Ah, one week, seven points, a stoppage-time winner (we had been the only Championship team not to score in added time), and the sun is shining. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Points required to stay up eases to 64 – and that’s just 10 in five games for us now. Suddenly it’s can we close an eight-point gap to make the play-offs. OK, let’s keep the feet on the ground, if we have to. I’d rather enyoy the moment – and try to stay awake for the Football League Show. Season ticket renewed, tickets for Barnsley bought, and we win.
In truth, I thought it was a fascinating game, from start to finish, not because it was especially beautiful but because there was nothing to choose between the two sides. I thought we carried the greater attacking threat throughout, but you can’t say that we made their keeper work significantly harder than theirs. And I’d give some credit to Leeds. Without a manager, Warnock having left apparently because they couldn’t get promoted, and you felt that it we went ahead they might fade. Instead when we did they upper their game and without really threatening did get their equaliser, which of course had to be attributed to Varney. In the closing stages you felt that a draw was not an unfair outcome, even if we had the better chances. But then it was a game of fine margins and while their sub scored at the death ours did too, with Sir Chris having made one change at 1-0 to try to tighten up the game and a second at 1-1 to try to win it. It all turned out well in the end.
The team was the same as that against Bolton the previous Saturday – and the same as against Brighton away except for Fuller coming back into a 4-4-2 having made way for Wilson and 4-5-1 away. That pointed to a number of tired legs towards the end and the possibility that substitutions would play a part.
The early exchanges weren’t decisive and at least this time around we weren’t 0-2 down after 20 minutes. Leeds are not Bolton in terms of quality in the final third. They did have one opportunity which was blazed over the bar, but any account of the first half would focus on the possibilities that we had, mostly involving Harriott down the left and the ability of both Fuller and Kermorgant to create problems. One run and swerving shot, one well-worked move which saw Fuller square the ball across the face only for Kermorgant not to have gambled to get on the end of it, and one pulled back which Dervite hit to produce the only real save of the period. The neutral might have thought it wasn’t a great game as neither side were displaying that much quality or ability to pull the opposition apart, but it made it an even game in which the importance of a first goal seemed to rise by the minute.
At the break we were ahead on points but nothing else. But within a couple of minutes of the restart we had grabbed a vital lead. The ball was played in from the right and after an initial block Jackson once more ran on to a loose ball and buried it high into the net. It was a great example of a midfielder following the play and being in the right place to take advantage of a break. There was a question of offside, but he looked OK to me and the rather iffy linesman agreed.
Now ahead, in a close game, you felt that either Leeds would subside or we would become too cautious. It proved to be the latter, which is no real criticism of a team playing its third game in a week. And to be fair to Leeds they did up their effort and started to have more of the game. I don’t think it’s fair to say that we sat back, but it was evident that a 1-0 victory would be entirely welcome and in a game of small margins (yes, again) that played a part. It didn’t become one-way traffic by any means as you still felt that a second for us was possible, while the defence was coping well with their forwards. But as the game entered its final third the feeling was increasingly that the final whistle without further incidents would be fine as the edge went off our forward play. They brought on Varney and there was a decision for Powell to make, to try to tie up the game.
I thought it would be Gower on for one of the forwards, or for Hughes if it was felt he couldn’t last 90 minutes. Instead it proved to be Kerkar on for Fuller. Not an unreasonable change to bolster midfield and to try to shift the balance of possession in our favour. Only problem was that with about 10 minutes left they grabbed an equaliser. Like our goal, you can’t say it was coming, but a ball to the far side of the box was met with a Varney shot that seemed to take one or two deflections before finding the net.
After one change to try to tie up the game, the next had to be to try to win it, with Obika coming on for Harriott. With his first touch he went racing past their guy and set up the first of two chances in a couple of minutes, both of which fell to Solly. One went narrowly wide and it seemed as if the opportunity to win the game was lost. Four minutes of stoppage time were announced (in a game when the trainer didn’t come onto the pitch and there wasn’t a single bad foul), which was extended by an injury/substitution for them. But just when a creditable draw was on the cards Kermorgant chased down a ball to win a throw and a ball in from Wiggins saw Obika rise majestically to deflect it into the roof of the net. Cue celebrations as there was barely enough time to restart the game.
A sober assessment of the game would be that on balance if either side deserved to win it was us, but nobody would have felt aggrieved if it had finished level. Not exactly rocket science when it’s 1-1 after 90 minutes. But on the margins, in the key contests, we had edged it, despite Leeds’ response to going behind Our defence was largely untroubled, which reflected well on all concerned; our midfield had competed well, while our forwards looked more likely to score than theirs. But sod being rational; it was a mighty victory, one which together with the previous two results should result in a flood of season ticket renewals as we showed again we deserve to be in this league.
Hamer – 7/10. Only a reasonable mark as he didn’t have a great deal to do; but he looked assured and dealt with what came his way, strengthening the sentiments he himself expressed about his reaction to having been dropped.
Solly – 8/10. Another splendid – even at times inspiring - defensive display; unfair to mark him down for not scoring, but it would have been nice as two chances fell his way in short succession after they’d equalised.
Wiggins – 8/10. Further progress since his return as some of his tackling and interceptions were exceptional. Also played the ball in for the winner.
Morrison – 8/10. Basically dominant as their forwards seldom had a look-in.
Dervite – 8/10. In what was collectively an excellent defensive performance he played his part. Did nearly get caught out early on but almost scored (again).
Harriott – 7/10. Very nearly a much better mark as in the first half especially he caused them all sorts of problems. But less conspicuous in the second and just a feeling that the final ball/shot didn’t quite come off.
Jackson – 7/10. The guy scores again, just when we needed it. Otherwise effective without being dramatic.
Hughes – 9/10. I’m not sure that the performance in itself merits that mark, but I’m just so impressed by his return. I really thought that when we signed Gower it must have been a body-blow for him, having battled back from injury. But he was given a chance and has just played the bulk of three tough games in a week, looked like he hasn’t been away, and today was geeing up the players around him.
Pritchard – 6/10. Perhaps harsh, given the other ratings, and the fact that he was tireless and always involved. Far from a bad performance, but what is (currently) lacking is the instinct to make the right decision in the final third.
Kermorgant – 7/10. Better signs that he and Fuller can work together as a pair; never a question about his commitment and generally effective, really ought to get an extra mark for the effort to win the ball back in the final minute that led to our winner.
Fuller – 7/10. He and Kermorgant kept them unsettled throughout and made the most out of what came their way. No issues about his being substituted as at that stage of the game the priority was to keep what we had.
Subs – Kerkar (6/10 – good to see him getting a fresh opportunity; barely touched the ball but the game changed with their equaliser after he came on and he did hold it up well); Obika (9/10 – what mark do you give a sub who comes on, skins their defender and sets up a chance with his first touch, and scores the winner with his second?).