By Andrew Butterwick
Confidence was high as we gunned the car southwards towards the Black country and our clash with Wolves. The home side's poor form and the smidgen of inspiration in having a new left back and a new centre forward available were stoking the confidence as the Happy Chocker, the Quiet One and yours truly debated the likely team selection and the tantalising possibility of a rare away win for the mighty whites. We parked the car and made our way to the Walkabout in Wolverhampton town centre for pre match refreshments where we entered that wonderful world of pre match expectation. In this surreal world the more people that pack into the pub the higher the expectation levels rise along with the decibels as the pub reverberates to the full LUFC songbook. A new addition to that musical tome made it's first appearance as the Ya Ya & Kolo Torre song was adapted to suit Neil and Stephen Warnock. Mmmmm not sure it worked!
Warnock, Snr, handed Morison and Warnock, Jnr, their debuts and also dropped Barkley to the bench. Norris started in midfield with Green returning to the wing. Neither Austin or Diouf were in the squad. The away fans at Molineux are housed along the full length of the pitch in the lower tier of the stand. Not the best position to create a spine tingling atmosphere but the 2,500 fans who had made the trip tried their best as Leeds opened brightly forcing a couple of corners in the first few minutes. Norris had a shot deflected over the goalie and onto the roof of the net. Could this be a fruitful trip to Wolves? Early indications suggested it would be. The football wasn't pretty but Leeds were on the front foot as they pressed a nervy home side. Wolves first chance came from a Byram mistake but Kevin Doyle failed to take advantage as he shot straight at Kenny. Was Sammy still worrying about last week's howler against Cardiff?
Much of the first half was played with the ball in the grey, drizzly West Midlands sky. The service into Morison wasn't the best but he did close down the Wolves defence well as they tried to play the ball about at the back with about as much confidence as Findus have in their beef supply chain. Morison had a header sail over the top and Ross Mac screwed a shot wide but it was all a bit..............well you know.....Leeds. A lot of huff and puff without really carving out a clear chance. At the other end Wolves didn't look much better but the wonderfully named Bakary Sako woke the crowd from their slumbers when he took advantage of another Byram mistake to sting Kenny's hands with a vicious shot. Norris was enjoying his return to the starting eleven as he scuttled around midfield breaking up play and setting up Leeds attacks. The half time whistle brought to an end an uninspiring 45 minutes that as the Happy Chocker commented "had nil nil written all over it". Both Warnock and Morison had had promising starts though.
Whatever Dean Saunders said to his team at half time stung them into action as they took charge of the opening exchanges of the 2nd half. Sako was prominent as Wolves enjoyed a purple patch that put Leeds under pressure. The home crowd had been docile up to now but they fed off their teams attacking intent and suddenly Molineux was awash with noise. On 56 minutes Sako teased the Leeds defence before releasing Ward beyond the Leeds back four. He drove into the box before firing a fierce cross which Pelts turned into his own net. 1.0 Wolves and the familiar sinking feeling that accompanies watching Leeds away returned to the pit of my stomach. Here we go again.
The goal fired Leeds up though and suddenly it was Wolves who were on the back foot. Norris fired a fierce shot in from the edge of the box that deflected away for a corner. The game had changed from a scrappy featureless affair to an open almost end to end battle as Leeds went in search of an equaliser. A 2nd Wolves goal would have killed the game and Kenny had to be on his toes to keep a stinging Sako shot out but it was Leeds who struck next. A corner wasn't cleared by the Wolves defence...............Ross Mac sculptured a pass through to Varney in the box who curled a beauty into the corner of the Wolves net. 1.1. The travelling fans erupted as Varney celebrated in front of them. "Varney Army" thundered into the Black country air.
Both teams were not going to settle for a point. Green cleared off the Leeds line while at the other end two shots screamed over the bar from decent chances. If the first half was a stalemate this was positively gripping. Ross Mac was in the thick of most Leeds attacks as they pushed for a winner against a fast crumbling home defence. On 77 minutes the hard working Green rolled an inviting ball into the path of Byram as he roared into the box............Sako dragged him down and the ref pointed to the spot. PENALTY! Ross Mac stepped up and dispatched the ball coolly into the Wolves net. 2.1 Leeds.
The joyous away fans raised the roof taunting the Wolves throng with "How shit must you be we're winning away"....................." Mmmm, I'd prefer it if we waited until the final whistle has gone before singing that" I muttered to HC. Just over ten minutes left. Surely we can see this one out? Wolves pressed for an unlikely equaliser but Leeds were dogged in defence with Pelts and Lees outstanding. The clocked moved slowly to 90 minutes as the 4th official held the board up with 4 minutes glaring back at me. Another Wolves corner. "Who's picking their number 25 up?" I screamed as I'd done at every corner they'd had but Leeds somehow cleared their lines again. The ball ran to the edge of the box and the attempted shot from a Wolves player was snuffed out and the ball rolled towards Kenny. The Irish goalie allowed it to run out for what he thought was a goal kick but to his horror the ref was pointing to the corner flag for yet another Wolves corner. "Who's picking their number 25 up?" I screamed yet again. The answer was nobody as he rose and headed an equaliser from inside the six yard box. Bollox. 2.2 with no time to reply.
So a draw was snatched from the jaws of victory as the game ended all square. A mixture of frustration and resignation engulfed the Leeds fans as they streamed away from the ground. "Why do we torture ourselves every week?" a nearby fan asked nobody in particular. He didn't get a reply but in that one sentence he identified the reason crowds are dwindling at Elland Road. It wasn't a particularly good game but we had dragged ourselves back into the game and taken a lead into added time. We should have kept it.
Norris was my man of the match. Warnock had an encouraging debut as did Morison but the stats don't lie and Leeds managed only one shot on target all game. Shooting practice should be the order of the week at Thorp Arch. The Leeds performance was hard working and tenacious with quality at a premium. We play to our strengths which is not always easy to watch.
The journey home was brightened by the news that Man City had lost to the Saints. Clearly they are worried about next week's cup clash and their dip in form gives us a glimmer of hope. A small glimmer I know but one that might just ignite into something explosive.
This game really emphasised the reality of this Leeds team and their chances of reaching the play offs though. Against a team struggling at the wrong end of the table we just didn't have enough in our locker to control and win the game. We can grind out results but not consistently enough to threaten the top six in my opinion. So the faithful will follow the mighty whites up to Boro on Tuesday night to play a team who appear to be in free fall? At least we tend to win at the Riverside. Could we snatch a morale boosting win before we go to the Etihad? Time will tell.