By Andrew Butterwick
Elland Road under floodlights always adds a special ingredient to proceedings even when there's only 19,000 inside the old stadium. Ipswich arrived in West Yorkshire fresh from their loss in the Old Farm derby but still harbouring real hope of promotion after a promising season under the stewardship of Mick McCarthy. The team news was intriguing. With Austin out Redfearn had selected four centre halves but who would play where? Bellusci replaced Austin in a formation clearly designed to stop the carnage the Tractor boys wreaked at Portman Road when they peppered the Leeds box to devastating effect in their comfortable 4.1 victory. Cooper was at left back with Taylor in front of him in midfield with Wootton and Byram forming the same partnership on the right flank. Certainly a bold move from Redfearn coming off the back of two successive defeats for the mighty whites. Sharp kept his starting slot with Morison on the bench.
McCarthy preferred on loan striker Chris Wood to their top scorer Murphy up front with ex Leeds striker cum diver Varney alongside him in attack. Looking at the 6ft plus Wood alongside Varney who we know can win his fair share of balls in the air you didn't need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out what tactics Ipswich were going to deploy. The ball could well feel air sick before half time.
The game kicked off and Ipswich were immediately into their stride with a long ball to their right flank which Wood won and turned Cooper before feeding Varney who's shot was blocked by Bamba. Within a minute Varney had the ball in the net with a header but thankfully he was ruled offside. Leeds did settle and after Sharp forced a save Bamba looped a header over the bar from a corner. As the half progressed each team seemed to cancel each other out with clear chances few and far between. The tall Tyrone Mings showed why he has been attracting admiring glances from Premier League clubs with some classy touches down the left.
Leeds hardly troubled the Ipswich keeper although Sharp felt aggrieved when he headed high and wide from a Byram cross whilst being lent on by an Ipswich defender. Byram tried to emulate Austin's volley from Saturday but only managed to threaten the fans on the back row of the South Stand. Bellusci hit a harmless free kick from 20 yards. Leeds just couldn't seem to put the final pass together whilst McCarthy's artillery tactics were meeting stiff resistance from the Leeds back four. Not the most aesthetic 45 minutes of football ever seen at Elland Road but we went in all square and still well in the game. Half time 0:0.
There were some interesting suggestions by the Urinal philosophers as to how to break the deadlock ranging from putting Charlie Taylor up front to substituting the "useless" Billy Sharp! Thankfully Redfearn was a little more patient as Leeds started the 2nd half unchanged. Murphy, Mowatt and Cook were working tirelessly in midfield and credit to them that Austin's undoubted powerhouse running was hardly missed.
Silvestri came to Leeds rescue early in the second period as he leapt to turn a towering header from Mings around the post for a corner. At the other end Sharp nearly got free in the box but his shot was blocked and bounced safely into the arms of the Ipswich keeper. Both teams were locked in a stalemate and what was needed was one flash of inspiration to kick start the game. Step up Mr Alex Mowatt. Ipswich had brought on the dangerous Murphy whilst Redfearn had replaced Taylor with Antenucci and changed the formation to 4-4-1-1. Leeds also started to press the visitors deeper in their half with Byram forcing Mings into an error on the edge of his box as he wrestled the Leeds man to the ground. In a position similar to the one Mowatt scored from against Millwall the young midfielder stepped up and hit a sweet curling shot into the net giving the goalie no chance. 1.0 Leeds and Elland Road was now alive and kicking. Could we hold onto this lead though?
The answer to that question came just two minutes later as Freddie Sears, on for Wood, saw his soft shot evade Silvestri's grasp and roll into the net. 1.1 and here we go again. The game exploded into life. Mings went close with a shot just past the post as the rollercoaster emotions of watching Leeds United clicked into top gear. Leeds were rocking and in danger of going behind but all of a sudden Leeds broke and found Antenucci in space who calmly released the rampaging Cook down the right flank............the talented midfielder drove into the box before picking out Sharp on the penalty spot who turned the ball past the flailing goalie into the bottom corner of the net. Get innnnnnnnn! 2.1 Leeds and 3 goals in just 6 minutes had turned the game on it's head. But the drama hadn't finished.
Ipswich piled forward looking for another equaliser but also leaving themselves exposed at the back. Cook so nearly sealed the game for Leeds but his shot was saved after a lovely lay off from Sharp. Ipswich went straight back down the pitch and more hearts were in the mouths of Leeds fans as the ball pinged about in the Leeds box. Bamba raised his hands as he went to stop another attack. Penalty! Yet again Leeds were trying to snatch a draw from the jaws of a victory. That horrible sick feeling of disappointment returned. The Happy Chocker reminded me that Silvestri never saves penalties. Add to that the sight of the prolific Murphy putting the ball on the spot and I feared the worst. Murphy ran up and hit a decent penalty but then in what seemed like slow motion Silvestri flung himself to the right to tip the ball onto the post and away from danger. Elland Road exploded again.
There was still 5 minutes of squeaky bum time left plus 4 minutes of added time. Still time for Mings to thump a header high and wide and also Antenucci and Morison to combine to nearly snatch a third for Leeds. The ref's whistle blew to end a dramatic 2nd half and signal three more precious points for Leeds and another top six team leaving Elland Road pointless. Final score 2.1 Leeds.
As we streamed away from the ground there were smiles on the faces of most Leeds fans. Murphy and Cook were immense in midfield with Sharp getting his second goal in two games. The Leeds back four just about coped with Mick McCarthy's artillery and Silvestri bounced back from his clanger to ensure Leeds took all the points with his penalty save. After worrying about the absence of Austin in the end he was hardly missed.
This was another battling performance from Leeds who sparked into life when Antenucci came on. Onwards to Wigan on Saturday with a healthy dose of confidence and a large travelling army of Leeds fans looking for revenge after that woeful showing against the pie eaters at home. Redfearn's selection should be interesting? Antenucci to start? Same back four?