Richard Naylor makes amends

Alongside the usual faces, I was accompanied on the 180 mile trip down the M1 by my younger cousin, Craig (hereafter referred to as ‘Lightweight’). Lightweight currently lives in Spain, but is visiting for a couple of weeks because he misses the summery gale-force winds and unpredictable downpours, that you just don’t get outside the UK

After the Friday night at Leeds Festival watching the Libertines reunite in style, I was feeling more than a little bit hungover. I took solace in seeing the state of Lightweight though who almost had to be dragged out of bed and looked a pale green colour for the rest of the day. Convinced that ‘what makes you bad, makes you better,’ I set about raising my alcohol-blood ratio, whilst Lightweight sipped quietly on a Coke. We suggested he go sit with the rest of the Southern-fairies, but he declined.

After several pints disproved my ‘what makes you bad, makes you better’ theory, we made our way to the construction-site/stadium. At Vicarage Road, we found a surprisingly optimistic Leeds United faithful who seemed to be unanimously predicting a Leeds United win. By the time we located our seats, the sold-out 2,200 strong away end was already rocking. We heard that Watford had been showing highlights of the 3-0 play-off final win to taunt the Leeds fans, but we were convinced we’d be having the last laugh today.

The tales of Lightweight’s pale-green complexion and my ridiculous theories are where the interesting part of this match report ends, as what followed was a truly dismal game of football.

From the off, it was a scrappy, horrible encounter with mis-placed passes and hoofball football the order of the day. Being the home team, Watford were setting the tone and their style of play wasn’t pretty to watch – think George Graham-era Leeds United without any actual quality. Sloppy challenges, shirt-pulling and barging meant the referee’s whistle rarely left his mouth, leaving the game totally void of pace.

Leeds took the lead early though as Richard Naylor was gifted a redeeming goal after his horrorshow last week. Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson had shots blocked from a corner, but as the ball scrambled around in the area, Naylor was on hand to clean things up and give Leeds a 1-0 lead. The Leeds fans temporarily got a little carried away with a chorus of last years anthem, “Leeds are going up” as the captain celebrated a rare goal.

Watford had a couple of chances to level things, but were wasteful in front of goal without their main striker. Leeds also had a few half chances, but in all honesty, it never felt like anyone was going to score again after Naylor’s opener.

Overall, the first half was a pretty drab encounter, but Leeds were in the lead and that was all that really mattered. The interval included an update on the latest Leeds Rhinos score, which understandably amused the Watford fans. Didn’t make a great deal of difference to me as I’m a Cas fan, but there was a fair few sighs around the away end (including a ‘this is not my day’ grumble from Lightweight who was still feeling sorry for himself).

During half-time, I was reminded that it had been an awfully long time since Leeds had kept a clean sheet on our travels, so we decided Larry would be wise to change things around and push on. His answer, was Federico Bessone off and Andy Hughes on in a like-for-like substitution which I can only assume was due to injury?

Anyone thinking the second half couldn’t possibly be worse than the first was in for an almighty shock as Leeds decided to totally bypass the midfield for the remainder of the fixture and Watford decided they’d follow suit. There wasn’t much of a passing game in the first half either, but the second half took hoofball to an entirely new level.

Aside from a bit of a half-hearted flurry from Watford late-on, it was like watching paint-dry. The game was so bad, that the players would have been better off grabbing a hammer each and helping the rebuilding work that was going on in the ground.

Larry brought Gradel on around the hour mark who temporarily livened things up, but soon succumbed to the same mis-placed pass syndrome that the rest of the squad had fallen victim to. McCormack also made his Leeds United debut, but had little chance to impress and will be pretty disappointed by his start.

The McCormack substitution was a strange one from Larry. Hardly the tallest or most powerful of players, he stood little chance whilst Leeds (and particularly Kasper Schmeichel) kept lofting things up field. The more obvious choice was surely Davide Somma, who has been in great form lately and looks to be about 6′ 3”. More importantly, he spent last year at Lincoln so will be used to the route one style of play.

Overall, you can’t really complain. It was truly agonising to watch but we kept a clean-sheet and recorded our first away win of the campaign. Kasper Schmeichel was once again impressive with his awareness and handling, but I do feel his long-ball clearances detract from any decent style of play at times. Richard Naylor redeemed himself not only by scoring, but he also gave a good defensive display too. The rest of the defence, including Collins today, remain questionable.

In midfield, Bradley Johnson still has the touch of a rapist and refuses to take his banana boots off – truly wasteful and needs replacing. Neil Kilkenny barely touched the ball all game and was totally ineffective throughout. Lloyd Sam wasn’t at his best either and it came as no surprise to see him replaced by Gradel, whilst Jonny Howson was the only midfielder that I’d say deserved to be on the park.

Finally, the forward line of Watt and Becchio. Neither contributed a great deal, but then, they never really had a chance in fairness. Becchio mixed it up as he always does, Watt chased everything and showed a better touch than anyone else in the line-up, but on the whole, the scrappy-style of play made it difficult for either of them to operate.

Regardless of the scrappy and dismal game of football we witnessed today, there’s plenty to be optimistic about and I truly believe this team will be somewhere near the play-off region come May. It’s not going to be easy, but if we can put on impressive displays like we did against Millwall, and scrap it out with teams like Watford, then there’s few teams better suited for a play-off push than us. It’s definitely ‘Time For Heroes’ stuff, but Leeds are certainly in with a shout.

Note: Lightweight was not hurt in the making of this match report (at least, not intentionally). He made it back to Leeds safely (despite the drivers best efforts to make him hurl) and is now tucked up in bed resting. Anyone wishing to donate to the ‘Help the Lightweight’ fund would be better off heading to your local supermarket, grabbing a crate of cheap alcohol and leading by example so that the next generation of Lightweights have better role-models than he did.