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Phil Dowd took centre stage as Leeds United played out a 2-2 draw with Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium on Tuesday night.
There was one change to Neil Warnock's side who travelled to Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night on the back of three straight wins. United had defeated both Nottingham Forest and Bristol City in the league whilst Everton were dumped out of the Capital One Cup at Elland Road last midweek. The change saw Adam Drury return to the side in place of Aidan White who was unlucky to return to the bench after two good performances against Everton and Bristol City. The other surprising team news was that El-Hadji Diouf was named captain to face his former club after a sting of impressive performances for the Whites.
The opening stages of the game were the Phil Dowd show as he gave bizarre decision after bizarre decision in favour of the home side. I will get it out of the way early in the report, he gave Andy D'Urso a run for his money in the worst refereeing performance of all time at the Reebok Stadium, and probably beat him. It was just the encouragement Bolton needed as they got on top of proceedings early on and the home side took the lead just before the quarter-hour mark. It doesn't seem to matter who Leeds United employ in their defence , they just can't handle the big men. It was from a corner kick that former England International Kevin Davies nodded Wanderers into the lead with Rodolph Austin seemingly losing his man.
United were rattled and Republic of Ireland International Keith Andrews should have done better as he found space on the edge of the area. However, fortunately for the Whites his shot was no problem for Paddy Kenny to get down to. In all honesty, the game could have been wrapped up before half-time for Owen Coyle's side and the next man to threaten was former Manchester United winger Chris Eagles. His effort, from well outside the area, beat Kenny but wasn't accurate enough to beat the post and the score remained 1-0. It really should have been 2-0 when shortly after Eagles' miss, some hesitant defending from Tom Lees and co saw Benik Afobe, on loan from Arsenal, go through on goal one on one with Paddy Kenny. With only the keeper to beat, Afobe should have scored but his effort went narrowly passed the post and United were still in the game.
With the away side still in the game, Neil Warnock's men began to show the fight and character that we have already seen this season in games against the likes of Blackburn Rovers at home. Just after guiding a shot wide of the post, United youngster Sam Byram had drawn Leeds level. It was El-Hadji Diouf, who seems to be at the centre of everything Leeds United do at the moment, that sent in a rare first half free kick and Byram flicked the ball past the illuminated Adam Bogdan in the Bolton Wanderers goal. It was the perfect time to score for the visitors and the 4,000 travelling Leeds fans were delighted to see their side grab an equaliser just before the end of what had been a frustrating first period.
The second half began with what seemed to be an embrace between Owen Coyle and referee Phil Dowd but despite the obvious bias in the first half, it was in fact Leeds who were given a penalty just minutes into the second half. It was that man Sam Byram who was sent tumbling following a clever through ball from El-Hadji Diouf and Dowd pointed to the spot without any hesitation at all. Seeing Luciano Becchio pick up the ball to take the penalty has personally been a very nerve wracking experience for me against both Hull and again today against Bolton. Leeds' favourite Argentine has proven me wrong on both occasions and today he sent Bogdan the wrong way to put United 2-1 up early in the second half. I don't know when he learnt to take a penalty, but he's certainly learnt since his early Leeds days when he used to blaze them over for fun.
The only bad thing about United's quick turnaround was that there was pretty much the full half to hold on to the lead. Bolton didn't exactly come straight back at Leeds though and for a long time, United looked comfortable on their 2-1 lead. The problem was the Whites didn't come forward enough but when they did, they looked dangerous. Once again, it was Diouf that provided a clever pass, this time for Drury who got round the back of Bolton. Unfortunately his low cross wasn't good enough to find a team mate and the Trotters cleared their lines.
As the clocked ticked down, it looked as though Leeds would be good enough for all three points but with just over 10 minutes left on the clock it was 2-2. No prizes for guessing who got the goal as it was that man, who was a thorn in United's side all night, Kevin Davies. The 35 year old once again headed home from a corner and Leeds' defence will be disappointed to be leaving the Reebok Stadium one set piece away from collecting a fantastic win. Leeds went from looking comfortable to hanging on for a point as the goal had given the home side renewed momentum. Fortunately, Davies wasn't given an opportunity to complete his hat-trick and otherwise, Bolton didn't offer anything Leeds couldn't handle. In the final moments of the encounter, it was the Whites who could have snatched the win. Some neat build up play combined with a bit of luck saw the ball fall invitingly to former Bolton man El-Hadji Diouf on the edge of the box. His curling effort was too good for Adam Bogdan but was slightly too high, the ball hit bar and went over. The chance was gone and the game was over.
On reflection, a draw was a fair result but after going 2-1 up at the start of the second half, United may feel they should have held on. That is three games unbeaten in the league and Leeds sit ninth, just two points off a play-off place. Looking at the fixtures we have had and the injuries we have in our squad, that isn't bad going. A well overdue three points against Barnsley, who we haven't beaten for years, and it will have been a fantastic few weeks for Neil Warnock.