By Andrew Butterwick
Unusually balmy weather greeted us as we made our way down Elland Road for the midweek evening clash with the Royals. The brief flirtation with real pre-match confidence courtesy of a Redfearn inspired four match unbeaten run had been well and truly trashed after Saturday's sobering trip to Brentford for Darko's first game in charge. The Happy Chocker was not on his own in thinking Redfearn should have been given the job full time so even though this was only Darko's 2nd game in charge there was plenty of pressure building from worried and impatient fans.
Reading arrive in LS11 with a similar inconsistent record to Leeds and on the back of a 6 goal thriller against early pacesetters, Wolves, on Sunday. This was going to be a stern test for the fledgling Leeds side so after discussing which stand our mad Italian owner would choose to sit in tonight we eagerly awaited Darko's team selection. When it was announced it conformed the pre match rumour mill's view that Warnock was for the chop after Cellino was heard berating him in the away end at Brentford. Strange as Warnock has been our most consistent performer this season? Darko also replaced Austin with Sloth and Liam Cooper slotting in at left back in place of the bemused Warnock. Mmmm an interesting selection to say the least!
Leeds started brightly forcing two corners in the first 5 minutes as Sloth and Mowatt looked to snatch an early goal for the mighty whites but it was Silvestri who was soon in action at the other end tipping over a decent drive from Blackman on 10 minutes. It was a very open start to the game with both sides seeking to play the ball on the floor to find a way through the opposition defence. Mowatt found some space and screwed a curling shot just wide after the generous Reading defence gave the ball away. Things were starting to look good for the men in white as the majority of the 20,000 crowd got behind Darko's charges.
The pattern of the game was set with each team cancelling each other out with similar styles. "It's like a bloody game of chess" one fan commented who was clearly struggling to get to grips with Leeds new style. Blackman was causing Leeds problems together with Murray but the back four repelled most of the Royal's attacks. Leeds sought to play through the Reading midfield with Cook and Mowatt to the fore as they tried to clip crisp balls around but all too often the end result was a disappointing or mis-placed pass. The crowd's frustration grew as the game headed for half time compounded by Bellusci wasting a good chance from a free kick blasting high and wide into the South Stand. Half Time 0.0.
It wasn't the most exciting half of football I've ever witnessed at Elland Road but at least the team were trying to play football rather than just kick and rush. Leeds fans are notoriously hard to please and there were plenty of dissenting voices amongst the Urinal philosophers. "I can't do with this tippy tappy stuff they need to get the ball in the mixer" one coach commented whilst another thought "This passing games ok but there's never any end result" He had a point. This is certainly a team in transition with a new style, new coach and new players.
The 2nd half started with promise for Leeds as Mowatt cleverly slipped past two Reading defenders before getting his shot away on the edge of the box. The ball deflected for a corner but the attack ended yet again with no shot on goal. Reading started to take control as they sensed that Leeds had run out of ideas. Norwood, Blackman, Hector and Murray were starting to dominate as Leeds looked more vulnerable the longer the game went on. Surely Darko would be reaching for the subs board sooner rather than later? Sloth was struggling to make any impression in midfield and he was the obvious choice for the hook. "What the f*** is Murphy warming up for"? the Happy Chocker observed...................."No chance of him coming" I confidently predicted...............wrongly as it transpired as our £1m man replaced Cook shortly followed by Austin on for Mowatt. In one fell sweep the pinch of creativity we had in midfield were now sat watching from the bench?
The next 10 minutes were chaotic as Leeds seemed to be falling apart with a Reading goal imminent. Silvestri saved the day with his leg keeping out a point blank header as the Royals pushed for the winner. Leeds wasted a free kick on the edge of the Reading box before Austin summed up the complete lack of penetration from the home side as he lamely tried to lob the keeper from 50 yards. As the clocked ticked past 80 minutes both teams seemed intent on going for the winner and what undoubtedly was a very average and frustrating stalemate suddenly came alive. Billy Sharp replaced Antenucci and suddenly Leeds looked a threat up front. Sharp soon hit the home side's first shot on target with just 6 minutes left. There was a frantic last hurrah from both sides. Leeds had a big shout for a handball penalty but the ref turned it down as he had with two for Reading earlier in the game. The game finished in a goalless stalemate.
Frustrated was a word used by lots of fans as we streamed away from the ground along with plenty complaining about the new passing style. We didn't like hoofball now we don't like tippy tappy? You can't win sometimes. Bellusci had a decent game at the back for Leeds but I think Darko took off two of the better players on the night in Cook and Mowatt. Murphy showed all the attributes that make him the target of significant discontent from the majority of Leeds fans, in my opinion he is just not good enough for the championship. Leeds lost there way in the 2nd half and lacked any real penetration for most of the game mostly because of lots of poor final balls but in the end we kept a clean sheet against a team that stuck 3 past Wolves on Sunday so we should be thankful for small mercies.
Sheff Wed will be a much sterner challenge than Reading I suspect. A rip roaring derby in prospect for Saturday lunchtime but will Darko see the light and pick the right combination to clip the Owls wings? Time will tell.