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Monday, 26 December 2016

Preston North End v Leeds United. Dec 26th 2016.

After the excesses of Xmas day it was good to blow away the cobwebs and get out of the house on Boxing Day even if it was to travel over the Pennines for yet more excess. This time following the mighty whites to Preston with another 5,699 fans hoping for a late Xmas present of 3 points to pay in to the Leeds United promotion account. To be fair just being in the top six is beyond my wildest dreams after the dreadful start to the season and the wafer thin strength in depth in the current squad. Garry Monk has worked miracles though and there is genuine confidence and hope amongst the battle weary Leeds fans. Could this be the year that we finally wake from over a decade of perpetual disappointment? Time will tell.

Garry Monk left Wood and Hernandez on the bench in favour of Doukara and Roofe which caused some raised eyebrows amongst the gathering away support. Bridcutt and Phillips anchored the midfield with Sacko and Dallas out wide. At the back Taylor was absent due to injury so Berardi continued at left back. Preston got the game underway in front of an almost full Deepdale. The first ten minutes were scrappy as both teams looked for an early advantage. Neither team were adopting a cautious approach as the home side looked to feed their giant centre forward, Makienok, at every opportunity. Even Pontus was struggling to win the headers against him. On 15 minutes Doukara had the first chance after a flowing move from Leeds but he snatched at his shot and the ball went harmlessly wide.

Leeds were beginning to threaten though. Roofe wriggled round a Preston defender forcing a free kick out wide. Dallas swung a deep free kick to the back post where the Scandinavian God, Pontus Jansson, rose unopposed to head the ball goalwards.......Roofe got the final touch to give Leeds the lead on 15 minutes. 1:0 Leeds. Leeds and their large travelling support fed well on the goal and attacked the wobbly home side. Sacko picked the ball up near the half way line and sprinted away like an Iguana fleeing a racing snake as he left the Preston defenders in his wake........a simple one two with Roofe and Sacko burst into the box before rifling the ball past the helpless Preston goalie. 2:0 and ecstatic scenes on the Bill Shankly kop as the travelling army celebrated in style. Sacko has been rightly criticised for the quality of his final balls and shots this year but this one was right out of the top drawer. Barely 23 minutes gone and Leeds were 2.0 up. Not only that they were ripping the flaky Preston defence to shreds. Memories of Simon Grayson's Leeds teams "vulnerable defences" came to mind.

The euphoria of the early 2 goal lead and the deafening noise from the Leeds support must have affected the normally solid back four though. Just 4 minutes after Sacko's superb goal Preston launched another high ball into Makienok who headed the ball down for Vermijl to smack home from 20 yards. Mmmm suddenly the Boxing day stroll became a little more strenuous for Leeds. Leeds are made of resilient stuff these days though and helped by some woeful defending by Preston they soon restored their 2 goal advantage. Doukara found acres of space out wide left. He drifted into the box beat his man and fired goalwards...........the goalie could only parry the ball into the net which fooled the Leeds fans at the other end of the ground who only realised it had gone in when they saw Doukara peeling away in celebration. 3:1 Leeds after 30 minutes! Now this was what you call a proper late Xmas present.

Preston continued to push forward leaving yawning gaps at the back. If I didn't know better you'd think the Preston manager was a Leeds fan given the generous tactics his team were deploying? Just before half time Bridcutt led another Leeds attacking break before slotting the ball through to Roofe but his shot was wide. Half time whistle and the Leeds team went off to a thunderous ovation. 3:1 Leeds. The urinal philosophers were drinking in the success of the first half....."If we keep our heads we'll end up with 5 or 6 against this lot" one thought whilst a slightly grumpy fan was complaining "we're not winning the 2nd balls" the final word went to a Jansson fan "The man is just awesome" Yes optimism was sky high amongst the Leeds faithful as the 2nd half got under way.

Grayson had clearly had some strong words with his team at Half time as the Lillywhites came out of the traps fighting for the 2nd period. Pearson and Robinson had got shots away as Leeds took their foot off the gas allowing the home side back into the game. On 60 minutes Leeds needed a superb save from Green to keep their two goal advantage. This seemed to give Leeds the jolt they needed. Hernandez had replaced Sacko with Roofe moving out wide presumably to try and get somebody to put their foot on the ball. Leeds had been dragged into an arm wrestle in the middle of the field which they were looking 2nd best.

On 66 minutes Grayson looked to change the game as he brought on ex Leeds favourite Beckford to the inevitable musical reminder of a goal he scored in the FA Cup 7 years ago. He certainly made a difference. After just 3 minutes a high ball was launched up to Beckford.......Bartley saw his chance like a predatory Lion and launched a perfectly timed header that not only cleared the ball but meant Beckford felt the full force of the Leeds centre back in the middle of his back.......ouch! Beckford's reaction was somewhat predictable as he kicked out at Bartley in front of the referee. Straight red for Jermaine and game, set and match to Leeds!.

Leeds now took control of the game against the tiring 10 men of Preston. "Leeds are going up" belted out from the Bill Shankly kop as Leeds kept possession with ease. Hernandez was now revelling in the extra space along with the rest of the Leeds team. Monk has really got his team organised and whereas in the recent past we would have struggled to cope against ten men not now. Wood replaced Doukara and added more of a threat to the flaky home defence. With two minutes left Leeds put Preston out of their misery. The marauding Wood picked up the ball in midfield and then put a sublime pass through to Hernandez who didn't have to break stride as he stroked the ball into the net. 4.1 Leeds and wild celebrations behind the goal. There was just time for a Jansson cameo as he went forward looking for a goal himself but the score remained at 4:1. Probably as well Jansson didn't score because we would still be celebrating on the Deepdale pitch!

The chill wind biting into the fans as we left the ground couldn't stop the sea of smiles as we headed for the car. Yet another gritty performance from Leeds sprinkled with dashes of quality when needed. This is a potent formula Garry Monk has developed and what is more surprising is that even when key men are missing the formula still works. Brilliant. If Mr Monk doesn't win Manager of the Year then there is something wrong with the voting panel. So Leeds are sat firmly in the play off places going into the New Year. Delicious.

Aston Villa up next on Thursday and another 3 points there for the taking me thinks. Wood to start up front? Will Taylor be fit? Hernandez or Roofe to start? These are good problems for Garry Monk.

Can't wait.


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