By Andrew Butterwick
The warm after glow of the cup win against Spurs kept the icy wind at bay as we waited at Selby station for the train to Leeds. Positiveness was all around despite the fact we were playing the league leaders Cardiff. The major topic of conversation with the Happy Chocker, Brother Chris and the Quiet One was a certain Habib Habibou. The mysterious Central African striker who had forsaken the joys of Belgian league football to come to Leeds had certainly made an impact since his loan deal on Thursday..............but was he any good? We all knew about his antics with the duck and the fact that you would need a 2nd mortgage if you wanted his name printing on your shirt but nobody really had any info on his football ability other than "he's big and strong".
Pre match refreshments were taken in the members bar where Davide Somma had the dreaded task of being interviewed by Mr Lorimer rather than warming up with his team mates. Yabadabbadoo was on the bench in place of the South African along with Warnock. Barkley and Kenny were the only changes to the team that knocked Spurs out of the cup. Very harsh on both Ashdown and Green I thought. Steve Morison was injured. As we debated NW's selection our East Anglian reserve team were playing QPR on the big screen. The same fans who were praising Becchio only a couple of weeks ago were now booing him as he came on for the last 5 minutes of the tedious 0.0 draw. He doesn't deserve that.
The stadium that was full last Sunday had somehow misplaced 10,000 fans as only 19,000 were in their seats as Mike Dean blew his whistle to start the game. Cardiff's position at the summit of the League with points to spare wasn't immediately apparent as Leeds started brightly. The Leeds midfield pairing of Austin and Brown were industrious if not creative in the first 15 minutes wary of the threat that
Whittingham and Bellamy posed to the home side. Most of Bellamy's early foray's were halted by the linesman's flag though as the Leeds back four once again looked solid... Mmmm not written that many times on this blog? Lees and Peltier were snaffling up any Cardiff attack as Leeds had the majority of the game in a very tight first half. Cardiff were very well drilled and bordering on the cynical as they stuck to a very rigid game plan that relied on quick breaks out of defence and "thou shalt not pass" defending. They tested Mike Dean's patience and that of the home crowd on more than one occasion.
The atmosphere was a bit flat as both teams played attrittional rather than flowing football but on 20 minutes the game sparked into life. A Cardiff defender made a timely interception 25 yards out from his
own goal and passed the ball back to Marshall in the Cardiff goal who picked the ball up... "free kick" or words to that effect screamed 18,500 fans. Mike Dean agreed and Leeds had an indirect free kick 10 yards out. Both Marshall and Bellamy harvested a yellow card each for their protestations.
Would Diouf or Ross Mac hit the shot? "Just smack it through the wall" Brother Chris advised. In the end Ross Mac's shot deflected harmlessly away for a corner as the crowd sighed the same sigh that has accompanied 99% of free kicks this season. We hardly ever trouble the keeper from set pieces. Leeds were shading the first half and should have taken the lead when Barkley found himself all alone on the edge of the 6 yard box as a Byram header dropped invitingly into his path but his side footed shot cannoned off Marshall for a corner. "He should have put his foot through that" I moaned. Barkley held his head in his hands knowing he had just missed a golden opportunity.
Pelts was doing a fantastic job on man marking Bellamy but just before half time he escaped his shadow and toe poked the ball past a flailing Kenny. The linesman's flag rightly halted the celebrations of the travelling Welsh fans. Half time and a very tight 0.0. The urinal philosophers were in begrudging, good humour. "Barkley should have buried that" one expert said... "They're a cynical set of bastards" was another opinion and probably the one that summed the first half perfectly "it's f****** tight but they're nowt special" You do get some frighteningly honest opinions from the urinal philosophers!
The 2nd half started as the 1st half finished. Very nip and tuck with Cardiff happy to hold what they had and try to pinch a goal on the break. Leeds on the other hand were trying to use the blunderbuss rather than the rapier to break down a resolute and tall Cardiff defence. Leeds applied some pressure that generated a number of corners but the giants in the Cardiff defence seemed to eat anything that floated into their box. Michael Brown had a good chance as Ross Mac laid a ball back to him on the edge of the box but his attempted side footed shot ballooned embarrassingly over the top and into the kop.
Austin's Sat Nav was seriously malfunctioning though. His passes were going anywhere but to a Leeds player and he seemed to be totally lost in the middle of the field. Surely he'll get subbed with the likes of Green and Norris eagerly waiting on the bench? But no NW persisted with the seriously mis-firing Austin when it was clear to the majority of fans he needed a bloody good service and MOT. As the hour mark approached the game became tenser by the minute as it became clear that the team to score the first goal would more than likely take the three points. Leeds were pressing hard but with the risk that they would get caught on the counter attack.
On the hour Cardiff's new signing, Frazier Campbell, came on for Bo-Kyung. Campbell a £750k capture from Sunderland was making his debut for the Bluebirds and wasn't long before he made a telling impact. The spluttering Austin gave the ball away in midfield and released a Cardiff attack. The initial ball into the box was half cleared towards Byram who completely shanked his clearance straight to Mr Bellamy on the edge of the box. The welsh striker took aim and shot goalwards but Campbell re-directed a poor shot past Kenny from 6 yards. Double Bollox! 1.0 Cardiff. After all the Leeds possession we were behind to the ultimate sucker punch.
Cardiff immediately battened down the hatches and reverted to any means, fair or foul, to disrupt play and stop the attempted Leeds comeback. On 73 minutes Habibou replaced Diouf as Leeds went in search of an equaliser. Now we would see if he's any good?
Austin had a stinging shot blocked and then from a corner the ball bobbled... Lees shot and the goalie blocked it... the ball was still in the box... PENALTY screamed the kop as a Cardiff hand knocked the ball away from danger. Mike Dean took no action and the game played on. Unbelievable! Leeds were
straining every sinew to get a deserved equaliser but a combination of a superbly drilled defence, a healthy dose of cynicism and some rushed finishing Cardiff continued to hold the upper hand. The game was slipping away from Leeds as we headed into 3 minutes of added time. Habibou looked completely out of touch as he struggled to even touch the ball. This was his first game but he was looking a bit Enochesque. Leeds piled on the pressure but Cardiff held on for a very hard fought 1.0 win. "That's how we used to grind out wins when we went up in the 80's" muttered HC as we shuffled back to the shuttle buses.
We deserved a point in a very tight and tense game. Credit to Cardiff who have a very well worn game plan and they stick to it. They are not pretty to watch but who can argue with a ten point lead at the top of the table? Austin was woeful today. I'm just amazed he survived for all 90 minutes. Barkley was disappointing but Pelts had a superb game at the centre of the defence with Tom Lees. Bryam's mistake for their goal was horrendous but he will learn from that and he owes us nothing after the season he's had. Brown worked hard again in midfield. Habibou looked like a duck out of water as he tried to get into the game. Admittedly he didn't have long to make an impression but he needs to make big improvements if he's to put himself ahead of Somma in the pecking order on this short showing.
Very much an "after the Lord Mayor's show" affair this that just goes to prove that the true Leeds United are somewhere between the fantastic showing against Spurs and the debacle at Barnsley. My disappointment on the journey home wasn't helped by hearing that the "expensive £750k" Chris Burke had scored 2 goals for Birmingham. So we have a week to dust ourselves down before the trip to struggling Wolves. I hope Morison is fit for that one. We could have done with his robustness up front today. Onwards and upwards.