By Andrew Butterwick
There was a strange feeling in the car as the Happy Chocker, Quiet One and yours truly headed for the Theatre of Hope and the clash with Mark Warbuton's high flying Brentford team. It was something called confidence despite being en route to watch Leeds United there was a positive buzz in the car on the prospect of extending our 4 match unbeaten run against the Bees from West London. Although Brentford were mightily impressive when they battered us 2.0 earlier in the season and they possess a pacey front line with plenty of width Leeds are suddenly a much more resilient and confident team due to a surprisingly successful January..............all the more surprising if you think back to the woeful display at Derby in Leeds' last match of 2014. Just to add to the surreal atmosphere we had just survived the January transfer window without selling any of our best players and Luke Murphy had been nominated for Championship player of the month! Carlsberg don't do epic Januarys but if they did.................
In order to solve the dilemma of whether to start with last week's match winner, Sharp, Redfearn changed back to a 4-4-2 formation with Mowatt sacrificed to the bench to leave Sharp to partner Morison up front. Brentford had former Leeds skipper, Douglas, in their line up as the game kicked off in bright winter sunshine.
Leeds picked up where they left off at Huddersfield with Cook and Byram both looking to grab the early initiative but Brentford soon showed why they have built such a glowing reputation as a counter attacking team as Jota, Dallas and Grey all showed their devastating pace on the break. The lively Bees midfielder Pritchard squandered the first chance of the game as he dragged a decent chance wide of Silvetsri's post. Leeds responded well though with Morison getting a header away that was too near Button in the Brentford goal followed quickly by a glancing header from Cooper that Bamba nearly steered in at the far post. Brentford started to get the upper hand though with Silvestri superbly saving from Grey who had sprung the high Leeds line before Cooper conceded a foul on the edge of the box as Brentford swept forward again earning a yellow card for his troubles. Silvestri easily saved the resulting free kick but he was soon to the rescue again as this time Jota evaded the Leeds back four but couldn't beat the Italian goalie. Leeds were rocking.
At the other the hard working Austin went clattering to the ground in the box after a clumsy Brentford challenge but referee Salisbury ignored the more than justified penalty claims. One of the many decisions he made that left the home fans with a potent mixture of incredulity and homicidal tendencies towards the man with the whistle. Douglas had the last chance of the half as he headed safely into Silvestri's arms from a corner. Half time came with the officials walking off to well earned boo's. 0:0 at the break with much of the discussions for the Urinal philosophers a combination of scathing assessments of the ref and realistic concerns of how Leeds were going to stop the pacey Brentord counter attacks. As someone pointed out though the West London team weren't playing fair as they left two players up front and very wide every time Leeds had a corner. Just not Cricket that?
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with Brentord breaking quickly, Leeds stuttering to get going and the ref just blowing his whistle randomly hoping he'd get at least one decision right before the end of the game. This made for a scrappy game at times not that the quality of the play on offer dampened the atmosphere as Elland Road reverberated to the sounds of the Leeds United songbook for almost the full 90 minutes.
On the hour Morison fluffed his lines after skilfully controlling a deep corner before blasting high and wide from an acute angle. It was going to be one of those days but still we were holding relatively firm at the back weren't we? Well more or less until the referee Mr Salisbury unlocked the stubborn home defence with an impressive move as he totally ignored a blatant handball by Brentford down the right hand side fooling the Leeds team to stopping expecting the free kick. Even the Brentford forwards were shocked but they took full advantage as Pritchard converted Diagouraga's low cross at the far post with the Leeds defenders still appealing for the free kick. Elland Road erupted into a cauldron of venom directed towards Mr Salisbury who nonchalantly trotted back to the half way line waving away the vehement protests from the wronged Leeds defence. Bastard! 1.0 Brentford.
The goal stoked the fires of Elland Road and Leeds went looking for an equaliser but found it difficult against the well drilled Bees defence. Antenucci replaced Morison as Leeds pushed forward leaving themselves even more exposed at the back. Toral hit a lovely volley for the visitors only for Leeds to scramble it away after rebounding off the post. Leeds were now riding their luck but Antenucci had added a bit of a spark to the Leeds attack and it was he who started a move which finished with Austin pulling a perfect ball back for Sharp who missed by inches from 10 yards out. Bollox.
The giant Cani joined the fray with 5 minutes left at the expense of Murphy and he nearly had a dream debut as his shot was blocked by a desperate Brentford defender after an almighty scramble in the Bees goal. That was the last chance for Leeds as the game ended frustratingly 1.0 to Brentford. A game Leeds didn't deserve to win but certainly didn't deserve to lose. As we saw at Griffin Park Brentford are a very good side who employ some enterprising tactics so despite the loss there were still some positives to take from the game. The referee was shocking though.
Leeds weren't at their best today with Austin probably the best performer in a white shirt. Bamba again showed some class at centre back but Brentford did exploit his penchant for making forward runs that once they break down leave his fellow defenders as vulnerable as a snowman in a heatwave. I hate seeing my beloved Leeds lose as much as the next fan but at times you just have to accept that from time to time we do lose the odd game..............................unlike the fan I followed back towards the car park who was preaching to his mates all that he thought was wrong with Leeds United from Redfearn's tactics to slating every player who was on the pitch. I was about to put him straight when he finished his rant with "that's the second time I've watched them this season but I won't be coming again" Mmmm such knowledge from so very little evidence I mused as I headed for the warmth of the car shaking my head.
Reading up next on Tuesday night a match that I shall unfortunately miss due to work. The Royals are on a bit of a run so it will be another stern test for the mighty whites in front of the visit of our friends from South Bermondsey on Saturday.