It’s been a long time coming but finally, Leeds fans walked away from Elland Road this evening with an unfamiliar sense of renewed belief and real pride.
The visit of Southampton was one many looked at with little other than a fleeting glance; top of the league with a bit of room to spare and scoring for fun. After the improbable win over Donny and a battling point at Portsmouth, the fans were holding out for anything other than a battering. Which frankly was highly probable.
With an evening kick off courtesy of Sky, and rather ridiculously priced tickets courtesy of Ken Bates and Co. the crowd was a bit thin on the ground but what was to come was as welcome as it was a surprise.
The surprise was two-fold. Leeds had shed their inhibitions, instead of the shy style where the defence sat back and invited pressure, the midfield were constantly urged to stay higher up the pitch; to get about their opponents and force them into mistakes.
Southampton though, brought very little to the evening except two rather immovable figures in Rickie Lambert and keeper Kelvin Davis. The goal scorer and the games’ winner made the difference as the league leaders somehow, unbelievably left Elland Road with three points.
The only change for Leeds saw the injured Alex Bruce make way for Leigh Bromby at right back as Warnock kept an attacking squad at his disposal, with Danny Webber on the bench.
Leeds were all over Southampton from the off and Rob Snodgrass was unlucky to see a penalty shout turned down as Jose Fonte handled in the box. Adam Clayton and Ross McCormack were denied by Davis but against the run of play, Southampton took the lead.
Tadanari Lee’s knock down from Jack Cork’s was finished with some force by Lambert who volleyed in at the back stick; Warnock was generous about the positioning of Darren O’Dea for the goal, saying that he slipped. That said, for the most part, the defence coped as well as it has all season.
As Leeds continued to dominate in possession, the chances came thick and fast; Aidy White whipped in a cross, but Snodgrass’ effort was over before White was again involved, teeing up McCormack whose shot was off target.
Having taken an early knock Leigh Bromby succumbed and was replaced by the ‘ever steady’ Paul Connolly.
Davis was being called into action again and again, as Snodgrass, Luciano Becchio and McCormack all testing his reflexes.
The second half continued in exactly the same vein before White’s injury forced him off and Webber came on for his Leeds debut. Davis though, wasn’t about to let Leeds back into it and after dropping a cross, he inexplicably managed to deny Becchio at close range before keeping out Webber twice.
Another goal mouth scramble saw O’Dea and Becchio head against the bar but for all the will in the world, Leeds just weren’t going to score and the match finished with a plucky win for Southampton.
I think plucky is being generous, they were bloody jammier than a jammy dodger dipped in a pot of jam.
The most frustrating thing is that we battered the league leaders; no one will deny that but the killer instinct escaped Leeds BUT…
The positives are in abundance. It was great to hear Warnock after the match; that’s the very least I expect, he said. And funnily enough, that isn’t unrealistic to the players or the fans. Warnock has already galvanised the squad and the fans, urging the fans to do their bit and boy, he is holding up his end of the bargain.
It’s been a bloody long time since the players were roundly applauded and sung off the pitch, such was the feeling of pride, reinstated in the players and fans alike. The effort from the players was collective and believable and matched, step for step by the fans who produced an electric and buoyant atmosphere.
Urging the players on at every turn, the players obliged with lung-busting runs, flying tackles and even the odd flowing passing move to light up any evening.
Captain Snodgrass led by example, covering almost every inch of the pitch, chasing ever lost cause and still managing to swing in a testing cross with legs which must’ve weighed an immeasurable amount. Adam Clayton put in one of his most dominant yet; full blooded tackles and cross field passes were completed with unerring accuracy and Becchio was creating, holding, heading at an unprecedented rate (by his standards….)
For Leeds though, it ultimately boiled down to an age old problem. Southampton won it because they had quality were it mattered. Warnock has admitted he is keen to being in more players in the coming weeks which will hopefully give the squad that extra bit of presence on the field. Webber’s debut was fleeting but he showed flashes of quality and pace on the ball, the question remains as to where he’ll fit in the team.
There is little doubt though that Warnock has a big job, he has raised expectations higher than we could’ve thought at this point and with the play offs still just about in reach, it could well end up being a disappointment not to reach them if Warnock continues instilling the belief in his players and the fans.
The big question now is whether chairman Ken Bates will do his bit and allow Warnock to bring in the personnel he needs.
After the outcry over the ticket ban he handed to the ‘insignificant hooray henrys’ i.e. the LUST board, there was anger. Fans who had before been indifferent to his tenure had seen the line well and truly crossed but the continued resurgence of the team on the pitch means there is a positive focus now.
For those saying the Bates Out chants and protests don’t have a place in our fan base, just remember that match-day going fans can pay their money and support the team, for 90 minutes, for every match but the issue of Bates, his actions and his tenure will never be an issue which can be permanently brushed under the carpet. His actions won’t be forgotten and fans who believe he has done no wrong in banning loyal, paying customers from doing what YOU want, from supporting their team, then you need to think again.
ON ON ON.