Sunday, September 23, 2012

Investors 4 Points 3 Leeds 2 Forest 1

Scratching Shed 22/9/12
Matt Burton
Leeds avenged last season’s 7-3 drubbing at the hands of Nottingham Forest with a hard-fought 2-1 victory, watched from the stands by 4 of the ‘top people’ from the possible investment/takeover group. With the Chairman revealing the latest just ninety minutes before kick-off, the atmosphere inside Elland Road was one of optimism which transferred onto the pitch as Leeds produced a confident first half performance.
Following their much maligned midweek outings against Hull City, both Aidan White and Luke Varney were dropped to the bench by manager Warnock. Into the team came Adam Drury and Dominic Poleon, giving the team a stronger looking back line and youthful exuberance in attack. Drury and Poleon lined up on the left hand side of defence and midfield respectively, with Warnock clearly mindful of the area from which Hull’s three goals came on Tuesday night.
The remainder of the starting eleven was as expected, but as the players lined up for kick-off it was clear that an unanticipated positional change had been implemented. Captain Lee Peltier and Tom Lees had been tactically swapped, with Lees pushed into right-back and Peltier taking up a centre-back berth alongside Jason Pearce. An interesting tactical move – but who are we to question a manager of Neil Warnock’s experience and success.
The game began promisingly, with both sides attacking dangerously and sharing possession equally. Most notable during the opening 5 minutes was the ferocity of the ‘Bates Out’ chanting. The Chairman’s statement on Yorkshire Radio had predictably included his usual brand of supporter-aimed derision, and the Kop faithful responded in kind early on.
On the pitch, Forest had the ball in the net after ten minutes. However, the capacity away following were delightedly cut short in their celebrations by the home fans as the referee blew for a foul.
Minutes later El Hadji Diouf’s cross was headed back across the area and fell to Luciano Becchio in the middle of the penalty area, who lashed left-footed into the roof of the net. For a player who sometimes earns mixed reviews, Becchio was excellent today and continued his underrated goalscoring exploits by bagging his sixth league goal of the season. In a week when we have felt the damaging loss of Ross McCormack, perhaps it would be more pertinent to consider what a long-term injury to Becchio would mean and thank our lucky stars that he as robust as Argentineans come.
That opening goal was greeted by dignified applause from the executive boxes, which would be on show again just twelve minutes later as Leeds doubled their advantage. As Becchio tried to find room for a shot on the edge of the area, a Forest defender managed to nick the ball away and into the path of youngster Poleon, who lashed the ball into the bottom corner. With such a small available budget, it must relieve the manager that our academy has produced players such as Poleon and Sam Byram, both of whom put in solid performances for this level of football.
For all of their wealth and expectation, Forest were failing to match their reputation and were being comfortably held at bay by Pearce, shackled by Austin and outstripped by Diouf. Just minutes before the interval, Becchio blazed over from a low Byram cross and as the referee blew for half-time, the only disappointment was that Leeds were not another goal to the good.
The second half was a different story, but an effective one for Leeds.
Forest immediately made a double substitution, highlighting their clumsy opening half. An even match slowly began to turn in favour of the away side as pressure mounted on Paddy Kenny’s goal. The deficit was halved on the hour mark as Leeds were caught out by a long throw, which was nodded into the net by Dexter Blackstock.
With the memory of Tuesday’s defeat to Hull and last season’s 7-3 thrashing, Elland road became anxious. Leeds’ confident opening half had turned into a disjointed second half performance, which wasn’t helped by an injury to Captain Peltier who had to be helped from the field. Tom Lees reverted to his usual position, Byram dropped to right-back and Aidan White entered the fray as a right-sided midfielder. On the other flank, Luke Varney replaced Poleon as Warnock opted for experience over youth in the effort to maintain the slender lead.
Forest pressed and gained confidence, but a mixture of good goalkeeping, good defending and good fortune kept the score at 2-1. As the match edged towards its conclusion, Rodolph Austin and El Hadji Diouf did more than most to take the pressure off as both produced possession-retaining play of the highest order. In spite of a ridiculous 6 minutes of injury time, Leeds held on with relative comfort to record their third victory of the Championship season.
For a cheaply assembled team with a number of high profile injuries, Leeds are competing admirably this season. With an equal number of wins and defeats and a level goal difference, we sit mid-table with the play-offs in reach. No team has beaten us by more than the odd goal, nor have we beaten anyone by more than a single strike. Gone are the days of heavy defeats. Leeds currently epitomise the adage that the Championship is a tough division, in which all teams are closely matched and ‘anyone can beat anyone’.
The question is, how long can the squad continue to compete this well? The signs are promising. Warnock is tactically shrewd and the injury situation may alleviate, with Paul Green nearing fitness again and murmurings of Davide Somma returning to training. If Bates’ comments today are to be believed, there could be money (yes, actual money) to spend in the January transfer window, and if Leeds are still in the mix then the second half of the season could yet be an interesting and competitive one at the right end of the table.