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Saturday, 21 February 2015

Middlesbrough 0:1 Leeds United 21st Feb 2015

A watery winter sun and pale blue sky greeted us as we gunned the car up the A19 towards Teeside for our lunchtime clash with Championship leaders Boro. There were lot's of positives for the Happy Chocker, Quiet One and yours truly to debate as we sped through North Yorkshire. Leeds were seeking their 5th win out of the last 6 league games since the cup exit at Sunderland against a team who we always do well against. Also we were looking to do the double over the league leaders just as we did when we last played the league leaders Bournemouth. We weren't getting too carried away though. The Riverside is a difficult place to get a result especially against a home team high on confidence. All in all we were looking forward to another cracking Leeds away day with a good chance of bringing some points back to West Yorkshire.

Not surprisingly Redfearn kept the same starting eleven that disposed of Millwall last week as the game got under way in an absolutely electric atmosphere. The 3,000 travelling fans were in good voice drowning out the Boro drummer boy and his Ultras. Leeds flew at Boro from the off not allowing them time on the ball. This tactic paid handsomely on 3 minutes as the imperious Lewis Cook won the ball in the Boro half and raced into the penalty area before screwing the ball back to Mowatt who's thumping shot deflected delightfully into the bottom corner of the Boro net. 1.0 Leeds and the away end erupted in ecstatic celebrations. Just the 87 minutes to hang on to the lead then I thought.

Boro are top of the league for a reason and that is their coach Karanka has transformed the Teesiders into a well drilled unit who play a neat passing game continually looking to bring the dangerous Adomah into play on the right flank coupled with Vossen dropping off the front to pick the ball up in the space between midfield and the front runners. Just because they had conceded an early goal didn't change their approach as they lined up attack after attack on the Leeds back four. Silvestri has his critics amongst the Legions of Leeds fans but this was going to be a performance that would quieten his most fiercest critic as he pulled off save after save to deny the dominant home side. Kike, Vossen and Clayton all had thumping shots turned away by the young Italian goalie as Leeds dug in to defend their slender lead. In front of Silvestri Bamba and Bellusci were marshaling the troops to repel all raiders in scenes reminiscent of the famous Rourke's Drift battle. Bodies were thrown in front of shots heads were stuck in the firing line to prevent the rampant Boro from converting any of the many chances that were flowing their way. On the one time the ball evaded Silvestri's grasp Bellusci was on hand to clear off the line. This was heart stopping stuff.

When Leeds did break out from constant bombardment first Byram and then Wootton found space in the box but couldn't add to Mowatt's opener. Then just before half time the man mountain who is Bamba launched himself at a Murphy corner only to see his header drift inches wide. Half time 1.0 to Leeds and what a half. Leeds had defended like heroes against a very good Boro attack. Could they keep it going in the 2nd half though?

The 2nd half started as the first 45 minutes finished with Boro pressing hard and Leeds trying to nick another goal on the break. Wootton headed against the bar from a rare Leeds corner lifting the decibel level from the away end. "All Leeds are we" reverberated around the Riverside as Leeds defensive rearguard action took on epic proportions. Silvestri saved shot after shot as Leeds conceded corners with increasing frequency but each one was dealt with by the stubborn and resolute back four as if any ball into the box was an insult to their pride. This was stirring stuff from Leeds and when they did get the ball away Morison, Austin, Cook and Byram went on long busting runs relieve the pressure. Morison was denied by the Boro keeper on a one on one and Wootton couldn't quite reach a Byram cross with the goal wide open. Austin hit a stunning shot that brought a desparate save from the home keeper.

Most of the action was at the other end though as last ditch tackles from Bamba, Taylor and Bellusci kept the Leeds goal intact. By now the corner tally must have been up 50 or so it seemed but in contrast to other Leeds teams in the last ten years this one just grows in confidence when the ref points to the corner flag. What a refreshing change? Vossen collided with Mowatt knocking himself out and delaying the game for 10 minutes. This gave Leeds chance to  recharge their batteries ready for the final assault. I could almost hear Bamba imploring his team mates to "Wait until you see the whites of their eyes boys they'll come at us again before the final whistle" Rourke's Drift lives!

Cooper had replaced the injured Bellusci for the final ten minutes with Boro now down to ten men after using all their subs before the Vossen injury. 9 minutes of injury time seemed like a millennium as Boro threw the kitchen sink plus all the pots and pans at the heroic Leeds defensive line. Nerves were jangling in the away end as Marching on Together belted out to help carry Leeds over the line. The celebrations at the final whistle were long and loud. The players were out on their feet and no more so than the much maligned Steve Morison who had had another good game. Final score 1.0 Leeds.

Silvestri was man of the match closely followed by the colossus Bamba but in truth every man deserved a medal after a performance that will live long in the memory with the loyal Leeds faithful. The Boro fans were understandably a bit miffed as we strode back to the car away from the Riverside. You could still hear the Leeds fans singing................was it "All Leeds are we" I could hear or was it the faint sound of "Men of Harlech" drifting up from the South African veld? Either way we'd won away for the third time on the bounce and we were frantically assessing the league to check how many points we are away from the play offs. Delicious!

Brighton away on Tuesday. Again work commitments mean I wont make it to the Amex but I should just get to Elland Road for the beamback. A 4th win on the road on the cards me thinks? All of a sudden there is plenty of joy on Planet Leeds. Long may it continue.

Can't wait.


Saturday, 14 February 2015

Leeds United 1:0 Millwall. 14th Feb 2015

Love was in the air at Elland Road. The travelling Valentine's Fair was resplendent on Fullerton Park car park preparing for the evening rush of young fun seekers looking to entertain their loved ones with a dodgy burger and a ride on the waltzers. Yes romance was alive and well in LS11 and by some strange quirk of the Football League fixture computer this was also the day that Leeds United welcomed one of their most unloved rivals, Millwall, to Elland Road for a hugely significant game in the unseemly battle at the wrong end of the championship.

After resisting the urge to Hook a Duck or Bag a Coconut the Happy Chocker, Quiet One and yours truly were eagerly awaiting the team news inside the Theatre of Hope. Would Morison finally add a goal to his improving form against his old flame? Would Redders stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation that worked so well against Reading? Would Massimo appear in the South Stand gesticulating at the two dozen Millwall fans?  In the end Redfearn kept the same formation and made just one change to Tuesday's starting line up with Austin slotting straight in for the injured Bianchi. After a pint of loopy juice I wagered £2 of my hard earned money on a Morison hat trick much to the amusement of HC et al. You never know he's got to score sometime I thought?

Leeds were straight into top gear as they attacked the kop end oozing with confidence. The left flank alliance of Mowatt and Taylor found early joy testing Millwall's shaky defence and it was young Taylor who created the first real chance on 6 minutes as he got to the bye line and picked out Byram on the penalty spot only for his side footed shot to graze the post. Cook and Murphy had stamped an early grip on the midfield area and Leeds were looking good. Millwall's giant, lumbering centre forward Maierhofer had their first shot on goal on ten minutes but the ball nestled tamely in Silvestri's hands.

Leeds had settled quickly despite a lengthy delay when Mowatt was injured after making a lunging tackle. Bamba headed over from a free kick before Byram saw his shot deflected for a corner. Fabbrini had the small travelling band of away fans out of their seats as he turned a shot into the side netting. The game became littered with niggly fouls typified by Maierhofer's yellow card for a cynical trip to stop Murphy from breaking free on the half way. With fans beginning to drift away for their half time refreshments Leeds suddenly found a second wind and pushed forward looking for the opening goal. The impressive Byram swapped passes on the right and headed towards the box before being felled by another Millwall trip. Free kick Leeds 20 yards out in the inside right position. Mowatt lined the ball up and clipped a lovely free kick into the top corner of the net with the help of a slight deflection. 1.0 Leeds and suddenly Leeds changed up a gear. Within a minute another attacking move saw Morison make an intelligent run into the left hand side of the box and control the ball well before picking Austin out at the back post. The Jamaican tried a spectacular scissor kick that Forde did well to keep out.

Leeds were finishing a good half strongly. Morison again found space only to see his shot blocked in the box but then squandered an absolute golden chance when Murphy picked up a loose back pass and fed him in one on one with the keeper. Head in hands time for the majority of the 24,000 fans in the ground. That should have been 2.0 and the first goal of his hat trick. There was still time in the half for Leeds to be denied the usual stonewall penalty as Austin was scythed down in the box. To add insult to injury he received a yellow for his troubles FFS. Half time 1.0 Leeds and the home team well on top.

The urinal philosophers were happy if not a little disgruntled the margin wasn't more than the solitary Mowatt goal. "Should have been 3.0 by now" one fan thought whilst another harshly judged Morison with a cutting comment "he'll never score whilst he's a hole in his arse" In general the Leeds family was pleased with the first half efforts. Just need to push on and get the all important 2nd goal now. Millwall's maverick manager Ian Hollaway swapped the giant Maierhofer for the more nimble and quicker Gregory at half time.

The game stuttered for the opening exchanges of the 2nd period as a combination of frequent fouls and copious amounts of lost possession from each side added to the tension in the stands. Supposed transfer target for Leeds Woolford blazed a decent chance over the bar from 18 yards and Angel went close with a low shot that Silvestri let go wide even though it missed by inches................another head in hands moment for me and plenty of other nervous Leeds fans. All of a sudden it was the Lions who were starting to build up a head of steam as Leeds lost their way a bit. Woolford again failed to hit the target with a shot and Fuller so nearly converted a long hopeful ball as the Leeds defence hesitated. 20 long minutes left as I stared at the clock willing it round.

Antennuci replaced Austin and immediately added some much needed impetus for the home side setting up Byram with a deep cross but his spectacular volley went searing over the bar and into the South Stand. Next Murphy jinked past three players and hit a scorching shot that Forde did well to keep out. With Millwall pushing on looking for the equaliser Leeds began to take advantage of the gaps and should have settled the nerves in Elland Road with numerous spurned chances. Mowatt went down in the box and earned a booking for diving that later TV replays would show was justified. Wootton missed a superb chance after a knock back from Morison but it was my hopeful hat trick hero who was the most wasteful as he missed three wonderful chances in the last 10 minutes to win me my bet. Bastard. Maybe the grumpy guy at half time was right?

With only the single goal separating the teams the final 5 minutes was gut wrenchingly tense to watch as I was sure Holloway's men were going to pinch a late equaliser although in reality they only managed 1 shot on target all game. The more than welcome final whistle sounded with Leeds still in front by Mowatt's goal and the home fans celebrated another precious three points for the mighty whites. This was another gritty performance from Leeds spoilt by some very wayward finishing. On another day Leeds could have finished 3 or 4 goals to the good but the contrast between Morison's general play and his finishing couldn't be starker.

Murphy had a superb game well supported by Cook & Mowatt in midfield. Charlie Taylor continues to thrive at left back and had his best game in a Leeds shirt. Overall a good performance let down by too many misses in front of goal and too many sloppy passes in the 2nd half. Bamba had another commanding game at the heart of a resolute back four. In the end Leeds extended their excellent run of form since the turn of the year and have now reached the heady heights of 12th place in the Championship. Wow.

Middlesbrough up next at The Riverside for a lunchtime kick off against the high flying Teesiders. We always beat the Smoggies though don't we?

Can't wait.


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