By Andrew Butterwick
Gallows humour was rife as I headed for Elland Road with Happy Chocker, Brother Chris and the Quiet One. With our last 4 games showing an aggregate score of 2-12 and the visit of high flying league leaders, Leicester City, on today's agenda it's safe to say that confidence was in short supply. "We'll do well to keep them down to four goals" HC thought with Brother Chris agreeing. The last two week's performances, or lack of performances, had taken a heavy toll on this band of Mighty Whites masochists. We wiled away the twenty minute journey trying to figure out what team and formation Brian McD would put out after last weeks disastrous 3-4-3 experiment. As we parked up we concluded there wasn't a suitable answer and whatever combination of players started keeping the score respectable against the league leaders was about as likely as the England cricket team winning a game in Australia.
A crowd of over 22,000 had chosen to witness more potential embarrassment at first hand and were absorbing the team news as we took our seats. Brown and Austin were the new midfield duo as Brian McD sought to shore up the fragile centre of his 4-4-2 formation. Varney replaced the suspended Smith up front. At the back Lees and Pearce kept their places with Warnock and Byram coming in alongside them. New boys Kebe and Stewart started on the wings. Zaliukas lost his place altogether. Diouf had interrupted his globe trotting to win a place back on the bench. Leicester's team looked formidable and with options on their bench including the newly signed Phillips, King and Chris Wood things were looking bleak for Leeds.
Captain Ross Mac had his tiny son with him for the warm up as his wee lad was included in the day's mascot line up. A minute's applause in memory of the great Bobby Collins served as a poignant reminder of what a force Leeds once were. How we could do with a player of Collins' drive and passion in the team today. A tad apprehensive is a good description of how I felt as we kicked off with the phrase "lambs to the slaughter" imprinted on my brain. From the very first whistle it was clear this was going to be a very different showing from last week's debacle as Leeds hunted the Foxes down at every opportunity with Brown and Varney to the fore in the opening minutes. This lifted the home crowd and suddenly Leeds looked like a team again with the league leaders very much on the back foot. Chances started to flow as Leeds attacked the baying kop.
Austin tried an ambitious shot from 30 yards that went 30 yards wide. Ross Mac had a chip cleared off the line with Schmeichel well beaten before hitting the post with a header from 8 yards after terrific work from Varney. Vardy exposed Leeds defence before hitting a fierce shot onto the post as the match exploded into a flurry of chances. Austin tried another shot from distance...........Kebe and Varney headed wide whilst Ross Mac tested Schmeichel with a low shot. Unbelievable. Last week we had one paltry shot all game this week we should have been 3 up in the first 15 minutes.............and that was before top striker Ross Mac missed a golden chance with only the goalie to beat after a Zaliukas type error by Konshesky. It was a top class save from the ex Leeds goalie but you would have put your mortgage on the new captain scoring. Leeds were on fire. All we needed was a goal.
Leicester looked dangerous on the break but there was renewed vigour and resolve in the Leeds back four as they fought for every ball. Chances continued to flow for Leeds. The revitalised Warnock struck a cross deep to the back post where Lees leapt and headed over from 5 yards with Schmeichel stranded and the goal unguarded. "We need to convert these chances" I mused as another chance went begging. "It could be 5.1" I enthused incredibly but HC quite rightly pointed out it wasn't and they look lively up front. Half time came with the score somehow still 0.0 but the team trotted off for their half time cuppa to warm applause in stark contrast to the vitriolic boos that had accompanied them for the last two matches.
Brown, Varney and Warnock had all figured prominently in a very encouraging first 45 minutes. I eagerly headed to the gents to sample the thoughts of the urinal philosophers! "Why didn't we play like that last week" one punter asked......"Miles better than last week, we can win this" another offered. A statement that I certainly didn't think I'd hear at today's match. The tide of positiveness was rudely interrupted by a ridiculous claim by one fan that "McDerrmot wants sacking if we don't win this" followed by "We need a new striker cos Ross Mac is shite" Somebody did point out the number of goals the shite McCormack had scored this season but that was lost as the steam poured from the irate fan's ears. I suppose football is a game of opinions but sometimes I wonder what planet some people are on?
The fact that the score was still 0.0 was a major concern. We might have had plenty of chances but the lack of any goals from the chances heaped the pressure on the team as the 2nd half progressed. The words "sucker punch" started to creep into the conversation. Brown battled through and shot straight at Schmeichel but it was the away team who started to get a grip on the game without really testing Kenny in the Leeds goal. The euphoria of the opening exchanges had now been replaced by nervous tension in the crowd as we started to believe we might actually get something from the game. Nigel Pearson shuffled his pack to try and pinch all three points as he brought on Waselweski, King and Phillips to bring fresh legs to the Leicester effort. Well I say fresh legs I don't think they could be as they seemed to have been warming up on the touch line for nearly all the match. I bet they were glad to get on to have rest from all the exercises!
Brian McD eventually threw Peltier and Diouf on to replace Kebe and Varney with 5 minutes left. After his recent absence Diouf looked like he still had his bodywarmer on underneath his shirt. It was Leicester's subs who made an impact though. Phillips drifted to the back post and received the ball from a long cross before pulling it back for King to fire just over Kenny's bar. He might be 40 years old but Phillips has still got an astute football brain........especially for the championship.
The game entered the final minutes with the tension high. One goal would win it now but at which end? This is when sod's law came into play. Leeds had rattled 14 shots in on Schmeichel's goal with 4 of them forcing a save from the ex Leeds keeper. Kenny had had no shots on target to save............that is until the 88th minute when a neat dummy by Phillips and a quick touch from Nugent left the ball enticingly in the centre of the goal. Kenny came out to smother, Pearce stretched out a leg to clear but it was the annoying Nugent who toe poked the ball into the Leeds net and cruelly pinch all three points. Bollox! 1.0 Leicester. 4 minutes of added time just prolonged the frustration of another defeat. Leeds didn't deserve to lose but they had. The difference this week was the team were applauded off the field after a battling performance that at least showed desire, passion and a hunger to win if not that cutting edge to convert the adequate number of chances.
The crowd was quiet as they streamed back to the cars. The Leicester fans knew they'd committed the ultimate smash and grab........a bit like Southampton did when a late Ricky Lambert goal snatched a win for the Saints in their promotion year. On this form Leicester look as if they will be climbing the slippery pole into the riches of the Premier League as well. As for Leeds this was an encouraging performance. The middle of the park looked a lot more solid with Brown in there. He did tire late on though. Varney caused trouble all afternoon for the Leicester defence whilst Kebe had a much better game. Stewart showed a couple of flashes of his undoubted skill. If they are given time to settle they will be an asset. Byram and Warnock played really well with the left back showing true grit and determination down the left flank.
In some ways this was more disappointing than last week. Having gone toe to toe with one of the stand out teams in this very tight league and to lose at the death was gut wrenching. Brian McD is still talking of adding to the squad in this window. I think it may be too late for this year but if we can start building for a real shot at it next year then all well and good.
So in the end we weren't Lambs to the slaughter more like Hounds amongst the foxes in the first half but the end result was still a disappointing defeat. Ipswich up next at Elland Road. With a blank weekend next week there is plenty of preparation time for BM to rally his troops. Hopefully we can get back on the winning track against the Tractor Boys?