By Andrew Butterwick
Traffic chaos on the M62 delayed the kick off by 30 minutes but at least it gave yours truly a bit more time to get my match day head on ready for the clash with Reading. Brother Chris, Happy Chocker and the Quiet One were on board as we thankfully missed the traffic problems and cruised to the "Theatre of the never ending takeover" in the forlorn hope that somehow we could put the off the pitch trials and tribulations to one side aswell as Saturday's pathetic showing and snatch a much needed win against the Royals. Well that was the plan but nobody really believed we were going to get anything other than more of the same rubbish that we witnessed on Saturday.
A pre match chat with one of my blog readers, Keith Ingham, brought fond memories flooding back of games in the 70's when Leeds were in their pomp and riding high not only at home but also in Europe. That little oasis of joy was soon shattered as the reality of Brian McD's latest team sheet hit home. 5 changes from Saturday and a change back to the 5-3-2 system that was ditched in favour of 4-4-2 some moons ago. Zaliukas, Byram, Pugh, Pearce and Mowatt all gained starting spots with Warnock, Pelts, Stewart, Kebe and Wootton all losing out. Drastic changes that although needed had last gasp grasping at straws written all over it. Confidence wasn't exactly oozing from every pore as I took my usual seat in the NW Corner.
In one of football's ironic twists Brian McD welcomed his old team to LS11 exactly a year since he was sacked by the Berkshire club and with huge pressure mounting on his current position at Leeds. He couldn't afford a repeat of Saturday's spineless performance from his team. Leeds needed a good opening to dispel the palpable nervous tension in the home crowd. Anything less would soon transfer all too real negative vibes to the under pressure players.
The first twenty minutes were fairly uneventful as each side fought for the early advantage. Reading's speedy front line looked dangerous with McCleary, McAnuff and Robson-Kanu all stretching our new look back three of Lees, Zaliukas and Pearce whilst at the other end Wickham tested McCarthy in the Royals goal before Austin had his usual long range shot into the crowd. After Saturday's capitulation this was beginning to look at least respectable.................then the well worn self destruct button was struck again. Zaliukas started the ball rolling with a back pass that was short of Butland but too long for Pearce.............Butland called for the ball as he hurtled out of his goal.............Pearce hesitated and McCleary danced between the two dithering Leeds players and walked the ball into the net. Double Bollox! 1.0 Reading. There was a communal sigh from the long suffering home fans. Here we go again.
The goal rocked Leeds as their brittle confidence shone through. Nervy passes went astray as nobody seemed to want to do anything with the ball that might be in slightest bit creative. Butland atoned for his awful clanger with the first goal as he expertly thwarted Robson-Kanu after a flowing Reading move. From the resulting corner Reading's Pearce headed into the side netting. Leeds did manage to carve out an opening as the game headed for half time but Mowatt's header looped tamely to McCarthy in the Royal's goal. Half time 1.0 Reading.
The muffled boo's that greeted the half time whistle summed up the mood of the die hard home fans in a crowd of just under 20,000. Murphy had once again showed some spirit and fight in midfield but elsewhere it was difficult to find any positives. Lees looked uncomfortable at the right hand side of the back three. He was not helped by the lack of options to pass to when he tried to bring the ball out of defence forcing him to continually play the long ball...............not his strongest suit! Zaliukas looked comfortable on the ball but also gave the impression another cock up from him was just around the corner. It was difficult to see Leeds getting back into the game. Still we were only one goal down so you never know....................!
Reading attacked Leeds straight from the kick off and Robson-Kanu won a free kick on the edge of the box after a clumsy tackle from Murphy. Drenthe lined up the kick and placed a beauty past the flailing Butland to give the Royals a 2 goal lead that within a minute became 3 as more powder puff defending allowed Blackman the easiest of headers to drive another nail into Leeds' woeful season. Elland Road erupted into protests. "What the f*** is going on" chanted the Kop soon to be followed by "You're not fit to wear the shirt" that was sung with real venom from all four corners of the ground. When Robson-Kanu brushed aside a sad excuse of a challenge to run away and smash in the 4th and killer goal on 54 minutes many fans were already heading for the exits. Brian McD was a dead man walking as he stood disconsolate in the technical area. 9 goals in two home matches had now rattled into the Leeds net. In anybody's book a complete disaster. All the talk of getting points in the bag after all our away games now seemed pure fantasy.
It was like watching a horror show as the whole club seems to be disintegrating into a sad, sorry mess before my very eyes. Matt Smith replaced Zaliukas on the hour. Surely too late to rescue anything from the game? Leeds were now playing a sort of 4-3-3 system with lots of direct balls forward towards Smith and Wickham. Suddenly Leeds looked a threat. Austin headed straight at McCarthy after good work by Pearce then Smith bundled in goal after a head down from Pearce. 4.1 Reading. A minute later the stadium was rocking as Austin broke away and for once found the target with a searing shot that left McCarthy grasping fresh air. 4.2 Reading and two goals in a minute from Leeds. The decibel levels lifted as the players who ten minutes ago weren't fit to wear the shirt were now pouring forward looking for another goal with the crowd urging them on. Smith was winning everything in the air and the visitors were looking slightly vulnerable.
Leeds were now attacking at will. Why didn't they do this earlier? Smith glanced a header wide from 8 yards out after brilliant work from Murphy Then McCormack kneed a ball just wide from a teasing cross. We couldn't do the impossible could we? Leeds were leaving gaps at the back as they chased an unlikely equaliser but with the crowd now right behind them they peppered the visitors box with searching balls for the two big men up front. The hope that 2 goals in a minute gave us started to drain away though as the game headed for added time. In the end the valiant last half hour push came too little too late to rescue a point for Leeds and the game ended 4.2 to Reading.
The mini fightback had only partly pacified the frustrated home fans. The paucity of quality in the Leeds play has been cruelly exposed over the last month. A year on from Brian McD's arrival and we are still no further forward. He must shoulder some of the blame but the farcical events behind the scenes at the club are taking a heavy toll as the club spirals into who know's what black hole. The simple fact is that the current squad is nowhere near good enough to get any where near the play offs and until there is real stability and money to support the club that will remain a constant whoever the manager is. These are dark days for Leeds United and all their extended family.
3,500 fans will follow Leeds to Burnley on Saturday. Will Cellino be in charge by then? Will BM still be here? Will we ever keep another clean sheet? Do GFH actually know the slightest thing about running a football club? Answers on a post card please.