And so they came, vociferously emerging from the woodwork niche they’ve called home since the last visit of their northern neighbours; wardrobe options alternating between replica shirts and Green Street chic, ‘Believe’ signs metaphorically tucked under their arms or resonating vividly at the forefront of their conscious minds. Leeds United are back in town – one and all quickly congregate to the southern fringes of the Britannia Rescue Stand, for this is the day where show them all, that for a couple of hours at least, we’re “Huddersfield ‘til we die!”; that our casual, open relationship with our football club is suddenly a deep betrothal, and to resound the edict that we are the destination de rigueur for all those coveted or held beloved at Elland Road.
On the touchline stood Simon Grayson, a man indelibly associated with the club and the guiding hand behind Leeds’ return to the second tier of English football, while in the squad, the names of Jermaine Beckford and Adam Clayton could be found. The potential to belittle the 4,000 visiting supporters existed on a scale that surpassed anything previous.
So they arrived, they clustered and they rose to acclaim their ‘home town heroes’ come 12.25pm; and so they enjoyed the early storm of pressure as Leeds once again looked like they were not going to turn up for a derby game. Then on 12 minutes they rejoiced, rising in unison to acclaim Chris Atkinson as he escaped the attentions of Ross McCormack to collect Clayton’s side-footed pass and steer the ball into the bottom corner. Pandemonium ensued as Atkinson celebrated what he described as “the best feeling I’ve ever had”…1-0 in their cup final.
Clayton, obviously still sore from his exit, chose to ‘shush’ at the Leeds supporters, seemingly taking way too much pleasure at the expense of supporters, who on the whole had reacted with utter indifference to his departure. The tails were up and the goading was at fever pitch, the joyful ensemble in the corner resembled a gaggle of Scousers standing on hot plates, indulging in their strange, celebratory jigging and all the while the God-awful drummer was upping his tempo towards a frenzied 140bpm; Chants in praise of Grayson followed, the Leeds end retorting with “He’s only here to shag your wives!”
Back on the pitch, Thomas was isolated, the strikers starved of service and the ball was rarely out of the middle third of the pitch – déjà vu.
Then it happened, Leeds began to get a foothold. Green, who’d buzzed around from the start was now getting picked out by passes and linking well with Byram, the forwards were beginning to see the ball; even Michael Tonge was asserting a degree of control in the middle! There still remained little to concern Alex Smithies, but against Leeds, a little is often more than enough for Smithies to contend with. With 10 minutes remaining of the half, Green broke into the box and from the touchline, looped a ball over towards the far post; a stretching Becchio kept the ball alive, finding McCormack, who in turn teed up Tonge from 20 yards, his almost apologetic effort was enough to evade the grasp of the keeper.
Arms were raised in almost embarrassed acclaim amongst the Leeds fans, fingers and fists raised in gestures of indignant rage in the Town corner; the familiar, glorious sights of fuming local youths attempting to offer out the entire Leeds end followed, as did the comedic spectacle of seeing those offenders being bundled out by groups of stewards.
Two minutes later, the stadium security forces were at it again; McCormack racing on to Tonge’s long range pass, before checking back and laying the ball off this time to Becchio, the Argentine swept home beautifully from 20 yards. “We score when we want, we score when we wa-ant, we’re Leeds United, we score when we want!” thundered from the John Smith’s Stand, more animated hand signals were offered in return and more headed, man-handled, towards the exits.
Suddenly Leeds were dictating play and with half-time closing in, Simon Grayson now looked the keener of the two managers to hear the whistle… the classic scenario for an opposition goal. Clayton, almost inevitably, delivered it from the penalty spot, coolly slotting home following Becchio’s tug on Peter Clarke. Again, in fitting with the home town hysteria, a simple, reserved acknowledgement of his ability to score from 12 yards was not deemed appropriate for the moment, instead a 50 yard run and knee slide to celebrate in front of Neil Warnock was the chosen method – not that Adam seems bitter about his departure.
It was to be Clayton’s big moment, as in the second half, much as in three-quarters of the games he played for Leeds, he was anonymous. Having wrestled the initiative in the latter stages of the first half, the Leeds midfield dominated after the break, Green’s running off the ball was outstanding, offering options and constantly threatening as a late arriving runner into the box. Thomas too began to find himself with more and more room down the left, but he looked jaded and was repeatedly wasteful, so on the hour mark he was replaced by Ryan Hall and with it Leeds gained a sharper cutting edge.
The fresh legs gave Leeds a new dimension, a degree of composure and ultimately proved the difference between the two sides. Hall kept his head up and chose not to rush to deliver his crosses, preferring to check back or pass to a better placed team mate, rather hit and hope. When however he did choose to play a ball in, it was with the maximum of impact.
With 20 minutes remaining, Becchio was floored by a crude lunge, Mike Dean waved Leeds on to play advantage; they did, Peltier feeding Hall, who jaunted into the area before laying the ball into the path of Norris who killed the ball with a touch of his right foot, before sweeping home with his left. Leeds led and Huddersfield looked beaten; despite boasting a revised frontline of Church and Vaughan, they didn’t once trouble Paddy Kenny. The buoyant Leeds fans asked Simon Grayson for a wave, unsurprisingly, he chose not to oblige.
Leeds continued to press as our forwards instead caught the eye; McCormack grew stronger as the game drew on and with Hall and Green in full flow, the visitors were suddenly stretching the opposition at will; the horrendous, one-dimensional style, common to our play, as recently as a fortnight ago, a distant memory. Fittingly, it was Hall and Becchio who combined for the fourth, a glorious looping header from the latter beyond the desperate reaches of Smithies.
The customary ode to Luciano provided a soundtrack as the steady trickle of departing home supporters became a flood, many choosing two-fingered salutes as their departing gesture in retaliation to the sea of waving hands that accompanied their exits; “Time to go, time to go, time to go…”
Little remained then, but to taunt Clayton with some home truths; “You’re too s**t, to play for Leeds!” rang out the message, loud, clear and true. Moments later the final whistle arrived and the players basked in the acclaim of collecting an inconceivable 9 points from 9 in 7 days. Upon heading for the tunnel, Neil Warnock, having earlier chosen to greet Clayton’s inflammatory goal celebration with mocking applause, now received an ovation of his own – while one man returns home to toast victory another cries into his Nando’s.