By Andrew Butterwick
Friday night football is not something I want to get used to but after the uninspiring England games during the international break the sweet taste of the return of "proper" football couldn't come soon enough for this fan. Even better yet another mouth watering Yorkshire derby in front of a sold out New York Stadium against Steve Evans' Rotherham team who have settled well in the Championship. Rotherham might only be a short hop, skip and a jump from LS11 but games against the Millers are infrequent to say the least and the most recent memories of clashes with our South Yorkshire neighbours are not happy ones. The last game ended in an embarrassing defeat for Leeds in the JPT at the soulless Don Valley stadium whilst those with longer memories will wince at the thought of the 1.0 reverse at the old decrepit Millmoor Ground back in 2004. So tonight was a perfect opportunity to regain a small bit of Yorkshire pride in front of the Sky TV cameras.........wasn't it?
Along with the usual Happy Chocker and Quiet One I had two Rotherham supporting friends on board as we headed down the M18 into darkest South Yorkshire. They were raving about their Icelandic ball playing centre back, Kari Arnason, who had just blunted Holland's Robben and Van Persie but how would he cope with his TV audition with Ant & Douk? From our point of view the big question concerned the much vaunted Adryan. Would he finally make his Leeds debut or will he be mistaken for the mascot? Stephen Warnock returns at left back after a mysterious period on the side line? Will Billy Sharp get more game time? Yes proper football was back and still as enthralling and intriguing as ever.
Not for the first time this season the team news generated a fair number of puzzled looks from the Leeds faithful. Warnock was back in his left back spot but Berardi had replaced Sam Byram at right back? Lewis Cook was preferred to Adryan in a midfield four with Austin, Mowatt and Bianchi. Was Adryan withdrawn from the starting line up at the last minute? The rumour mill was well and truly stoked as the game kicked off in front of a packed New York Stadium.
Leeds opened brightly with their neat passing game securing most of the possession in the first 15 minutes. Their patient approach might not be everybody's cup of tea but it certainly took the sting out of any potential Steve Evans inspired "up and at em" tactic. In fact Rotherham showed their cards very early on with direct balls into the box looking for the tall Revell at every opportunity. Leeds looked assured as chances started to appear in the Rotherham box. Austin finished off a lovely move with a deflected shot going for a corner before a weaving run from Mowatt so nearly created the opening goal but Antenucci's swivel shot was inches wide. Silvestri wasn't too troubled in front of the massed ranks of Leeds fans although first a high free kick and then a miscued shot from ex Leeds man Ryan Hall delighted the travelling army. Inevitably his horrible efforts earned him a chorus of "you're too shit to play for Leeds"
The only thing that interrupted Leeds' domination in the first 30 minutes was a long delay after Pearce received a knock on the head. The domination was rewarded just after the half hour as yet another sweet move saw Doukara slide a ball through to Antenucci in the box who coolly slotted the ball past the advancing Miller's keeper. All of the 2,200 away fans glanced at the linesman's flag before celebrating. 1.0 Leeds.
Rotherham were rocking as the Leeds midfield linked well to create further chances for Doukara, Austin and Antenucci whilst Silvestri pulled off good saves to deny a Revell header and a Frecklington drive. Leeds wasted an ideal chance to get a second just before half time as one too many passes ruined another slick move by the West Yorkshire side. Half time 1.0 Leeds. Cook, Bianchi, Austin and Mowatt all looked comfortable on the ball in a half Leeds dominated. The only voices of dissent amongst the Leeds faithful was the fact we hadn't scored more than the single goal.
Steve Evans, the Rotherham manager, is always very animated on the touchline and we all guessed that his half time talk wasn't going to be a calm, reflective assessment of the Millers first half performance. We all knew he would be seething at the way Leeds had kept possession and bossed the first 45 minutes and I think we all knew what his response was going to be.........."get in their f****** faces and stop them playing" Question was would Leeds have the guile and skill to cope with the inevitable onslaught? Within a minute of the restart we got the first indication that the answer might be in the negative.
Rotherham got two corners in the first two minutes of the half as they blasted into Leeds with Evans now conducting his team from the technical area like a demented Michelin man. The home crowd responded and suddenly the momentum was with the Millers. Paul Taylor hit a searing shot goalwards that saw Silvestri leaping to tip the ball round the post. The home fans were now baying for a goal as Leeds visibly wilted under the pressure. The confident assured play of the first half was replaced by hurried, panicky passing that delivered the ball straight back to a red shirt who inevitably launched the ball into the box towards Revell. Bellusci couldn't get anywhere near him in the air.
Leeds did get some relief as Mowatt broke promisingly but his shot was easily saved by the home keeper. The 2nd half red tidal wave continued though and when Frecklington fired in a vicious free kick on 57 minutes Silvestri could only punch the ball to the centre spot where Revell beat Bellusci to the ball to steer home the equaliser. New York exploded in celebration. 1.1 and game definitely on. Leeds didn't have time to draw breath. Evans had changed his teams tactics to nullify the visitors first half domination so what was Darko going to do in response? On 62 minutes the young Brazilian, Adryan, took to the field to huge applause. Had the Messiah finally landed? His first touch had the away fans drooling but things were about to get a whole lot worse for Leeds as Rotherham's sub Jonson Clarke-Harris fired in a blistering shot past Silvestri to send the home crowd into raptures and give Rotherham a 2.1 lead.
Leeds were sinking fast but Adryan sparked some hope as his quick feet bamboozled the home defence as he fired a shot just wide before hitting two other shots inches wide and then setting Antenucci up with an exquisite ball but the Italian's shot was just finger tipped wide by the home keeper. Sharp and Morison came on to try and rescue the game for Leeds as they rode their luck at the other end. A final corner deep into added time ended with a Morison header going tamely wide as the game finished 2.1 to the Millers.
Rotherham deserved their victory not because they played the better football but because they played to their strengths and were prepared to change their game plan to secure the three points. As for Leeds they were out muscled in the 2nd half after dominating the first 45 minutes. Adryan's late cameo was delicious and will create even more clamour for him to start a game. Some people are questioning how he can fit into the current system. Well on the evidence of tonight I would suggest he's the first name on the team sheet and build the system around him because if he is as good as he seems he won't be here for long.
In the end it was a classic game of two halves and two very different styles with Mr Evan's more direct and rumbustious approach winning the day. Leeds are still work in progress but there are some good signs amongst all the frustration and disappointment...............something we may need to hang onto with games against Norwich, Wolves and Cardiff up next. Leeds rollercoaster season continues. Roll on Norwich.