Monday, 30 December 2013

Away Days; Nottingham Forest

With Leeds sitting pretty in 5th having lost just one league game in nine, you could have been forgiven for heading down the M1 full of optimism. However, with the last two games ending in bore draws following equally as boring performances, it would have been wrong from the start to expect miracles away at high-flying Nottingham Forest. After a small blip, they themselves were on a good run of form with two wins and two draws coming from their last four games in which they have succeeded in keeping four clean sheets. They were yet to face Matt Smith and Michael Brown though.

I overslept; probably my alarm attempting to warn me to stay in bed and not attend the match, kind of like Dobby sealing off the barrier in the second Harry Potter film. McDonalds was awaiting me though and having clearly not eaten enough this Christmas that was enough to send me on my way to Elland Road. Coach One was busy and as usual, Leeds fans attending the game on their own were seemingly not keen on sitting next to each other; there were no seats for two people but plenty of single seats strewn across the coach. Thankfully, a gem of an elderly gentleman offered to sit next to an already asleep younger gentleman allowing Kez and myself to sit next to each other. The coach was long, slow and extremely dull. Just over two hours it took to arrive at the City Ground and by that time, we'd missed our chance of having a quick pint at the Trent Bridge. Instead, £2.40 was spent on a Coke with no lid - presumably the guy behind the counter knew I'd throw the tiny piece of plastic at Michael Brown if he came near enough.

Yes, the proverbial talent Brown was to start again in the heart of the Leeds midfield that also included Luke Murphy, returning from his one-match suspension. The starting eleven for the hosts offered much more quality, with even their bench including talent that McDermott must sit at home fawning over. The likes of Reid, Lansbury and Chalobah could wipe McDermott's arsehole with the money spent on them and the latter didn't even make the starting eleven. Centre half Greg Halford was again starting up top for Billy Davies' men due to an injury crisis that another waft of the Forest chequebook should solve come January. I sound incredibly bitter, when I'm not actually that bothered. Nottingham Forest are a big club and I'd rather see them win the league than QPR. Its just annoying and slightly scary when you see Chalobah sat on the Forest bench, ten yards away from Luke Varney or the un-tried Gboly Ariyibi.

Ariyibi, the young winger signed after his release from Southampton was to get his chance to brighten up a dismal Leeds performance. To his credit he made runs, offered some attacking outlet and even had one of Leeds' few opportunities on goal mid-way through the second half. I say on goal when really I mean he sliced a shot out for a throw in, an act that epitomised Leeds' afternoon.

Forest are and were on the day a different class, with Reid, Lansbury and Majewski pulling the strings in midfield. They had an opening at goal inside fifteen seconds as Halford charged down Paddy Kenny following a poor back pass from Zaliukas. Kenny did well, preventing the rookie striker from scoring and injuring himself in the process. The Leeds stopper managed to complete the ninety minutes but had serious trouble kicking which did effect the quality of Leeds' play. Clearly, a back-pass every five minutes is an integral part of our fluid, attacking "football".

In a way consistent with Leeds' recent run, Forest controlled possession in the opening stages and looked lively but never really created a golden opportunity. Don't get me wrong, they were far more the dangerous but the back three of Lees, Pearce and Zaliukas was again holding firm. Leeds' midfield wasn't though and after Reid ghosted past Austin for a tenth time, Michael Brown took matters into his own hands by hacking down the Forest playmaker. Both Brown and McDermott claimed he got the ball. He didn't.

I've always thought a player giving away a stupid free kick that results in a goal should be berated in the same way that a goalkeeper would be for letting a shot through his legs. That's what happened here as Reid's deep cross was met by Halford who planted his header past Kenny and into the far post. Forest had the lead they deserved but the visitors had gift-wrapped it for them.

Forest could then have ran riot as it took them just under two minutes to have another attempt on goal. The Leeds midfield three looked tired and gave the ball away allowing Reid to break before dipping a shot just over the top. Majeswki was then denied by Paddy Kenny who shovelled the decent attempt around the post and Mackie fired high and wide from a good position as Forest finished the first half much the stronger of the two sides. In and amongst, Matt Smith had flicked a header wide for the visitors but it wasn't even a half chance.

The urinal philosophers were as negative as deserved at half time with most agreeing on one thing. "We're shite". Changes were needed and they did come, with young Ariyibi and Sam Byram replacing Michael Brown and Lee Peltier during the second half in a desperate attempt to give Leeds some width.

All the action out wide seemed to be coming from Forest's Djamel Abdoun who thankfully spent half the afternoon offside. When he did get on the ball however he looked extremely lively and was next to try his luck with a near post drive that was beaten away by Kenny. Leeds fared ever so slightly better in the second half, managing on occasion to string two or three passes together and even on the odd occasion, forced their way into the Forest half. It was all side-ways passes and negativity though as Leeds probed with as much enthusiasm as you would when using a rectal thermometer on Billy Davies.

Davies must have felt slightly threatened by the probing as the defensive minded Chalobah replaced Abdoun, tightening the home side up a bit. Immediately Forest went on the front foot and the substitute laid off Reid who struck the post with a delightful strike from distance.

That's when it happened. Leeds' Mariusz Zaliukas did what he does best, intercepting a stray pass and striding through midfield in a fashion akin to Chelsea's David Luiz. I know, I'm bullshitting. His through ball to Byram was perfectly weighted and the youngster prodded the ball goal-wards only for Jamaal Lascelles to clear off the line for the home side. However the clearance was fired straight at goalkeeper Darlow from close range and rebounded into the path of McCormack who slid home Leeds' equaliser. Cue pandemonium in the away end as the visiting fans celebrated as if Leeds had won the F.A. Cup. In our defence there looked to be more chance of Leeds winning the F.A. Cup than ever finding a way back into this match.

The celebrations of 1,800 turned into the delirium of many more seconds later as Forest regained the lead before Leeds could tell the City Ground who they were. Two passes straight from kick off was all it took to defeat a non-existent Leeds midfield before Matt Derbyshire unleashed an unstoppable strike into the top corner of Paddy Kenny's goal. Leeds had fallen for the oldest trick in the book. Everyone knows not to switch off straight after scoring; you can watch a team score on Ardsley Rec before hearing their captain tell everyone "its still 0-0 lads". Everyone tells him to fuck off, but the sentiment behind the cliche is true and Leeds failing to remain switched on was almost as embarrassing as the performance.

Dom Poleon was introduced as McDermott threw the dice once more and even though the young striker found space to head wide from eight yards it was all in vain as Forest held on for a fully deserved three points.

Both managers stressed the importance of a positive January transfer window. You have to believe that Forest will be challenging for automatic promotion should that never ending chequebook be waved in the right direction. As for Leeds, who knows what the month could bring.

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