The Scratching Shed is pleased to welcome Matt Burton to the team who will be covering all Leeds United home match reports from here on in, starting with today’s 2-0 defeat to Derby County. 

It would be easy to blame the first-half sending off of Michael Brown for this lacklustre, forgettable and frankly abysmal defeat to a very average Derby County, but that would be tantamount to dolloping a very liberal amount of rose-tinted paint over the gaping crack that was a truly awful performance from Neil Warnock’s men.

We’ve seen it all at Elland Road this season. The 5-0 reverse against Blackpool and, of course, the inconceivable 7-3 defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest have made Leeds United a laughing stock on our own patch. However, in spite of previous scorelines, I can honestly say that the match against Derby represents the worst performance I have witnessed by a Leeds team this season. Even the Forest match had some positives – we scored three goals that night! Today, we lacked creativity, intelligence, ability… and anything else that you would associate with a credible performance from a Championship football team.

The atmosphere before the match was subdued, relaxed and somewhat jovial. It is no doubt a measure of just how breakable our proverbial fortress has become that supporters are no longer fearful and apprehensive about the possibility of a home defeat. They simply accept it and expect it.

The starting line up named by Neil Warnock was largely dictated by player availability, with Adam Clayton, Aidan White and (newly suspended) Zac Thompson all unavailable. The only eye-brow-raising selection was that of the much-maligned Ramon Nunez, who has proven largely ineffectual thus far and seems unable to fully adapt to the English game. He is, however, indisputably skilful and received his first real opportunity to impress the new manager before the inevitable end of season clearout. The selection of Nunez did appear to be slightly harsh on Danny Webber and Robbie Rogers, who were both left to warm the bench (though both would later make an appearance).

When the game began, Derby were on top from the very beginning and could (probably should) have taken the lead within the first two minutes as a header dropped just over the crossbar. The visitors continued to pressurise the Leeds defence, with Tom Lees and Darren O’Dea both having to make important challenges within their own penalty area early on.

Leeds were offering very little in the way of attacking threat. Nunez, who we had all expected would play down the left wing, was being utilized as a striker alongside Luciano Becchio. The versatile-yet-surely-frustrated-at-being-played-out-of-position Ross McCormack had taken up a position on the left and, to be fair, put in a relatively good performance. The first 20 minutes of the match followed a very similar pattern as Derby continued to attack without creating any clear chances. Leeds looked vulnerable and seemed destined to lose a tenth home league match of the season, even before the red card shown to Michael Brown for a mistimed challenge in the 25th minute.

Up until the red card incident, Brown (along with McCormack) had been the only shining light, without him Leeds completely lacked any form of midfield presence. Warnock reshuffled the team, with Nunez dropped back into the right wing position and Capitan Snodgrass moved across to fill the central midfield vacancy. For all of his quality, Snodgrass is simply not a central midfielder and it showed.

Spurred on by the feeling of injustice at the red card (as teams often are), Leeds did look slightly more threatening for a five minute period. Darren O’Dea had a header well saved. The impetus was short lived as the opening goal arrived on 32 minutes. Derby midfielder Craig Bryson found a large, unchallenged space on the edge of the Leeds penalty box (usual hunting ground for Michael Brown) and curled a right-footed strike into the top corner.

Derby continued to control the game for the remainder of the first half, though Leeds did manage to threaten when McCormack had a header well saved. If Leeds had gone in level at the break, it would have been undeserved. As the half-time whistle blew, I awaited the chorus of boos… it did not come. Elland Road has come to expect this kind of performance. It is no longer so exceptional and disappointing that it is worthy of an outcry of disapproval. If anything, there was an atmosphere of relief that Leeds were only 1 goal behind.

The second half began in much the same manner as the first was played. Derby largely controlled the match, as you expect of a team playing against 10 men. The Leeds team became unashamedly frustrated at themselves and began to indulge in the kind of fouls that stem from misplaced-passion. Paul Connelly in particular flew into a tackle that could have seen Leeds reduced to 9 men. Frustration on the pitch was juxtaposed with end-of-season joviality in the stands as the fans chanted old songs about the legendary Tresor Kandol.

Ramon Nunez threatened briefly with a well struck shot that could have crept in at the near post. But the game was over on 65 minutes as Steven Davies swept the ball past Andy Lonergan for 2-0. As the game whimpered towards a conclusion, the manager took a chance to cast his eye over a few other fringe players as Billy Paynter, Robbie Rogers and Danny Webber all took to the field. Paynter gave his all, but still seems to lack the quality required at this level of football. Rogers, a winger by trade, was positioned in the Michael-Brown-shaped hole in the centre and applied himself reasonably well for 10 minutes. Webber was full of running, but his appearance will be remembered for a glaring miss when through on goal with 5 minutes remaining.

The stadium was emptying long before the referee brought proceedings to an end. Make no mistake, this match was lost long before Brown left the field. Leeds were devoid of any cutting-edge, any creativity and, seemingly, and real ability. The season is well and truly over for Leeds United and the remaining four games may well be tortuous to watch.