Considering Neil Warnock is yet to pick up a win with Leeds United since taking charge, the feeling amongst the fans is relatively positive. After 3 matches, Leeds have yet to even score under the new manager but have conceded just one goal during that time and a second 0-0 in as many weeks is undoubtedly encouraging.
On a breezing night in the East Riding, thousands of Leeds fans made the trip to the ever dull, lego-like façade of the Kingston Communications Stadium. Inside, we were treated to the infamous ‘Tigers! Tigers! Rah, rah, rah’ debacle and chants about how Elland Road is old and falling down. If they had bothered to venture into Leeds, they’d actually be wrong; what with the fabulous new East stand development and the biggest conference facility between Newcastle and Manchester. It makes ‘The Deep’ look like Peter Ridsdale’s old goldfish bowl.
On a side note, I can assure everyone that the irony of the stadium’s name was not lost on the fact that it was impossible to get any sort of internet signal inside the ground.
Ahh the game… Warnock was forced into two changes for the visit to the East Riding with Aidy White and Leigh Bromby out with injuries, in came Paul Connolly and Danny Webber.
The inclusion of Webber in the starting line up was interesting; after an impressive cameo appearance in the defeat to Southampton at the weekend, Webber was one of four forwards in a very attacking, and ultimately, disorganised line up. After batting Southampton just days before, that even with the enforced changes, Warnock changed the front line to such an extent.
The match in itself was unspectacular to say the least. Hull had drawn four of their last five matches and like Leeds, were really struggling for goals so a no score stalemate was not an unexpected outcome.
Leeds struggled to get into the match in the first half as Hull set about Leeds, finding space in front of the back four to drive at the heart of Leeds’ defence, they began testing Andy Longeran. Cameron Stewart and Corey Evans both tested him with powerful drives which Lonergran did well to smother before Robert Koren released an unstoppable shot from distance. Lonergran was beaten but the shot swerved just past the post.
Leeds struggled to get to half time; Hull were quicker to the ball, won more in the air and were more willing to put two men on to every Leeds player who had the ball to force Leeds into a long ball game. Again and again the pressure was short lived as long ball were punted forward.
The real frustration of the first half was directed at Stuart Attwell. I’ve seen him officiated quite a few times now; I know referees get a massive proportion of stick but how this man continues to officiate at any level higher than the Huddersfield and District Works and Combination League Division Two is beyond me. Hull’s official foul count for the evening eventually read 19 (according to the BBC) yet considering Aaron McLean registered at least eight of those, I doubt it’s wholly accurate.
The fact was that during the whole match, Attwell was constantly being very over the top about talking to players, ‘Oh now that’s naughty, please don’t do it again’; yet despite a number of Hull players persistently fouling, he somehow managed to keep his cards firmly in his pocket. Referees need to gain respect; granted, it’s a two way street but his lack of authority on the match was appalling and both sets of players were getting away with it.
Unsurprisingly, the first foul, which was barely even that, from Adam Clayton, was immediately punished with a yellow card. Consistent? No chance. Speaking of which, consistency is something Clayton will do well to get into his game. After bossing the midfield against Southampton, Clayton was woefully off key in a match which largely passed him by and when he did get involved, the accuracy of his passes can be marked only by the Billy Paynter scale…
Further forward, the volume of hoof ball was cutting out the need for a midfield that didn’t seem all that comfortable in positioning anyway so up front, Luciano Becchio was doing his level best to win everything which came his way. In fairness, he won a large percentage of it but with three forwards around him and a very off target Adam Clayton, Becchio was struggling to get Ross McCormack, Robert Snodgrass and Webber involved; one also might argue that such was there positioning, that they were struggling to involve themselves.
The second half was slightly more tense, if not full of the same, rather dull and predictable football. Hull weren’t going all out but they were putting together an altogether more convincing show of football while Leeds were slowly but surely, building possession and making forays forward.
When they did make it forward, the problems were wholly frustrating. McCormack was often very deep and making the types of paces he should be on the end of, and without someone to be him, there was nothing doing there. Snodgrass spurned two great opportunities to put crosses in, when in the box. Instead his perceived abilities far exaggerated his actual abilities and both decisions were simply idiotic. In truth, the quality of crosses on the whole, from Leeds, were extremely poor; chances were few and far between.
As the game wore on, Webber had clearly been wondering too hard about where exactly he should be playing and had completely worn himself out; unfortunately this eventually meant ever-exciting introduction of Lloyd Sam. I’ve seen 18 wheelers with flat tyres turn faster and more efficiently than he does. After that, there wasn’t much else to be remotely interested in.
One thing is for sure, the defence has improved immensely in just a few games, the spine of the team, from the excellent Tom Lees, to Darren O’Dea, Michael Brown and Becchio is what Warnock needs to concentrate on. Brown as a defensive, tackling midfielder has had two very good games even if his passing when higher up the pitch leaves plenty to be desired while Lees is reading the game quicker, making better decisions and cleaner tackles. O’Dea is just generally looking a lot less dazed, which is always good. As for Lonegran, he looks back to his best; without the pressure of the captaincy, he is concentrating on what he does best.
Publicly, Warnock has said the play-offs are out of our reach; while I’m inclined to agree, it is immensely frustrating that the players are (now) capable of keeping clean sheets and (have been) capable of scoring goals for fun. No doubt, hopefully that Warnock will find a system which reaps the benefits of both but it’s surely too late for this season.
A point against Hull wouldn’t have been a bad result a few months ago but unfortunately, a point isn’t much help to either team at the moment; that said, despite no wins in three, there is still an un-erring feeling of positivity. Even better though is that Warnock has publicly stated that Leeds will no longer be relying on a squad consisting largely of loan players in the future. A point which would have been slightly less ironic had he not just announced the incoming Paul Robinson’s arrival.. On a months loan.
Next up, Boro. With four wins from five, they’re one of the leagues most in-form teams and with Reading, are just about clinging on to the dream of second place if they can catch West Ham, whom we face the following week. Being real and forgetting all the silly positivity, we’ll do well to get anything from either game. But here’s to hoping.