It’s good to be back to football, after so much takeover mayhem, and tonight’s match was a special one as 4,000 Leeds fans made the pilgrimage to a soaking Reebok stadium, re-visiting for the first time the site of our demotion from the Premier League in 2004. Anybody not disappointed to come away without three points must lack a competitive spirit, but it was a tough game in which Bolton, in fairness, were the better side. It was also a game in which Leeds’ central midfield (Austin and Brown) failed to take control, despite their fantastic showing against Premier League high-fliers Everton last week. Fatigue certainly could explain our slow start to the match.
Jason Pearce recently told LUTV that he wasn’t happy with the number of goals conceded so far this season, but that not every goal is the fault of the defence. Leeds’ defence can’t really be blamed for conceding two more tonight, as both came from corner kicks. It was the experienced Kevin Davies who twice took his chances from set pieces, shaking off marker Rodolph Austin, and the Bolton skipper is clearly a class above this league, playing well as the focal point of Bolton’s attack.
Leeds were slow to start. On the back of 3 matches last week, with only one change made and 3 days rest from the long trip down to Bristol, Bolton brought the game to us in the first half. Kevin Davies looked a constant threat, but Chris Eagles was another key player for Bolton, moving well and smashing the post with one shot that had beaten the formidable Paddy Kenny. Keith Andrews – constantly linked to Leeds over the past couple of years – also looked good, though he wasted a clear opportunity from the edge of the box.
In fact, Bolton wasted a number of shots throughout the match, finishing with 16 attempts versus Leeds’ 6. Bolton fans could feel frustrated that their side hadn’t taken a comfortable lead by half-time, but young Sam Byram would have none of it. The academy product has been an absolute revelation so far this season, and despite showing his youth at times, he once again put in another very impressive shift. It was Byram who would bring Leeds level just before the break as El Hadji Diouf put in a good free kick, headed in.
Leeds’ fans had always been in good voice, but the volume increased threefold. Bolton’s fans were worryingly (for them) quiet. And Leeds came out well in the second half. Five minutes in, Diouf played another great pass to Sam Byram, and the youngster was pushed from behind. A needless foul, and a testament to Byram’s ability, that he worried the Bolton defence so much. The penalty was awarded and Leeds took a 2-1 lead as Luciano Becchio cooly converted, sending the keeper the wrong way and bringing his tally to 8 for the season. Becchio is now the division’s second highest scorer this season.
In truth, Leeds’ spurt around the break didn’t undo what had been a fairly dominant if wasteful Bolton performance. They pushed for the rest of the game and Davies bagged the equalizer for them with 10 minutes left. Yet Leeds didn’t go hiding, we kept fighting. The final 10 minutes were a close thing for both sides, but it was Leeds’ unlikely hero El-Hadji Diouf who almost robbed his ex-club deep into injury time, his shot beating the keeper but denied by the woodwork.
A point from a weary performance which we didn’t deserve 3 points for, has to be welcome. Apart from anything else, it denies a good team that extra 2 points on us. We’ve now played 7 of our 9 matches against teams I would expect to finish in the top half, and have come away only 2 points adrift from the playoffs. Bolton have had an inconsistent start to the season and find themselves 3 points behind us, but they clearly have real quality about them. From what I see, the fans seem understandably demoralized and there’s an expectancy on them to gain promotion, without necessarily a belief in it happening at the moment. A bad mix that we know all too well. As for Leeds, well the weariness is all too avoidable, but we’ll all have to sit tight and wait for things to happen behind the scenes.
After the match Neil Warnock said:
It’s not very often you come to a place like Bolton and are disappointed in the dressing room that you’ve got a point. It shows how far we’ve come in a few weeks.
We’ve had five games in such a short space of time and every one has been a hum-dinger so I can’t fault the players. They’ve given me everything.
Warnock said before the match that he feels the team is excellent, but that it requires 3-4 extra faces to make it competitive over the course of a season. Dominic Matteo, meanwhile, has opined that good additions to the squad will only help the existing side grow as players – an especially important factor given the young age of some of our lads.
We’ve also been supposed to be getting news on this attacking loan player for days now, but Neil Warnock could only say that it’s in Shaun Harvey’s hands. He’s revealed previously that this is more of a utility player than a star (or dare I say “icing”). Roll on Barnsley before a welcome fortnight’s rest for the team.