The oracle of Twitter tells me that it is a rather disturbing 39 matches since Leeds United last kept consecutive clean sheets but in front of the watching Lucas Radebe, Leeds finally put that record to bed.
In front of the Football League’s biggest crowd – always worth a mention despite the rather embarrassing away following (Half an hour down the road and they didn’t get close to selling out what was only a medium sized allocation), Leeds welcomed Sheffield United to Elland Road in what promised to be a tight game.
In truth the match itself, for me was almost a side-spectacle due to the presence of one club legend by the name of Lucas Radebe. Now we all know the word ‘legend’ is overused and banded about very willy-nilly these days but as the likes of Thom Kirwin, Henry Winter and the creators of The Square Ball magazine will all testify, it is one wholly merited.
Not only a colossal on the pitch, Radebe is undoubtedly one off it; there can’t be many people on this earth today who Nelson Mandela would label his hero but Radebe is one of them. The queues at his numerous book signings have been huge but no matter how long, he is happy to talk to everyone in it, have pictures taken and sign his book. His interviews are not just bland transcripts which can be read out every week but musings from the heart, spoken with warmth and feeling. I could go on.
Back to the game and Simon Grayson made changes from the goalless draw at Doncaster Rovers, bringing in George McCartney at left back for his debut while in midfield, Neil Kilkenny made way for Lloyd Sam while Luciano Becchio came in up front for Ross McCormack.
There was very little to say about the game; it was a truly dire spectacle which was in need of a spark, a flash point, anything! The only really notable chance of the first half from a Leeds point of view came as Max Gradel hooked a ball in, Bradley Johnson glanced it towards the top corner but a flying finger-tipped save from Steve Simonsen in the Blunts goal kept the scores level.
There was nothing to write home about at half time really, Leeds had dominated in possession but didn’t test Simonsen enough while a well organised away defence frustrated Leeds. A few nervy free kicks for Sheffield United came and went, to nothing. The game was screaming out to be brought to life but even the sheer blatant diving and poor refereeing wasn’t enough to spark the crowd, or the players into life.
One of the most notably ridiculous bits of officiating came as Johnson went up for a header on the edge of the box; he missed but the clearing header hit him. He was mid-air, arms everywhere as you do when jumping and the ball hit his arm – his head was even facing the other way. Despite the linesman flagging, the referee pointed for either a free kick or a penalty, it didn’t seem that clear before talking with his assistant. Upon realising he had completely for the decision wrong, he attempted to make up for it by awarding Sheffield United a free kick for the handball. Idiot.
From a Leeds point of view, the use of Johnson as ‘the muscle in midfield’ was a fair enough kind of selection as Kilkenny can often be a bit lightweight but as Sheffield United continued to bring nothing to the game, it was only a matter of time before Kilkenny was introduced as the game was crying out for a bit of creativity. Christ, even a few passes on the floor being strung together was all which was needed.
The second half continued in much the same fashion as the first, both sides largely frustrated and the crowd simmering as the pure anger towards the referee festered and would eventually manifest in a few choice chants.
As the ever popular Rob Snodgrass came on for Sam, Leeds slowly began to show glimpses that it could be our game but any hopes were constantly extinguished by the utter fussiness and blindness of the referee and his blundering linesman, sorry ‘referee’s assistant’. The one on the near side to me even had to go five yards down the goal line towards McCormack as he shepherded a ball out, which only served to prove what we were all thinking, that he couldn’t see beyond the end of his sizeable beer gut.
It wasn’t till the introduction of Kilkenny and then McCormack for Gradel and surprisingly, Somma; he and Becchio had really struggled with a lack of service but Somma seemed to have had a more fruitful afternoon. The lad has a lovely, silky touch..
Not long after, McCormack’s swivelled clearance looked to have fallen to a Blades defender but he contrived to mirror Richard Naylor and in similar fashion, completely missed the goal allowing the onrushing Snodgrass to pick up possession, run at the defence, get to the byline and still have the poise to pick out Johnson who slotted home.
With the type of game it had been, it frankly would’ve been more appropriate if it had cannoned in off his backside, such was the type of game it had been but a goal is a goal and Elland Road erupted in an outpouring of relief.
There was still time for the referee to continue his five minutes in the spotlight as he sent off Snodgrass for a clumsy foul which was worthy of a yellow card but his first one was a nonsense anyway.
As the barrage of Blades’ freekicks continued, one quite notably awarded against Johnson because he is fatter than the Blades player he sent sprawling – legally, I hasten to add. Then, with possibly his only correct decision of the game, he sent of Jamie Ward for a deliberate, late and frankly malicious stamp on Kilkenny. Well it was a red card but that’s probably how the referee worded it in his report.
Sheffield United looked like they might have snatched a very jammy point as a well rehearsed freekick was eventually headed against the bar and was finally jumped on by the assured Shane Higgs. Their best chance all game and it took them 90mins to come up with it.
All in all, a dire spectacle. That said, not every match is going to be flowing, easy on the eye and with bags of goals and Grayson has shown he and his side are capable of contesting frustrating games, being patient and carving out a win. Sheffield United were well organised in defence but brought nothing to make it an exciting contest and rarely threatened. Not to take anything away from our excellent back four – McCartney look assured, covered well and got forward, Neill Collins was assured as I’ve ever seen and was by far and away my man of the match. Alex Bruce had a better first half than second but still never looked flapped while the ever-green Andy Hughes was just great. All in all, solid.
The likes of Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger are probably thankful they doesn’t have to face too many teams like the Blades very often as they certainly wouldn’t be very complimentary about the style. Something like, ‘As we say in Portugal, they came in the bus and they parked the bus in front of the goal.’
Immaterial however, three points are just that and see Leeds in a very healthy 5th place in the Championship. Two clean sheets in a row and finally, dare I say it, a very assured looking defence. On to Preston who visit on Tuesday night and what will undoubtedly be a unsavoury welcome for one of the Ferguson clan, Darren whose side are struggling near the foot of the table.
Confident? Getting there.