The industrial north of the British Isles is often a part neglected by governments of old and new, regeneration projects to boost the economy concentrate on the short term fixes of areas problems rather than the long term future prosperity of the afflicted, and on visiting Middlesbrough I can confirm that this is once more the case. Enough of my meandering philosophical thoughts anyway, no one wants another Barnsley.
I arrived in Middlesbrough via Newcastle where I have been staying with a healthy contingency of northern Whites. The optimism come desperation was clear to be seen through conversation aplenty with my fellow travellers. Ross McCormack had tweeted the importance to him of three points. It was as clear as day that Middlesbrough was thee six pointer we needed to kick start the season again. Neil has complimented his squad as ‘the strongest it’s ever been at Leeds’ but the time to find out whether the lads were up to the challenge was now.
Warnock, unsurprisingly, named an unchanged eleven from those who drew with Wolves, but probably the strangest exodus from the squad was Ross Barkley, the kid who has in complete honesty been a shining light in previously dull weeks. Supposedly a winger is coming in, with his signing almost there, but Warnock and almost there means I’ll probably be writing Blackburn’s report without seeing evidence of new blood. So, to the game, surprisingly Leeds had not sold out the 3,000 allocation, taking a ‘meagre’ 2,099 to a miserable, re-arranged Tuesday night game on Tee side.
The game kicked off in the usual fashion, Middlesbrough seeing their seasonal home cup final go off in style as the home fans and the drummer set a precedent of vociferousness that to be frank, Leeds struggled to keep up with. The importance of a win was weighing heavily on both Boro’ and Leeds as the opening exchanges were frosty and Boro carved out the first real chance with a Grant Leadbitter free kick lifted over the bar. Leeds came more and more into the game both on and off the pitch, the chant of ‘WACCOE’ coinciding with a few good chances for the away side, Norris fired first, seeing his shot saved expertly by Steele before Varney shot wide. Leeds were pushing and the home side were floundering under the pressure of the winless run. 35 minutes in, Leeds should have been ahead, Ross McCormack capitalised on a keeping error and with the goal at his mercy he saw his shot cannon back off the ex Leeds stalwart Jonny Woodgate. A match winning moment slipping away yet again.
The first half almost ended in a good fashion for Boro as a one on one with the Leeds number one forced a good low block to avoid an undeserved half time deficit for the away side. Half time came and went with some very confusing and poor half time entertainment in the form of a penalty shoot out, strange this Middlesbrough lot.
The second half kicked off and Leeds saw their first half performance whittle away into nothingness, Middlesbrough and their fans could sniff a victory, and they exerted pressure on the Leeds back four, first it was the turn of Leadbitter again with another free kick just going begging, then two successive corners saw a good save from Kenny and an important clearance from Lees keep Leeds in the contest.
Boro were forcing Leeds on to the back foot, counter attacking football was the only exertion of Leeds pressure, this was clearly a one goal game, first to score wins, and how season defining it could be for either side, the Leeds fans were losing patience seeing Middlesbrough take the game to Leeds, and in their frustration chanted ‘Warnock make a change’ which he duly ignored. The absence of such caused costly, as on 82 minutes, Main found himself free at the back post and after a neat cross he looped a header over Kenny and into the net. The one goal was found and Boro were on course for their first points of 2013.
The Leeds fans, including myself, were beyond themselves in disbelief, anger, frustration and bewilderment as to how our season was curtailing into nothingness in front of our eyes. Warnock finally listened and made a sub, Diouf and Austin replacing Green and Norris. But it was just a little too late, Diouf saw all crosses blocked and was frustrated constantly by a rallying Middlesbrough side. The Whites found nothing, and Warnock threw the last dice, Habibou on for Brown, his reward was almost instantaneous, he would have scored the equaliser if not for some fine keeping from Steele tipping his header over. The final moments did see the Boro man Main see red for two yellow card offences, but it did little to fire Leeds or the beleaguered fans into action. The final whistle blew on the match, and more than likely on the season.
So, in all honesty I believe that is it, the anti-Warnock chants at the end sum up the majority of Leeds fans thoughts, it’s over for us this season, it seems pre-emptive with 45 points to play for, but the 68 points on average required for play off qualification is 26 points away, or 8 wins and two draws, and let’s be frank, even if we win every home game, we would still be short, the task is nigh on impossible, and with our form, it’s pretty much over!
But, let’s keep faith, let’s keep marching on, because it’s the ups and downs, and at times like now when downs are really down it takes a lot to think of the better times, but they will return, one day, somehow, with GFH, with someone else, with Warnock or anyone else, we will bide our time, and we will be back. Let’s stick together and Unite as our name suggests.
Let’s March on together.