“A win’s a win.”
Undoubtedly a mantra which will be synonymous with Neil Warnock’s time at Elland Road and it’s unlikely you’ll hear many complaining if he can keep scraping out wins and improbable results and edge us closer to the Premier League.
Can’t believe I just said that… The Premier League? I doubt it.
Fact of the matter is, Leeds don’t have a strong enough squad with enough depth to consistently be churning out the type of results like they’ve managed over the past month or so, which sees the Elland Road club unbeaten in five. Warnock mentions it at every opportunity that he needs some extra bodies, he’ll beg, steal or borrow to get them because… Well, he has to at the moment.
As the takeover uncertainty continues to engulf Elland Road like last nights curried wind, Warnock has been left to focus things on the pitch, with the limited resources at his disposal; constantly praying to the Gods of football that no more of his key players pick up injuries.
In fairness to him, he’s pulling it out of the bag, and then some. On first viewing, El Hadji Diouf looked tired, overtly rotund and frankly, a bit passed it; while Michael Tonge’s less than salubrious appearances collection hardly set tongues (sorry) wagging.
Fast forward a month and Diouf has been one of the star players, playing key roles as Leeds finally kicked started their season, while Tongue – with the exception of today, has brought a measure of calm to a bullish midfield. It’s a mix of tried, tested and the almost-over-the-hillers but Warnock is doing the small bits right and squeezing every last sinew out of these players.
The visit of Barnsleh to Elland Road harked back to some tough times for Leeds fans, most notably the 4-1 reverse at the back end of last year, the years when beating another Yorkshire side was seemingly out of the question. Despite the form and the league standings, there was always a deep seated fear that Leeds would lose because that’s what we do in these matches. We had it under Simon Grayson and it’s a habit we never broke.
Under Warnock though, the improbable is always that until the final whistle. None of Leeds’ league games have been clear cut or emphatic but few will look beyond that, except Warnock.
For the fans though, it’s that little bit further, edging back up the scale, a message to send that we’ll get there; that under Warnock more is possible than it has been for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, beating Barnsleh is hardly the stratosphere, it is simply another victory in a recent line of successes, built on Warnock man-management.
Once again, Leeds really struggled to get going in the first half, like so many recent games but as the goal lead a charmed life, there was always hope. Not since 1998 have we record a win against the Tykes but so early on, Leeds were struggle against their movement and energy.
With Aidy White coming into the side, a sizeable reshuffle saw Sam Byram, Jason Pearce, Tom Lees and Lee Peltier at the back, with Tonge again on the left of midfield but it was Michael Brown who eventually got into the game to really run things for Leedsbut it was Barnsleh who started the stronger.
White’s miscontrol in midfield allowed Jacob Mellis the first sight of goal and despite the perfect cut back, he inexplicably placed his shot the wrong side of the post with the goal gaping.
Leeds were struggling to find any rhythm and space in a congested midfield and with no outlet on the wings, they were frustrated by Darren Deadman’s officiating and inability to hold the ball. Marlon Harewood missed a glorious chance to put the away side ahead but they were left to rue missed opportunities.
Lee Peltier’s bombing, left wing run was brought to a premature end by Stephen Foster, with a challenge which could only really be described as ‘robust’. Preoccupied with Peltier being in heap on the ground, few cared that the challenge was made a good yard outside the box as Deadman pointed to the spot.
Up stepped Luciano Becchio. Penalty king. Maybe that title is premature but with two succesful spot kicks in a week….
That said, considering he does now score penalties, I do wish he wouldn’t fuck about with them. The dink today brought one of those moments when your heart nearly jumps out of your mouth, then decides to bitch slap your round the noggin’, before plummeting into your bowels. He doesn’t actually take good penalties! Fucking unbelievable that he scored as he did today else Warnock would probably have lodged some studs up his colon for a month.
Even though Leeds held on for the rest of the half, after the break it was a different story. Brown was back to his biting best, snapping at heels, lunging into challenges and flailing his elbows every which way and with David Norris on for the injured Tonge, Leeds had more verve.
The standard of finishing continued to be pretty shocking for both sides, Thomasz Cywka and Harewood tested Paddy Kenny before Jon Stones’ header had bums squeaking in the final minute but Leeds eventually prevailed.
Naturally, a win going into the international break will keep the mood positive and the time between now and Leeds’ visit to Hillsboro’ will be so important for Warnock and what he can squeeze out of the changing Elland Road hierarchy. Diouf has undoubtedly earned a better contract than the relative ‘peanuts’ – in football terms, that he is on now but if Leeds don’t deliver, another club will.
The crowd today, though small in numbers (22,569) were louder possibly than they have been all season, there was belief, with a healthy dose of very cautious optimism but one thing is for sure, the support for Diouf has never been more raucous. He is winning over the doubters in all the right ways.
So, Yorkshire derbies are sorted. Any chance we can fix Tuesday nights?