The ever increasing positiveness on Planet Leeds is a joy to behold. No matter what team Garry Monk picks there is a real togetherness and solidarity on the pitch mixed with a system of quality football that is not only pleasing to the eye for the notoriously hard to please Leeds fans but also is receiving many plaudits from the wider Football family.
To those die hard fans who have endured some truly awful times over the last decade it is all still a bit surreal. At work this week I was twice told that “Leeds look a quality team” and “Even I was impressed with how you took the game to Liverpool, you should have won” One from a Man U fan and the other from a Liverpool fan! Bizarre, I know the Premier League has created a lot of plastic fans but this is all a bit too much to take in. They actually meant it!
So it was with a bag full of confidence that I set off for the latest game against the mighty Aston Villa along with another 32,000 crowd at the Theatre of Hope. There was plenty to discuss as we followed the well worn route to LS11. Would Roofe break his scoring curse? Would Jansson or Cooper be fit to accompany the awesome Bartley at the back? Will there be enough bar staff in the Fan village? The travelling Villa fans were in good voice as we dissected the team news. O’Kane out injured but Jansson was back. Dallas dropped to the bench to leave Wood up top with Roofe behind him. Sacko and Doukara on the wings with Phillips and Vieira in the engine room. Ayling returned at full back. With the floodlights adding to the atmosphere of expectancy the game got under way.
Steve Bruce has changed the Midlander’s fortunes since his arrival and it was soon evident how he had stamped his authority on the team freshly relegated from the Premier League. They were well drilled and physical with a no nonsense approach coupled with undoubted quality right across the pitch. This wasn’t going to be an easy night for Leeds. In a very cagey opening by both teams Villa were the first to test the goalkeeper with a weak header from Gestede. Jedinak picked up a yellow for chopping down Sacko before Leeds got their first shot away after 22 minutes when Roofe tried his luck from a narrow angle.
The game was very much stop start as the ref made sure he got the most use out of his whistle and in doing so frustrating both set’s of fans. On the half hour Jansson rose high at a corner but his header went over the bar. Bartley did the same on 40 minutes but both teams were cancelling each other out in a less than enthralling first 45 minutes. HT 0.0. If Leeds were going to get anything out of this game Monk needed to change something during his half time talk. A bit more tempo? More balls into Roofe and Wood’s feet? One thing everybody agreed was it needed something different to break the deadlock.
Villa launched the first attack of the 2nd half but Kodjia screwed his shot horribly wide. It was too much for one fan in the East Stand as he sprinted onto the pitch from the family stand with just his boxer shorts on and lead the stewards a merry dance until they inevitably downed him. “Don’t look Ethel!” That livened the crowd up. Both teams were showing a bit more ambition with Leeds pressing higher trying to disrupt the Villa rhythm. Doukara had a shot blocked after good work by Vieira but Villa responded strongly with a missed chance by Adomah followed by a stinging shot from Westwood that Green punched away.
The tension was rising in the ground. Who would get the all important first goal? Vieira and Phillips were giving as good as they got in midfield against the experienced Villa duo but the game was still in stalemate. It needed a touch of magic to ignite it and on 68 minutes we got it. Phillips hoovered up the ball in midfield and hit a pin point ball out to Doukara on the left wing. The big Leeds forward controlled the ball and cut inside before delivering an exquisite cross right into the heart of the Villa box. The diminutive Roofe ghosted into the box between the giant Villa defenders and rose like a salmon to power a header past the Villa goalie………….get in you absolute beauty! Elland Road erupted with a cacophony of noise that could be heard right across the Championship. 1.0 Leeds and the comatose giant was wide awake and trampling all over Villa. Delicious. Could Leeds hold their nerve for another 20 minutes though?
Within minutes we got a taste of the Leeds United version of “let’s defend what we’ve got” as Roofe took a pass from Wood and got a shot away. Next Jansson is doing stepovers as he dribbles out of his own half before going to ground from a Villa challenge. It looks fantastic but does F*** all for my blood pressure! And he got a ridiculous yellow card from the ref who judged he’d dived! With Villa pushing forward Leeds took advantage and hit the desperate Claret and Blue team on the break.
Mowatt came on for the last ten minutes in place of Roofe. Leeds were now running on pure adrenaline as the home crowd lifted the decibel levels to cheer the mighty whites home. 5 minutes added time. Wood had two shots blocked after a corner as Leeds looked to close the game out. “Just keep possession” I screamed as Monk’s marvels looked for a second goal. With 1 minute of added time left Villa attacked again. Nerves jangled in the Leeds end but the ball broke free. Suddenly Sacko was one on one heading for the Villa box……….he held off the Villa challenge and shot low through the keeper……….the ball spun towards the goal line where Mr Wood appeared to bundle the ball over the line! Yessssssssss! Carnage in the stands as the Leeds faithful celebrated like only they know. 2.0 and game over. Fantastic!
Elland Road was buzzing as we headed for the car. Up to the heady heights of 4th, Roofe scored his first championship goal for Leeds and yet again another gritty, determined performance from Leeds. The first half wasn’t the best but the self belief and sheer bloody mindedness Monk has instilled in them shone through in the 2nd half and drove them onto victory. I’m so pleased for Roofe. Leeds are on a roll and the Championship better look out.
Brighton up next for Monk’s band of brothers. On this form the Seagulls won’t be looking forward to trying to stop the Leeds juggernaut. Remind me……we were 21st in the table not many weeks agoe weren’t we? Garry Monk is definitely a miracle worker along with his coaching team. Long may it continue. Roll on Brighton.