Yes you read the title right.
I’ve never visited Wales for the purpose of Leeds United-related ventures – having thankfully avoided the play-off final a few years back; the expected trouble and subsequent battering on the pitch, never presented itself.
Displayed proudly on their new stadium, a declaration of their title of ‘Family Club of the Year.’
You could be forgiven for doing a double-take. Cardiff? A nice club? Granted, I’d never been and was making gross generalisations about the club based largely on their past history and general behaviour on more recent trips to Elland Road.
One can only comprehend the surprise when, after being greeted by a large number of stewards outside the stadium, that we were waved inside without so much as a weird look or a pat down search. Even more shocking was the stewards polite and friendly manner when asking me to ‘decant’ my bottle of water into a plastic cup before entering.
Upon entering, a very nice steward approached us, greeted us and pointed out the amenities. That’s never happened before, ever. Even at non-footballing venues.
It’s a shame though that football necessitates a constant need for modernity which once gain bred yet another generic, round, grey cladded lego-like stadium in the middle of a retail park.
The only positive of a retail park in such close proximity is the guaranteed presence of a fast food outlet, such as McDonalds or KFC.
Even the ridiculously early start, the long and surprisingly pleasant drive or the strange rendezvous point weren’t spoiling the mood, even though the ‘get the tickets from the back of a van’ seemed extremely unprofessional and unplanned. At least it worked and everyone seemed to get their tickets.
Once inside the ground, we were greeted with swathes of fans who’d stuck to the annual custom of dressing up; being in Wales, it was somewhat inevitable that a good 30odd chose to come as St. George. Other highlights included a blacked up man as Howard from Halifax, a group of Jimmy Saviles, some Oompa Loompas and some pirate wenches.
That’s the beauty of dead rubber matches, ‘we don’t give a fuck!’. With Cardiff almost assured a play-off place and with Leeds having nothing to play for, it was largely expected, given Leeds’ recent form, that the home side would win comfortably.
Neil Warnock was forced into changes again with Darren O’Dea suspended (and having played his last game for the club) and Billy Paynter injured, Alex Bruce, Zac Thompson and Luciano Becchio came into the starting line up.
With Cardiff looking to secure a play off berth, they started brightly with Liam Lawrence forcing an early save out of Andy Lonergran while Ross McCormack should’ve scored at the other end. After Robert Snodgrass won and took the corner, McCormack’s glanced header from eight yards didn’t even test Cardiff stopper David Marshall.
Joe Mason then had a close range shot which he skewed wide and Kenny Miller saw his shot blocked as Cardiff looked the stronger. McCormack forced a good save from Marshall from a free kick before Leeds were dealt a blow.
With 32minutes gone, Leigh Bromby appeared to slip, unopposed; as his studs planted in the turf, his knee went and it was clear it was serious. It was confirmed post match he had snapped the patella tendon in his knee and faces a considerable amount of time on the sidelines.
Within minutes, the home side had taken the lead. Lonergran had already showcased ‘the star-jump’, more effectively executed by Kasper Schmeichel. Mason ran on to a long through ball from Peter Whittingham and with the Leeds defence slow in reaction and pace, Mason put it beyond the star-jumper for a neat finish.
Cardiff were threatening to increase their lead but this time Lonergran got his angles right and pulled off a fine save from Miller’s angled drive.
Leeds started the second half with confidence as Thompson had a shot blocked by Ben Turner and Becchio headed wide minutes later as the game flowed from end to end.
With Leeds chasing the match, Warnock sent on Danny Webber and Ramon Nunez for Ross McCormack and Adam Clayton but despite Pugh’s long range shot going just wide, Leeds were looking culpable at the back. Lonergran was standing firm though and pulled off a fine save to deny Andrew Taylor.
Leeds were stringing some decent passes together, gone was the hoofball blow outs which have so blighted our eyes in recent matches and most surprisingly, when Leeds did finally score, it was Paul Connolly who provided the most excellent of crosses.
After good work from Snodgrass down the right, Connolly swung the ball in and Becchio was on hand to head the ball into the far corner.
Filip Kiss and Whittingham both had efforts late on but they failed to break down a resilient Leeds who held on for a well deserved point.
Despite their lofty position, the home fans though were extremely quiet and with no competition there, the away fans were left to amuse themselves. Armed with inflatables and a rouge trainer, the Leeds United calypso, Enoch song and other ditties were given a great airing.
Thanks to Adam ( @ken_demange ) for letting Papa Smurf keep me warm.