Monday, December 03, 2012

White derby day to savour

Yorkshire Evening Post 3/12/12
By Phil Hay
History was everywhere at Huddersfield Town on Saturday, some of it ancient and much of it fresh.
Leeds United and Neil Warnock rewrote the parts that mattered to them, winning there for the first time since the fledgling days of Don Revie’s coaching career. Others with scores to settle were less successful: Simon Grayson losing to the club he once managed and Adam Clayton misjudging the art of pointed celebrations.
On Warnock’s 64th birthday, it was his and United’s afternoon. In all, it has been their week-and-a-half. A fortnight on from his lowest ebb, the Leeds boss is no longer talking in terms of crisis. It was Grayson who spoke anxiously about a “sticky spell” after Huddersfield’s sound defeat in a game of six goals.
As Grayson conceded, the cloud that was over Elland Road until recently is moving west in his direction. United’s win was their third in eight days but a marked contrast to the previous two. The anxiety of victories over Crystal Palace and Leicester City gave way to a flush of confidence as Warnock’s team turned the screw.
At the point when Huddersfield should have been chasing an equaliser, they were embroiled instead in an effort to prevent three goals conceded becoming four, five or six.
An 86th-minute header from Luciano Becchio eventually drew a line under an engrossing derby, sealing United’s 4-2 win and creating a vacuum of tension in which Grayson was mercilessly teased by the travelling Leeds support. United’s former boss had much to say in the lead-up to the game – his first as an opposing manager against Leeds since his sacking in February – but full-time was a moment for self-examination.
“A week ago everything at Leeds was doom and gloom,” he said. “Suddenly they win three on the trot and everything’s rosy. I don’t get too down but we need to get back to winning ways.”
As for Clayton, his reunion with the club and the manager who sold him for £400,000 in July was a lesson in humility. The midfielder scored at the end of the first half, levelling the match at 2-2, and ran half the length of the field to slide on his knees in front of Warnock.
Warnock applauded the celebration sarcastically but chose not to drag the incident out. It proved to be hopelessly premature. At Clayton’s instigation, they shook hands after the final whistle and while Twitter began assassinating the 23-year-old, Warnock left him be.
“I don’t bother about things like that,” Warnock said. “If I’d been Adam I’d have done the same.
“He knows I tried to get him a new contract and they (Leeds) wouldn’t agree to it. Then I told him about Huddersfield and Simon wanting him desperately.
“I needed the money because I wanted players and I had to generate funds. It worked out well for everybody. There shouldn’t be any hard feelings.”
To his credit, Clayton had a hand in both of Huddersfield’s goals, threading a pass in behind United’s defence for Chris Atkinson to open the scoring after 12 minutes and sending goalkeeper Paddy Kenny the wrong way after Becchio needlessly pulled back Peter Clarke inside the box two minutes before the interval.
Clayton’s strike was the last word in a see-sawing half which came to life after a bad error from Alex Smithies, Town’s talented keeper. The 22-year-old was staring into direct sunshine in the 35th minute when Michael Tonge’s weak shot squirmed through his fingers and rolled apologetically into the net, negating Atkinson’s earlier tap-in.
“We didn’t start well,” Warnock said, “and when I saw their team selection I thought they’d be a bit physical. They didn’t disappoint.
“But we got back into it and got to the point where we thought ‘right, let’s play now.’ And after that we were very good. We just needed to overcome a difficult start.”
Two minutes after Tonge’s soft effort, the midfielder sent Ross McCormack scurrying towards Huddersfield’s box with a downfield pass and the striker’s cut-back was lashed past Smithies by Becchio.
The sharp finish was symptomatic of a clinical performance from the Argentinian, whose second goal in the closing stages of the game moved him onto 14 for the season. For so long considered a model of consistency and diligence, Becchio has developed a more enigmatic reputation in the past 18 months. He has rarely been as effective this season as he was at Huddersfield, in spite of his strike-rate.
“It’s amazing what he can do when he sets his mind to it,” Warnock said.
“One or two of my friends at other clubs say ‘when Becchio plays, you seem to play.’ Yes, we’ve got a better team now and we get him into the areas where he wants to be but he hasn’t always performed to the best of his ability, I don’t think so anyway. It’s a shame but I hoping the penny’s dropped now.”
Becchio did not escape criticism for the “stupid penalty” he conceded on 43 minutes by pulling Clarke’s shirt as the defender ran to attack a corner from Danny Ward, and Clayton punished him with a casual conversion. But Becchio’s enthusiasm was tangible as United’s has been since GFH Capital pressed the button on its takeover and Jerome Thomas and Alan Tate arrived at Elland Road in the last few hours of the emergency loan window.
On more than one occasion, Warnock has credited the results of the past fortnight to the arrival of Tate and Thomas but it was the substitution of a tired-looking Thomas which tipped the balance of a second half in which Leeds thrived and Huddersfield were strangely clueless.
Warnock turned to another loanee, Ryan Hall, and cut loose a player who has struggled to scratch the surface at Leeds since moving north from Southend United. Given the chance and the right circumstances in a game tied at 2-2, his impact was decisive.
David Norris restored United’s lead by volleying in Hall’s cross on 70 minutes and Becchio struck for a second time four minutes from the end when he rose to head a hanging delivery from Hall over Smithies.
In between, Hall was unlucky to see the keeper tip his header over the crossbar and Huddersfield struggled to touch the ball.
Warnock was charitable to Town afterwards, conceding that Grayson had been hampered by the absence through injury of Jermaine Beckford and the loss of Keith Southern to a debatable three-match ban. It made a change to be commenting on the strife of others.
“I’d been told that we’d not won here since 1960-something,” Warnock said, “but all you do is manage the team on the day. In fairness to Huddersfield, they’ve lost some crucial players and you can’t afford that. They’ll feel that things are going against them.
“But 10 days ago I was thinking that if we don’t get two players in before the loan deadline, we’ll be looking at the bottom three by Christmas. Now we’ve won three on the trot and everybody’s buoyant, bouncing. That’s football.”