By Andrew Butterwick
After another positive week on Planet Leeds which saw the mighty whites pull of the perfect smash and grab raid as they eclipsed high spending Fulham the white army was on the march again this time heading for the seaside to sample the delights of Blackpool. The Happy Chocker, Quiet One and yours truly are slowly getting used to travelling to an away match with confidence high but after years of toil and continuing heartache on our travels we are taking it one step at a time............we wouldn't want to get carried away and think we might just have the beginning of something good at Elland Road would we?
Much of the pre match chat involved debating the stunning interview with Russell Crowe and the possibility of the Gladiator buying into the club he is so passionate about............that and the pros and cons of actually jumping in the sea if Mr Morison finally breaks his scoring drought at relegation doomed Blackpool. Blackpool was bathed in sunshine as we made our way to the stadium past the fans protest outside the main entrance. The "Oyston Out" campaign was spawned after many Blackpool fans understandably responded to a call to arms after years of their chairman bleeding the club dry and continually slagging off his own club's fans.............Mmmm sounds familiar I thought. Well at least he's judged to be fit and proper by the Football League so he must be ok?
Redfearn had kept the same starting eleven that did so well at Fulham in midweek as Leeds looked for a 6th away win out of the last 7 games away from West Yorkshire. The 1,600 away fans were crammed into one corner of the ground whilst the home stands were sparsely populated with a very few die hard Tangerines. The much criticised pitch looked shocking. It was already cutting up after the warm up and there must have been more sand on the pitch than on Blackpool's beach. The game kicked off in a strange atmosphere with 3 quarters of the ground eerily quiet and the other quarter not quite sure who to sing at!
The first ten minutes gave a strong indication of how the rest of the match would play out. It was dreadful as both teams struggled to cope with a surface that penalised any player who tried to run the ball or pass it on the floor. Luke Murphy did manage a rasping drive from 20 yards after a short run in the first minute but that just raised unrealistic expectations. At the other end Jacobs should have done better with a fast cross into the 6 yard box but chances were few and far between as both teams chose to keep the ball in the air to try and thwart the awful surface. No wonder the Blackpool fans were protesting if they have to watch this every fortnight?
Gary Madine was causing problems for Bamba and Bellusci with the continual stream of balls into the box but the Leeds defence held firm with Silvestri called into action rarely. Leeds were struggling to get a grip of the game and the surface but on 30 minutes they nearly took the lead as Murphy battled hard on the left before floating a perfect ball to the back post for Byram to volley inches wide. At least that lifted the crowd as we craved for some semblance of quality to brighten the afternoon. Charlie Taylor also went close after dancing through the home defence but couldn't beat Lewis in the Blackpool goal. The game was limping to half time when all of sudden Leeds got a rude wake up call. Cook gave away a needless free kick 20 yards out when chasing another bobbling ball. Orlandi hit a lovely curling free kick against the bar and Madine reacted first to head home the opening goal. 1.0 Blackpool. The half ended with boos ringing out from the away end. Probably the worst 45 minutes of football this season largely due to the dreadful playing surface.
Two groundsmen came out to try and replace some divots during the interval with all the enthusiasm of a Turkey writing his Xmas cards. I think we now understood why the pitch was like it was. If Leeds were going to get anything out of this game Redfearn needed to change his tactics and personnel to counter the conditions.
The 2nd half carried on just as the first with pass after pass bobbling away from it's intended recipient in between short bursts of football pinball where the ball pinged between the two teams mostly in the air. Madine missed a decent chance from a corner as the away fans got more and more frustrated with the absolute lack of quality and guile from the team in dark blue. On 55 minutes Redfearn had seen enough and made a double substitution with Morison and Antenucci replacing Sharp and Mowatt. Leeds were now playing 4-4-2 and looking a bit more likely. Antenucci thumped a screaming volley just over the bar and high into the stand from inside the box. Leeds were now playing with a smidgen of urgency and were rewarded on 60 minutes with an equaliser. Antenucci found himself unmarked in the box as yet another ball bounced between the two teams this time our top scorer calmly lobbed the ball over the advancing goalie and into the net. 1.1. The away end erupted in a mixture of surprise and celebration.
Leeds now had their dander up and surged forward looking for another goal............Cook slid a lovely ball through for Morison but his slight hesitation allowed his shot to be blocked. Redfearn threw on Doukara for Taylor as Leeds went for all three points. Antenucci tried a difficult lob from 25 yards after Lewis had punched the ball lamely to him but this time it went high over the bar. Morison was injured after a clash of heads in the Blackpool box. When the game restarted he had a Kisnorboesque bandage around his head. After the tawdry nature of the first 70 minutes the last twenty provided plenty of talking points. Morison again made a good run into the box but his shot was blocked just as the Leeds fans were reaching for their swimming suits. The referee appeared have bet his match fee on a 1.1 draw as he continually penalised Leeds. Orlandi thought he'd got the winner with a 91st minute free kick before Silvestri acrobatically turned the ball round the post as Blackpool pushed for a winner. Next it was Leeds breaking on attack from their half. Antenucci fed Beradi who hurtled down the left wing and swung a delicious cross into the box for Belusci to appear from nowhere and head past Lewis Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeees get in you beauty! The away ends celebrations were cut short when the referee found some reason to disallow the goal that was a complete mystery to the Leeds fans? Maybe he had got 1.1 on SkyBet?
The game ended 1.1. In truth a dreadful game on a dreadful pitch. How Blackpool put up with that pitch for each home game is beyond me. Why they don't get any sort of sanction for producing a playing surface that wouldn't pass muster at your average Sunday League game is also a complete mystery to me. I was disappointed we didn't snatch all three points at the end for what seemed to be one of the only flowing moves of the match. There wasn't a man of the match. Good performances from Berardi, Bellusci, Bamba and Antenucci for the goal. Morison continues to fire blanks.
Two weeks before we entertain Blackburn at Elland Road. Hopefully we can keep our late season momentum going then? At least there will a bit of grass to play on then.