On possibly one of the hottest days of the year so far in West Yorkshire, the feeling around Elland Road was positive as the sun beat down on Lowfield’s road. I set off a bit earlier to sort out some season ticket related issues and found the time to lunch at the ever glamorous MacDonalds; if you don’t know, or you haven’t been there, the Maccy D’s across the way from Elland Road is filled with all sorts of dedications to Leeds players; murials on the walls and everything. Even some of the stools are modelled as players’ legs.
Anyway, I tucked into my burger and chips as the sun shone; looking forward to another season following Leeds and touching on the possibilities of a match against a team who are slipping increasingly closer to League 2. So on paper, against a team who haven’t been paid March’s wages, who only have mostly youth players available and who’re almost nailed on to join Stockport in being relegated, it should have been four or five.
There was a sizeable queue for renewals at the ticket office but the good weather seemed to have everyone in a good mood; even if they were about to part with the best part of £450 or more to maybe see another year of League One.
Inside the ground, the England 2018 World Cuppers were in town and sent a huge ‘Back the Bid’ banner across the stands; at least I think that’s what it was, I couldn’t see it properly in the end as it crossed the East stand.. upsidedown..
The match itself was pretty much a formality. The team lined up unchanged from Yeovil with Max Gradel the main man and despite one or two nervy moments at the back, Leeds were never really in real danger of actually conceding. Then again, with Leeds – you just never know. The first half was laboured as the midfield struggled to find rhythm and movement ahead of them, with the exception of Gradel who again turned in a man of the match performance. As the chant goes, “He’s here, he’s there, he’s every-fucking-where, Max Gradel..!” and by God he was. You could’ve been forgiven for thinking he was the lone frontman, chasing every lost cause for his side away from home, such was his desire to close down the opposition and Jermaine Beckford’s reluctance to put a rocket up his own arse.
I believe Simon Grayson, on the whole got things right today. The Bradley Johnson for Andy Hughes sub was a bit strange but the appalling lack of balance on the wings might’ve explained it; however the continued selection of Beckford in particular is one which is long wearing thin with the fans and rightly so. Does he turn up to training and put in mammoth shifts or something? Because he sure as hell doesn’t do it in the matches that matter and he hasn’t done for a long while now. He is resting on laurels he scarcely possesses any more and Grayson has too long been overlooking this. It is clear Beckford is already dreaming of another club, if he cares about Leeds it is hard to see; what is evident is that he has long become a passenger in a team that is crying out for willingness from its players and it is a challenge he isn’t even close to rising to.
On the major plus side, the return to the side and the return to form of Gradel has been a joy this past week; two matches, two bottles of champagne, or probably Lambrini if Bates is sorting it. He gets everywhere, he’s not afraid to put his foot in, or his head as we saw today and his goal set Leeds on the way to another much needed win. Beckford could learn a thing or two from these performances about desire and work rate, not to mention Gradel’s utter joy when he scored. If he’d slapped his chest any harder, he probably would’ve broken his ribs.
Looking at the rest of the team, Shane Higgs didn’t have a save to make although his attempted communications with Leigh Bromby certainly put the jitters up the crowd. The back four were relatively solid and even Andy Hughes’ wayward passing wasn’t enough to get Southend on the front foot. Honourable mention must go to the fella a couple seats down from me, after Hughes’ fancy footed step overs, he quipped, “Well he’s no Lionel Messi, now is he.” Quite!
One sizeable disappointment was the non-performance of Neil Kilkenny. I’m a huge fan of his, along with Grella he is probably one of the most talented footballers at the club but he was just not at the races today, his general passing was ok and while he’s never going to be a Steven Gerrard in the tackling department, he jibbed out of too many tackles or simply didn’t make a real effort to actually make one. That said, he was still on a par if not better than Jonny Howson who seemed to abhore the chance to be a right winger; such was the space behind the full backs as Leeds attacked, Howson would’ve had the freedom of the right side of the pitch but it is a role he seems reluctant to fit into. Which did explain the decision to bring on Johnson and move Rob Snodgrass over to the right; speaking of Snoddy, I’ve been pretty critical of him lately but today, him and Gradel were the ones making things happen and if Gradel hadn’t, Snoddy might well have got the ball rolling with the goals.
Gradel’s 60th minute goal brought tangible relief to the fans inside Elland Road, the Leeds ones obviously; despite the deflection on the finish, it didn’t matter as his shot was too powerful and wrongfooted Mildenhall in the Southend goal. It should’ve been more after that but it wasn’t until Luciano Becchio’s 80th minute header that we could really breathe freely, job done. And he deserved it; Becchio – before his injury problems had been largely ineffective but his introduction to the game lifted everyone inside the ground, including the players on the pitch but that may have been in no small part to the departure of Beckford, a decision cheered and a player jeered.
So on to Carlisle away, Tuesday night will a tough one and a long drive at that but with renewed belief, we can ‘kick on’ from here and end the season strong. I hope.