By Josh Grainger
The visit of Harry Redknapp’s Queens Park Rangers was always going to be one of the more difficult tests that Leeds would have to face this season. The championship new boys fielded a side in which all but one of their player’s had played in the premier league at some point. Leeds on the other hand made a handful of changes to the side that beat Doncaster midweek in the Capital One cup. Teenager Alex Mowatt was replaced by Luke Murphy, whilst Michael Tonge gave way for Paul Green. In the final third, McDermott reverted back to what appears to be his favoured pair as Noel Hunt and Luke Varney came in for Matt Smith and Dom Poleon, whilst at the back Scott Wootton made his league debut in place of Tom Lees.
Both sides appeared to still have some of Friday night’s rustiness in them as the first ten minutes passed with no major incident. Leeds attempted to exert their home advantage on QPR however the visitors’ midfield pairing of pantomime villain Joey Barton and Karl Henry prevented the likes of Murphy and McCormack from creating openings. It was one of the QPR midfield who caused Elland Road to sweat, all be it only for a few seconds. A string of neat passing on the edge of the Leeds penalty area saw the ball eventually slid through to Barton, the former England international sent Paddy Kenny the wrong way only to see the offside flag risen to the relief of the Leeds fans, a decision which on review was incorrect.
Leeds on the other hand continued to battle hard, Rodolph Austin in particular appeared to enjoy the physicality of the clash, after a perfectly executed but incredibly hard challenge on Shaun Wright-Phillips. Leeds forced a number of corners from their opposition but a series of poor deliveries from Steven Warnock meant that nothing became of them. Fresh from signing a new four year deal, Ross McCormack tried his best to make something happen, however the impressive QPR defence made this difficult, as the game trickled through to the half way stage with neither side fully imposing themselves.
The two teams emerged for the second half unchanged and again it appeared that a lack of creativity was limiting the game from becoming a high drama affair. The second half continued to pass without major incident, Stephen Warnock nearly gifted the visitors the lead when his backpass to Jason Pearce flew askew, former Burnley striker Charlie Austin latched on to the error but Paddy Kenny was on hand to block the shot. McDermott thought he’d seen enough of his front pair on the 57th minute, Varney and the disappointing Hunt were withdrawn and Matt Smith and Dom Poleon were introduced. The pair began to make an immediate impact with Smith flicking on and Poleon firing his shot straight at Rob Green.
The Londoners grew in confidence however and took the lead fifteen minutes from time. Joey Barton’s free kick was whipped in front of goal, Kenny failed to hold the cross and the ball was eventually stabbed into the roof of the net by once Leeds transfer target Clint Hill. Leeds could afford to feel slightly hard done by, they hadn’t played brilliantly but had matched their counterparts until that point. McDermott threw on El-Hadji Diouf to try and stimulate an equaliser, however other than a few smart crosses from the byline, the forward had little impact. United were fortunate not to be two down in the closing stages, substitute Junior Hoilett broke away on the counter attack however flashed his shot wide of the near post.
With five minutes of added time up Leeds came painfully close to an equaliser, captain Rudy Austin picked up the ball a good thirty or so yards out, the Jamaican struck a wonderful effort on the half volley, but the ball flicked the top of the crossbar, it just wasn’t Leeds’ day. The whistle blew and Leeds had tasted defeat for the first time this season, an average performance in which a draw would have been a fair result, however in one of the more difficult fixtures of the season we can’t afford to be too critical. The two centre backs were Leeds’ best players, Scott Wootton proving he could be a handy little signing, whilst Jason Pearce continues to build on his strong start to the season.