Leeds United vs Watford: Honours even in a 6 goal thriller at Elland Road
Once again there was an air of quiet confidence as we headed for the Theatre of Hope for the clash with Watford. The steady, if not spectacular, improvement under the tutelage of Brian McD together with a number of “fan friendly” initiatives from the owners are gradually bringing the smiles back onto the faces of the battle weary Leeds United family.
After the midweek victory against Wigan and yet more goals for player of the month, Ross Mac, expectation was high of a 6th straight win in LS11. “If we’re not careful we’ll soon be calling Elland Road a fortress again” I suggested to the Happy Chocker as we parked the car.
Watford arrived at ER without a win in their last 7 games and goalless in the last 3, a statistic that added to the feeling of confidence. Raw memories of a 6-1 defeat last time round did add a dash of apprehension to proceedings though.
Bumping into Tom Lees at the back of the West Stand suited and booted gave us a clue to Brian McD’s team selection. Byram in for the injured Lees with Pelts moving to centre back in an otherwise unchanged team. Still no room for Diouf on the bench.
A minute’s applause for two great leaders, Mandela and Bremner, was enthusiastically embraced and soon the match was under way on a crisp, cold December afternoon in West Yorkshire.
Leeds started like a whirlwind and had a couple of chances in the first 5 minutes as both Smith and Zaliukas tested the Hornet’s goalie with headers whilst Austen had a stinging goal bound shot saved by Bond only for Murphy to make a complete hash of the follow up shot with the goal gaping invitingly.
Watford looked dangerous on the break though with their pacey attack more than willing to test the Leeds back line on the counter attack. Bellerin served warning of what Watford were capable of as he finished off a slick move by heading inches wide. The breathless pace of the game continued as the clock ticked past 10 minutes.
The game was very open and Leeds paid the price for their over ambitious attacking when they were again left exposed at the back after losing the ball in the Watford half. Deeney latched onto a loose ball in the box after Leeds failed to clear and tucked the ball past Kenny to silence the vociferous home crowd.
1-0 to the Hornets. So disappointing after such a positive start. Suddenly the 5 game winning streak at ER was under threat.
Leeds responded well to the goal and continued to attack Watford but the latent threat of the Hornet’s speed men made me very nervous. Leeds have a grittiness about them these days and crunching tackles from Austen, Pugh and Pearce lifted the volume of the home support. We do like a nice crunching tackle!
Byram’s return added a bit more threat down the right flank for Leeds and he reminded the home fans of what they had been missing when he threaded a superb curling ball behind the Watford defence only for a defender’s outstretched leg to divert the ball away from a lurking Smith on the penalty spot.
Next Smith made a nuisance of himself on the edge of the box and spun a shot wide of the post as Leeds pushed for an equaliser before Pugh received a yellow card for alleged diving in the box when the majority of the 23,000 were shouting for a penalty.
Leeds were getting up a bit of a head of steam as half time approached but they were stung yet again as the speedy Hornets broke quickly out of defence and Battocchio found space in the box to bundle the ball home past Kenny. 2-0 to the Hornets and a deathly silence descended on 7/8th of the ground. Leeds had fallen for the same sucker punch again with too many players pushed too far forward.
Half time and Watford leading 2-0. The Urinal philosophers were not happy. “They’re too quick for us on the break,” one fan complained stating the obvious whilst another rather harshly bemoaned the fact that “we haven’t got a goal in us today”. Football is a game of opinions and I still thought we had a chance as long as we got an early 2nd half goal.
If Leeds started the first half like a whirlwind then they hit Watford with a hurricane at the start of the 2nd 45 minutes. Smith climbed high and sent a looping header goalwards that had Bond scrambling to tip the ball over for a corner.