It should be said that Simon Grayson is a man who likes to prove people wrong, in a manner of speaking. He may not be the type to start with the ‘I told you so’s but he is a firm believer in what he does and what his players are capable of.
After the dismal showing in South Yorkshire against Sheffield United, many Leeds fans were surprised to see an unchanged line up take to the field against fellow play-off contenders Nottingham Forest, who hadn’t won at Elland Road in 15 years. Thanks to a key refereeing decision, that wait will be extended for another season at least.
The opening exchanges were bitty as Leeds struggled to keep the ball on the deck while Forest were fashioning chances through Radoslaw Majewski, Lewis McGugan and Marcus Tudgay after Bradley Johnson had brought an early save out of Lee Camp.
In a frenetic few minutes which followed, Majewski played in Tudgay and with the goal gaping, it seemed a certain goal, but for Leigh Bromby’s double block, denying Kris Boyd at the second attempt. As Elland Road breathed a sigh of relief, the loose ball was still to be won; Chris Cohen went in with both feet off the ground and despite ‘allegedly’ – I say that as I haven’t seen the replays, winning the ball, received a straight red card. When you take both feet off the ground , you’re asking for trouble.
It’s worth pointing out that Mark Halsey has one view of the tackle, and only one – his own, in real time. By the letter of the law it is a red card; lets face it, we’ve seen red cards given for a lot less. Some handbags followed the tackle, unsurprisingly, with Grayson on the pitch in anger and Billy Davies spitting feathers.
Despite the handicap, Forest still looked more likely to score and they certainly didn’t look like they were about to let the small matter of only have ten men go against them as they finished the half stronger.
The half time team talk from Grayson would no doubt have been a ‘look, they’re there for the taking’. One can picture Gradel on the edge of his seat, rubbing his hands like a hyena spotting a lame zebra. For Forest, the message looked to be consolidation, which almost immediately needed relaying, and which subsequently turned into ‘kick them as much as possible’.
With 50 minutes gone, Eric Lichaj and Rob Snodgrass combined down the right to play in Jonny Howson; one touch to control and the other to despatch comfortably past Camp. The relief was tangible. Leeds just hadn’t looked in the match first half but the man advantage was starting to count.
Shortly after, Leeds looked to have secured the points as Leigh Bromby’s effort came back off the bar, Luciano Becchio was on hand to nod the ball into the net with Camp left furious on the floor. It looked as though Becchio had directed his posterior into Camp which caused him to end up on the floor but no foul, goal given.
The action was unrelenting as Snodgrass in possession on the right, cut inside and curled a shot towards the top corner which agonisingly bounced off the top of the cross bar. Almost immediately, Garath McLeary stepped inside Barry Bannan at the other end and showed Snodgrass just how it’s done; curling a left footer into Schmeichel’s top right corner.
After horror shows like those against Preston NE and Barnsley, there were more than a few nervous fans in the home end but in Max Gradel, Leeds have a brilliant, if not equally frustrating individual, capable of changing a game (for better or worse, Brizzle Rovers anyone?) in a flash.
Looking a couple yards off the pace, Gradel had managed a lot less than we are accustomed too and with most of his shots ending up towards the back of the South Stand, I think my comment that he’d left his shooting boots at home was a pretty fair one. Happily though, he proved me and many others wrong, picking up the ball on the edge of the box, he flicked it up and volleyed home to seal the points for Leeds. In my book, he had a ‘Beckford match’. Didn’t do much for 90minutes but when we needed a couple goals, he duly obliged.
As Forest sent on Nathan Tyson and Rob Earnshaw, Leeds introduced Jake Livermore and while Tyson sent a shot just wide of Schmeichel’s, Gradel was on hand to slot home the rebound after Camp had saved Livermore’s effort.
In all, a professional performance in the end, whilst also being one of the least convincing 4-1 victories in a long while but a vital three points to keep us semi-comfortably in the play-off places.
There is little doubt the red card changed the game irreversibly in Leeds’ favour but Forest are a strong side with a squad full of experience. It’s a shame that their game after the card was bitty and strewn with over-exuberant and reckless challenges as they looked to kick their way back into things.
The good bits? Bannan looked comfortable and lively in centre midfield while Bradley Johnson had a more imposing second half. Snodgrass was again tireless while Gradel looks as though a season full of non-stop chasing is finally catching up with him.
At the back, ‘Steady’ George McCartney again looked weary and absent for the Forest goal while Lichaj looked very comfortable on the right, bossing the position all match and is sure to keep Paul Connolly out the side for a while yet.
Forest’s attacking threat was somewhat nullified after the red card and Andy O’Brien and Bromby had, by their standards, a solid match. The latter in particular.
Becchio was his usual self and held things up confidently; the goal will no doubt give the ol’ self confidence a boost with Davide Somma and indeed, to a lesser extent, Billy Paynter waiting in the wings.
Howson took his goal superbly and showed no signs of the hamstring injury which had apparently threatened his ever-present record this season. Alongside him, Livermore showed a comfortable touch, an eye for a pass and great awareness in just 15 minutes so hopefully we’ll be seeing more from him soon.
In a nutshell; I don’t think any Leeds fan gets tired of beating Billy ‘Job done’ Davies, whoever he’s managing. Forest have the potential to play open and attacking football, built on solid organisation, and by all accounts, do so but today they sank to trying to break the game up with petty fouls and niggly tackles. They’re better than that, Billy.
On a side note, it is pretty much a weekly thing, that off ref bashing but Mark Halsey officiated very well. Firm and authoritative, he played good advantages and was fair to both sides.
On to Millwall, the confidence is there and so is the belief, but Norwich have 2nd place sewn up and QPR are well away so consolidation and some form going into the play offs. Haven’t we been here before?
On on on!