Place: Elland Road, Leeds
Date: 31st October 2009
Event: Leeds United vs Yeovil Town
Leeds, coming off the back of a 4-0 victory over promotion rivals Bristol Rovers, were expected to dominate their next opponents easily. Yeovil Town securely in mid-table and not looking likely to go much higher, were not perceived to be the threat that the Pirates had been but half way through the game it all looked like it might go wrong. It looked like we might be on our way to a hallowe’en- flavoured nightmare.
Leeds had begun the game with Ankergren in goal. Higgs was still unavailable. Ankergren is not the safest pair of hands but their only other alternative is young Alan Martin. In defence, Patrick Kisnorbo and Richard Naylor are a solid pair in the centre of defence. Leigh Bromby, at right back, looked solid as a feeder down the wing to winger, Snodgrass but less comfortable when under pressure from the Yeovil forwards. Left back, Andy Hughes, is not in his most natural position in that slot but did reasonably well in a team that looked flat and uninspired.
Micky Doyle playing immediately in front of the central defenders did okay in the first half but Leeds needed more playmakers to feed the front pair. In a game where Leeds’ main tactic seemed to be to bypass the central midfield as they sought to hump it upfield hard and fast when they could not carry the ball down the flanks, Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson had really no role to play. Amazingly in the first half Leeds had gone in front but hardly looked like they deserved that lead.
Robert Snodgrass had been by far the brightest of the three forward players. Jermaine Beckford is, of course, a proven force but his partnership with Sam Vokes looks hardly worth the name. They look like someone needs to take them aside in the dressing room and introduce them. In the first half, they both sought to lead the line in their own way but, really, there was no interaction between them.
Beckford is lethal when he has the ball but does not impose himself or create space when he is off-the-ball. The players looked like they expected to win just by turning up. The goal when it had come on 42 minutes looked like the final touch had come from Beckford but later examination of video footage was to reveal that no contact was made and the goal belonged to Bradley Johnson.
The second half started in exactly the same vein and the crowd was growing quiet as that feeling that we were going to take this slender lead into the late stage of a game in which Yeovil might just grab a share began to develop.
And then on the hour came Simon Grayson’s masterstroke. In one moment, he showed why he is the mostly highly rated manager in the lower divisions. Leeds needed a big change in midfield and someone with spark and play-making skill and Grayson had just the move in mind.
In a double switch, he brought an end to this developing hallowe’en and gave us the fireworks a few days early. On came Neil Kilkenny to replace Michael Doyle who really was an unneeded presence on this occasion. Most significantly, Andrew Hughes was pulled off to make room for Max Gradel, a loan player who has come in from Leicester.
It was Gradel who was to prove the difference in taking this team from their flat first hour to a final third of the game when they tore Yeovil apart.
Gradel ran himself forward at every opportunity. He wrapped the defence in knots. He outpaced the full back to make the vital cross on numerous occasions and he wasn’t afraid to try a snapshot himself. Indeed, it was Gradel who with a goal of brilliant individuality made it 2-0. This came shortly after he had providing a dangerous opening for Beckford and shortly before he fed Howson for another chance.
Beckford and Vokes finally met when the former fed off the latter’s flick to give a three goal lead.
Shortly afterwards, Beckford the goalscorer made way for Tresor Kandol who was later to add a fourth goal.
There were even more fireworks after the final whistle when Kandol seemed to get a little too lively in exchanges with opponents. There had been other chances during the actual game and Leeds were unlucky not to make it more than four.
A jubilant crowd eventually moved away having forgotten the woeful beginning to this game. Leeds can’t afford to become complacent. Perhaps a permanent deal for man-of-the match, Gradel could provide an on-going spark that they were so sorely lacking in the first hour.