It’s becoming a very familiar story with Leeds United this season. Which bit you ask? Where to start really. Dropping points from winnable positions (17pts in total) and most frustratingly, failing to beat out of form sides who are languishing at the bottom of the table.
The standard of opposition in the league is undoubtedly poor this season; looking at the league table, just 13 points separate 2nd-placed Leicester down to Charlton in 15th. Leeds’ record on the road is nothing short of dismal, the last win away from home came at Huddersfield in December and even that counts for a third of Leeds’ total wins away from home in the whole of the season so far. The only thing keeping this damp squib of a season alive is that most of the other teams around mid-table and the play-offs are as inconsistent as Leeds so somehow, match after match, Neil Warnock can point to the fact that we’re still ‘only’ five points off 6th placed Middlesbrough who Leeds face on Tuesday night.
More alarmingly for the fans though, Leeds’ form has been pretty dreadful to watch at least; even though we have managed to pick up points during less-than-convincing performances, the standard of football can be painful at times. Even more frustrating is that it can be very good.
The trip to Wolves should’ve been a regulation three points for Leeds going on league position at the very least but a trip to the sides at the foot of the table have never been straightforward.
Stephen Warnock was handed a debut at left back while El-Hadji Diouf was ‘rested’ along with Rudy Austin while Paul Green and David Norris came into midfield with Ross Barkley dropping to the bench. Steve Morison stepped in up front.
The first half was dominated by Leeds in terms of possession and early on, Norris’ deflected effort landed on top of the net while Green and Ross McCormack sent shots just wide. Leeds were largely comfortable at the back with Tom Lees and Lee Peltier reasonably solid but in midfield, they struggled to turn possession into clear cut chances.
For Wolves, Kevin Doyle went close after a Leeds mix-up but his shot was straight at Paddy Kenny in a rare Wolves attack. Sylvain Ebanks-Blake almost opened the scoring after latching on to a through ball but his shot was well after the whistle had gone for offside. A matter of inches.
Bakary Sako had an angled drive saved well by Kenny as Leeds saw out the first half with an effort from McCormack after good build up from Green and Michael Brown. The highlights were few but McCormack a tireless runner with little reward and Morison appeared to be winning every header he went up for; for the moment we’ll have to overlook the ones he didn’t even contest. He looks capable of being a target man at times but was too easily shrugged off the ball on too many occasions but he has big boots to fill in Luciano Becchio’s absence.
The match had much the same inevitable Titanic feeling about it; like Cardiff the week before, Leeds had been in control for the most part but failed to make the most of the chances which came their way. We all know what happened there and sure enough, as Wolves hit the ground running in the second half, they took the lead when Peltier put the ball through his own net.
The chances came thick and fast as Leeds looked to respond, Norris with Leeds’ best chance which just over but at the other end, Wolves were lurking and Kenny was forced into making a succession of saves as Leeds rode out the pressure in some style as Norris went up the other end and saw his pot-shot blocked. The ball though fell kindly for McCormack whose slight of foot played in Luke Varney to sweep home from the angle with some style. Quite a hallmark he’s creating there.
Immediately though, Leeds were under pressure again as the ball was scrambled off the line before the see-saw fell against Wolves as Varney attempted another angled curler; Carl Ikeme was equal to it though and palmed it past the post.
The game was there for the taking and when Sam Byram went toe to toe with Sako down the wing, the proportion of Byram’s shirt being held for a good 20 yards resulted in a penalty for Leeds. Dean Saunders afterwards protested the decision but frankly, if Sako was so keen on Byram’s shirt, he should’ve asked for it at the end of the match instead of attempting to drag it off him. It was a certain foul and frankly the ref could’ve awarded a free kick outside the box but Sako had hold of his shirt for so long, a penalty was also the right decision .
There was little doubt about who would take the penalty in McCormack’s mind at least. As the fans in the stand whispered ‘who will take it though?’ the Scot immediately made a bee-line for the ball and never looked for a moment that he wouldn’t score. The spot kick was powerful and decisive and for the first time, it felt like Leeds could actually win.
It wasn’t to last though, Leeds’ concentrate was ebbing as the final minutes dragged by and as Green seemed determined to give Wolves chance after chance, they made it count from a corner. The corner, whether it should’ve been given or not was defended in the most comical fashion and after Kenny’s limp attempt to reach and punch the set piece, it was no surprise when the ball came straight back in and Danny Batth was in the right place to head in the softest of equalisers.
To say it was crushing was something of an understatement; being sucker punched on an empty stomach probably would’ve been more comforting. It seems to be a recurring theme and as Leeds fans were left exasperated at Warnock, a familiar theme hit home.
It says a lot that too many of us are now agreeing with Joey Barton about what kind of manager Warnock is; we all knew that though and it was because of that so many Leeds fans welcomed him as the man to finally stand up to Bates and drag us kicking and screaming towards promotion. It may have been his most impressive ‘go totally bat-s*** crazy at the referee every two seconds’ performance to date but it doesn’t hide his short-comings.
It was clear during and after the match that Warnock is beginning to be loathed in many quarters. He is too slow to react and too one-minded to adapt Leeds to situations on a match-to-match basis; that Barkley was eventually given probably less than one minute in the ebbs of injury time said it all. Why, for instance, when Leeds were struggling for creativity and leadership in midfield did Warnock leave on Norris and Green who provided little when Barkley may well have provided the spark we needed?
Most frustratingly, things seem to be very slowing coming together, like the pairing of Lees and Peltier but surely by the time Warnock realises where players need to be played – like Byram on the right or in the centre of midfield, he will be pushing up daisies? Afterall, it took him… over 10 months to get the best out of Peltier.
It must be said that occasionally Leeds showed glimpses; neat passages of play came through Varney, Norris and most notably McCormack. If ever a goal was deserved than McCormack netted, it showed. We all knew that he will run for you all day, chase lost causes and make the best of the chances which come his way – mostly. Warnock was wrong to ever drop him.
Following Leeds United has long become a chore. You know it must be done, you know you will end up doing it, no matter how much you don’t want to and it will be no more enjoyable than bleaching the toilet or mowing the lawn. It’s becoming even harder to muster the energy to be angry about Leeds’ shortcomings, which in itself makes me want to cry a little. It’s like when someone you love does something unforgivably awful and you’re just disappointed.
On the upside, Leeds fans are, on the whole, just an immense bunch of mentalists and so long as I’m following the club and following it with them, I’ll be there. Always.