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Sunday, 21 December 2014

Nottm Forest 1:1 Leeds United. 20th Dec 2014.

After battling through endless roadworks on the M1 and the Xmas shopping traffic in Nottingham we arrived at the Notts County bar just in time for some well earned pre match refreshments ahead of our teatime clash with Nottm Forest. With the exception of the remarkable result against Bournemouth our awaydays this term have been nothing short of excruciatingly painful so it was surprising to hear mainly positive vibes coming from the assembled army of Leeds fans awaiting the 5.15pm kick off. I suspect this had more to do with the copious amounts of alcohol consumed by the majority of fans during the afternoon rather than any true football logic. Funny how the Police often insist on a lunchtime kick off if they think there could be trouble at high profile games to reduce fan's drinking time but are quite happy to sanction tea time kick offs for big games just to suit the TV schedules?

After having my ticket checked a record 38 times as I entered the stadium and made my way to my seat we were ready for kick off. Redders had made one change to the starting line up with Sharp replacing Doukara alongside Antenucci. Morison and Montenegro joined Doukara on the bench. The well lubricated away fans were in good voice as the game burst into life. Leeds started with a more intensive pressing game to try and throw the nervy home side off their stride which resulted in a very frenetic and high energy opening quarter. Lansbury wasted the first opportunity of the match when his shot flew high into the home fans behind Silvestri's goal. Silvestri clearly didn't like the bleached blonde hair look he was sporting for the Fulham game this time preferring a skinhead style but it was Forest's Danny Fox who took the award for most ridiculous hair style of the night for a strangely glowing bushy beard..............to be fair he was doing it for charity though.

Leeds' early ambitious attacking  verve nearly paid dividends as Mowatt latched onto a lovely pull back from Byram only to see his shot deflect wide from 16 yards. Minutes later Pearce blasted over from 7 yards after Darlow in the Forest goal had failed to hold an Antenucci shot. Stung by the scare Forest stepped up a gear and started to create more chances. The impressive Fryatt had the ball in the net on 21 minutes only to be denied by the linesman's flag. I'm not sure many Forest fans agreed with the decision though? The ease with which Fryatt found space to head the ball in should have rung alarm bells in the Leeds defence but the West Yorkshire visitors continued to sail close to the wind in the heart of defence with far too much space given to the men in red. A minute into added time in the first half Leeds paid dearly for their slack marking. A corner swung into the Leeds box was met unchallenged by Mancienne who's header was stabbed home by an equally unmarked Fryatt 2 yards  out. As Alan Hansen would say.............shocking defending. 1.0 Forest at Half Time and Leeds looking down the barrel of another fruitless awayday.

Leeds kept their hosts waiting before the start of the 2nd period presumably for Redfearn to hand out major bollockings to his defence? Whatever the tone of his half time pep talk it worked with Leeds flying at the East Midlanders right from the whistle. Lewis Cook weaved his way through after good work by Bianchi only to see his shot blocked but minutes later Byram was tripped in the box by the bushy bearded Fox resulting in the ref pointing immediately to the spot. PENALTY and a lifeline for Leeds. Sharp made no mistake with the spot kick sending the 1900 away fans into raptures. 1.1 and cue a Forest onslaught on Silvestri's goal.

Jack Hunt was guilty of missing a gilt edged chance with only Silvestri to beat before the Leeds keeper made a spectacular save from Antonio. The Leeds keeper could do nothing with the next attempt as Fryatt had the ball in the net again but again the linesman's flag ruled it out. The home fans were now mildly annoyed at what appeared to be another perfectly good goal chalked off for offside. Life's a bitch isn't it? Shaken by Forest's search for a winner Leeds decided they might need another goal and god forbid they could actually win the game. Cook picked out Sharp free in the box who hit a superb volley only to see Darlow turn the ball away for a corner.

On 65 minutes Redfearn looked to his bench for a game changer to try and pinch all three points. Instead he sent on Morison for the tiring Adryan. Silvestri was still keeping Forest at bay with another fine save this time from Lansbury as the game entered the final frantic 10 minutes. Tonge replaced Sharp as both teams had a tilt at winning the game. Doukara replaced Antenucci and tested Darlow immediately with a sweetly hit shot. Despite 4 minutes of added time the game ended all square with the 1900 travelling fans much happier with the point than the Forest fans. Silvestri was my man of the match with excellent contributions from Byram and Cook. Pearce looked very vulnerable at the back although he improved in the 2nd half.

As we headed back the car the home fans were bemoaning Stuart Pearce's tactical decisions. "Why didn't he start with Assombalonga he is the league's top scorer" one frustrated Forest fan moaned. He had a point.............but then again so did we and that's why we were smiling and joking for a change after a Leeds away game. I'd forgotten how it felt!

So in the end Leeds snatched a point and rode their luck in a game many thought they would end up pointless.  The point shouldn't hide the weaknesses in this Leeds side but what pleased me was the spirit in the 2nd half after been on the ropes for the majority of the 2nd period. A win against Wigan on Boxing Day would be a nice late Xmas present? I hope Bellusci's back.

Can't wait.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Leeds United 0:1 Fulham. 13th December 2014

Elland Road was in the grip of the first cold blast of the winter as the Happy Chocker, Quiet One and yours truly arrived for our clash with Ross McCormack's struggling Fulham side. Despite last week's dismal showing at Portman Road Redfearn decided to keep the same starting eleven as Leeds looked to maintain their decent home form in front of a very healthy crowd of 27,000 inside the Theatre of Hope. The main talking point during our pre match refreshments was how Pearce would cope with the undoubted danger posed by the Fulham front two of McCormack and Rodallega. Suddenly my natural optimism started to fade as memories of last week's powder puff "defending" came flooding back.

Late drama forced Austin off the bench to be replaced by Dawson after an injury during the warm up put paid to any chance of the Jamaican contributing to the match. Even more dramatic was Silvestri's new bleached hair do.....weird! The game kicked with Leeds attacking the packed South Stand and just as last week they enjoyed the best of the opening exchanges. The mighty whites forced two early corners followed by Sam Byram latching onto a lovely ball from Mowatt only to see his rasping shot finish inches the wrong side of the post. Leeds continued to press the high spending Londoners and nearly took the lead on the half hour when Mowatt powered a header against the bar and back onto the scruffy Fulham keeper who turned it round for another corner. How it didn't go in was beyond me?

Leeds were shading a tense game that was high on energy but sadly lacking that bit of quality that turns ambitious approach play into decent chances. The impetuous Leeds had from the early part of the half faded the longer the half progressed with Fulham happy to sit back and try and hit Leeds on the break which they did with regularity the nearer we got to half time. Byram brightened proceedings though just before the break with a thumping shot that the scruffy Fulham keeper was glad to parry away. Half Time 0.0.

The urinal philosophers were not impressed. "we've no penetration" one fan moaned. Another thought "We're giving the ball away too easily, especially in our own half" whilst another just declared "I'm f****** frozen" and he wasn't referring to the film! Still we had another 45 minutes to snatch a goal and three much needed points from this eminently winnable fixture.

Leeds were now attacking the kop looking for the all important first goal. Adryan tried an impossible overhead kick after good work by Mowatt and Warnock down the left before Byram chose to shoot high wide and handsome when he had space to attack the Fulham back four. It was beginning to look like a frustrating pre Xmas game as Leeds stuttered and stammered against a very average Fulham side. McCormack had been largely anonymous whilst Rodallega had flitted in and out of the game but driven by the home side's lack of cutting edge the Londoners started to grow in confidence and went in search of the classic smash and grab goal as I started to fear this was going to turn into yet another of those "afternoons" I have endured in my long history of following the not so mighty whites.

On the hour the pit of my stomach felt as heavy as lead as inevitably Fulham snatched the opening goal. Christenson easily slipped Bianchi in the box...........Silvestri advanced to block his shot but the Fulham player simply turned the ball back to a grateful Rodallega who tapped the ball into the empty net. So easy and yet so very predictable. 1.0 Fulham and my hopeful White Christmas was suddenly turning into what Elvis Presley described as a Blue Christmas.

Stung by the goal Redders sent on Sharp for the ineffective Doukara as Leeds rallied to try and find an equaliser. Sharp made an immediate impact and was noticeably like his surname as he held the ball up and made incisive digs into the Fulham defence. Was it too little too late for Leeds though? The substitution seemed to have worked as Sharp jinked and turned out wide before hitting a perfect cross right onto Adryan's head who somehow missed from 6 yards with the goal gaping in front of him. What was needed was an Ian Baird type determination to head the ball not a Brazilian's rather delicate attempt to flick the ball in with one eye on the goalie? With the chance missed the blood drained out of the Leeds fightback. Dawson replaced Adryan but found it difficult to pick up the pace of the game. Rodallega should have doubled Fulham's advantage as Leeds pushed forward but blazed wide. The frustrated Leeds crowd turned their frustration on McCormack as the game headed for an excruciating finale to yet another disappointing performance from the mighty whites. Final score 1.0.

Boos accompanied the final whistle as the masochistic Leeds fans headed home contemplating more a bleak mid winter rather than dreaming of a white Christmas. The spark of hope that the victory over Derby had given had been well and truly extinguished by successive defeats to Ipswich and now Fulham. Difficult to pick any positives out of this showing other than Sharp's impressive cameo. Surely he will start in front of Doukara at Forest? Man of the Match was a toss up between my half time steaming mug of Bovril or the empty plastic bag that fluttered across the pitch near the end. Leeds are lacking that essential steel needed in the middle of the park that successful teams always have. Some of the tackling in 50/50 challenges today would have had the late great Billy Bremner turning in his grave.

Forest at the City Ground next for Leeds. On the evidence of today not much hope of improving our dismal away record there me thinks and with the January transfer embargo looming I'm afraid it's beginning to look a lot like a very bleak mid winter for us long suffering followers of the mighty whites. Mince Pie anyone?

Can't wait.

MOT.

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