Scuse the dust..
Well, it’s back. Properly. Championship football at Elland Road has kicked off with the same promise and expecta.. Oh ok, the same depressingly familiar sinking feeling; seeing only the development of the East Stand boxes instead of the progress of the team.
Pre-match saw the ‘minority’/’dissidents’/’morons’ (select as appropriate) come together in a protest against owner and chairmen Ken Bates at Billy’s statue and later in the West Stand car park.
Bates may proclaim those with ill-feeling over his brinkmanship are a small minority but no one can ignore the growing sense of anger and frustration towards him. The match may have been overshadowed by some moronic refereeing but the feeling against him remains and becomes ever more vocal.
Having recovered from the initial shock at seeing the changes in personnel in the defence, it was heartening to see Leeds start confidently. Keeping the ball on the deck, Adam Clayton, Jonny Howson, Rob Snodgrass and Ross McCormack were linking nicely and even the back four looked solid and composed.
Somewhat inevitably, it didn’t last as Max Gradel, the most mellow of players, lost his cool; earning two yellow cards in the space of 26minutes. Presumably the first was for a reaction to a foul but the 2nd left the Elland Road crowd incredulous. Gradel won the ball cleanly with his right boot but somehow the referee saw it as a foul and booked him.
It was clear the referee had no control on the game and was making rash decisions but Gradel had to walk. The tide turned as Boro were on the front foot and Andy Lonergran was called into action a number of times to keep the scores level; notably tipping over a Marvin Emnes header.
Clayton tried an outrageously spectacular lob from the halfway line as Leeds fought back but Carl Ikeme just about managed to tip the ball over the bar. At the other end, Justin Hoyte struck Lonergan’s upright as Boro pressed.
The referee, one Mr. Taylor had another moment of inspiration as he sent of Boro’s Tony McMahon; a 2nd yellow for allegedly elbowing Howson. It was barely a foul never mind a yellow card but after the first sending off, one can only assume he felt utterly stupid for having done so and sought to even things out.
There were encouraging signs, like Tom Lees who was unlucky not to score after Nicky Bailey cleared his header off the line as Leeds failed to break through. Ramon Nunez then came on in the place of a largely off-the-pace Michael Brown.
Howson was next to question the referee; as Boro pushed, Emnes was about to break away on the half way line. There was the slightest of contacts as Howson and Emnes came together.
At first, the referee blew for a freekick and indicated it in Leeds’ favour as Emnes had dived however with Emnes rolling around in agony with his one broken leg hair, the assistant on the near side – a good 50yrds away somehow decided he’d had a better view. Upon speaking to the referee, Mr Taylor was persuaded that it was in fact Howson who should be punished. Incredibly, a red card was brandished, Leeds were down to ten and really up against it.
It was no great shock when Boro took the lead with67 minutes gone as Emnes charged down the left; exposed at fullback, Lees couldn’t get close enough as Emnes twisted inside and fire an unstoppable shot past Lonergran.
As Leeds piled forward in search of an equaliser, Lonergran was called into action at the other end to deny Scott McDonald and Julio Arca but the scoreline remained.
There is little doubt the referee’s ill-thought out decisions ruined the course of this match; that is not to say with any real conviction that Leeds would’ve won but the positives were certainly there.
Boro, for their part didn’t set the world alight with slow build up, sloppy passing and wasteful finishing but that owes much to the dominance of Lonergran in the battle with the Boro forwards. Considering he has copped a lot of negative press from Leeds fans due to his ‘goals conceded’ record at previous clubs, (not to mention an unconvincing display at Bradford PA) it has hardly been grounds for the premature handing out of a ‘scapegoat of the year’ award.
Clayton looked accomplished; bullish and full of running and most eye-catchingly (not a word, I know) inventive. Lees looked as comfortable as I’ve seen a Leeds right back in recent years and looked more effective as a make shift striker than someone who plies his trade as a forward the club…
It was also refreshing to hear Grayson was more upfront than usual regarding the decisions.
“I don’t know what words to describe it. Everybody is referring to a few of the decisions. It amazes you at times.
“You have 20-odd thousand here, a passionate local derby, two players go for a 50-50, not over the top or anything like that, and they’re both yellow-carded which puts them both on the back foot.