Since the beginning of time men have built fortresses to defend themselves, their people, their pride and their culture. The ancient Egyptians were building fortresses as early as 1800BC on the banks of the Nile. Today, those Egyptian fortress pioneers are turning in their tombs as Leeds United’s very own ‘fortress’ Elland Road ceremonially collapsed.
What happened to our fortress? What happened to our pride? We let our guard down and the fort has been breached. Perhaps it happened last summer when our greatest defensive wall, the imposing East stand, was temporarily deconstructed to allow for the installation of executive boxes. Perhaps then was the time that our enemies penetrated our bastion and set up camp within. Whenever they entered, I’m sure they’re appreciating the excellent facilities that the East stand now has on offer…
As gloomy and depressing showers descended upon our once great citadel (forcing the floodlights into a ridiculously early appearance at 2pm in the afternoon), Neil Warnock’s team seemed determined to end the season on an equally gloomy and disheartening note – and they succeeded. Leicester’s teenage debutant Harry Panayiotou touched home an injury-time winner to officially confirm season 2011/2012 as the worst home campaign in Leeds United history.
It must be noted that of the eleven home defeats just five occurred during the first fourteen matches, before the ‘dispensing’ of Simon Grayson. Of those five losses, one was a narrow early-season defeat with 9 men (against Middlesbrough) and one was a single-goal reverse against champions Reading. The embarrassing 5-0 and 4-1 scorelines did, at least, come at the hands of play-off qualifiers Blackpool and Birmingham respectively. The loss to South Yorkshire minnows Barnsley was inexcusable.
Since Bates, Harvey et al declared that a new manager would ‘get the best out of the current squad’, the Elland Road faithful have endured six defeats in nine matches. This included the record breaking match against Nottingham Forest (a night when Leeds shipped seven goals for the first time ever at home) and dismal performances against Brighton, Derby, Watford and Leicester. I am of the opinion, as are many others, that a bottom-half final league position would not have occurred if Grayson was still in charge. Nevertheless, Neil Warnock has the task of rebuilding our fortress and even the ancient Egyptians would agree that he’s probably the best man to take on this particular construction project.
Today’s starting line-up was less experimental than recent weeks and was largely dictated by injuries and suspensions. Paul Robinson missed out due to injury and is unlikely to be seen again with Warnock stating his intention not to sign the Bolton left-back. Danny Pugh filled in for him today, with Zac Thompson earning another start in the centre of midfield alongside Adam Clayton and Michael Brown. The Foxes’ starting line-up was notable for the inclusion of Elland Road hero Jermaine Beckford, who received a warm reception from the Kop and reciprocated by saluting the crowd as chants pertaining to a certain match at Old Trafford rang through the rafters.
The match began in encouraging fashion, with Leeds’ best players (Ross McCormack, Robert Snodgrass and Luciano Becchio) threatening to inspire a rare home victory. Captain Snodgrass had an early chance well saved by the pantomime villain for the day, Kasper Schmeichel. Soon after, Becchio fashioned a chance, only to chip the ball into Schmeichel’s hands. That was about as good as it got, as the match (like the rain) descended into a sloppy, uninspiring affair.
When the manager releases his long-awaited and much-anticipated list of retained squad members on Wednesday it is likely to be heavier in attacking players than defensive ones, and with good reason. Leeds’ season-long defensive frailties reared their head once last time as Danny Pugh pitifully lost the ball to Martyn Waghorn, who cut inside before slotting the ball into the bottom corner to give Leicester a first half lead after thirty-nine minutes.
All the quality of McCormack and Snodgrass on the wings was being equalled by the sheer lack of quality of full-backs Pugh and Connelly. An educated guess would suggest that two new full-backs are top of Warnock’s wish-list.
The second half was largely uninspiring and was not enlivened by the introduction from the bench of Danny Webber and Mikael Forssell, who were both woeful and perhaps are already aware of their absence from the ‘retained list’.
Spirits were raised amongst the twenty-five thousand crowd with eight minutes remaining as a good move resulted in Snodgrass flicking the ball past Schmeichel, with Webber tapping into an empty net from inside the six-yard box (his first, and most likely his last, goal for Leeds United).
With the prospect of a late victory to finish the season and new found optimism of avoiding the unwanted record defeat, the home crowd roared on the players to push for a second goal. Adam Clayton worked his way round the Leicester defence, but his cut-back was intercepted. Another late attack ended as Forssell overran the ball.
As the season entered injury-time for the final occasion, a 1-1 draw was on the cards – a result that would have fairly reflected a hard-fought, low-quality dead rubber. However, as if to hammer a final nail into the coffin of a season to forget, the Foxes produced a late winner as Panayiotou (seemingly offside) deflected the ball beyond Andy Lonergan.
At the final whistle, the fans flooded for the exits. There was no traditional end-of-season pitch invasion, nor did that many people remain for the customary lap of honour. The season was finally, finally over and the masses craved the opium of saying goodbye to the fallen fortress as soon as humanly possible.
They came. They saw. They conquered. And, as is now predictable for a Leeds home display, not much of a battle was fought.
There was only pride to play for today. And we lost.