Halloween came seven months early to Elland Road as Leeds United’s Tuesday night jinx appears all too intact after a 7-3 drubbing at the hands of 20th placed Nottingham Forest.
Having matched and even bettered the first, third, fifth and ninth placed teams in the league under Neil Warnock, Leeds went into Tuesday night’s game in a confident mood. This couldn’t be said for Forest, with one fan predicting:
I can’t see beyond a Leeds win. The manager is a cheating whingebag, the chairman is an obnoxious old man, the supporters are scumbags, and Revie’s teams won all their trophies by cheating. Everything about the club is vile. The forces of evil are too strong.
After Saturday’s 33,000 Leeds lined up in front of significantly less.
Leeds have a record of starting quickly under Neil Warnock, yet it was Forest who took the initiative with a good attack within the first minute. Chants of “Neil Warnock, is a w-****, is a w-****” were taken in the spirit by the gaffer, and as the chants subsided Ross McCormack made a run, drawing a foul off Guedioura. Robert Snodgrass stepped up on six minutes and converted the penalty coolly. 1-0 Leeds. Forest fans’ fears were beginning to look well-founded.
But Leeds were almost immediately pegged back. Guedioura got hold of the ball on a counter almost while Leeds were still celebrating. He shot a stunner from 30 yards out to leave Leeds shell-shocked. 1-1.
After half an hour Leeds had had the majority of possession, yet it was Forest with the chances, while Clayton and Brown struggled to get into the game. Paul Robinson then picked up a yellow – a danger given the pace within the Forest squad.
And with a few minutes to go for half time, Andy Lonergan was lucky to get away with spilling the ball from a corner.
Nevertheless, Leeds looked to put the pressure on in injury time, with two good attacks. But it was Moussi and Guedioura who built a counter-attack, resulting in a Moussi goal. 1-2 Forest. Half time.
Sporadic boos greeted the half-time whistle as Leeds had every reason to be disappointed at half time. Danny Webber came on for Aidy White, and the second half begun.
It was a start to forget, as Forest almost immediately bagged a third. Reid produced a long pass, Blackstock connected, and made it 1-3.
Within a couple of minutes Robert Snodgrass found some space, found Becchio via a deflection, and Becchio coolly finished to put Leeds back in with a shout. 2-3 Leeds. Could fans dare to hope?
Almost straight away, Paul Connolly put a pass in, and Michael Brown scored a great goal from the edge of the box to make it an unlikely 3-3. The players had not played well, but had shown good character to get back into it.
And the 3-3 was indeed unlikely. Within a couple of minutes McLeary again scored as Forest found a fourth from nowhere. Leeds simply couldn’t deal with the pace of Forest’s players and the tempo of the game. 3-4.
And it only got worse. Andy Reid managed to dispossess Robert Snodgrass and wasn’t challenged, put in a cross, and found McCleary for his hattrick. That made it 3-5 Forest after an hour.
Leeds got a slight breather, but were reeling. On 66 minutes Danny Pugh came on for the booked Paul Robinson. But it couldn’t stop McCleary from using his pace to grab another. The ball came over the top, McCleary came inside Pugh, and scored another good goal. 3-6 Forest, and Leeds were fighting for some semblance of respect.
Leeds didn’t really get back into it and the game died off. Paynter came on on 80 minutes for Luciano Becchio. It was scripted for Billy to get an unlikely hattrick and bask in the adoration of the fans. But unfortunately Forest hadn’t read the script.
Dexter Blackstock scored. Again. 3-7 Forest. And the referee practised some sadism with four minutes added time. Fortunately Forest were more than happy with seven, and the game ended to a chorus of boos from the Elland Road faithful. In truth, they’d done well to wait until the final whistle.
Speaking after the game, Neil Warnock said:
To be fair, I thought in the first 10-15 minutes one or two of our key players were struggling fitness-wise. I was going to ask Becchs to come off at half time, but I asked him to give us a bit more. But he was running on empty. I think three or four were like that.
Without going into detail I’ve told the players [who made errors], but you’ve got to keep that inside I think. But they were poor goals.
You learn more about your team in defeat.
I thought there were one or two who kept going all night. I thought Snods and Brown were super, Clayts and Becchs were running on empty. I’m disappointed in one or two players.
You also look at what happened tonight in certain areas and you store it. If we’re going to win promotion you can’t mentally go under, and I think one or two players mentally went under.
I think I need to give one or two players with fresh legs opportunities, if I can.
Nevertheless, despite a shocking reverse Leeds are in the same place as they were after the draw at West Ham, with Hull’s 2-0 loss to Southampton and Middlesbrough’s draw with West Ham keeping Leeds within a stone’s throw of the playoffs. It would, however, take a brave man to bet on a playoff-push now. The fans have been left understandably upset with such a poor result, but we should remember that rumours had it the squad’s fitness levels were not what they should be when Warnock took over, while the new Leeds style has been aggressive, tireless and high-tempo. Tired legs was always a danger, and perhaps it is better that Warnock found the lads’ limit today rather than next season?
One positive is that this result will give Neil Warnock the freedom to chop and change without the pressures of a promotion-chase and will give some of his as yet unused players a chance to come on and try to perform without any added pressure.
FT: Leeds United 3 – 7 Nottingham Forest