A trip to Blackpool is only very rarely about the actual football match.
Even on a cold and windy Tuesday in April, fans go to enjoy the day, as oppose to just enduring the evening (where Leeds are concerned) and despite the Pleasure Beach being closed, there was plenty to keep the visiting Leeds fans entertained…
After failing in a quest to find any donkeys on the beach, a lucky stumble into ‘The Manchester’ pub completed the afternoon. A group of highly inebriated Leeds fans, as well as some markedly sober ones had seemingly taken over the inappropriately named establishment and surprisingly, Leeds United’s greatest hits were blaring out over the sound system.
With the result largely immaterial to Leeds, Neil Warnock called on his team to be ‘party poopers’ as Blackpool looked to cement their place in the play-offs.
Blackpool showed their intent early on, confident in their passing moves, they moved the ball quickly and stretched Leeds with worrying ease although Matt Phillips and Thomas Ince couldn’t find the target as the home side pressed. Robert Snodgrass managed a last gasp tackle to deny Phillips’ cut back while Leigh Bromby and Darren O’Dea were hurling themselves at shots as Blackpool continued to press.
Phillips brought a good save out of Andy Lonergran from close range while at the other end, Ross McCormack finally got clear of the attentions of Stephen Crainey before the former Leeds man tackled McCormack in the box. It was as much of a ‘stone-waller’ as they come yet the official on the near side somehow failed to raise his flag.
Leeds were threatening only from set pieces and Bromby’s long throws and it wasn’t before Snodgrass’ freekick in the second half that Matt Gilks was really tested in the home goal.
Inevitably, Blackpool took the lead as O’Dea was out-muscled and despite Ince failing to control, Angel Martinez was on hand to smash home the loose ball.
It’s hard to dissect Leeds’ recent performances, it’s like building a sandcastle when the tide is coming in; there’s an inevitability of the struggle ahead. Even with Ben Parker and Mika Vayrynen being laid off by the club, we’re just waiting for the season to end. Making a day of it in Blackpool because the football was always going to be a disappointment, it’s a bit sad really but it’s just as well that Leeds travel in such numbers that even a chance encounter with some pissed fans at a random pub can make it all feel worth while.
Looking more closely at any significant happenings during the match, such as O’Dea’s dismissal which I realise I have failed to mention thus far… At least there was no feeling of injustice at the decision of the referee, one ‘Mr Bates’ to brandish a second yellow; even Warnock, he of slating the referees so frequently could have no complaints.
The strangest thing was seeing Crainey keep McCormack firmly in his pocket for the large majority of the first half was a sight to behold; only once beaten for pace, the ginger Scotsman showed more beyond what he’d ever showcased at Elland Road or beyond for Leeds United. Such was his hold over McCormack that Warnock moved wee Ross to the other wing in a bid to get him into the match.
The absence of Michael Brown is not an overly concerning one however Leeds missed his presence, however the opposition were probably thankful they missed any Michael Brown-related presence, especially of it, in them.
The ever-useless and massive waste of money, Danny Pugh was failing to assert himself in any way; continually starting in a reasonable position, only for a Blackpool midfielder to ghost passed him without so much as a flicker. For a central midfielder, or someone playing said position, to make only one telling challenge in 90minutes is pathetic, never mind his penchant for just standing there. At least O’Dea had the ability to stick out his foot a few times.You get the feeling Pugh is more like a rubber band, stretched and stretch until finally it twangs, which is what we saw at Reading. Lets hope that Ken Bates sees Pugh in the same way as Vayrynen and cancels his contract.
Elsewhere, Billy Paynter failed to make the same impact as he did against Peterboro but the continued support of the cumbersome striker never fails to raise a smile. ‘If Billy scores, we’re in the sea!’ cried the away end and when subbed off, the chants turned to ‘We’re not going in the sea, we’re not going in the sea!’
Mercifully, the off field antics of the fans was fan more absorbing than the Leeds performance; from a few rousing renditions of ‘Leeds United Calypso’ to ‘If Billy scores, we’re in the sea’, even the bouncing on the temporary stand was more fun. Even if it made the stand wobble.
Away to our right, during the second half, a few Leeds fans were suddenly outed, leading to various skirmishes and falling over several rows of chairs. Stewards and eventually police rushed in from all sides as one by one, the Leeds fans in the home end stepped up.
Cardiff away on Saturday promises to be even livelier off the pitch. If I don’t turn up to work on Sunday, you’ll know why.