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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Leeds v Boro 13th Aug 2011

For the 4th year running the sign on platform 2 at Selby station was still defiantly squeaking away in the light breeze as we gathered for the first home league game of the new season. The Happy Chocker and the Quiet One joined me as we boarded the 1.11pm train for Leeds.  Yet another season of following the mighty whites at The Theatre of Hope was underway.  All the pre match chat focused on team selection for today's game and the ongoing drama of Capt Birdseye's stewardship of Leeds United.  Tom Lees was everybody's favourite to get a starting spot, which he did, and the consensus view on the white bearded one was that he has at the very least prevented Leeds splashing the cash on much needed squad strengthening in favour of the East Stand development.  As regular readers will know I have a slightly different interpretation of events so at the risk of castigation by the vociferous majority we bypassed the "Bates out" protest and went for a pre match pint in the members bar.

England were annihilating India in the latest test match on the big screen as the team was announced.  Lees, Bromby, Mad Max, Snoddy and O'Dea all returned to the starting line up in what looked like a stronger eleven than the one that capitulated at St Mary's.  Despite the automated turnstyle refusing to recognise my season ticket I eventually took up my usual seat along with 25,000 other fans in the bright West Yorks sunshine.  After the nervy win against Bradford in mid week and with the fans revolting in the stands we needed a good positive start and that's exactly what we got as Leeds took the early initiative. Leeds won an early corner sparking a debate amongst my fellow fans as to when we last scored from a corner.  "Bout 1998" was one suggestion that captured the mood.................we never score from corners?  But the Happy Chocker had done his homework on Tom Lees and announced he was useful from corners and he'd scored 4 for Bury last season.  And with that the afore mentioned Mr Lees met Snoddy's corner with a firm header that the Boro goalie clung onto for dear life.  Mmmm maybe it won't be long before we score from a corner again?

Both Mad Max and Snoddy looked lively after their midweek international efforts.  Max picked up an early yellow for a clattering 50:50 challenge on the Boro right back.  "A bit early to be brandishing yellows" I suggested.  But Mr "everybody's come to see me" Referee had only just started on his afternoon of wanton and dramatic card waving!  Mad Max had soon calmed down enough to jink his way through and sting Ikeme's hands in the Boro goal with a rasping shot.  Things were looking good.  The new look back four actually appeared to be solid and stroked the ball about with confidence.  In front of them Messr's Howson and Clayton were winning the mid field battle as Boro started to creak at the seams.  Then disaster struck.

Mad Max challenged and won the ball in midfield but not to the referees liking as he reached straight into his back pocket for another yellow and the little Ivorian was dispatched for an early bath.  Bollox, this ref was really getting on my tits.  He was blowing his whistle at every opportunity and was waving yellow cards around like he'd just found the a winning lottery ticket.  Mad Max's exit fired up the home crowd and the team as they looked to bury the memories of last weeks defeat with a backs to the wall performance in front of their ever critical fans.  Lonergan tipped a dangerous header over the bar as Boro looked to put their one man advantage to good use but the new resilience at the back held firm.  The ref continued to anger the home fans with a litany of inconsistent and fussy decisions.  I began to wonder if he just hated Leeds?

Adam Clayton has started this season very well and today was no exception. Just after 35 minutes he was inches away from writing his name in Leeds United folk lore as he noticed Ikeme stood on the penalty spot and attempted a lob from the half way line................the crowd held it's collective breath as the surprised goalie back pedalled furiously and only just managed to finger tip the goal bound ball over the bar.  Fantastic! Leeds were stretched at times though as they worked tirelessly to overcome the one man disadvantage and Capt Fantastic, Howson, "took one for the team" as he received a yellow card for cynically pulling back the Boro centre forward with the wide expanses of Elland Road in front of him.  Howson nearly redeemed himself minutes later though as he was inches away from a Snoddy cross after some sweet approach work.  "We might only have 10 men but we're definitely not out of this one" I observed with my uber-optimistic head on as Leeds finished the half on the front foot helped by another red card, this time for Boro's McMahon just before the break.  His was for two yellows and in the interests of fair play I've got to say he no more deserved a red than Mad Max did.  Half time 0.0.

The first Gents half time debate of the season by the urinal philosophers was a positive one buoyed by an impressive battling performance by the mighty whites.  No mention of hotels, Bates or executive boxes but plenty regarding the ref's parentage or lack of it, Tom Lees and Adam Clayton.  "We can still win this" was the general view.

Leeds were now playing towards the kop and picked up on the impetus of having equal numbers of players.  The super cool Tom Lees brought the crowd to its feet with a neat header that appeared to cross the line before a despairing Boro boot hoiked it clear.  It didn't look as if it was going to be our day and when the ref dug into his card pocket once again to dismiss Jonny Howson after an innocuous challenge left a smart Boro player prostrate on the turf.  Not surprisingly he wasn't dead and jumped to his feet as soon as Howson entered the tunnel.  Mr Taylor, the ref, had managed in 55 minutes to turn the wrath of the Elland Road crowd away from Capt Birdseye and firmly onto himself.  Leeds now had only 9 players on the pitch and the best they could hope for was to hang on for the draw.

Lord Larry had to reshuffle his resources.  Nunez had come on for Brown and was now operating in a midfield three with Snoddy and Clayton.  Thompson soon replaced Snoddy to try and bolster Leeds' defensive offering.  Leeds were now trying their hardest to hold back a Boro side who were exploiting the inevitable gaps that were appearing alarmingly on Leeds' right flank.  It was with harsh irony that the man who broke the Leeds resistance on 67 minutes was the same player who was "fouled" by Howson for his 2nd yellow, Emnes as he danced into the Leeds box and smashed a shot past Lonergan into the roof of the net.  At 1.0 it was almost impossible for Leeds to comeback.  Sam came on for Ross Mac and although the men in white dredged up some energy for a last hurrah which saw Lonergan helping the attack they couldn't get an equaliser.  The pedantic ref blew his whistle for the last time knowing he'd ruined most of the 25,000 crowd's weekend with his fussy display.

Leeds had now tasted defeat for the 2nd time in a week but the difference was this was on the back of an encouraging performance despite the lack of players on the pitch.  Clayton and Lees impressed me with Lonergan showing just why Lord Larry thinks he's a better goalie than Schmeichel.  The back four looked solid with some heroic blocks and tackles to keep Leeds in the game.  The trek home was a relatively up beat one considering we'd lost.  In a strange way the team will take a lot of positives from this defeat.  They will need to though as we welcome the Codheads to the Theatre of Hope on Tuesday without Max, Howson, Becchio, Somma and Billy Barndoor.  Early days in the season yet though.  As Corporal Jones would say "Don't panic" after all it's how a team finish the season that matters not how they start it as we found to our cost last time out.

Roll on Tuesday night and let's send the pretend Yorkshiremen back done the M62 with their fishtails between their legs.
Cant wait.

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