Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Away Days; Derby County

A Leeds United side once flirting with relegation are now almost sending it pornographic text messages another defeat to nil, this time at high flying Derby County. However, it's less the results and more the performances that are bringing the Whites a lot closer to the Championship's drop-zone. Leeds upset the apple-cart in late November beating the Rams comfortably at Elland Road but the result, only their third win since mid-September, was an anomaly, a performance not befitting the ones before and especially after it. Back to back home defeats to nil against weak opposition did nothing to raise optimism levels ahead of the trip to the iPro, with Leeds having won only once away from home all season. The Rams sensed an opportunity for revenge against a side that had not beaten them at home since 2002.

As performances continue to be so poor, Neil Redfearn's team selections become more and more worrying with the severe shake-up the team looks to need still not being executed. Last night saw a mis-firing Souleymane Doukara return in favour of Billy Sharp with Michael Tonge making way for Rodolph Austin. A horrendously out-of-form Tommaso Bianchi retained his place in the heart of the Leeds midfield, whilst the creative Adryan was benched again, this time through a mysterious illness. Ultimately, it was an eleven - and the diamond formation - far too similar to the one we've seen bullied by much weaker opposition throughout the season.

Throughout, Leeds found themselves dangerously exposed out wide, an issue that all Leeds fans, as well as a worldwide television audience have witnessed on a number of occasions - okay, every week. Any width in this formation comes from the full-backs who both like to get forward and it was fairly unfortunate that Leeds lost captain Stephen Warnock after just five minutes. He was replaced at left back by Gaetano Berardi, another member of the ineffective Italian contingent who refuses to get forward and can't kick with his left foot. Not ideal when you're lined up against a tricky, pacy winger in Johnny Russell.
On the opposite flank, Sam Byram had an equally tough task in coping with Liverpool loanee Jordan Ibe - the kind of quick, exciting Premiership winger that if Derby could, then Leeds also could surely have loaned. Byram did half a decent job on the youngster for fifteen minutes but it was Ibe who controlled proceedings for much of the evening. The away sides centre half pairing of Cooper and Bellusci were on hand for much of the first half to desperately hack away at Ibe's teasing crosses which for much of the period, prevented Derby from having a clear shot at goal. In fact it was Leeds who could have fashioned the best chance of the opening exchanges, but after an outstanding run Lewis Cook was halted by Richard Keogh when a simple pass could have played in either Austin or Mirko Antenucci who were both through on goal.

That ten second piece of brilliance from a young player heading to the Premiership whilst Leeds go the other way was about as exciting as it got for Leeds who for forty minutes were more concerned with harassing an increasingly frustrated Derby. Frustration lifted four minutes before the break though; in a half of little goal mouth action, it was Leeds who shot themselves in the foot again with their second own goal in four days. Alex Mowatt, who must have only touched the ball six times throughout the ninety minutes, was the unlucky man this time, looping the ball into his own top corner with Johnny Russell bearing down upon him. 1-0 and probably game over, given that the spark in Leeds' front players has gone, if it even ever existed. Derby almost went into the half time break 2-0 up and would have had it not been for an excellent save from Marco Silvestri who acrobatically turned away Richard Keogh's goal-bound header. From the resulting corner, the outstanding Ibe tested the Italian stopper again with a half volley, but Silvestri gathered at the second attempt.

Look, Doukara nearly touched the ball. 
Surprisingly, the likes of Bianchi and Doukara emerged for the second half, but they might as well not have as they remained on flight Air Asia up until their substitution. Less surprisingly, Derby doubled their lead imminently with fan favourite Jake Buxton managing to lose Doukara - easily done - before steering his header into the top corner from a Jeff Hendrick free kick. Undoubtedly game over, and surely a bench mark for Derby to grab four or five. They probably would have had it not been for Silvestri who made two low saves to deny Ibe and Martin. The Rams' top scorer also had a glorious headed chance of his own, nodding wide after again being gifted far too much space by some generous Leeds marking. Adryan and Sharp were introduced for Doukara and Bianchi but it was far too late for either to make any sort of impact against Derby's resilient back four. With seconds to go, Rudy Austin struck a free kick inches over from distance, as close as Leeds had come in a game where they again failed to manage a shot on target. The Rams march on, as Leeds continue to look nervous
ly over their shoulder.

Derby County: Grant, Christie, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth, Eustace, Hendrick (Bryson 80), Hughes, Ibe (Coutts 90+1), Russell (Dawkins 90), Martin. Subs: Roos, Best, Shotton, Mascarell.

Leeds United: Silvestri, Byram, Bellusci, Pearce, Warnock (Berardi 8) Cook, Bianchi (Adryan 79) Mowatt, Austin, Antenucci, Doukara (Sharp 66). Subs: Taylor, Del Fabro, Tonge, Montenegro.