all the way back to Bart with a second more frenetic a second, more frenetic move down the left.
Leeds seemed to have done their homework on us, and their shopping all over Europe. Eunan O’Kane is a man I’ve wanted at Town for many years. Sometimes, they hid him in the heart of defence between Ayling, Shaughnessy and Cooper. As the game moved in stilted passages, Leeds switched from 2-5 in the defensive and middle units of their team.
Up top they had the superb Hernandez as a secondary number 10 out on the left and complementing him, the wonky winger Alioski. It was the Macedonian who held that numbered shirt but cut in from the right on his left foot every time, much to Jonas’ confusion.
When their central secondary striker went through and then fell under Spence’s awkward challenge a baffling card and kick combination was served up to the Blue and was the last thing anyone let alone the proverbial Doctor ordered.
Completing their ferocious strike force was a hulking no.9 who looked like a middle-aged Sunday Leaguer who didn’t know how to give it up. At first glance, he seemed only interested in his own reflection, but under that lumbering frame was one hell of an engine and clever transience on the ball. Every move saw the white van of a man hang out aggressively in Spence’s blind spot before manoeuvring dangerously across the centre-backs. It took just 12 minutes and simple pass from the hosts, for him to fire low past a helpless Bart.
If Town were often too static and strung out in wire tight lines across the pitch, then Didsy was at times utterly electric. Knudsen started well, but soon succumbed to clumsy touches of the ball and Alioski, getting caught cold or flat footed in either direction. His eventual booking for pulling back a man who had less turning options than Zoolander summed up his trajectory in the first half from clear stand out, to stranded time and again. A short throw routine with our injury-prone striker should have produced better than a fumbled exchange that put most of our side out of position and chasing back.
In one move McGoldrick earned a corner having brought down a clever through ball from Skuse. Stopping it in mid-air on the edge of his smaller toes, he tipped and tapped through a whole defence but only found a corner when the net beckoned and the only defender in touching distance pushed the ball away. In contrast, the impressively reckless Garner did similar with a more bouncing set up and swing that went wide when glory beckoned. Both either side of a glorious move that saw Didsy again skip into danger and push it across the six-yard box just beyond the waiting Garner for an easy finish.
Grant Ward had a lot of luck down the line and up against Anita at left back. The former Spur flew past the former Magpie with impressive ease. A lot of this came from Mick’s early shuffle. Skuse remained the anchor as Nydam and Adeyemi tucked up and in to form a midfield V to catch a lot of play thanks to Leeds’s positional indiscipline.
When parity came, it was hard to say if it we deserved it. Some attacks had seen all ten Blue shirts defending set pieces and counters, however the Championship is a numbers game and out rise so far is the kind of sh1t that don’t add up.
Garner and Ward had been revelling in pressing back defenders all game, and sometimes the keeper. In fact, one rush forward from Ward saw the bizarrely cavalier Wiedwald met him close to the halfway line. Clearly the flying lime distracted the winger and he was mugged to the delight and relief of 14,000 enthralled day-trippers and even more regulars in the home ends. What did tell was Garner’s more muscular approach as he won a foul cutely near the line. Whipped in across the face of goal, the unsteady German could only stumble backwards as Didsy drove home a headed stunner.
The whole away end seemed to pause in unison as the ball hit the net like a body in icy water. When the breath and belief returned so did the 600 voices in celebration. Town players coolly sipped Powerade bottles around Mick in celebration and satisfaction.
The rehydration and relief soon splashed back on Blue laps as Leeds streaked forward. Again, questions may be asked as defending men were lost in the fog of longball, and Bart could only fill the space between the last man and the only one rushing forward to meet the ball and dispatch it. Kalvin Phillips would do little else, or need to as he restored the lead in sickeningly quick time all too easily.
With more to come and a quarter of an hour or so left before the break, it was great to see Town almost give the game away then rescue it all before the interval. Yet again Spence was stalked into getting caught slipping as the lively (cheating, dislikeable little) Saiz somehow ran clear only to have a Captain’s block stop his axe blow of a shot and deflect it away.
Soon up the other end Town had moved in little formational triangles, and muscular direct football that flirted with 4-3-3. Clearly the Leeds fans and players feared it, as Ward fired a sweeping back post corner past the flailing fists of their keeper. It dropped out for a second one from the other side. Again, they left someone to run at them, it turned out to be Luke. Warm applause for an unwitting Anita who had stood still all game, and it finally paid off as he planted on the line and let the header fly away from him like he had when tested by Ward and Garner all half.
Town were out early for the second half and unchanged only in terms of personnel. Nydam no longer floated around in front of the Dane but had clearly been ordered to shadow O’Kane and stamp out his ability to hurt us from deep. It worked well.
Adeyemi had a clear run at the back four thanks to Christiansen being short-sighted enough not to move his side around. Mick on the other hand had conspired to see us now moving it around as if were the much better side but much lower in the league. Possession is 9/10ths of the boring excuses for your team being sh1t these days, but all it did was rekindle the contest.
When Didsy moved from just behind Garner to just behind Skuse, a tantalising run for yard after yard gave the illusion that the bloke who is always breaking down was bearing down on goal unchecked. Finally felled it was the right result in the wrong place. A shaky short one to Knudsen who was the only left foot on the field capable of shooting, proved a cross is sometimes better.
When Garner again untangled himself from playing the man and space behind him on the line (and rarely going over it), he produced a cross almost as expertly crafted as his offensive routine. It would be the last thing Anita would do as he was switched before the resulting corner. McGoldrick had ghosted into space but saw Ayling go to ground to win something fairly for once. Clearly the former Bristol full back has a name that is Anglo-Saxon for massive lump of ponytailed human blancmange. He hit the turf time and again without shame, even then Nydam was the tiny gust of wind putting him there, and he got the decision every time.
There would be one more galling and telling one soon to come. If Bart might be blamed a little for the second goal, when Leeds made it three against the run of play and undeservedly he was certainly credited with it. Parrying the ball downwards from a corner, only one man knew what the naked eye could never do. An 80’s dance move thanks to 90’s tennis technology and a decision the colour of infra-red. It won us the game against Brentford, but ultimately meant all was lost when 90 mins came, as 70 mins approached.
Mick had already been signalling to one of three attacking subs warming up, as the home side jogged back under a rare barrage of noise he signalled to two more. Nydam and Ward understandably withdrawn. Leeds looked susceptible to pace, so Celina then Sears entered the fray as the game ended for two players who had done well in places.
Nydam might have surprised a few today, and at times looked every bit the kid in the game, but when he tangled with all comers and had one or two nice passes and a shot come off he looked every bit the man. Ward who can be so flaky, was smoothly versatile and useful all day but didn’t have the legs and tools to keep unlocking Leeds.
If Town couldn’t answer the conceded goal as quickly as Leeds had before the break, the 5 mins it took them felt like an eternity. Iorfa had been rampaging forward with more success and regularity as the game opened up. There are times when everyone in the ground doubts if his legs know exactly what they want to do, Dominic included; but when one scrambling run saw him find space on the cusp of the area he opted to use his shot as a cross. The reassuringly flappy German again spilled and this time right into the waiting path of Garner. Joey jumped at his chance to ram something other than an elbow down opposition throats and slammed the ball into the goal as the ground rang with just 600 voices or so, and alarm woke Yorkshire eyes wide once more.
For a set of fans fixated with the ills of Manchester, their unintelligible version of Love Will Tear Us Apart was an odd choice, yet fitting sentiment that has seen our own open letters underlining the state of Ipswich’s support right now much better than their taunting. Really what the home fans needed was some Atmosphere, as the last 20 minutes was given over to silence and pregnant pauses in play and posturing all over the ground.
A rare booking for a Leeds foul, and even rare decision our way saw more quality sapped from Leeds as Hernandez showed if he was capable of 90 mins he’d be at a club with more than just designs on being Premier League. Waghorn soon joined Sears and Celina as the final sub as MOTM McGoldrick was lovingly greeted in the stands and on the bench.
Mick left guile to the Kosovan now, as pace and power kept us on the front foot in a 4-2-get it up there and us streaming forward selection. The much-wanted winger looked to fit in well but made some odd decisions with his distribution. Step overs gave him ground and space but he drilled low crosses when floated ones threatened such a poor keeper, and would have been better. What he did show, was that we had something to offer games that needed changing and changes. That desired start is coming, and with playoff placers vs strugglers at Portman Rd. this Tuesday maybe it’ll be his night.
Delivering some much better corners at the death Town had every man bar Skuse up for Celina’s set pieces. The booking he earned was one of many vitally superb last-ditch tackles, he ran the captain close for today in terms of snuffing out any more unwarranted assaults on our goal difference.
Those that feared a beating before, will be ruing the fact that Town didn’t see the joy of six outside of a derby day. A draw would have been fair given the turn around and narrow margins between both teams.
If Leeds are truly promotion calibre, it’s amazing that we’re so close behind them right now. From the basement of Championship football, where fake Tom, Dick and ‘Arry’s don’t come back, the clogs of McCarthy’s men have again come thundering up the stairs only to get a face full of landing today. Expensive Italian loafers may rest uneasy on all our backs tonight. But if today’s showing is indicative of anything, then we’ve seen that for as long as we keep this up, up is where we’ll be heading.