Hornets Sting Leeds For Six Matt Burton November 10, 2012 Match reviews 32 Comments Leeds suffered a humiliating home defeat at the hands of Watford, the likes of which Neil Warnock said would never be seen again following last season’s 7-3 thrashing by Nottingham Forest. Warnock’s peculiar team selection set off a chain reaction of events, leading to the most bizarre football match Elland Road has witnessed for some time. Accusing fingers could easily be pointed towards the referee and lady luck, who together reduced Leeds to nine men via a debateable-but-probably-deserved red card and a freak broken leg. But Warnock must tonight look in the mirror and take responsibility for his decisions, without which the intervention of both referee and misfortune would have proven to be fruitless. Rumour spread like wildfire before the match that Leeds would be adopting an adventurous 3-5-2 formation in an attempt to turn around their recent poor form. When the team sheet was announced, further confusion reigned as only two centre-backs were named in the first eleven. The introduction of Paul Green, David Norris and Luke Varney (replacing Becchio, Drury and Brown from the Burnley defeat) simply smacked of a 4-4-2 line-up. As the side positioned themselves for kick-off, it became clear that the rumours were true. Warnock had taken the bold step of playing 3-5-2 and the bewildering step of playing Paul Green as a third centre-back alongside Jason Pearce and Captain Lee Peltier. The choice seemed even more bizarre considering that first-teamer Tom Lees and reserve defender Patrick Kisnorbo were both left warming the substitutes’ bench. The afternoon would only grow more bizarre from there on. Aidan White and Sam Byram were left in the unfamiliar situation of being wing-backs, expected to attack and defend in equal measure. The midfield was packed with Rodolph Austin, Michael Tonge and David Norris, all three playing behind a goal-shy front pairing of El Hadji Diouf and Luke Varney. It soon became evident that this would not be the kind of dull, uninspiring, hard fought performance that we have become accustomed to over recent weeks. Leeds were posing more of a threat in an attacking sense, with more bodies being thrown forward as a result of the new formation. Indeed, Leeds could have taken the lead early on as a pass from Austin and subsequent cut-back from Byram resulted in a low Norris shot rebounding off the foot of the post. Leeds failed to capitalise on another golden opportunity minutes later, as Diouf played a sublime through ball to Luke Varney. However, Varney delayed his shot and was closed down by ex-Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia in the Watford goal. In spite of Leeds’ greater attacking threat, there was one humongous glaring problem. The defence was all over the place. Literally. Pearce, Peliter and Green appeared to be completely out of synch with each other. When the ball came down the flanks, Leeds defenders were easily outnumbered as White and Byram struggled to get back into position and the central midfield trio seemingly had no instructions to pitch in and help. Every Watford counter attack filled the home support with anxiety, with the frailty at the back so palpable in the cool autumnal air. It was no shock when the visitors waltzed through the heart of the park on twenty seven minutes, broke the non-existent offside ‘trap’, and took the lead as Matej Vydra clinically fired beyond Paddy Kenny. Leeds could surely not continue like this. Undoubtedly more threatening in attack, but shockingly poor at the back. A solution could have seen White and Byram revert to full-backs and Green pushed forward into a four-man midfield. Warnock stuck to his guns. On the stroke of half-time, frustration boiled over for one of Leeds’ headless chickens and Jason Pearce went flying into a reckless challenge on goal-scorer Vydra. The ensuing red card could possibly be judged as a harsh decision, but in truth it was a very poor attempt to win the ball and no appeal will see Pearce off the hook. Warnock’s response to being reduced to ten men was to withdraw Green and introduce Tom Lees. Leeds emerged for the second half with two more personnel changes. El Hadji Diouf (having a rare off-day) and Aidan White (toiling in an unusual position) were replaced by Michael Brown and debutant Ryan Hall. Who are we to question the wisdom of using all three substitutions before the second period has even begun? And the decision to leave top-scorer Luciano Becchio on the bench whilst chasing a match? The dismissal of Pearce and subsequent glut of substitutions were both, for me, consequences of a poor team selection and tactical incompetence on the day. Those decisions were compounded five minutes into the second half as new centre-back Rodolph Austin went down whilst defending a corner. Following lengthy treatment on the pitch, Austin was stretchered from the field with a possible broken leg, leaving Leeds with nine-men for the remainder. Any dreams of a fairytale victory against all odds were soon dashed as Watford took a comfortable two goal lead. Almen Abdi sidestepped a challenge on the edge of the area and struck a weak shot that Paddy Kenny should have reached before it found the bottom corner. A bizarre match then took another bewildering twist as the latest goal-scorer, Abdi, suffered a freak shoulder injury. Enter the stretcher, treatment stoppage and overweight paramedics for the second time… To their credit, the nine remaining players in white were putting in a good effort, with Sam Byram again deserving credit for a performance above his tender years. But with two men extra, Watford were dominating possession and finding acres of space whenever they strode forwards. A third goal arrived as Mark Yeates curled in a free kick from a wide position, leaving Kenny’s positioning in question once again. The thing the match was yet to see was the awarding of a penalty. So, naturally, the referee duly pointed to the spot as Luke Varney was brought down in the area. Michael Tonge, who was by this time Leeds’ sixth different centre back of the afternoon, comfortably dispatched the spot-kick and reduced the arrears to 3-1. With ten minutes still to go, plus an undetermined but large amount of injury time, the home support roared on their nine fearless soldiers in anticipation of a memorable fight back. The players responded and flooded forwards with renewed hope, but leaving barely one player at the back soon led to a fourth Watford goal as Vydra clipped over Kenny. Ten minutes of injury time flashed up on the fourth official’s board, but Paddy Kenny decided to stop playing at 90. Sean Murray and Troy Deeny fired in strikes from outside the box that Kenny can have no excuses to have let through. Regardless of being two men down, Leeds should have never conceded six goals today. Kenny had a shocker. The final whistle was finally blown at 5:05pm, a full two hours and five minutes after kick-off, bringing to a close one of the most depressing afternoons I have witnessed at Elland Road. Singing to the death, the 19,000 strong home support was admirable. Busting a gut to the final whistle, the 8 men strong outfield team were dignified in defeat. But fans and players alike were seriously let down today by one man in the dugout and one man between the posts. In his post-match interview, Warnock was (quite rightly) more concerned with Rodolph Austin’s injury than the nature of defeat. Whilst Austin’s wellbeing is undoubtedly the priority, a time will come over the next few days when Warnock must digest the consequences of his selection and hopefully apologise for allowing something to happen that he promised would never happen again. More worrying is what the rest of the season holds. With Pearce likely to be suspended for at least three matches and Austin injured indefinitely, the coming weeks could be painful to endure. Thanks to everyone who entered my ‘predict the score’ competition on Twitter. But, quite frankly, nobody predicted anything even close to reality. Send your predictions for the next home match to @Matt_K_Burton.