Pay the penalty – Leeds (a) report

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Leeds 3-3 Latics (AET)
Tuesday 17th January 2006

Well, I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I’d expected this to be a dull affair, for us to look short in most departments and to ultimately lose out. Instead we got a cracker of a tie, 6 goals, long periods where we actually looked the far better team and a penalty shoot out to boot. No doubt the players will be counting the strains and bruises in the physio’s room this morning but the fans can look back on what has become a rarity since the New Year, a game that was watchable from beginning to end.

First let’s get the negatives out of the way. There’s no pride in conceding the lead at any stage, but 3 times in one game? It would have been telling if the Leeds goals had come in open play, and you could perhaps look to the weakened team and fatigue as excuses, but that wasn’t the case. We’ve looked weak on set pieces in previous games and it’s a worry if teams are picking up on this way to get through us (although 2 victories against Bolton suggest we aint doing too badly in that area). That said it would be downright rude to put Leeds’ 3rd goal down to poor defending at a set piece.

On the flip side we looked better than we have done over recent weeks, we managed to hold the ball and dominate with our play. Jewell’s attempts to create a siege mentality must have had the desired effect, the lads looked as if they wanted this one and as tired as they may feel to take 3 sucker punches and come out standing can only be a credit to them. There were positives all over the pitch. Baines had is best game for a while, Skoko had a decent knock and Teale continued his good form. A special mention should be reserved for Andreas Johansson, without ever looking like a goal scoring predator he had an excellent game in this unfamiliar position. Not quite enough to say we don’t need to buy a striker but a lot to be encouraged about.

In fact it was Johansson who got the ball rolling his good run to get onto Roberts’ flick gave him a half chance that came back off the post, his tenacity then saw him pounce on the rebound for 1-0. At this stage it looked like it would be a stroll, but no one told Leeds. Their equaliser was against the run of play, but came in a flurry of corners that we hadn’t looked comfortable with. It wasn’t their only chance of the half either, or even their best, good work from Filan had ensured that David Healy didn’t make the best of his one on one with the keeper.

A cracker for Jason Roberts and a penalty from David Healy were enough to see a more of the same second half through to the obvious conclusion. If neither team wanted the replay then they would have wanted extra time less. This was surely the stage where our 8 games in three weeks would tell, but no. The general pattern of play continued, Latics dominance surrounded by the odd phase of end to end stuff, more importantly the lads kept on keeping on and Roberts’ second, a powerful header from a peach of a cross from Kavanagh, looked to have sealed it, but no. Leeds had one last come back in them and it was penalties.

I often think that the team that takes most momentum into a shootout should go onto win it, but I struggle to remember a time I’ve been right. I suppose you always think the worse of your team, but I couldn’t honestly see 5 penalty takers I’d have confidence in, again I was wrong. No one ever gets full credit for scoring in this situation, you remember who missed more than anything and for that reason it will probably go on record that Healy and Hulse, the two players who’d kept Leeds going to the end were the two that lost them the tie. In reality we saw 4 pretty good penalties from our boys and it was off to the City of Manchester Stadium.

In all it probably the first game that I’ve properly enjoyed sitting through since New Year (maybe something to do with being in my front room?), the lads answered some questions last night. We saw that they can regain the style and energy that has been the trade mark of the season. We saw that despite running low on bodies they can keep going with their heads up and on worse case scenario we saw that we’re still a good First Division side. There’s one question I’d still like answering, does Jason Roberts get to keep the match ball?

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