Becchio, scorer against Palace again. - Paul Thomas
The new era at Elland Road started with a bang on Saturday afternoon as Leeds United ended Crystal Palace’s unbeaten run with a stirring 2-1 victory. Second half goals from Luciano Becchio and Paul Green, his first for the club, were enough to see of Ian Holloway’s league leaders, although they were made to work hard to hang on to all three points as Peter Ramage pulled one back two minutes from time.
With the new owners from GFH Capital seated in the East Stand, all bedecked in Leeds scarfs, Neil Warnock was able to use his first two gifts from Messrs Haigh and Patel. Alan Tate came in at centre back with Lee Peltier shifting over to left back. Jerome Thomas took up station on the left of a midfield four, with Paul Green on the right flanking Michael Tonge and David Norris. Up front Ross McCormack was not risked from the start, instead Becchio was partnered by El-Hadji Diouf.
Palace included United’s summer target Joel Ward at right back and England’s newest international, Wilfred Zaha on the left flank. Glenn Murray was the target man up front, looking to continue his rich goalscoring form of late.
The game started brightly for the home side, with Becchio going close inside two minutes. The atmosphere inside the ground was much more positive, the home supporters finally seeing a chance to progress after the stagnation of the last two years. The football was much more pleasing on the eye in the early stages, with Thomas on the left proving to be a useful outlet, his pace and power causing Ward some problems.
Leeds were certainly the better side in the opening stages, but Palace soon found a foothold and began to show why they were top of the Championship at kick-off. With danger down both flanks, the Leeds defence was beginning to be stretched, with Yannick Bolasie causing more problems than Zaha.
Palace should have taken the lead on the half hour as left back Jonathan Parr joined the attack. His powerful effort was pushed away by Kenny, but straight into the path of Murray. The former Brighton striker fluffed the chance, hitting his effort straight at the recovering Leeds keeper who smothered the shot.
The South London side were now well on top, but were guilty at times of over elaboration. Thee two wide men in particular, Zaha and Bolasie, looked more intent on showcasing their skills than actually putting the ball into the danger area. Zaha tried to tease the young United full back Sam Byram with a deluge of stepovers, but the Leeds man was not fooled and saw the danger out.
Goalless at half time, the second half started quietly but Elland Road soon came to life with the arrival of the opening goal. A ball into the Palace box by Paul Green just eluded Becchio, but as the Palace defence made a hash of clearing the ball, the Argentinean striker pounced to sweep the ball into the net from close range.
Leeds were buoyed by the goal and from the response it had drawn from the crowd. Although the attendance was again just over 20K, the noise once Leeds nosed themselves in front sounded as if there was double that inside Elland Road. United started to drive forward, with Sam Byram realising that Zaha had no interest in tracking back whenever the Leeds fullback attacked.
Byram once again was outstanding. He kept Zaha quiet for most of the match, so much so that Ian Holloway switched the England international on to the Eagles right hand side. With less defensive duties, Byram was able to move forward, giving the Whites an outlet on both flanks.
Leeds doubled their lead with 15 minutes remaining. A free kick was awarded for a foul on David Norris near the halfway line. Alan Tate floated the ball into the box and once again Palace failed to clear their lines effectively, the ball dropping towards Paul Green on the right hand side of the area. The Irish international struck the ball firmly past Speroni and into the net at the far post for his first goal as a Leeds United player.
That should have been enough for the Whites to see out the game, but as we know all too well, Leeds never make things easy. With just five minutes left, Palace were back in the game. Kagisho Dikgacoi beat substitute Dominic Poleon far too easily on the right hand side and delivered a powerful cross which Peter Ramage headed in from close range.
The league leaders were boosted by that goal, and were given further hope when the referee produced an unfathomable five minutes stoppage time. Leeds though hung on, surviving a couple of goalmouth scrambles to collect a precious three points.
The three points were important, but just as important was the feeling inside the ground. There was a feeling of renewed optimism, the negative vibes no longer cascading from the stands on to the pitch. It seemed to inspire the players who produced a much better performance than in recent weeks. One swallow does not make a summer though, and with another home game on Tuesday night against Leicester the momentum needs to continue if Leeds are to achieve the miracle of getting back into the promotion race.