• Albion 4 - 0 THE Leeds United, 29.02.2016

    Ian Winrow in the Times this morning called it “A comprehensive dismantling of a dismal Leeds United”, Phil Cartwright of the BBC, a “first half Leeds United capitulation”, the Yorkshire Evening Post, that “it was hard to think of many more inept or spineless first halves served up by a Leeds team”.

    Whilst all the above are clearly true, it’s a shame that the response to last night’s fun and games has focused squarely on what Leeds did wrong, rather than what the Albion did right. Coming into the game off the back of a convincing and clinical display at Bristol City in midweek, Chris Hughton sent out the same side and instructed them to carry on where they had left off – be compact – control the game – break quickly – take your chances. And my, did they follow those orders - to the letter.

    There was little in the opening exchanges, save for a minor scare as Doukara threw himself over Lewis Dunk’s dangling leg, in the Albion box. Referee Mr Bankes started as he meant to go on, in advocating leniency. The teams probed ineffectively at each other – the Albion looking organised – Leeds looking sporadically threatening but without any clear shape or game plan.

    Perfectly illustrating this, was former Albion lynchpin, Liam Bridcutt. In his days here Bridcutt performed superbly, in an extremely specific role, in a clearly defined system – restricting himself to the area in front of the back four, controlling possession and dictating the tempo. Last night however – in the complete absence of any job description – his strengths were painfully underutilized. He was all over the place – popping up behind the striker, then wide left, then between the centre halves for a while, before finally settling into the centre of the park.

    The mess that is Leeds United under Massimo Cellino, set up by the mess that is Steve Evans, were a mess on the field.

    Scott Wotton, deputising at right back stood out as particularly average, and it was he that gifted the Albion the breakthrough, abruptly halting Liam Rosenior’s charge down the left and into the Leeds box, by barging into his back. Up stepped Tomer Hemed, and the Amex held it’s breath – Hemed’s spot kicks are not for those of a nervous disposition. This time, rather than the wait, wait, wait, roll it gently home – a Penenka no less – a purposeful run up, followed by a deft dinked finish down the middle, as Silvestri dived out of way.

    At one nil behind, if Leeds had a plan, it was in pieces. The game opened up, and they became exposed time and again, contributing individually with a string of unforced errors. Twenty minutes later they were four nil down, and #LUFC was trending worldwide on twitter as the long-suffering Leeds faithful went into melt-down. Cellino OUT. Evans OUT. Raynor OUT. Bamba OUT. Wotton OUT. You’re not fit to wear the shirt. Refund the fans. Not a happy camp.

    Lumbering defensive monster Sol Bamba was largely responsible for the second – passing straight to Sam Baldock under no pressure – leaving his colleagues scrambling to recover their positions, as Baldock and Dale Stephens exchanged quick passes, into the box. Baldock possibly toe-poked at goal – more probably was trying to flick it right to Hemed. It mattered little which, as the unfortunate Liam Cooper stuck out a leg, and deflected it softly past the helpless Silvestri.

    Just three minutes later it ought to have been three – Hemed’s clever through ball releasing Jamie Murphy into the box, for the type of chance he converted against both Bolton and Bristol City. This time his low shot to Silvestri’s left was smartly saved – the Italian keeper pouncing on the loose ball before Hemed could profit.

    The reprieve was a short one however. A foul on Murphy in the Albion half led to a long hopeful free kick, that you’d expect Bamba to deal with all day. He didn’t. Anthony Knockaert had timed his run beautifully to get in behind him – Bamba half cleared into the path of Hemed, who touched it forward, and slid home under Silvestri’s dive. United looked ragged.

    And surprisingly not only ragged – but pretty much disinterested – Mowatt’s high and late challenge on Hemed a rare show of fire. The youngster was booked for his efforts, along with Sam Baldock who had rushed in to voice his contempt for the reckless challenge.

    As the simmering crowd settled back in their seats, they were up again. FOUR nil. Yet again Bamba culpable – Lewis Dunk rising above him unchallenged to power home Stephens’ in-swinging corner. Finally a goal from an Albion defender in 2015/16. Long overdue.

    With that, and with seven minutes left on the clock, the half was effectively over. The Albion knocked the ball around, across the back, into midfield, back out wide, across the back. Leeds players took turns to make a token effort at chasing it. The crowd moved from the traditional ‘Ole’ to a smug “We’re taking the piss. We’re taking the pi-iss…”
    You can only begin to imagine the scenes in the away dressing room at the interval. Steve Evans is never pretty. An angry Steve Evans less pretty still. I think I’d have stayed out on the pitch.

    Hughton for his part, judging by the second half that was to follow, told his players that the game was won, and not to waste too much energy in seeing it out. To be honest we could all have called it a night, there and then. Apparently Massimo Cellino had seen enough, and did exactly that.

    Stephens actually ought to have made it five in the opening minute of the half – shanking wide from six yards, after Murphy squared. Then came about forty minutes of very little – the Albion controlling things – Leeds ineffective. The sole threat came from the direct running of highly rated young midfielder Lewis Cook – he constantly carried the ball at the back four, drew numerous fouls, and won a string of dangerous free kicks for Alex Mowatt to waste.

    A few more minor incidents – former Albion loanee Mustafa Carayol performed a nice change of direction, left the ball behind, then fell over. Quite enjoyed that. Then Cook drove the ball straight into David Stockdale’s hands from 20 yards – the United fans' ironic cheers celebrating a first effort on target – in merely the 64th minute of the game. I doff my cap to them – Cellino is making a laughing stock of their proud club – and still 1500 travel 500 miles for a game changed at short notice to a Monday night. They are 4-0 down and they were still determined to sing and support their side – there are a few in that kit last night ill-deserving of that support.

    Leeds fans - fair play...
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