By Andrew Butterwick
The snow was glistening and Jack Frost was nipping at any exposed extremities as the Happy Chocker, Quiet One, Brother Chris and yours truly gathered at Selby station for the trip to the Theatre of Hope for today's game against Bristol City.
In a week when when the news has been dominated by cycling cheats, dodgy burgers and media panic over a few flakes of snow it was good to escape back to the surreal atmosphere of Planet Leeds. Becchio's future at Leeds, will we actually buy any players this January and should Warnock fall on his sword were all much more interesting topics to discuss as the train rattled along through the snow covered outskirts of Leeds.
The freezing temperature and recent lack lustre performances had reduced the crowd to a shivering 18,000. As predicted the team news sparked more debate. Lees and Pelts were at the centre of defence with Byram and White at full back. Austin and Brown filled the centre midfield spot with Barkley and Ross Mac out wide. Becchio and Diouf were up front while Kenny returned in goal. "Quite an attacking team despite the lack of creativity in the centre of midfield" I commented.. The groundsmen had done a superb job in preparing a perfect pitch so all we needed now was a perfect performance to warm the die hard fans. Mmmm! The game kicked off with Leeds taking the early initiative. Austin looked brighter than in recent games and as usual Diouf provided a calming influence on the proceedings. The early pressure didn't exactly see Leeds peppering the Bristol goalie with shots
though but Austin dragged a shot tamely wide whilst Ross Mac hit a free kick lamely at the wall after Kilkenny had fouled Lees. Barkley was the next Leeds player to test Heaton in the Bristol goal as he flicked a looping header straight at the Robin's goalie.
My early optimism began to melt away like a snowman in the sun as the half wore on. Kenny made a couple of decent saves but the Leeds play lacked cohesion and creativity. Brown was Brown in midfield and Austin flew around like a demented ball on a pin ball table but it wasn't easy on the eye. For Bristol Kilkenny was enjoying his return to the first team as he pulled the strings for the Robins. There are still plenty of home fans who look enviously at the ex Leeds midfielder as he plays the ball on
the floor and provides a link between the defence and attack. The game stuttered to the break. Diouf nearly broke the stalemate as he latched onto a through ball but just couldn't keep the ball down while Barkley caused panic in the Bristol back line with a wicked cross just before half time. 0.0 at half time and disgruntled boos once again accompanied the Leeds team down the tunnel. This was not a game to entice the missing thousands back to ER.
The Urinal philosophers had all had enough. "He's got to go" one fed up fan snarled. "We haven't a clue" one other fan offered. "It's better than Barnsley" one optimist piped up but was soon shouted down. "it's even worse than Bolton" one fan opined. The last comment summed up what a lot were feeling though "I don't know why I bother. I could be in a warm pub rather than watching that rubbish. Doing a great job? He wouldn't know a great job if it hit him in the face" referring to Mr Warnock's recent assessment of his work.
So with those ringing testimonials assaulting my thoughts I settled down for the 2nd half with a heavy heart. Paddy Kenny was called into action early in the 2nd half as Bristol fired in a stinging shot. There weren't many signs that the entertainment value was going to rise in the 2nd period although Leeds did seem to want to attack more led by Bryam's raids down the right flank. Austin powered forward but then hit a weak shot just past the post. It sort of summed the game up. An hour passed as Leeds started to build some pressure on the bottom of the table team. Then we got a fleeting glimpse of quality in an otherwise dour afternoon. Byram and Diouf created some space down the right wing before the ball was laid back to Barkley. He hit a perfect cross to the back post where Ross Mac soared like a Scottish salmon to head home a quality goal. Get innnnnnnnnnnn! 1.0 Leeds. Now they could kick on a close the game out against a poor Bristol team.
Well not quite. Leeds did push on to get the killer 2nd goal but they lacked the necessary fluidity to kill off the struggling Robins. Consequently there was always the danger that the south west side could pinch a point but in the end the game ended in a flurry of ragged ineptitude and Leeds ran out winners thanks to the single Ross Mac goal. The mood amongst the fans shuffling away from the stadium after the match was hardly celebratory. We might have ground out 3 points for the sixth consecutive time in the league at Elland Road but there is no hiding the inadequacies of this current team or more to the point the tactics and selection of the manager. NW bemoaned the fact that Leeds fans glass's are always half empty in his post match press conference but he can't seriously think that his side are playing good football? If he does he needs some serious therapy.
A win is a win though and the three points keeps us just in touch with the play off positions something I find hard to reconcile with the way we are playing at the moment. Maybe Warnock is right and the Urinal philosophers and the majority of Leeds fans just don't get it? Then again maybe not! The FA Cup will provide a welcome distraction from the turgid league entertainment next week. Hopefully we will get a decent crowd in and create some atmosphere for the TV pundits to marvel at. You never know we might even get a result against the mighty Spurs. I live in hope. There is something definitely not quite right with the club at the moment though and whilst the new owners have listened and adjusted ticket prices for the Posh and Blackpool games that will not halt the weekly hemorrhaging of crowds unless the performances on the field improve significantly. Even die hard fans have their limits and at least 10,000 have seen that limit passed this year.
So very few positives to take out of the game today. Ross Mac's goal was one of them together with the centre back pairing of Pelts and Lees. Byram showed his class going forward with his mazy runs. Let's hope the prospect of the cup game against Spurs can lift the club together with a couple of much needed signings before the end of the transfer window. You never know dafter things have happened!