Leeds celebrated the New Year with a narrow victory over Bolton Wanderers, despite a performance saturated with errors, wayward finishing and a complete lack of creativity. For the third time this season, an Elland Road match was settled by a solitary penalty from Luciano Becchio.

Becchio has dispatched penalties with such unnerving accuracy and confidence this season that once referee Gibbs pointed to the spot midway through the second period, the outcome was never in doubt.

Leeds’ number ten’s reliability is matched by the predictability of the team’s form. This was a fifth successive home victory for Neil Warnock’s men, following Saturday’s third successive away defeat at the hands of Hull City. If we consider the 4-2 victory over Huddersfield as a freak result (which it most likely was), then Leeds have settled into a steady routine of positive home results and away day blues.

As we enter January in eighth place, the success or failure of Leeds’ 2012/13 season is poised above the net cord, and which side the ball falls is dependent upon the inevitable shift of equilibrium in the home win/away defeat paradox. If stronger away showings begin to gather moss, then the play-off positions are more than achievable. If good fortune deserts those suspect home displays (such as today), mid-table mediocrity beckons.

The ball is above the cord and January is a key month in which to sway its course. Winnable fixtures and an open transfer window are chances there to be taken. We all understand and respect the opinions of Warnock, Patel, Haigh et al when they say “January is not a good time to do business”, but it may only take the acquisition of one creative talent to tip the balance. Leeds missed Tonge and Thomas today, and missed them badly.

Becchio was recalled to the starting eleven, along with Rodolph Austin, Lee Peltier and El Hadji Diouf as the manager looked to return to winning ways. The inclusion of Becchio, Diouf and Ross McCormack in the same side (for the first time since September) sent eyebrows northwards and began a pre-match frenzy of rumour as to the formation and positions of the attacking triumvirate.

Upon kick-off, it became evident that the Senegalese and Argentinian hit men would continue to develop their strike partnership, whilst the Scotsman would be deployed out of position on the left hand side of midfield. McCormack filled the void vacated by Jerome Thomas’ absence, who has seemingly returned to parent-club West Bromwich Albion.

Recently relegated Bolton named a strong-but-recently-underperforming eleven, including stalwart Kevin Davies and one-time Leeds transfer target Keith Andrews. Former Elland Road goalkeeper Andy Lonergan was named on the bench by Wanderers boss Dougie Freedman, who was himself a fans-favourite during a Leeds’ loan spell in 2008.

The opening half was a dour affair, with both sides seemingly suffering from the kind of New Year hangovers that many of the 22,000 spectators were no doubt nursing in the stands.

Rodolph Austin and David Norris struggled to assert any kind of dominance in the centre of midfield, but their lack of bite was fortunately matched by equally lacklustre opposition. In spite of McCormack’s presence on the left, most of Leeds’ attacking intent was to be found on the right wing where Paul Green was producing the best display of a bad bunch.

Leeds simply lacked creativity. Green, Diouf and Sam Byram showed glimpses of purpose and interplay, but very few chances materialised. McCormack was anonymous for the entire half, though to be fair he is not a winger.

Chris Eagles was the only player on the pitch who looked like opening the scoring, hitting the post after twenty minutes (following a defensive error from Alan Tate) before seeing another long range drive tipped round the post by Paddy Kenny.

The second half threatened to yield much of the same as both teams toiled in midfield and struggled in attack. Even Eagles, the one hope of quality, dragged a shot hopelessly wide.

At the encounter passed the hour, a frustrated crowd began to urge Warnock to roll the dice. For me, the introduction of Ryan Hall at the expense of McCormack was inevitable. But if there’s one thing the Leeds faithful have learned about Mr Warnock this season, it is that he seldom changes a side which is not losing.

The manager’s faith in his philosophy was rewarded halfway through the second period. A rare phase of sustained Leeds pressure was ended abruptly when McCormack was felled by Tyrone Mears in the penalty box. Becchio, as ever, dispatched with consummate aplomb.

For ten minutes following the goal Leeds livened up, with McCormack and then Austin firing over the crossbar.

The match then descended back into a disjointed parade of long balls and poor clearances. Wanderers couldn’t fashion a notable chance, and Leeds gratefully took the three points.

This match will not live long in the memory banks, but results are what ultimately matter. Let us see what the rest of January brings.

Many thanks to those of you who entered my ‘predict the score’ competition on Twitter. The best guesses came from Ben Lister (@2GCrayZ), Phil Matthews (@DolfanPhil) and Jonathan Swift (@JonathanSwift) who all correctly predicted a 1-0 win and a Becchio goal. Send your predictions for the next home match to me at @Matt_K_Burton.

  • TSS

    Dreadful match, there was a Mexican wave of yawns travelling around the Kop at one stage. Didn’t help my hangover at all.

    • Matthew

      On the bright side our next two league games are against Barnsley and Bristol City, two football teams that couldn’t possibly be too hard to beat at the moment. We should be greatful that Warnock has some time to bring in players before the Middlesbrough/Cardiff games on the 26th Jan/2nd Feb seeing as we’l need some to get something from those games.

      Deadline for new players: 26th Jan lmao. If we don’t want to be smashed again.

    • Matthew

      On the bright side our next two league games are against Barnsley and Bristol City, two football teams that couldn’t possibly be too hard to beat at the moment. We should be greatful that Warnock has some time to bring in players before the Middlesbrough/Cardiff games on the 26th Jan/2nd Feb seeing as we’l need some to get something from those games.

      Deadline for new players: 26th Jan lmao. If we don’t want to be smashed again.

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