By Andrew Butterwick
For the last time this season the Happy Chocker, Brother Chris and the Quiet One gathered at Selby station for our trek to Elland Road. There was a distinct end of season feeling to the atmosphere as we trundled along past the West Yorkshire countryside. After all we were stranded in mid table obscurity with nothing but pride to play for against Gus Poyet's Seagulls who were looking to secure a certain play off spot before next weekend's final games. A surprisingly good crowd of nearly 25,000 had gathered to see the last rites of Leeds' disappointing season played out in bright sunshine. The fact that most of the pre match discussion surrounded the merits or otherwise of the new Leeds shirt gives you an indication of the blase attitude to today's game amongst most fans. Brian McD had selected an unchanged team but his plans were thrown into confusion as Sam Byram was injured in the warm up. Not a good start. Peltier stepped into the full back role and Ryan Hall hurriedly got changed and warmed the bench.
Brighton had brought a good contingent all hoping to see their stylish team secure the necessary points to guarantee a coveted play off place. Poyet strode out to applause from all corners of the ground to which he responded warmly. As he took his place in the dug out I wondered if Mr Bates had got his wish in October and sacked Colin would Poyet have been leading the team in white out today instead of the visitors?
The game kicked off and Brighton's stylish passing game that has seen them climb the table in recent weeks was evident from the first minute. Before most fans had drawn breath a slick move opened up the Leeds defence on the left flank and Orlandi met the teasing cross to deflect the ball past a static Kenny and onto the post and away to safety. Leeds looked unsettled possibly because of the reshuffling but more likely due to the class of the Seagull's opening salvos. Leeds were soon showing the South Coast team that they can now play a bit aswell as Ross Mac weaved an opening only to be pulled down by a cynical tug from a visiting player. Austin drove the resulting free kick just wide of the upright. Then disaster struck. The usually dependable Tom Lees fluffed a back pass to Kenny leaving Buckley with the simplest of chances to put the visitors ahead which he clinically took with consummate ease. 1.0 Brighton and only 10 minutes gone.
If losing your star player in the warm up and then going one down after ten minutes wasn't bad enough Austin decided he'd make things even more difficult for Brian McD's men as he received a straight red for an off the ball clash with Ashley Barnes. Barnes went down as if he'd been hit by a sniper's bullet as the referee, Mr Scott, immediately reached for his red card. Now I couldn't see what actually happened but all I can say is that Barnes made a remarkable recovery that would have graced Lourdes. 1.0 down and 1 man down.
Despite been down to ten men Leeds weren't about to roll over and die as they dug in and battled toe to toe with the Seagulls. The referee started to irritate both sets of fans with a collection of strange and pedantic decisions that strangled the game's flow. Leeds seemed to grow in strength as the half went on and pressurised the Brighton goal. Varney twice tried to run through a defender rather than round him in promising positions and Diouf was at his tantalising best. I'm sure he has some sort of velcro on his chest, thigh and leg because whatever speed or height the ball flies to him he always instantly controls it and brings it to the floor like a snake charmer hypnotising his Cobra. Ross Mac swivelled and hit a shot just inches over the bar as Leeds ended the half on a high. Half time 1.0 Brighton and already the referee was being booed from the field.
Brighton had the better of the opening part of the second half as they went in search of the killer goal. Buckley should have done better with a chance inside the box but steered it wide and Kenny pulled off a fine save as the ball sped through a
ruck of players. Leeds' build up play was good but all too often the final cross or pass just went astray. Typical of this was a bundling run from Varney into the box who then handled the ball just as he should have been shooting. Mr Pedantic with
the whistle booked him for his troubles. Then Leeds were back in the game on 74 minutes. Calderon, (a Trevor Hockey lookalike for those of you old enough) clumsily bundled Diouf over in the box. Penalty!............harsh but a penalty. Even harsher was the red card that Mr Pedantic produced as Calderon joined Austin for an early bath. Both teams down to ten men as Diouf stepped up to take the penalty. He coolly slotted the ball home before peeling away to run the length of the pitch to blow kisses and juggle his balls in front of the visiting fans. This was too much for Mr Pedantic who produced his third red card of the game to the penalty scorer and although Leeds were now level on goals they were down to just 9 men. The world's gone mad if celebrating in front of opposing fans is now a red card? If it is why weren't the Wendies players all sent to the dressing room after scoring and celebrating in front of the kop a couple of weeks ago? All I could say was it was a good job we didn't need points from this game or Mr Pedantic wouldn't have escaped with his life from LS11.
Still could the nine men hold out for 15 minutes or even pinch an unlikely winner? Leeds battled hard but Poyet's men utilised the wide open spaces well to take advantage of their extra man. With 5 minutes left Brown replaced the tiring Tonge. "Mmmm we could end up with 8 men now" I suggested to brother Chris. Within 2 minutes Brighton counter attacked and Leeds found themselves 3 on 2.........Ulloa easily headed in unchallenged from 7 yards. Brighton fans celebrated their now certain play off place whilst the home fans belted out "2.1 to the referee"
Pearce so nearly snatched a late equaliser with a header on 90 minutes but the game ended 2.1. Pearce, Ross Mac, Green and Diouf all played well with the consistent Warnock oozing class at left back. A disappointing end to the home campaign but there were probably more positives to take from the game than usual in a home defeat. Brian McD has got Leeds playing with some purpose and direction now. Add a couple of quality players to the squad plus a goal scorer and next season is already looking bright.
The traditional end of season curry at Akbars was a roaring success as we debated who we'd keep and who we'd sell over the summer. It's amazing how a couple of beers and a jalfrezi crystalises what's needed for the team for next year! The train home was delightful as we shared it with Hull fans returning from their defeat at Barnsley, a defeat that leaves them needing to beat Cardiff next week or hope Watford lose to gain automatic promotion. I know I shouldn't but I took great pleasure in seeing a Hull fan asking us through gritted teeth to "do them a favour and beat Watford next week" "You do realise we got two sent off today and we haven't won away since 1963? Still there's always a chance" I cheerily informed him. He visibly withered and I thought for one minute I could see tears in his eyes! The Happy Chocker did a victory jig even though we'd lost on the platform at Selby as we left the Hull fans to stew in their own sorrows all the way back to East Yorkshire. Sometimes football can be fun even when you lose.
So Watford awaits us next week. I think I might take my boots as we will be down to the bare bones of the squad. It's win win game for Leeds though because even if we get beat we can always console ourselves that somewhere in West Hull there will be a few tears shed on our behalf if Cardiff finish on a high. Delicious.