Luciano Becchio’s cheekily chipped penalty was the difference at Elland Road as Leeds banished the hoodoo held over them by Yorkshire rivals Barnsley. However, this was by far the worst performance from the Whites during a run which has seen them take ten points from a possible twelve.
Leeds now go into an international break sitting pretty in seventh place in the Championship table, just two points away from the automatic promotion spots. With five victories and only three defeats from the opening ten matches of the season, a feel-good factor has returned following a summer of frustration and confusion. A successful season for a football team is always a cocktail of good performances, good fortune and grinding out results on those days when nothing seems to go right. Today was one of those days.
Barnsley were, in both halves, the better team and can count themselves extremely unlucky to be heading back down the M1 empty handed. The only performance inferior to that of Neil Warnock’s troops was referee Darren Deadman’s shocking display of whistle-happy uncertainty.
The team sheet saw the return of Aidan White, with Adam Drury dropping to the bench. White, as he did so devastatingly against Everton in the Capital One Cup, lined up on the right hand side of midfield. Sam Byram, fresh from an impressive midweek showing at Bolton, showed his versatility once again by moving into the right-back slot. Lee Peltier moved across to the left hand side of the backline and was reinstated as Captain following El Hadji Diouf’s armband wearing antics at the Reebok stadium.
Barnsley were dominant from the moment the match began and should have taken the lead as early as the fifth minute, with a side footed effort flashing inches wide when it looked easier to beat Paddy Kenny in the home goal. Minutes later, another Barnsley attack was abruptly ended by Jason Pearce, but Marlon Harewood’s free kick failed to trouble Kenny.
Misplaced passes, poor control and badly timed challenges were plentiful from the whites during a painful opening twenty minutes. Such was the dominance of our south Yorkshire rivals that Warnock chose to make an early tactical manoeuvre, switching from a 4-4-2 to a more unconventional 3-5-2 formation. Peltier joined Pearce and Tom Lees in the centre, while Byram and White became right and left wingers respectively. Michael Tonge moved infield to assist Rodolph Austin and Michael Brown, who were struggling to get a grip on the match.
Slowly, Leeds began to stem the tide of away attacks and began to foray forwards on rare occasions, finally producing their first effort on goal after twenty five minutes as Becchio headed over from a Diouf cross.
In spite of the sea change caused by the manager’s tactical shift, Leeds were still second best and would have counted themselves very fortunate to reach the interval on level terms.
As it happened, Warnock’s men would trudge down the tunnel with a completely undeserved 1-0 lead. Lee Peltier went on a surging run before being scythed down just outside the Barnsley penalty area. Darren Deadman compounded a woeful first half by pointing to the penalty spot. Up stepped Luciano Becchio to produce a solitary moment of class, chipping the ball down the centre in Pirlo-esque fashion.
Becchio has scored in all five of Leeds home matches this season, proving just what a valuable player he continues to be at Elland Road.
Leeds were no better at the start of the second half, but Barnsley lacked the quick passing and attacking vigour which defined the opening twenty minutes. Michael Tonge was forced out of the action by a shoulder injury, allowing David Norris (returning from his own spell on the sidelines) to join the action.
For ten minutes following the introduction of Norris, Leeds did look like they might take a stranglehold on proceedings. El Hadji Diouf became more threatening, Rodolph Austin had a long range strike saved, and Norris himself was adding more drive from midfield.
However, Barnsley regained the initiative and spent the final twenty five minutes hunting for an elusive equaliser and were it not for a point-blank save from Paddy Kenny, Leeds would have been pegged back.
Becchio was withdrawn and replaced by ex-Barnsley striker Andy Gray. Leeds top scorer was on a yellow card and, with Deadman blowing his whistle and flashing cards at indeterminate points, Warnock chose to take the safe option and ensure the Argentinean wasn’t sent for an early bath of a different kind.
As time ticked away Barnsley continued to press, but to no avail. Diouf once again played a pivotal role in running the clock down and the match came to an end with a result completely unrepresentative of the ninety minutes.
Days like this will happen occasionally, and Warnock will care little. He is a results man and an expert at getting them. For me, today’s match suited Michael Brown down to a tee and he responded by putting in potentially the best showing of all Leeds’ players.
Another win. Another three points. Another week closer to January and a potential ‘Warchest’ of funds from new investors.
Many thanks to those of you who entered my ‘predict the score’ competition on Twitter. Every single prediction I received was for a Leeds victory, but everyone was more optimistic than a simple 1-0 win – so no competition winner this time. Send your predictions (including goalscorers) for the next home match to me @Matt_K_Burton for the chance to be mentioned in the match report.