Ross McCormack scored his second goal of the week as Leeds secured yet another fortunate home league victory. The win by a solitary goal does little to paper over the cracks of another lacklustre display, but a slightly improved penchant for passing football raises hopes marginally for the future.
For the second time in as many league games, Warnock’s men were faced with a side at the very foot of the Championship table. The defeat at Barnsley last Saturday led many to call for the manager’s head, and the hard core of that vitriolic band were not fooled by today’s showing. Chants of “Warnock, time to go” could be heard at full time.
En route to Elland Road, I pondered what I believed to be quite a selection dilemma. With McCormack and El Hadji Diouf both having scored at Birmingham midweek, how would Warnock deal with the return to the squad of top scorer Luciano Becchio and Everton ‘wonderkid’ Ross Barkley? Surely all four couldn’t play in the same team?
However, I should have known better. Neil’s capacity to place square pegs in round holes (i.e. Peltier at left-back) knows no bounds. All four attacking players were squeezed into the starting eleven, with McCormack forced onto the left hand side of midfield and Barkley on the right (which, I am informed by a Toffee supporting friend, is definitely not his preferred position).
How McCormack must long for the Grayson days when he was allowed to form a deadly strike partnership with Becchio. Stuck out on the left, the Scotsman rarely prospers.
With a plethora of attackers, Rodolph Austin and Michael Brown completed the midfield to add a touch of defensive intent. For a manager recently maligned for his abuse of the beautiful game, it seemed an odd move to leave all Leeds’ creative midfielders (Tonge, Green, Norris et al) on the bench. Perhaps I am too harsh on Mr Warnock, but a strange team selection followed by another tedious exhibition does little to incur acclaim.
Lowly Bristol could have taken an early lead when a defensive mix up was finally cleared away by Sam Byram.
In spite of dominating possession, Leeds created little of note in the first half. Barkley could have done better with a free header in the penalty area, Diouf blazed over from the edge of the box and McCormack had the best effort of the half when he forced a save from the visiting goalkeeper. That shot on target drew ironic cheers from the crowd.
Boos greeted the half time whistle, shortly after Paddy Kenny did well to divert a rare Bristol shot.
The second period seemed to bring with it a slight tactical change. McCormack was no longer gravitating to the left, but instead appeared to have a more unrestricted role to move central at will. This enabled some more promising and incisive play, though the team were being let down by Becchio who frankly had an atrocious game. Warnock suggested last week that the Argentinian’s head had been turned by transfer speculation – today, it looked as though his head was on backwards.
Kenny did well again to stop Bristol taking the lead early in the second half, and that was the last time that the visitors would pose any real threat. A positive to come from the match was a clean sheet, engineered by a solid looking back-line of Byram, Peltier, Tom Lees and Aidy White (a square peg in a square hole!).
The only goal of the game came from the head of McCormack with a quarter of the match remaining. Barkley, who showed small glimpses of his quality over the ninety minutes, floated over a cross for the Scot to head in at the back post.
From then on Leeds improved slightly and saw the remainder of the match out comfortably. Lest it be forgotten, let me remind everyone that Bristol City are currently the worst team in the division. This victory was less of a plus point, and more of a sheer necessity.
After the match, Warnock bemoaned some of the Elland Road faithful, suggesting that we should be satisfied and glowing in our appreciation of a side which has won six straight home league matches. Alas, dear manager, we are a mid-table side who play unattractive football and are incapable of winning away from home.
Many thanks to those of you who entered my ‘predict the score’ competition on Twitter. The best guess came from @1unitedleeds who was spot on with his forecast. Send me your predictions for the Spurs match to @Matt_K_Burton.