To paraphrase a more illustrious member of the Atkinson clan – Rowan of that ilk – if winning a game of football in the last minute of stoppage time is finger-lickin’ good, then losing in a like manner is just ass-wipin’ bad. And it could so easily have ended in a Leeds win at Reading last night; nobody could have disputed the fairness of a narrow away victory as United had looked marginally the likelier of two willing teams on a night of ebb and flow. As the final minute or so ticked away, it had appeared that the impressively raucous band of away fans would be heading home jubilant.
Heading home, in fact, is precisely what Jason Pearce should have done with what looked like the last clear-cut chance of the game. It was a good chance, a very clear-cut chance of the “my Gran would have buried that” variety – and Pearce should have gobbled it up. But sadly, he missed, Then, predictably, Lady Luck performed a clumsy and unattractive pirouette, and within two shakes of a donkey’s tail Steven Warnock had managed to get himself a second yellow card. He trailed off miserably, the resultant free-kick was pumped into the Leeds area and there was Adam le Fondre, rumoured target for United all summer long, to glance the ball past Paddy Kenny. 1-0 and finis, the whole game turning on the slings and arrows of that outrageous last minute. Ho hum.
It’s encouraging to report that the hysterical reaction we had come to expect in the wake of just about any Leeds United defeat has been much less apparent under McDermott’s Elland Road regime than it has been in the year or so before. And quite rightly so; Brian is quietly evolving a Leeds United metamorphosis the effect of which runs deep and transcends the statistical impact of mere results. It’s hard to think of any man more deserving of an extended honeymoon period – without actually getting married – than the unassuming and softly-spoken United chief. Most of what he has touched so far has turned to gold and the feeling is that, as he becomes ever more firmly entrenched, he will increase his influence over transfer policy at the club so as to secure the recruits he is all too well aware he still needs. Brian will go about his business with justified self-belief – and apparently with the enthusiasm and loyalty of his playing staff – whatever the mood of the support may happen to be in the light of results good or bad. And yet it’s still important that he has the confidence, belief and full backing of the fans. If that’s not the case then a slight pressure can start to build which is felt not necessarily in the manager’s office but perhaps more tellingly in the boardroom. The longer we can all pull together, the better for the good of the club as a whole and for the manager’s chances of reviving his sleeping giant.
So it’s important that Leeds do bounce back from this latest setback and – if possible – put together a few results to edge back towards the play-off zone. This would keep the pot of supporter positivity and optimism bubbling away nicely as well as regaining the momentum of a season that had been jogging along nicely. Optimism and positivity are still very much on the agenda of the knowledgeable fan who knows his or her stuff. The only two defeats have been narrow affairs, against teams that were in the top-flight last year – and both results could so easily have been different. Rudy Austin’s piledriver would have earned a point against QPR and Pearce’s horrible miss should instead have secured a tasty victory for Brian at former club Reading. Admittedly, “what-ifs” butter no parsnips, but they DO serve to show that the team is not getting played off the park, even by the pedigree end of the division. At this stage of the season that’s no idle claim, and we can still be optimistic and feel that the future looks bright.
Saturday’s game at home to Burnley is a chance to re-launch the good ship Leeds on its voyage towards what we all hope and think could be a place in the end of season play-offs. Three points are eminently achievable against the Lancastrians, despite their own decent form and comfortable win over Birmingham on Tuesday. It will be interesting also to see if Noel Hunt can maintain his steady improvement; a goal from him could be just the kick-start he needs not only for his own sake, but also for the team as a whole. Elland Road on Saturday could just be his stage and, if that proves to be the case, the charge towards the top could be back on again.