By Andrew Butterwick
Kicking off at 5.05pm on Easter Monday could have been a decent April Fools not so long ago but not now. For some reason the powers that be at Sky TV thought the clash between two old rivals would whet the viewers appetite. As we numbed our senses in the members bar before kick off there were many fans slightly puzzled as to why a mid table clash between Leeds and the Rams appealed to the TV bosses. Once the teams were announced though the one topic of conversation was Chris Dawson's selection in the centre of midfield. Had Warnock listened to the fans chanting for him to have a chance on Saturday? Or did he genuinely think Dawson was the man to give the team a lift? We'll probably never know but Dawson was definitely making his debut.
As the teams came out some fans mistook the Leeds mascots for Dawson. Well he is a tad on the small side but then again so was the great Billy Bremner. Diouf returned to the starting line up as Warnock once again shuffled his midfield round. Pearce was in for the suspended Lees at the back. 21,000 fans had half filled the stadium by kick off.
The opening exchanges were sprinkled with mid table averageness. Dawson was playing an advanced midfield role with Morison the lone striker and Diouf on the wing. Austin who had returned to the starting line up was scuttling about making some meaty challenges but the game itself was, well rather tepid. There were few moments of note in the first half. Warnock tested Fielding in the Derby goal before Varney wasted a golden chance as he sliced his shot wide. Green finished off the only decent move of the half by crashing his shot against the bar. At the other end Kenny pulled of a one on one save with Sammon but other than that this was definitely not a good advert for championship football. The half time whistle blew and everybody ran for the sanctuary and warmth of the bar to reflect on an underwhelming 45 minutes play.
Dawson had shown plenty of enthusiasm in his first game but there was little else to get excited about from the rest of his team mates. God knows what the TV pundits found to discuss during the break? The urinal philosophers were in apathetic mood. The grind of the recent poor run had finally taken its toll on the well meaning critics. The only topic of debate was whether we were or weren't in the relegation dog fight......."I can just see us needing a point at Watford to stay up" one pessimist said......"no chance there's too many teams below us" an optimist replied. I'm sure I wasn't the only one rechecking the league table as I returned to my seat?
Thankfully the 2nd half was more lively than the first as both teams awoke from their slumbers. Austin struck a firm shot from 30 yards just past the post as Leeds exerted some pressure on the Derby goal. Morison wasn't inspiring many fans with his display though, he looks strangely weak in the air for a big lad and rather slow on the floor. Not the ideal combination for a striker who's expected to score goals. On 57 minutes Dawson got a decent ovation as he was replaced by Ross Mac. The experience will have done him good, maybe next time he should put some longer studs in as he appeared to struggle to keep on his feet at times. Definitely one for the future though.
Leeds nerves were jangling shortly after as Sammon had the ball in the Leeds net only for a linesman's flag to cut short the Derby fans celebration. Aidy White joined the fray in place of Diouf who minutes earlier had lost the ball in midfield resulting in the attack that Derby scored their disallowed goal from. White made an immediate impact as he scampered round the Derby full back and won a corner. Warnock swung the corner into the back post causing havoc in the Rams defence, Green laid the ball back to Ross Mac who hit an unstoppable curler into the top corner of the net. Get innnnnnnnnnnn! 1.0
Leeds and both subs had contributed.
The goal fired the crowd up but Derby immediately put pressure back on Leeds by winning a corner. My nerves were re-ignited. At 0.0 I was in a state of ambivalence. A point for each team wouldn't be a disaster for either team but now Leeds had scored the game opened up and the precious three points we were currently holding looked vulnerable. My fears were realised minutes later when Pearce lost his man and chased him back into the box........."don't bring him down" I screamed as Tom Lees replacement bundled him over from behind. FFS don't we ever learn?. Sammon slammed the penalty against the post but Coutts responded the quickest to follow up and grab the equaliser. Bollox 1.1 and Leeds were now rocking.
They wouldn't have been rocking if Byram had converted a sublime cross to the back post instead of smashing his header against the bar. Revolt was in the air though and ironic chants that "it's all Tom Lees fault" spilled from the Kop. Derby were the team now looking the most likely though as the Leeds defence began to creak not helped by some dubious referee decisions. From one of the dubious decisions Derby were awarded a corner. 2 minutes to go. From my vantage point all I could see was the ball fly into the box and the ball bounce tamely into the Leeds net. 2.1 Derby and for the 9th game on the trot Derby were about to beat Leeds. Leeds hoisted a few hopeful balls in the direction of the Derby box but all to no avail and the game finished 2.1 to the East Midlanders leaving Leeds just five points above the drop zone.
I should be used to the disappointment of throwing away a lead by now but I'm not. It still hurts. No it doesn't hurt it burns away at my inside as I march to the car and drive home seething. We should be better than this, even with the well publicised lack of funds. This league is not dripping with quality it's soaked in mediocrity and as such we should have grasped the nettle and taken the opportunity to climb up the table........but we didn't. That's not all down to Warnock the players have a lot to answer for in my book.
With the crowd baying for his blood at the end it was no real surprise when news filtered through that Warnock had stepped down after the game. His ego wouldn't let him just step down though he had to recommend who was taking over from him. He arrived at the club as the fans choice with the weight of expectation on his shoulders. He stated he needed to bring in ten or eleven players to change the team which he did but in practical terms we are worse off now than when he took over and that's despite having a great bunch of lads who couldn't give anymore week after week. Fact is he assembled a team of his type of players to play his style of football and it didn't work. Crowds have dwindled and the fans who have remained loyal have become hugely disillusioned almost apathetic. He won't be remembered with much fondness even though he thinks he did a fantastic job. You didn't Neil. Football is a results business and you failed.
A week is long time in football. By the time we get to Charlton next Saturday there will be a different atmosphere on Planet Leeds. Will it be enough to steer us out of the choppy waters of the relegation bun fight? Don't hold your breath. Despite all that.........