Mad Max strikes again

Boxing Day 2008 marked Simon Grayson’s first game in charge of Leeds United. The opponents that day were his former club, Leicester City who seemed determined to do him no favours as they themselves attempted to escape League One.

A 24th minute goal from Leicester separated the teams going into the final few minutes and it looked as though Simon Grayson’s début wasn’t going to go quite as planned. An injury time equaliser from Robert Snodgrass restored parity for Leeds United though, and the Grayson effect quickly gained momentum as the new manager went on to win four of his next five matches.

Two years to the day, and Leicester City were once again the opponents for Simon Grayson’s Leeds United. Plenty of change since Boxing Day 2008 for both teams, not least of which was Leicester appointing Sven Goren Erikson as their manager.

But for all the change, plenty of things also stayed the same. Leicester City have become a real thorn in the side of Leeds United since relegation. Not since December 2005 had Leeds beaten Leicester home or away, with eight meetings between the two sides since. The Crisp Bowl has become a particular nuisance with Leeds having never won away to Leicester since they left Filbert Street in 2002.

All the omens pointed to a difficult day for Leeds United and even at my most optimistic I couldn’t see a better result than a draw. The last time we played Leicester at Elland Road, they had thoroughly out-classed us and could have won by double figures. They also hadn’t lost at home under Sven, and even in our current good run of form it seemed unlikely we’d end that streak.

The first half was a pretty drab affair made all the more annoying by my Christmas Day hangover and an idiot in the Leicester end mercilessly beating a drum. So void of atmosphere is the home end at the Crisp Bowl that the club have allowed an idiot to stand and beat a drum every four seconds to unsuccessfully try and get some life from the home fans.

Musical instruments at football matches is one of my biggest pet hates. There’s nothing more irritating than a middle-aged, fat bloke banging away on a musical instrument he has no real idea how to play, in a vain attempt to gain attention and the approval of his peers. I’m pretty sure that they’re banned at Elland Road (because we can make our own atmosphere) but if anyone does happen to take one in, it’s our duty as fans to ensure such irritants are broken into as many tiny little pieces as possible.

Meanwhile, back on the pitch Neil Kilkenny broke down the wing and delivered a beautiful cross for Max Gradel to head home from six yards against his former club. The goal was the first shot on target and gave Max his fourth goal in three. 0-1

“You’re not drumming any more!”

The goal failed to ignite the game and the rest of the first half was pretty uneventful. Nothing more than half chances for both sides, so at half time Max Gradel’s goal was the only difference.

The second half started at a much better pace than the first and both teams finally started to create chances. Leeds had nullified the Leicester threat in the first half, and seemed to be doing so just as successfully in the second. The difference now however, is that Leicester seemed more inclined to attack with numbers, which meant Leeds United could utilise the pace of Robert Snodgrass and Max Gradel to hit Sven’s men on the break.

For much of the first half, Robert Snodgrass had no impact whatsoever but as Leicester tried to restore parity, Snoddy was getting himself into some dangerous positions at the opposite end. On 55 minutes the Scotsman doubled Leeds United’s lead with a simply sensational goal from an incredibly acute angle that caught everyone off-guard as we watched for a cross (I actually thought he’d miss hit it! Not so).

0-2 at the Crisp Bowl and Leeds were cruising. The match had stepped up a gear, but Leeds were holding firm and continuing to carve out a few opportunities of their own. It’s not often you read this kind of comment on any Leeds United site, but the key to Leeds’ reserve was Bradley Johnson who once again played brilliantly in a more defensive midfield role.

Into the final twenty minutes and it all seemed so simple for Leeds until Kasper Schmeichel brought Darius Vassell down in the box for a penalty. An unquestionable penalty decision, although Vassell clearly made a meal of it and made no effort to dodge Kasper. As the Leeds fans watched on expecting the Dane to see red, the ridiculous referee gave only a yellow.

Why? Track back 30 seconds on your Sky box and you’ll see exactly why Kasper never saw red. Just before the incident where Vassell broke free there was a blatant foul on a Leeds United player that the inconsistent referee ignored. Knowing his failure to punish the original foul had resulted in a game changing penalty I would suggest is the reason Kasper wasn’t sent off.

I’m sure there’s an entirely different “official reason” but that was the clearest red card you’ll ever see. Inexcusable stuff for a lousy referee who had been pretty dire all day. I wouldn’t say he’d been of any advantage to either team, but what was a foul one minute, wasn’t a foul the next. What was a yellow card for one player, resulted in nothing for the next. The usual case of inconsistency but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Almost ridiculously, I’d have more respect for the referee if he had sent Kasper off. It’s annoying in football that referees feel the need to correct one bad decision with another. Anyway, as things were Leicester City converted the penalty and a game that was totally out of reach, was suddenly back on.

Another pet hate followed the goal – teams who play music when they score. It’s usually something cheesy like Chelsea Dagger so all the fans can jump up and down like idiots. In Leicester’s case, it was the more respectable Kasabian, but the result is always the same. For the brief moments that Leicester almost created an atmosphere, the tannoy belted out a rock anthem and it totally over-powered them. This isn’t American football guys, have some self-respect.

Predictably, within minutes of the penalty, Leicester restored parity with a beautifully struck 25 yard effort from King. 2-2, and our lack of joy at the Crisp Bowl continued.

The final fifteen minutes saw both teams attempt to win the game and a couple of half-shouts for penalties at both ends. Real frantic stuff, but very little in the way of clear cut chances aside from a Leeds United corner that was sent beyond the post.

Full time, and despite the fact I’d have snatched your hand off for a draw before kick-off, I left Leicester with a very bitter taste in my mouth and cursing the referee. It’s all swings and roundabouts I suppose – I’m sure there will be moments like this that fall in our favour throughout the season, but what is particularly frustrating is that Leeds actually defended well for once and still conceded twice.

TSS man of the match

I think you’d be scouring the archives for quite some time for the last time Bradley Johnson was my man of the match, but credit where it’s due, he was excellent yesterday. Removed from an attacking role, with his chances to shoot and run massively restricted he does the basics brilliantly and sured our defence up throughout.