By Andrew Butterwick
After passing a late fitness test the Happy Chocker joined me for the trek to London for our clash with Charlton and the start of hopefully the post Hoofball era. With the anniversary of the murders of Kev Speight and Christopher Loftus the trip was always going to be a poignant mix of respect for the memories of the two Leeds fans and hope that we can mark the date with a much needed win. News that cult hero Andy Hughes was planning to wear a black armband in respect added a nice touch to proceedings.
Per match refreshments were taken in the pub next to Charlton Station and to say the place was bouncing was a gross understatement. There's one thing with Leeds fans and that is we don't need success on the pitch to create an atmosphere. In fact it tends to the opposite. The worse we get the more passionate the fans get. Redfearn hadn't changed the team a great deal. Ross Mac and Morison started up front with Norris and Tonge in midfield and Green and White providing a colourful wing pairing. Poleon was on the bench but last week's debutant, Chris Dawson, dropped out all together. A massive 4,000 Leeds fans had filled the away end. I still find it amazing how many fans follow the team away especially on current form.
The game kicked off in bright sunshine and on a less than perfect pitch. The opening 2 minutes were played with the Leeds fans turning their back on the pitch as a tribute to Chris and Kev. With both team locked in mid table vulnerability the opening exchanges were tense and sprinkled with little quality. If the change of manager had lifted expectations amongst the Leeds faithful those expectations were soon lowered. The favoured hoof ball style from Colin's reign was still in evidence and just as ineffective. Charlton's winger, Harriot, looked a decent player with his tricky runs unsettling the lack last lustre Leeds side. This wasn't going to be a good afternoon. It could have been worse though as Charlton's Morrison blasted over from 6 yards when he should have scored.
The game drifted to half time with the game slowly changing from optimistic to scrappy and was heading to dreadful as the 45 minutes were up. Leeds hadn't had a shot in anger and whist Charlton had had the better chances they hadn't really troubled Kenny in the Leeds goal. Two poor teams trooped off for their half time Orange as I reflected on the fact that Andy Hughes had controlled the midfield in his second appearance of the season. Much as I love him for what he did at Leeds seeing him provide the only flicker of a creative spark in the first 45 minutes summed up the game in a nutshell.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with the ball pinging from one side to another usually in the air and when it was on the floor the bobbly pitch did its best to dampen any attempt at playing flowing football. This was dire. The paucity of quality on the pitch didn't stop the away fans singing though as they tried to instil some passion into the team in blue but to no avail. Finally Leeds so nearly broke the stalemate when Morison bundled his way through and smacked the ball against the post from a tight angle. The Leeds defence looked vulnerable though when ever Charlton attacked as a goal seemed inevitable.
The deadlock was broken when an Andy Hughes shot ricocheted across the box into the path of Jackson who buried the chance. The Valley erupted in joy as Hughes trooped back to the centre circle refusing to celebrate. 1.0 Charlton. The goal sparked a response from Leeds. Ross Mac was busy up front as he tried single handedly to wrest the advantage back from the South London side. The familiar sinking feeling in my stomach reflected my fears that this was yet another away day that was going to end pointless for the mighty whites. After surviving a number of scares in their own box Leeds surprisingly levelled when a Varney shot deflected off Andy Hughes and into the Charlton net. 1.1 and the away fans gratefully fed on the crumb of success. A point will take us bit nearer safety after all. But could we hang on? Our record in the last ten minutes of games is dreadful so I braced myself for another gut wrenching finish to the game.
What was a poor game was now culminating in an exciting finale.............exciting in that either of the teams on show were quite capable of conceding another goal as both sides sort a precious win. Leeds had some momentum and enticed some hope from their battle weary fans as the ball bobbled about in the Charlton box but nobody got a boot to the ball to steer it into the net. Peltier took a bad knock and on came Austin to shore the defence for the 5 minutes added time. Naturally my stomach was in that "oh fuk" stage as it tightened like a stressed anaconda as Charlton battered Leeds for the final time..................the ball flew into the box........Obika rose unchallenged and flicked the ball past a stationery Kenny. 2.1 Charlton and game over. Where was the marking? There was barely time to kick off as Leeds sunk to their 197th away defeat this season. Only Ross Mac and Byram came out of this game with a smidgen of credit for Leeds. The rest were at best poor.
Andy Hughes swapped shirts with Ross Mac at the final whistle and ran to the Leeds fans giving the Leeds salute. He is a class act. Gallows humour accompanied the phalanx of Leeds fans heading back into London. "Let's pretend we scored a goal" they sung as the train trundled towards London Bridge. You have to have a good imagination to pretend that!
This defeat shuffles us nearer the dreaded relegation trapdoor and although we are still 5 points clear it is difficult to see where the next win will come from. This team is far worse than the one that were relegated last time. I am preparing myself for a very tense finish to the season. I'm just thankful for the likes of Blackburn and Huddersfield who appear to be in just as bad a run of form as Leeds. Redfearn's first game in charge wasn't a success. I'm not sure he even wants to manage the team. Leeds are a club in crisis both on and off the field. The only quality surrounding the club at the moment are the fans.
The long trek home was not good. The prospect of playing the Wendies in a must win game on this form is like waiting for a dentist appointment to have four wisdom teeth removed. You know it will hurt and there's nothing you can do about it other than numb the pain. I best drink about 25 pints before the game if that's the case! They say the ones you love the most hurt you the most. That's certainly true with Leeds. It's more difficult to see any positives as each week goes by. Hull trains even managed to sell us the wrong tube tickets again. Not long to the end of the season ends now.