Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Away Days; Middlesbrough

The harsh knowledge that a loss all but ended Leeds' already slim play-off hopes overshadowed what was a fairly impressive away performance on a day where Middlesbrough opened up an eight point gap over the Whites thanks to a late Curtis Main header. Perhaps the season is over, but its arguable that the fans' frustration at the final whistle was a culmination of the performances they've seen over the course of the season. We weren't that bad last night were we?

I don't think so. Being at university, I can't find the time or the money that the ticket and train fare would cost me to get to Elland Road. With this in mind, the last time I attended a game was the infamous "Barnsley debacle", arguably one of the lowest lows I've witnessed during my life-long support of the club. Since then, we've sold top-scorer Luciano Becchio, brought in three new faces but haven't picked up many more points. It could be argued we've been slightly unlucky; the last two games perfect representation of how we sometimes do need what Warnock calls "the rub of the green". 

I couldn't concentrate on the match until I was settled on the train to Middlesbrough. My knowledge of trains is similar in ability to Danny Pugh's right foot and after somehow negotiating my way to Darlington, I did manage to locate the correct train to Middlesbrough. I quickly worked out that the lads next to me were Leeds fans but I refrained from exposing myself as one of them and didn't join in their discussion. They were posher than me and from what I heard, were talking complete shite. Standard.

Finding the ground from the station wasn't difficult; I simply followed the crowd of Middlesbrough fans that had joined the train at Thornaby. My step-dad's coach had been subject to a police escort and so I located my seat whilst checking Twitter for the team news. Un-changed. No Barkley in the squad. I was a little disappointed; Barkley in for Brown was the only change I'd wanted. Anybody in for Brown. 

With the horrors of Barnsley still embedded in my thoughts, I expected nothing less than Middlesbrough having the first clear-cut chance with some abysmal marking by the Whites allowing Rhys Williams to volley a free-kick onto the top of the net. Hardly the convincing start we needed. But from then on, things improved. Compared to Barnsley, we started playing a thing called football. Some neat, flowing moves brought about two chances in two minutes, both falling to David Norris. One was screwed wide, but the second hit the target and brought about a good save from Steele. Middlesbrough looked void of confidence and although we never really turned the screw after a solid start, we were well in the game. Morison and McCormack were linking up well and a clever back heel from the latter nearly found the ex-Norwich front-man in the box, but Steele smothered well. Then came the best chance as a hopeful, some would call useless, ball into the box from Green turned dangerous. The approaching Steele slipped, allowing McCormack to nip in behind him. It cried out for a first-time finish that never came and once McCormack had steadied himself, the home side had bodies behind the ball and Woodgate made an excellent clearance off the line. Leeds were carving out chances and Middlesbrough were looking threatening from set-pieces in what was a very good advertisement for Championship football. The home side had an excellent chance before the break, but Kenny spread himself well to deny Haroun.

Both teams were going for it, clearly representing the fact that both desperately needed a win. I hoped that we would be equally as positive in the second half, but alas we weren't. Middlesbrough took control of the early stages of the second period forcing pressure and mistakes as Leeds repeatedly gave the ball away. They should have taken the lead in what was a mass scramble, with a Paddy Kenny double-save and an incredibly block by a Leeds player (couldn't see who), keeping it level. Leeds were starting to rely on counter-attacking football and could only create half chances, as Steve Morison planted a firm header at Steele. The away faithful began crying out for a change and in fairness, we probably needed one. Warnock refused to make one; presumably believing that the team on the pitch were firmly in the game. That was understandable, but still, Michael Brown had to be removed. And, after sarcastically applauding the Leeds fans' chants of "Warnock, Warnock, make a change", Middlesbrough took the lead. Substitute Ishmael Miller's cross was met with real quality by Main who looped his header over Kenny and into the far corner. Some Leeds fans used this opportunity to take the moral high-ground over Warnock in saying that they were correct in the sense that a change should have been made. Idiocy. There is no empirical evidence suggesting a change would have prevented the goal.

A goal down, Warnock did make changes, bringing on Diouf, Austin and Habibou with the latter almost equalising with his first touch but an excellent header by the substitute was matched by an even better save from Steele. A few corners, a few poor crosses and a few goal-mouth scrambles were as close as we came to levelling the match and the full-time whistle signalled another defeat on the road for the Whites. 

The "Warnock, Warnock, time to go" chants again sounded around the majority of the away end, seemingly born out of frustration of the lack of substitutions. Understandable. But Leeds fans are far too quick to crucify those they dislike and protect the ones they love. There is far more to suggest we'd have gone on to win had McCormack not missed a golden opportunity in the first half, than if Warnock brought Diouf on earlier. Ross walked away blame-free...had the criticised Steve Morison missed that one chance, I fear things would have been slightly different. I think we'd have heard how "shit he is" or how "we lost out in the Becchio deal". Yawn.

Some of Warnock's post-match comments were slightly bemusing, particularly the one about Barkley; how we can guarantee Michael Brown matches but not one of England's finest young talents is beyond me. But the comments about the missed chances were fairly accurate; we have been guilty of that in the last three games and that is not Neil's fault. 

A WACCOE poll was fairly damning on the continuation of Warnock's reign with only 2% of 520 suggesting he should remain in his position. I'm not sure as, with the season being practically over, I don't see the point in getting rid. A Warnock sacking would be celebrated, but harshly so. He's had a go. He's done his best in a tough position albeit letting himself down with some bemusing comments, awful team selections and questionable tactics. The one comment that I agreed the most with was simple. 

"I think we have the makings of a good team".

And we do. Perhaps with a few changes, a few signings in summer and a squad selection including the better players, the basis for a good squad is here. Fans are allowed to be frustrated at what has been a disappointing season. But there was nothing wrong with how we played tonight. The lads did well.