Sam Byram - A bright spot in a dismal night - Michael Steele
A match report of sorts on Leeds United's dismal 1-1 draw with Charlton Athletic.
As I write this report it is just before 11pm and quite frankly I want to go to bed. Another dreadful Tuesday night has been spent at Elland Road, as Leeds United continue to be unable to perform under the lights in the Championship. However I have agreed to write a report on the game, and I should have no bother getting to sleep, as thinking about the 90 minutes I witnessed tonight would be enough to send me off to the land of nod, even if I was on a double espresso caffeine high.
I was contemplating just writing the single word "meh!" as the report, so mind-numbingly tedious was the non-event I have just witnessed, however I feel I should regale the fans who left 22,500 seats empty tonight the full horror of what they missed. I had to sit through it, so I see no reason why you all shouldn’t too.
After Friday night it was abundantly clear that Rodolph Austin needed a good rest after sleepwalking through the first half at Hillsborough. He was left out of the 18 on duty, with his place taken by David Norris, his replacement on Friday. More surprising was the return of Paul Green in the midfield, taking over from goal scorer Michael Tonge. Luke Varney was preferred to Aidy White, although why anyone would prefer Varney over anyone, only Neil Warnock can know. Adam Drury also came into the side at left back, with skipper Lee Peltier absent with an injury.
The team news is about as exciting as the night got. The game started slowly and quickly sank into an abyss of shocking football, the ball spending the night flying through the air from head to head in midfield before being launched forward once again. The launch forward was the only progressive ball Leeds played all night, for on the odd occasion it landed on terra firma, the first option was to pass the ball backwards for Paddy Kenny to fire forwards once more.
If Luke Varney has one attribute is that he does look quite good in the air. Unfortunately whenever he did win the ball, Luciano Becchio had one of those nights where he lost it again quite quickly. I’m pretty certain that he has never played as poorly for Leeds as he has done in the last two games. Looking off the pace, and more worryingly disinterested, United’s target man was incapable of even controlling the ball. His frustration was never more visible than when he ran the ball over the touchline under no pressure at all midway through the first half and launched the ball into the only densely populated area of the East Stand, earning himself a yellow card.
With El-Hadji Diouf looking at his sulkiest, Leeds lacked any momentum going forward. Paul Green was anonymous and although Michael Brown was tenacious and David Norris never stopped running, there was just no fluidity to United’s play. A string of five or six passes along the back four gained Ole’s from the crowd, but eventually the ball was lost in the midfield when Leeds looked to move the ball forward.
Those ironic cheers were the most vocal the crowd got in the first half. Seemingly petrified to say anything that might offend, the Kop decided to say nothing at all. When the massive 350 strong away support brought by Charlton out sing the Elland Road crowd, there is something seriously amiss. The vilest chant of the night regarded a linesman flag, not one waved for an iffy decision, but one that mocked the equipment of the assistant referee on the East Stand side of the ground, which fell apart midway through the first half, the game held up for a couple of minutes while he looked for the broken pieces.
Somehow Leeds took the lead on 37 minutes, the ball pinballing around the Charlton box and falling to Norris who swivelled and hit a powerful shot past the keeper at his near post. It was a shining moment of quality in a cesspool of a match, and it was hoped it would be the catalyst that would spark the match into life.
It didn’t. Charlton equalised five minutes into the second half, with Lawrie Wilson given far too much time on the edge of the Leeds box, rolling the ball into the path of Dorian Dervite whose shot looked to take a deflection, wrong-footing Kenny whose despairing dive was not enough to prevent the ball creeping into the net. So quiet was Elland Road at that point that I could hear the polite applause of the Charlton executive party in the boxes above my vantage point in the Family Stand.
And that really was that. Leeds did have a frantic five minutes when they realised that Byram and Diouf could cause problems down the right, but they soon stopped playing down that side, almost as if they didn’t want to offend anyone by picking up the three points. Kenny was forced into two fine saves in the dying minutes to preserve a point, but quite frankly I had lost all interest in the result at that stage. All I wanted was the blessed relief of the final whistle, the chance to get the bus home and get my head down for a kip. That’s where I’m going now, to dream sweet dreams of a full Elland Road, a team full of quality players and club going places. As I said, I can but dream.