By Steve Jennings
I have no major feelings towards or against Ipswich Town. I remember a good, young team from the late seventies managed by the late, great Bobby Robson nearly winning the title and I used to go out with a girl who supported them avidly, but other than that they are just another team. But I was really looking forward to seeing Leeds United play them in my first trip to Elland Road for this current season.
I boarded the Plymouth Whites bus at 8am at junction 26 of the M5 for the 255 miles trip to the Football capital of the world. A fairly easy journey was only hampered by an accident at the M1 and M42 junction delaying us by 30 minutes or so. But just before 1pm we were in the car park. An enjoyable couple of pints of fizzy apple juice and a bite to eat in The Dragon first and then I took my seat in the ground at 2.30pm.
My first thought was "is this a 3pm kick-off?" The ground was empty! And I mean empty! The next 30 minutes or so saw the ground fill to some degree but the game started with a half full stadium. I spoke to a few fans sat around me and the general consensus was that many of their mates had stayed away and had simply found other things to do when Leeds are at home. Their home game habit was broken. Some offered the view that Chelsea and/or Middlesbrough were more attractive a proposition than Ipswich and that three games in eight days was a tough financial burden. Others said that some will not return until Ken Bates has gone totally. Whatever the case this is a matter of priority for the new owners should their proposed takeover happen next Friday. Clever marketing and PR needed methinks.
Team news was dominated by the omission of Ross McCormack which was hardly a surprise to those of us with a presence on Twitter and had read his ramblings the night before. The game started brightly enough and, at times, Leeds looked to pass the ball but at other times resorted to hit and hope Football. Ipswich, for their part, looked controlled and organised if a little short of real quality but with DJ Campbell up top they should threaten Leeds? And throughout the game they were a handful even if Campbell was largely invisible and dragged off in the second half.
First chance for Leeds fell to El Hadji Diouf who stumbled on a loose ball but couldn't squeeze past Town goalkeeper Henderson. But it was Diouf's corner that started the scoring. Jerome Thomas clearly looks to run with the ball and excites the Leeds crowd when the ball comes his way, so it was fitting he opened United's account flicking Tom Lees header past Henderson in the 19th minute. Leeds did not have things all their own way and were grateful to Paddy Kenny for making a good save to keep the lead intact. This lead should have doubled later in the first half when Luciano Becchio had an easy chance to head Leeds two-up from an excellent Sam Byram cross but put it over. I would say Leeds were fortunate to go in with a lead at the interval.
The second half started and I had to count how many Leeds players were on the field. Ipswich seemed to have 2-3 more players as every loose ball went to one of their players with another unmarked in support. For 20 minutes or so Town dominated and an equaliser looked ominous. But United's defence held out even if there seemed to be moments of panic rather than collected defence. Leeds needed a
second to calm nerves and this came in the 68th when a bright move prompted by a Bradley Orr mistake saw Diouf play in Thomas whose clever side-foot cross was put away calmly by Paul Green. Game over? No, this is Leeds United we are talking about.
More hit-and-hope Football from Leeds and we hung on for our lives. Ipswich should have scored twice at least and I recall one glaring miss from Chopra, who normally enjoys playing and scoring against Leeds. But hang on we did and there was obvious relief at the final whistle.
Still a win is a win and a clean sheet is always welcome. 12 points out of 15 cannot be sniffed at.
Kenny (7) - solid performance. 2-3 good saves kept us in it at times and he appears calm when his defence start flapping in front of him. Best Leeds 'keeper since Sullivan, and maybe Robinson.
Byram (8.5) - man of the match for me. Still young and prone to a few mistakes and bad choices but a precious talent whose rise has surprised several of us. Involved in most of Leeds better attacks and he will get better.
Peltier (5) - I feel for Pelts. He clearly is no left sided player and he is a victim of young Sam's faster than expected development. Signed to play right back and made captain the manger clearly feels he must play him regardless so is obviously finding room for him at left back despite having Drury and White who can play there. I will not single him out for stick (marching on together and all that) but you cannot ignore 2-3 of his mistakes nearly lead to a Town goal. Warnock has to be big and admit Pelts is right back or nothing. Captain or not.
Lees (7.5) - very calm performance and getting better. Made some great headers and useful interventions and seems happy with the experienced Tate next to him. A future Leeds captain I think.
Tate (7) - calm and assured even when we had to batten down the hatches a bit. Leads the back well and I would sign him personally.
Thomas (8) - if he cared what I thought he may question not being made man of the match. He scored one and helped with the other and looked lively throughout. Clever flicks and turns are what he is about and Leeds fans have missed this in recent seasons. I would sign him but doubt he will come here full time being honest. Played well.
Green (6), Norris (6.5) and Tonge (5) - this was the area of worry for me. At times all three demonstrated some crisp passing and worked hard together. At other times they went missing, were slow to react, became very narrow in the middle with passes going astray and they got beaten up and out-thought by their Ipswich counterparts. Don't get me wrong they tried hard (well, Tongey seemed unbothered at times!) but there was a lack of leadership here. Yes we are missing the hustle and bustle of Rudy but I do think a leader is needed in the middle.
Diouf (7) - some clever play from the Hadj man who was always trying to get things started. He holds it well even if he tried to hold it for too long at times and inadvertently gave the ball back to Town. I would sign him to a longer deal! Oh, we already have! That's alright then.
Becchio (6.5) - divides the crowd. Tries hard but did he win a header under pressure? Maybe, but I can't think of one. Look, he is the third highest scorer in the division and deserves praise for that but I would like to see him put under some pressure with a new quality signing. But even if GFH did sanction a move for Mackail-Smith or similar would we have the creative play to make chances or we pump the ball up to him as we do with Becc's?
Subs: Varney, Brown and McCormack - not very long to assess their input. Ross looked bright but I can't remember anything from the other two other than a ridiculous pass from Browny that went to Town and put us under needless pressure with a few minutes to go.
Summary: a good win and three points. Poor atmosphere in the ground but I am sure the players will enjoy the full house versus Chelsea on Wednesday. I am seeing Paul Weller and Miles Kane in London on the same night (booked before the game was confirmed) but will follow with interest on Twitter.
Marching on together!