Gordon Strachan has always been good value, whether plying his trade as Leeds United’s traditional diminutive ginger midfield maestro, or later as a manager with a penchant for the apposite quote, frequently a venom-tipped barb delivered with his own brand of waspish humour. He’s not been somebody noted for getting things wrong all that often. There was a dressing-room tantrum in the early days at Elland Road, when it took Jim Beglin to calm him down – politely but firmly. And there was the famous own-goal near the end of the Charity Shield match against Liverpool at Wembley in 1992 – but that didn’t matter as Leeds won in the end. Other than those two minor blips, he’s normally got most things right. But Leeds fans will have been queuing up to tell him that he dropped a right clanger this week.
Somehow, by some convolution of his venerable grey matter, Scotland manager Strach has managed to select for his next international squad NINE players from the Championship – and yet omit Ross McCormack. I’d be very hard-pressed to name one Scottish player in the Championship better than Rossco, and yet wee Gordie somehow managed to find these nine. It’s to be hoped they do well – they’ll have to if they’re going to prove their worth ahead of a man who has been excellent for Leeds United this season, a man who wears his heart and his commitment to the cause on his sleeve, a man, moreover, who has scored 6 goals in his last two outings whilst threatening to stage a one-man goal of the month competition. Strachan did concede that McCormack had been “unlucky”, thereby adding to his considerable reputation for dry understatement.
At the time of this unlucky omission, Ross McCormack could point to just the two goals in his most recent game; now he’s trebled that output in one further game as if to emphasise just how bloody unlucky he really has been. This approach of letting his boots do the talking instead of whinging in the press – and Ross can be quite vocal at times as his Twitter followers will confirm – is highly laudable of course, and something that Leeds fans will appreciate. Those fans might rather, anyway, that Ross should be putting his feet up for a couple of weeks and doing the odd bit of training at Thorp Arch, instead of gadding about Europe with the Sweaties. That way, the Leeds faithful will figure, he’ll be rested and ready to poke a few more goals in, a fortnight hence, against his persistent summer suitors Middlesbrough. So even if we feel a bit bruised and crestfallen on McCormack’s behalf – there are compensations for Leeds supporters in what seems an inexplicable decision to deny the lad some more international experience. Ross will be wondering what, exactly, he has to do in order to merit selection.
Some more of what he served up today certainly wouldn’t go amiss. McCormack was hailed by both managers after Charlton versus Leeds as “the difference”. On a disgraceful bog of a pitch reminiscent of some of the marshlands at Derby and elsewhere in the 70’s, Leeds managed to overcome a determined Charlton side, one that hadn’t conceded a solitary goal in over seven hours of football. The home side had made the brighter start, but Leeds scored with their first real chance, as McCormack fastened onto Blackstock’s neat flick to dink the ball over Charlton’s onrushing keeper. United then survived a penalty appeal and a shot against their woodwork before conceding the equaliser just before half-time to one of those “worldies” we see fly into our net all too often. This time it was Cameron Stewart blasting a twenty-yard volley past a helpless Paddy Kenny, and Leeds were on the back foot for the remaining couple of minutes before the break, grateful in the end to go in level.
After the interval, the match swiftly swung back Leeds’ way. A penalty was claimed and awarded when Danny Pugh – back after a long time in the doldrums and playing well – was tripped by Charlton’s Harriott, and McCormack leathered the spot-kick fiercely into the roof of the net. Charlton were still full of fight and saw Kenny make one great save to deny the penalty villain Harriott, whilst squandering at least one other decent opening, before they finally levelled the match at 2-2 in the 70th minute. Simon Church carved out the chance with a low cross, converted by Johnnie Jackson. This is the sort of scenario that makes the Leeds faithful groan in collective pain and pessimism; normally, having been pegged back, we expect further disaster to ensue. The three thousand plus United followers in the Jimmy Seed stand must therefore have been anticipating the worst, but glory be – the best was yet to come.
It came quickly, too. Barely three minutes had elapsed since Charlton’s second equaliser when McCormack, again benefiting from an assist from loanee Blackstock, smashed home a close-range volley from a tight angle. There hadn’t even been time to sink fully into the default Leeds state of pessimism and now all was joy and rapture again as the travelling faithful bellowed their appreciation. Surely, Leeds would hang on now. And hang on they did, defending resolutely enough for the remaining seventeen minutes, at the end of which Rudy Austin was fouled just outside the area by Rhoys Wiggins. McCormack sized it up, took aim, and curled a beautiful free kick past Hamer to end the home side’s hopes.
It was the first time a United player had scored four in a game since Brian Deane made QPR suffer at Elland Road in the noughties. Heaven only knows when a Leeds player last grabbed four away from home. That might be something for Strachan to contemplate, with his Elland Road connections, as he watches the highlights of this performance. Chances are, though, he’ll have a lot more to think about than that.