33,000 As Leeds Match West Ham TimPM March 18, 2012 Leeds United, Match reviews 61 Comments Neil Warnock summed up the mood after Leeds took away a 1-1 draw against West Ham in front of 33,366 yesterday tea-time: “I can’t ask any more, they’ve given me everything. […] We’ve dominated two of the best sides in the league and got one point.” That sums up the mood. We’ve come away without the results we needed for a very improbable playoff-push, but we’ve been easily good enough to match the best teams in the division this year. And you’d have been confident if we had got a play-off spot! There was a plethora of positives to take away from the match. Leeds began the sharper side yet again, winning the first corner of the match within the first five minutes. The pressure told as Rob Green mis-kicked a clearance for a throw, and West Ham’s fullback mis-passed inside the box and almost played Ross McCormack in. Both sides played relatively defensively and had one eye on organizing a defence even as they attacked. What ensued was a scrappy, wholehearted battle with both teams effectively cancelling each other out. And The Whites made mistakes, too. Lonergan mis-hit a clearance at the head of Maynard, a West Ham pass would have been given off-side, but ballooned up off a defender, and would have been collected by a West Ham player wide open had Leeds not been quick out of the traps to get to the ball first – while West Ham were left flat-footed and indecisive. And Maynard used his agility to play a one-two, turning past Tom Lees and out-barged Paul Robinson to be through on goal, only for Lonergan to scuttle out, make himself big, and wrap his body around the ball. That’s all a part of football and to say the defence was poor would be ridiculous. Tom Lees had another solid game, O’Dea did his job well, Connolly defended and linked up going forward very well, and Paul Robinson put another fantastic shift in for Leeds. It was Paul Robinson who really fired the fans up in the second half. The referee, Peter Walton, showed he was far from a home-banker early on when Adam Clayton had his ankles clipped by Kevin Nolan, got straight up and made a decent tackle, and got penalised. Nolan continued to put the boot in every bit as much as you’d expect from Michael Brown, and the referee seemed never to see it as Nolan inexplicably escaped the match without even a card, though he had a bit of banter with Neil Warnock on the touchline… It was to the background of this ostensibly biased referee that Paul Robinson turned Elland Road’s volume up to the highest I remember it since May 2010. Robinson single-handedly built an attack, tackling one to keep the attack going, and then Noble made a long slide for the ball which was matched by Robinson. Robinson tackled well and kept the ball and was promptly yellow carded. You couldn’t believe it. Clearly anything resembling an athlete taking part in a sport is too much for football’s modern bureaucrats! Moments later, after chants of “the refs a w-….”, he showed the ref what he thought with a tough and clean tackle on the edge of Leeds’ box, before a crunching (and clean) tackle to put the ball out of touch. The crowd loved it, while an FL official had a nose-bleed and began hyperventilating. Okay… I made that bit up. But 30,000 Leeds fans suddenly found their voice. The noise didn’t have the desired effect, but unlike in previous matches for many a year, this wasn’t a case of the players freezing. Becchio’s belief couldn’t be questioned when he blazed an ambitious volley over from a way back, and when West Ham redoubled their efforts and found themselves with a corner, the Argentinian looked suspiciously like Diego Maradona in the Leeds box, (though he didn’t get to the ball)… At the other end, Luci! At the other end! And later in the second half Leeds got one of the best chances of the match. Aidy White was great again today. He looked a constant danger when he got the ball, with every run gaining a free-kick, a throw-in, or resulting in a cross. And when he gained another free-kick, Ross McCormack floated the ball in from the left, to the far post. Paul Connolly’s head met it and Rob Green pulled off a fantastic save for West Ham – showing perhaps why he’s a capped England keeper. After 80 minutes, though, it looked like the match would play out for a scrappy 0-0. Carlton Cole had come on after about 60 minutes and looked twice the threat of Maynard. Cole had bullied Tom Lees a little bit in August from set-pieces (with the lad playing right-back that day); that wasn’t the case today, but Cole still carved out a couple of chances for West Ham. Leeds had matched West Ham on every part of the pitch, though, and neither side had found many chances. Although I felt the game had drifted very slightly from us in the second half, it was Leeds who looked to get the winner. Jack Collison came off with ten minutes left. The lad had been very good in West Ham’s midfield, and his replacement – Scum Academy product Ravel Morisson – had an immediate effect. His first action was to give away a throw in from an attacking play. In the resulting run Webber (on for White) won Leeds a corner. The corner was taken by Snodgrass from the left, and was floated into the near post. It was cleared but only as far as Becchio, who passed it back to Snodgrass. The cross found Paul Connolly’s head and Connolly found the crossbar. It was Luciano Becchio who scored a real poacher’s goal as he threw himself into the path of the ball, and nodded it into an empty net. Elland Road erupted. With a victory against West Ham, who could possibly beat us? But there were still five minutes to survive. Deafening chants of Marching On Together cheered the lads on as they got their foot in to break up plays. West Ham had made a few mistakes today, and it was a mistake that ultimately gifted them a goal. George McCartney got in a cross; like most of West Ham’s final passes today it was mis-hit, yet Lonergan was forced to tip it out for a corner. Leeds had struggled with West Ham’s corners last summer, and yet again West Ham found a relatively easy header to equalize. And after a couple of minutes that was it. The fans a little deflated, but a great performance in which our supposedly mid-table team once again equalled, and at times bettered, a top Championship club – this one on Premiership wages. The defence did well as I said. But it was a thorough team effort. At one point Robert Snodgrass slid in to tackle a West Ham forward, and Ross McCormack shepherded it out for a Leeds goal kick. That summed the team up for me. Becchio constantly came back and battled for possession along with Adam Clayton who was like a dynamo in midfield showing not only his good attacking sense but getting stuck in as well. I’ve felt him bypassed sometimes when Leeds haven’t had the time on the ball to play it, but today he showed an excellent all-round performance and looks to be a fantastic centre-mid in the making. Michael Brown did his job well again, and Aidy White was always a threat when he had the ball, with McCormack and Snodgrass as good as ever. And this will be the headache facing Neil Warnock. He wants to improve the team, but is there a single player we could drop? On the Leeds side you could have a few man of the matches. Lonergan pulled off a great save in the first half and did his job well when called upon. Paul Robinson got stuck in and galvanized the fans. Paul Connolly passed well, headed well going forward, and was solid at the back. Aidy White played well when he had it. Adam Clayton looked a proper little midfield general, Snodgrass’ trademark mazey runs were on display again, and McCormack got stuck in well. But my man of the match has to be Luciano Becchio – a lad I’ve said I didn’t think could play in the Premiership last year. With the change of style under Neil Warnock, he’s looking absolutely excellent. He got stuck in in the midfield, he is benefitting from more realistic passing to him, and held the ball up well, and got the goal again. The lad has looked to be giving it his all since returning from injury and my highlight of the match was during a conflagration and more crowd cries of “the ref’s a w-….” when Becchio got properly stuck in and channelled his inner “This is Sparta!” In my personal opinion, that’s probably the end of our playoff hopes with a couple of results not going our way and two points dropped. But it was a great performance in front of a Leeds crowd of old. If only Neil Warnock had been here from the start of the season!