By Andrew Butterwick
After enduring an enforced sabbatical from club football due to the international break I was chomping at the bit in anticipation of our trip to the Reebok to take on Dougie Freedman's Trotters. As ever the Happy Chocker and the Quiet One joined me at Selby station and despite defeat last time out to QPR there was still a hint of positiveness at the prospect of playing a Bolton team who sit at the foot of the table still awaiting their first win. Wasn't this the same Bolton team that finished last season on fire as they marched up the table on the back of a late season surge though?
The excited football chatter on board the Manchester bound train was lubricated with the amber nectar as the carriages filled with platoons of the LUFC travelling army as we called at Leeds and Huddersfield. All was set for another epic awayday. Ross Mac, Green and Austin had all returned relatively unscathed from their international jaunts although Rudy had struggled to remove some Panamanian flesh from his boots after receiving a red card in his World Cup adventure. Anticipation of building on the victory on our last travels warmed the cockles of the hearts of the Leeds fans as the train traversed the Pennines and into enemy territory whilst the prospect of seeing Beckford, even in an away shirt, would bring fond memories flooding back of a famous trek to Manchester not so long ago.
Pre match refreshments were taken in the Bee Hive pub where we dissected Brain McDermott's latest selection. Tonge replaced Green in midfield whilst Byram once again was missing in an otherwise unchanged side. The promising Alex Mowatt had earned a place on the bench along with ex Bolton star, Mr Diouf. The game got underway in bright sunshine with the 4,800 travelling army belting out the Leeds anthems. Confident Leeds grabbed the early initiative against a hesitant home side and for once they pressed home their advantage as the hard working Varney flashed a searing Murphy corner into the net with a perfect header after just 6 minutes. 1.0 Leeds and the away end erupted in joy at seeing their team take the lead in a league game for the first time this season.
The goal gave Leeds an extra infusion of confidence and also weakened the already fragile belief of the struggling home side. N'Gog led the attack for Bolton in place of Beckford and although he looks the part for a centre forward in truth he scores precious few goals and displayed plenty of hints why in the opening exchanges. He did lay a good ball off for Pratley though but the ex Swansea midfielder shot high wide and handsome. Wootton and Pearce looked comfortable at the heart of the Leeds defence as the whole team worked and harried Bolton into mistakes. Twice Bolton gifted the ball to Leeds in the centre circle only for first Hunt then Varney fail to take full advantage as both their shots went agonisingly close to doubling the lead. HT. 1.0 Leeds. The natives were becoming restless as the teams trouped off for their cup of tea whilst the away side received a healthy ovation. Leeds were looking very solid and although only one goal in front were certainly in the driving seat.
The 2nd half kicked off in bright sunshine with Leeds now playing towards their fans. The Bolton goalie, the ginger haired Bogdan, got some friendly advice from the travelling hordes "Get out of the sun, get out of the sun, you ginger bastard get out of the sun" Well he didn't seem to have any sun cream on and it was hot. Leeds' plans were thrown into disarray on 56 minutes when Pelts went off with a groin injury making way for Tom Lees to fill in at full back. Leeds were defending stoutly and breaking quickly time and again catching Bolton short at the back. Ross Mac took advantage of this as he skipped past Leeds transfer target Mills only to have his kneecaps clattered as the big defender cynically brought the Scot down 25 yards out. Bolton cleared the free kick but Leeds were looking dangerous on the break. Hunt was next to break free but mistimed his run and fell for the offside trap. Spearing was next in the book as he chopped Austin down.
Beckford replaced Knight as Bolton pushed for an equaliser............cue the Jermaine Beckford song and the Bolton player giving the Leeds salute! Beckford gave the home side a spark of life but it was first Tonge and then Varney who nearly killed the game with a second goal as they fired shots in on the sunburnt goalie. The introduction of Hall for the Trotters with just 20 minutes to go did lift the home crowd as his tricky running ruffled the composure of the Leeds back line. Nerves started to jangle as half chances for N'Gog and Beckford were wasted. At the other end Murphy nearly converted a teasing cross from Lees. As the game entered the last 10 minutes the typical fear and loathing that Leeds would concede a late goal was absent from this fan's mind for a change. The team now looks really solid and they dug in as a unit to snuff out any possible chances as the travelling fans started to sing their celebratory songs. 5 minutes of injury time was no problem as Leeds saw out the game with clinical ease. FT 1.0 Leeds.
Beckford joined his ex team mates in taking the plaudits from the travelling fans at the end as the now familiar drum beat of Brian McD's rhythmic chant echoed around the Reebok. A second away win on the bounce and a terrific all round performance from the Leeds team. Varney and Hunt worked extremely hard up front whilst Ross Mac, Tonge, Murphy and Austin held the upper hand in midfield. At the back Pearce and Wooton were magnificent whilst Warnock had his best game this season. Brian McD has moulded these players into a very effective unit especially away from home.
The journey home was a good one despite the delay at Horwich Parkway station where it seemed the entire mounted Police and dog section had turned out to wave goodbye to the Leeds fans. Cautious optimism is still the order of the day as we have only played 6 league games but there are definite signs of hope for Leeds this time round. The way Brian McD subtly changes his formation to negate the opposition and instruct his team to play through midfield augurs well for this campaign. Are good times about to return to LS11? Time will tell.
Reading will test Leeds new resolve on Wednesday when we visit the Madesjki. Three points there and we will be on a roll.
PS: Quick mention for LeedsLass who joined us all the way from Switzerland for today's game. Have a good trip back to Cuckoo Clock land.