Next Match: Scunthorpe United (A) Tuesday 28th September 2010

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Match 6: Leeds United (H)

There's few fixtures in a football calendar that have such an effect on me as Leeds.

Maybe Sheffield Wednesday. And Sheffield United. Donny too. Alright, there's a few actually, most of them local derbies. But this one is worse than most.

Since the fixtures were announced, I've been cautiously eyeing this one, dreading the day. Even throughout the opening month of the season, whilst we've been steadily improving and picking up points at a rate we could only dream about this time last year, Leeds have always been in the back of my mind, haunting me.

Needless to say then, the long day at work was torturous. It's one thing working with a bunch of Leeds fans, it's quite another being within the shadow of Elland Road. If you look through our double doors and squint hard enough, you can practically see the dodgy paintwork peeling from the John Charles stand (I'm reliably told it's called that). It's fair to say, there were much more than 3 points at stake tonight, certainly for me. Barnsley had to win me this game.

Luckily, I have a very understanding missus, who realises how horrible playing Leeds is, and, knowing how nervy I was, she made the ultimate sacrifice (for her, anyway) and sent me a picture of the young 'un, sitting in his Barnsley home shirt, holding a handwritten sign (written by the missus, not him) saying "We All Hate Leeds Scum". It's remarkable how happy it made me, not least showing it to the lads at work. For a Wednesday fan to take that hit, she showed incredible selflessness.

As the time to set off approached, I was swaying back and forth about how I felt it was gonna go. I didn't fear Leeds as a team; they have a squad no better than ours on paper, and they're still adjusting to this league, even if they appear to be doing so with more ease than anyone had hoped. It's the thought of losing to them, much worse than the actual event itself.

We set off straight from work to try and avoid the rush for parking spaces around Ponty Road, given the massive crowd expected at Oakwell. Especially since these days, they've stopped folk from parking on the main road, which seems pointless. By half six, we were in the Old Hoyle Inn, having already been to the box office and purchased tickets to Glanford Park in a couple of weeks time.

Already there was a buzz around Oakwell. The place was heaving, cars queueing all the way back, trying to find a space, and the pub was packed out of the door. I can't imagine what being in town was like, but I was a bit gutted we didn't get the chance to find out. It's one thing you miss more than most during the pre-season; the feel of a Yorkshire derby, it really gets the blood boiling.

Since we were in the car, and given the expected atmosphere at the ground, we set off from the pub earlier than normal. We wanted to be there when the players came out of the tunnel, to let them know that despite the large contingent of away fans making the short journey, we were behind them.

The whole ground looked fantastic full, and the crowd was building, as was the noise. The Leeds fans were in good voice, and the home fans were responding. By this time, I was just ready for the kick off. As the players entered the field, all four ends of the ground stood as one, singing, clapping, ready for a blood and thunder match. It's what it should be like, if only we could get Oakwell like this every week, it'd be an incredibly intimidating place for away teams to come and play.

We kicked off, and almost immediately we were behind. A sloppy goal from a routine corner, much like when we played Man Utd in the Carling Cup last season. It was a good finish from the lad Howson, but it killed the atmosphere in the Ponty End, and knocked the wind out of us.

At the other end, the Leeds fans were bouncing, or "going mental" as they put it. What a retro chant that is, I've not heard it in ages. I was beginning to fear the worst.

To our credit, as the first half wore on though, we took control and dominated play. But, worryingly, we didn't look like scoring. Hammill hit a decent shot which flew the wrong side of the post, but it didn't seem to be dropping for us. Even Foster had a shot cleared off the line, and it was really looking like we weren't gonna score. But Hammill was growing into the game, and he dragged us back into it with a superb run and cross for debutant Garry O'Connor to hit home. It was deserved on the balance of play, although Leeds still looked dangerous on the break. It remained 1-1 until half time.

My nerves had just about held up throughout a pulsating first half, but I found myself dreading the second half starting. Is football supposed to feel like this? I thought it was supposed to be enjoyable.

Leeds were quickest out of the blocks again as the second period got underway, and could have gone ahead again after a low ball across the box caused havoc, but we somehow survived and began to look the better side.

And then it happened. The moment when, finally, everything clicked into place. Hammill, who was unplayable last night, raced into the box and squared the ball for Jim O'Brien. It didn't look like the Scottish winger would get to the ball, but it somehow squirmed underneath the keeper and Jimmy was on hand to tap the ball home. The Ponty End went mad, and finally we had the lead we'd deserved on the balance of play.

When Andy Gray missed that golden opportunity to make it 3-1, and dragged his shot wide, you could hear the collective murmur of "Will we regret that miss?". I was terrified they'd hit back and punish our wastefulness.

But they didn't, and when Arismendi showed lightening reactions after the Leeds keeper flapped at a corner and turned the ball in from an acute angle, we were in control. You could feel the relief around the stadium.

And then we turned on the style, big time. We launched wave after wave of attack, and still managed to repel any quick Leeds breaks. They still looked like they had a goal in them, which was worrying, but when Jay McEveley whipped a cross into the box, the Leeds defender could only divert the ball past his own keeper, putting the game beyond Leeds. A minute later, Hammill got the goal his performance had deserved, running at the Leeds defence and hitting a cracking drive past the keeper. By this point, it was brilliant to be in the crowd, singing 'It's Just Like Watching Brazil' at the top of our lungs, such a fantastic moment. It's been so long since we've felt like that, and hearing the whole crowd sing this will stick in the memory for a long time.

Even the late goal Leeds scored couldn't take the gloss off this one.

The full time whistle went after 5 minutes of stoppage time. To give the Leeds fans their credit, more had stayed until the end than I expected would, and they had tried to enjoy their night despite the defeat. It's not like we can't relate, think back to Newcastle away last season and our drubbing at St James Park.

Needless to say, the drive home was bliss. Listening to a clearly overjoyed MR on Radio Sheffield was great, as was hearing about the Blunts totally crumbling at home to Scunny. Add to that sitting in traffic, watching the police escorting the Leeds fans away from Oakwell, whilst a young lad stood and waved a Barnsley flag at every single coach that went by. Given that there were about 20 coaches at least, the lad showed real dedication.

I've quite enjoyed being at work today too. The Leeds fans have been a bit quiet though.

It's no exaggeration to say that every player was outstanding last night. Hammill got MOTM, although O'Connor had a stormer too. He oozes Premiership class, that lad, and even after one game I hope we can keep him for longer than the month we've got him. All the defence stood up to Leeds well, Arismendi dominated in midfield despite taking an early knock on the head. Basically, everyone played well, and they earned that win together.

Leeds didn't look a terrible side, but their defensive performance was poor and they could easily have conceded more than they did. Much like Norwich on Saturday, they look a decent side and I can't see them struggling, but I don't think they'll get promoted either.

So, 7th in the league, best start since our infamous promotion season of 1996/97, hard not to get too carried away isn't it? But Derby is another test, another chance to show how far we've come. They've had a less than impressive start to the season, and sit in the bottom three. Given how we've performed in our three games at Oakwell so far, it's very winnable, especially if we play like we did last night again. For now though, I'm gonna continue enjoying the events of last night. It could be a long time before we all leave Oakwell feeling that good again.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Great report as usual.

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