Sheffield Wednesday 2, Leeds United 0
Sometimes, a simple scoreline can be so deceptive. Without making too many excuses for the myriad inadequacies of this Leeds United performance, the match between United and Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough was one of those occasions when the score alone tells a very misleading story.
The fact of the matter is that Leeds, having more than held their own in a first half where steadier finishing would have seen them comfortably ahead at the interval, had their own ‘keeper Marco Silvestri as well as some fathomless decision-making by replacement ref Anthony Taylor to blame for a second period capitulation. Ironically, it was the home side in the unfortunate position of having to field a third-choice goalkeeper – but any observer unaware of this fact might have guessed that the novice was in the away goal. Silvestri first gave away a needless corner from a shot heading two yards wide, resulting in a scrambled opener – and then spilled a long-range shot for the predatory Hooper to claim a second for Wednesday.
In such circumstances, you could perhaps have forgiven Leeds for concluding that it simply wasn’t their day – but to their credit, they plugged away and continued to press the home side back. It took a bizarre piece of refereeing to deny United an avenue back into the game as the clock ticked towards the final ten minutes. Leeds had already been denied by the woodwork when Wendies defender Pudil committed a foul – surely a second bookable offence – that gave Leeds what seemed like a deserved goal from Liam Cooper. The referee had checked on the progress of Wednesday’s substitution of Forestieri, had seen the player making his way slowly off – and had then whistled for the Leeds free-kick to be taken, signalling a goal when Cooper bundled the ball into the home net. Bizarrely, he then reversed his decision after consultation with the fourth official and Leeds were denied. In effect, Wednesday had benefited directly from time-wasting in the shape of Forestieri’s snail-pace trudge off the pitch. Rough justice – the kind of justice meted out to Leeds United over the past half-century – had kicked the Whites in the teeth yet again.
From the retaken free kick, insult was added to injury when Pudil – who should have seen red for the foul that led to the original award – cleared the ball off the line, and Leeds United’s last chance of recovery was gone. In truth, of course, United’s own profligate finishing and the basic errors of a goalkeeper in Silvestri whose position must now surely be in jeopardy, have ended up costing Leeds dear. But yet another unprecedented piece of shoddy refereeing leaves a nasty taste in the mouth – one that Leeds fans are all too familiar with from long and bitter experience. Plus ça change… It’s difficult to see this particular football tradition ending anytime soon.
Finally – and just to put the slings and arrows of an outrageous South Yorkshire lunchtime into perspective – it appears that a Wednesday fan lost his life to a heart attack on the Hillsborough Kop as the game was in its second half. Such a tragedy would blight any occasion, and it certainly puts petty sporting rights and wrongs firmly into their unimportant place. To the late football fan and his grieving family, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything extends sincere condolences and sympathy. Rest in peace.