Before the match, I’d have taken a point. Simple.
Despite how much Neil Warnock has improved the Leeds United squad, there is still much work to be done and despite the wonderfully positive feeling amongst the fans at the moment, I was never wholly convinced we could, or would beat West Ham.
Unbeaten since being thumped 5-1 by Ipswich in January, the Hammers had four draws from their last six matches and after a very poor footballing performance at Elland Road, they were lucky to come away with another draw.
After Warnock’s rallying cry, the fans didn’t disappoint and turned out in their droves. With the away end a 3,000 strong sell out, the home ends were packed too, as Ben Fry gleefully announced the 33,366 strong crowd earlier than usual. It says much about the simple but effective way Warnock is winning over the clubs fans; much maligned by Ken Bates before his arrival.
Even Bates himself was at Elland Road to witness the biggest attendance of the season.
The match itself as a spectacle was pretty dire but with Warnock and Sam Allardyce in charge, it was never going to be a Barcelona-esque classic. West Ham didn’t pose much of a threat and were more than happy with the draw, judging by their packed midfield while Leeds struggled to keep the ball on the deck.
The only ‘criticism’ if you will, that can be levelled at Warnock is that we’ve stopped scoring for fun, which is strange because Luciano Becchio is playing as well as he ever has and is bang in form.
The first real chance for Leeds fell to Tom Lees who had a shot blocked, before good work from Robert Snodgrass almost set up Ross McCormack but West Ham cleared their lines.
At the other end, Nicky Maynard ran through on goal but his heavy touched meant Andy Lonergran could smother at his feet.
A Matt Taylor handball on the edge of the box presented Snodgrass with a chance from a free kick but his left-footed curler was just past Rob Green’s far post with the England stopper stranded.
Just before half time, Leeds were unlucky to see a Snodgrass goal ruled out, as the referee disallowed it for an alleged foul.
After half time, the introduction of Carlton Cole caused problems for Lees but the young defender has matured immeasurably since Warnock’s arrival; his reading of the game has improved and he is dominating in the air and picking out the most measured of passes. His all-round game goes from strength to strength, helped in no small part to the organisational skills and leadership of the re-born Michael Brown.
In a game which lacked any real quality, the likes of Brown, the ever-psychotic Paul Robinson and Adam Clayton were displaying the most crowd-pleasing commitment in the tackles, with Robinson on a one man mission to get the fans on their feet with a series of crunchers.
West Ham’s best chance from Mark Noble’s free kick which Cole headed just over the bar. Leeds came closest to taking the lead when Paul Connolly headed McCormack’s free kick goal-wards; it seemed a certain goal but Green suddenly flew across and palmed it away. Heartbreak for steady Conns.
Connolly almost scored again when he headed Snodgrass’ cross against the bar but Becchio was on hand to bury the rebound to send Elland Road in raptures.
Unfortunately the lead didn’t last long as Danny Collins found himself with space in the box to head home Noble’s corner.
After a scrappy match, a draw was probably deserved.. Although as a biased fan, we definitely edged it. This season is dead rubber though, as much as Warnock wants to win every game and will always want to do so, privately he will no doubt be accepting of the fact that the play-offs are beyond us and there’s no shame in admitting it.
What Warnock has brought to the club is more important though; next year, with a squad to call his own, Leeds should challenge for promotion but for now we have positives to look on and a future to look forward to. Even in what he admits will be his last job in football management, his desire to win matches burns strong and he has instilled the same passion in a set of players who are no world beaters, but they have bags of potential and look like they’d run through walls if Warnock told them to.
Paul Robinson may not have been an obvious signing, nor (at the time) a hugely popular one but he is the type of player who gives the right amount of ‘nasty’ and whose experience allows the type of composure not seen from a Leeds left back in many a year gone by.
Brown and Clayton in Leeds’ midfield seem to find that extra yard and the timing of their challenges are protecting a defence not long bereft of confidence. It is unquestionable that Leeds need more midfield enforcement; a play-maker who can at the very least, make an impact from the bench.
Despite the introductions of Danny Webber and Mikael Forssell, Warnock has very few proven options on the bench and were he to lose his central midfielders to injury or suspension, the line up would be significantly weakened. If Leeds can maintain the same commitment and hard to beat style over the remaining games, Bates will have little excuse but to invest; call me a cynic but he may yet find some. At present, the summer seems a long way off but Warnock is already making the squad his; bold decisions will need to be made and there can be little doubt that he is the man to make them.
So Leeds stay tenth in the Championship, five points off sixth place with nine games to go, none of which will be easy but with the type of performances Leeds have produced under Warnock, even without the best results, the fans and players will be confident we have it in us to win the majority of them. As Warnock said, ‘the results count’, nowt else.