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Saturday, 8 August 2009

Leeds United v Exeter City 8th Aug 2009

After frying the Happy Chocker and I at Headingley yesterday Mr Sunshine was once again cracking the pavements as we waited for the train into Leeds. Mixed with all the anticipation and expectation of a new season was a slight touch of deja vu. After all this is the third time we have started a league campaign in the third tier of English football but that didn't stop a healthy number of Leeds faithful gathering on the platform. "Back for some more are we" was typical of the "gallows humour" on display amongst young and old whites waiting nervously for the 13.11 to Leeds. Karl and the Quiet One completed our match day party and once I had met up with Dave and Mick (hope you enjoyed your day) at the Scarboro taps to pass on some tickets I was on the shuttle to ER.

The atmosphere was already buzzing as wide eyed Exeter fans mingled with good humoured Leeds fans. Well it is still early in the season! I had a good chat with a grey haired Exeter fan on the bus who was inevitably christened Grecian 2000, much to the delight of his companions. The mixture of the sunshine, a good pre season and oodles of optimism was a heady one and once mixed with a couple of pre match pints with big Steve and George I was ready for the kick off. Surely this season we're going to get promoted?

Our opponents today, Exeter, were relishing the big match atmosphere and their 3000 fans were in good voice in a 28,000 opening day crowd. My guess at team selection was nearly correct but Mickey Doyle started in the centre midfield in preference to Johnson who filled in on the left leaving Robbo on the bench.

A minutes applause for Sir Bobby Robson was enthusiastically delivered and we were under way. This was for real and not a friendly and Leeds were out of the traps like a sprinter and the Grecians were soon defending desperately as Leeds dominated the first 15 minutes. Becchio went close and Becks tried to curl the ball past the ridiculously luminous Exeter goalie as Leeds piled on the pressure. It was only a matter of time before we scored and sure enough after a forceful run from Ben Parker, reminiscent of the one against Millwall, he fed Beckford who slotted the ball past the advancing goalie as cool as a cucumber that had been in the fridge for a fortnight. 1:0 Leeds and all was well with the world as I sat in the West Yorkshire sunshine. Now was the time for Leeds to push on and destroy their vulnerable opponents but it never happened.

In fact it was Exeter who started to claw their way back into the game through their rather physical approach to the game and suddenly the earlier crisp passing movements of Leeds were going astray. Snoddy didn't seem to be at his best although we think we know why. The Happy Chocker spotted him at Headingley yesterday enjoying the cricket. Now it was looking as if he'd maybe contributed to one of the beer snakes that were winding their way around the Western terrace by the way he was performing.

The new signing Doyle was busy and combative and Higgs, in goal in place of Casper, was having very little to do until the big centre forward, Corr, found himself free on goal only to blast his chance of glory high into the jeering kop. Ben Parker departed with what looked like a hamstring pull after 30 mins and the half stuttered to a close with Leeds still on top but only leading by the solitary Beckford strike. A quick chat with the Facebook whites at HT and then time to reflect. Leeds started really well but then seemed to lose their way a bit, too many passes going astray for my liking. Ominously I suggested to HC that 1 goal might not be enough and he agreed. That nervous tension that we experienced far too many times last year was creeping back into the pit of our stomachs.

Leeds started the 2nd half better than they finished the first and soon chances were flowing as the midfield began to find chinks in the redoubtable Exeter armour. Beckford twice chipped the goalie when the majority of the kop were screaming for him to "lace it" Becchio was improving after an indifferent first period and started to cause the robust Devonian defenders some problems and even Snoddy, the beer snake, was getting himself together and testing out the full backs. But resilient Exeter kept battling away and encouraged by the missed chances at the other end pushed on to try and get an equaliser in front of their large away following. Then disaster struck!

As Exeter's pressure brought them a corner the big centre forward, Corr, inexplicably kicked Doyle, earning him a straight red. Now we all know how pathetically we perform against 10 men, Crewe and Orient last year but to name a this fan was not a happy bunny as the sound of "time to go" rang round the stadium to send Corr on his way. To be honest I was getting that awful sick feeling that accompanies the knowledge that we're not in control of the game. It was only a matter of time before the Grecians equalised and sure enough on 70 minutes Alex Russell hit a perfect free kick past a static Higgs............cue hysteria in the away end as their fans spilled onto the pitch in disbelief and a sinking feeling in the kop. A Glance at the new big screen showed that we had a little over 15 minutes left to rescue the match..........I might be getting a tad old but I really couldn't see it happening. "Bring on Enoch" I heard HC bellow "Bring on Robbo" I heard myself shouting. Sure enough our tricky scouser was stripped and thrown into the fray, 10 minutes too late for my liking though. The Exeter goal stirred Leeds into more forceful action but the 10 men of Exeter were fighting as if their lives depended on it. For some reason I was remembering how the Huddersfield game went last year and how they snatched a last minute winner. Suddenly my pre match optimism was disappearing as fast as the English middle order in the face of the Aussie onslaught. Finally HC got his wish and big Enoch rumbled into action and almost immediately got booked for running into a defender. The ref's obviously not reffed Enoch before or he would know he always does that, he can't help it and it's not intentional he just sort of bumps into people around the pitch.

Just as I was thinking the worst Enoch made some space and got the ball out from under his feet and lost his man..............he found Snoddy ( now fully sober) who released Jason Crowe on the right edge of the box who then delivered the most devine cross from the bye line onto Jermaine's head who glanced it downwards into the empty net. The roar of relief will have been heard at Headingley as not for the first time and not for the last the Elland Road faithful lifted the decibel level through the roof. Beckford celebrated serenely in stark contrast to the fans who were dancing in the aisles. Even with 4 minutes of added time there wasn't enough time for the Grecians to recover and 3 points were safely deposited in our account. Phew and double phew!

The Exeter fans will feel they should have held on for a famous point on their first visit to ER but it was not to be.
So the first one is out of the way and only another 45 to go. The Leeds performance to today was a bit like the Curates Egg, good in parts. Playing Doyle in the centre of midfield worked well in the first half but he tired a bit in the second, looks a good acquisition though. Beckford looked as sharp as I've seen him and put in lots of chasing and harrying of defenders and the goalie. He is a remarkable player and I even found myself bemoaning the fact that he'd missed enough chances in the first half to have killed the game. The only downside is that his two goals will have alerted his potential suitors even more. Elsewhere Snoddy and Becchio have had better games the back four looked solid whilst Parker was on the pitch, less so when Hughes filled in at left back. Howson worked hard in midfield but in general our midfield gave up the ball a bit too lightly today for Larry to be totally pleased.

Elsewhere Norwich fans will be in severe shock after there 7 goal introduction to league 1 as will Swindon, Dougie and David Lucas et al, after receiving a 5 goal spanking at Gillingham. Exeter will trouble teams in this league with their hard working, physical style and it's not difficult to see how they've achieved back to back promotions. If they add a proven goalscorer to their ranks they will be a tough nut to crack.

So all's well that ends well and we now move onto 3 away games on the bounce starting at Darlo on Monday night where we will be missing Krisnorbo and Rui due to international duties. Might take my boots I could get a game?

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