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Saturday, 22 November 2014

Blackburn Rovers v Leeds United. 22nd November 2014

Surprisingly it was blue sky that greeted us as we headed deep into East Lancashire for the clash with Blackburn Rovers. The Happy Chocker, Quiet One and Brother Chris were on board as we joined the exodus of 6,900 Leeds fans heading for Ewood Park hoping to see Redfearn's team halt Rovers impressive seven match unbeaten run. Our record in recent years of playing away in front of a massive Leeds support has not been that inspiring though so expectations were understandably on the low side. Could this be the day we put that jinx to bed? The consensus in our car was definitely on the page of "I'll settle for a point" as we parked the car and headed for the stadium.

Redfearn had stuck with the same team that performed so well last time out albeit against a lowly Blackpool side which meant the impressive Cooper kept his place at centre back despite the return of Bellusci. The game kicked off against a background of deafening noise from the travelling support who had packed into both levels of the Darwin end. Both teams started positively with Rovers' Ben Marshall causing Leeds early problems on the left wing. Sam Byram exchanged words with Bianchi more than once after he was left exposed by the Italian as the home side targeted Marshall's flank as the possible route to success. Twice Marshall cut inside to hit testing shots for Silvestri in the Leeds goal. Leeds' first sojourn into Rovers territory saw Adryan skip his marker with a clever flick but the home goalie Steele sprinted out to smother the chance.

Leeds were battling well in defence as the talented Blackburn side looked for a chink the Leeds back four. Their big centre forward, Gestede, was a handful for Pearce and Cooper and it was his lay off after good work by Marshall that saw ex-Leeds junior Cairney clip Silvestri's bar with a curling shot. It was nip and tuck as both sides looked for that all important opening goal. Antenucci slipped his marker and connected with a sweet through ball only to be pulled back for offside whilst minutes later the imposing Grant Hanley headed a Cairney cross firmly at Silvestri.

The noise levels in the away end lifted on the half hour mark as Leeds suddenly pegged Blackburn back with some fluent football. First Adryan skipped away from flailing Blackburn defenders like a fleet footed Gazelle before striking a vicious curling shot that had goal written all over it before Steele flung himself across the goal to make a miraculous save. Corner Leeds. With the giant centre back pairing of Duffy and Hanley at the heart of the Blackburn defence Leeds opted for a low near post corner which caused confusion in the home defence.............the ball came out to Cook on the edge of the box who struck a stinging volley which was deflected for another corner. Blackburn were on the ropes and Leeds went for the jugular. Another low corner caused panic in the heart of the home defence before Doukara pounced and slammed the ball home to give Leeds a precious lead. Bedlam in the Darwin end as the Leeds faithful celebrated as only they know how. 1.0 Leeds.

Blackburn hit straight back with a Gestede header safely gathered by Silvestri. Leeds were having the better of the game though with Warnock, Cooper, Cook and Adryan all catching the eye as the game headed for half time. Leeds next chance was cynically snuffed out by a Duffy handball as Antenucci left him for dead on the half way line. Although the Blackburn man received a yellow it seemed a poor sanction for preventing the Italian going one on one with the keeper. Half time 1.0 Leeds.

Not for the first time this season I spent the half time break purring over the first half performance at the same time worrying if we could continue the good form into the 2nd half. Memories of the Rotherham capitulation are still raw in my battle weary Leeds United memory bank. Silvestri appeared for the 2nd half in an inside out goalies shirt presumably because of a colour clash with the Leeds strip? My half time worries seemed totally unfounded as first Cook and then Mowatt strode deep into the home defence and tested Steele in the first ten minutes of the half. Blackburn started to push on looking for the equaliser but that just made the visitors dig in deeper. Silvestri pulled off a fantastic save to deny Rhodes from a tight angle after Gestede had won a long ball in the box. Maybe, just maybe this was going to be Leeds' day?

Blackburn were building a head of steam though but started to get frustrated as Leeds remained a goal in front..............that was until Leeds once again stamped on the self destruct button in the 70th minute. An innocuous through ball was chased forlornly by Rhodes before Cooper and Silvestri presented an early Xmas present to the ex Huddersfield as they both hesitated before Silvestri attempted a weak clearance leaving Rhodes a simple tap into the empty net. Bollox! The home crowd woke up and suddenly it was game on with Leeds wobbling like a punch drunk boxer. 1.1.

Once again Leeds were conspiring to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory after leading at half time and this particular fan, along with the other 6,899 travelling fans, were fearing the worst. Blackburn smelt blood and now urged on by the home support went in search of the winner. Ex Leeds "favourite" Luke Varney replaced Gestede for Blackburn and within a minute missed a golden chance as he headed a decent chance wide of Silvestri's goal. The pit of my stomach had now changed to 2nd half mode and an all too familiar foreboding overtook my first half optimism. We were now staring down the barrel of a defeat and there seemed to be little that Leeds could do on the field to prevent it. Redfearn replaced Cook with Bellusci in an attempt to shore up his fast fading team. Bellusci's introduction did add a spark to Leeds and soon Antenucci was latching onto a sublime ball from Adryan to rattle the Rovers's post with a shot that had Steele beaten. Maybe we could snatch a winner?

Thoughts of a winner for Leeds increased as they were thrown a sudden lifeline. Tom Cairney stupidly clattered Cooper after the ball had gone and earned a 2nd yellow. The lad from Kellington was taking an early bath and as a result the home side went into their shell to protect the point they had. With Blackburn sitting deep Leeds were now venturing forward trying to take benefit from their one man advantage. But this was Leeds and as I know all too painfully well we never do things easy. Leeds were about to commit football suicide against a team who were happy to defend for a point.

Leeds had the ball in their own half before sloppily losing it to Rhodes who slotted the ball through to Varney...............Byram's desperate tackle saw a theatrical dive from Varney earn a dubious penalty as the ref pointed to the spot without any hesitation. Bastard. Of course Rhodes converted the penalty to give Blackburn an undeserved late lead leaving the frustrated Leeds faithful in stunned silence. 2.1 Blackburn. Five minutes of added time saw Leeds throw everything forward to try and retrieve a match they should have at least left with a point but all to no avail. It ended 2.1 to Blackburn and most of the seething away support left the ground wondering why we seem incapable of holding onto a lead in the 2nd half of games. We didn't deserve to lose but if you gift a team like Blackburn two goals what do you expect? Warnock was once again outstanding for Leeds.

The journey home was quiet. Are we heading for a relegation dog fight or will the undoubted good football start to be rewarded with wins? With such a fine line between success and failure in this league individual errors are costing us dearly and unless we stop hitting the self destruct button this could be long winter. Still we can always put it right next week against Derby..............hang on a minute?

Can't wait.


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Leeds United v Blackpool. 8th Nov 2014.

After yet another week of drama off the pitch I headed for Elland Road in the vain hope that there might just be an outbreak of football to keep the headline writers happy instead of the diet of winding up orders, Football League investigations and alleged new investment bids. Blackpool were the visitors to a decidedly grim and wet West Yorkshire with their collection of misfit players cobbled together in the wake of a summer of disastrous mismanagement of the historic club from their controversial owner Owen Oyston. Oyston, a convicted criminal who served 3 years in prison for rape, not only passed the Football League's fit and proper test  but has continually infuriated loyal Blackpool fans with his "cavalier" attitude to the running of their football club...............Mmmm sounds familiar?

As ever the Happy Chocker, Brother Chris and The Quiet One accompanied me as we assessed the prospects of picking up a welcome three points against the Division's basement club. After a run of 8 games without a win even the bottom club appeared to strike fear into some amongst me. Being the uber optimist I am I wagered a fiver on a 4-1 Leeds triumph despite the howls of derision around me. "Send for the funny farm he's completely lost it" was one of the printable comments I heard.

Not surprisingly Pearce replaced the suspended Bellusci in an otherwise unchanged starting eleven. Sharp and Austin returned to the bench after injuries. A poignant Last Post preceded a minutes silence in remembrance of the fallen before the game got underway. To say Leeds started with a bang is a like saying Blackpool's golden mile is slightly tacky. Refearn's young guns exploded into the match with an electric tempo and clinical passing to boot. It was a chance a minute as Antenucci and Doukara ripped the Blackpool defence to shreds as they gorged themselves on the continuous supply of ammunition from the eager Leeds team. Warnock and Byram were kings of the flanks with Cook, Mowatt and Adryan running riot in midfield. The inevitable first goal came after just nine minutes as Liam Cooper volleyed home from 20 yards after Blackpool failed to clear a corner. Wow! 1.0 Leeds.

The Leeds attacking machine was running like a finely tuned engine as wave after wave of carefully crafted attacks submerged the Tangerines. Joe Lewis was working overtime to keep out Leeds as Antennucci, Doukara and Adryan all tested the Blackpool keeper with the home crowd baying for more. If this was what Redfearn meant by getting his team to play with no fear then bring it on. Then as the clock ticked past 30 minutes Leeds doubled their lead with a magnificent team goal that will be remembered for a long, long time by those lucky enough to witness it in the flesh. First Cooper coolly brought the ball down in his own area and passed the ball into the midfield where swift first time passes released Adryan in the centre circle. The Brazilian sped away and headed for goal before releasing a slide rule ball to Doukara.............just when I thought he wouldn't get a shot away his big black leg stretched out to steer the ball into the corner of the net and send the 23,000 home fans into absolute delight. 2.0 Leeds and I don't think I've seen a better team goal since the Revie boys annihilated Southampton back in the 70's. To paraphrase Barry Davies...."It was almost cruel"

Leeds were now purring as they knocked the ball about with a swagger. O'Hara had replaced Blackman for Blackpool as the smiling Lee Clark tried to stem the Leeds dominance. Silvestri had hardly been troubled by the basement club's attack as he watched his colleagues go for Blackpool's jugular. Warnock was having another storming game at left back. If there's a better full back in the championship I'll gladly watch back to back episodes of X Factor. The ex Liverpool man was instrumental in the third Leeds goal as he combined with Mowatt to once again open up the Blackpool defence before slipping a ball to Doukara who beat the advancing Lewis to pull the ball back into the box from the bye line..............the ball fell nicely for new Daddy, Antennuci, who volleyd into the empty net courtesy of a slight deflection. Cue the baby celebrations with imitation dummies and the swinging cot........Awww bless. 3.0 Leeds. Unbelievable Jeff. Leeds were winning at a canter and it wasn't even half time. Peter Clarke saw a header go near for the visitors just before the half time whistle went. The home side trotted off to a thunderous ovation after the best half of football seen at Elland Road for a long, long time. Adryan was outstanding, Cooper was excellent and for once the finishing matched the approach play.

 The half time urinal philosophers weren't as buoyant as you'd expect after a half of total domination by Leeds. "Hope we don't fuck it up in the 2nd half" one fan gruffly commented whilst another tempered the positivity with "Don't get carried away it's only Blackpool" We're a hard lot to please us Leeds fans. At 3-0 up it would be impossible to better the first half but surely we would keep steamrollering the Donkey Lashers? Errm well not quite.

Lee Clark changed his tactics to try and get his team back in the game. As a result the fluid, open football from Leeds was somewhat stymied as the home side got dragged into a scrappy battle with a number of dubious tackles that the remarkably tolerant ref, Stuart Atwell, chose to not punish with a card of any colour. Nile Ranger started the 2nd half for the Tangerines. The south Standers soon reminded the Pantomime villain that he has a lot in common with his club's owner. He is a big unit though and started to cause problems for the Leeds defence as he and Miller looked to benefit from a more direct approach from the seasiders. Leeds were given a warning on 58 minutes as Ranger missed a headed chance from 8 yards. The flow of chances for Leeds had dried up so Redfearn reached for the subs board and sent on Austin for the tiring Adryan. The young number 9 received a standing ovation as he left the pitch. Tonge also joined the fray in place of the injured Bianchi as nerves started to twitch amongst the home fans even though we were still three up.

On 75 minutes Nile Ranger headed a simple goal to get the visitors back in the game. Panic started to percolate around the ground as the nervy home fans contemplated a another possible capitulation of epic proportions. Don't panic I found myself shouting just as Antenucci so nearly made it 4 after a goal mouth scramble. Leeds had lost their way though and now it was a case of digging in and seeing out the game for the precious three points. Billy Sharp came on for a cameo and despite 6 minutes of added time the game finished 3-1 to Leeds.

Once again this had been a game of two halves in terms of performance but the sheer dominance and quality of the first 45 minutes was more than enough to win this game. Cooper was outstanding. His reading of the game is excellent and will certainly give Redfearn a selection headache once all the centre halves are available. Adryan was simply breathtaking at times and adds such a different dimension to this young Leeds team. Byram and Warnock both had good games and posed a real threat each time they raided the flanks. For me the influence of Redfearn is there for all to see in the way the team are playing with a much higher tempo coupled with a willingness to pass the ball in all areas of the pitch. With patience his team should prosper.

After the international break we have testing games against Blackburn, Derby, Ipswich, Fulham and Forest before welcoming Wigan to Elland Road on Boxing Day. If Redfearn can continue to improve the team through this run of games we should be nicely placed come Xmas day?

Can't wait.


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