Robbed by Leeds again!

Leeds United – 1
Nottingham Forest – 1

I was set to declare February 12th as Julian Bennett day, after he not only scored but cleared one off the line this evening at Elland Road.  Alas a harsh penalty gave Leeds an equaliser from the spot, in a hotly contested game in which Forest can feel rightly disappointed not to have won.  That said, a couple of handball decisions weren’t given against us, so maybe there’s a hint of sour grapes.

Driving home from work with the radio on, Robin Chipperfield went through the teams and announced Forest starting with a back five, which had me howling with derision – much to the consternation of my fellow commuters, wondering quite why somebody was headbutting his steering wheel repeatedly.  However, credit where it’s due, Smoulderwood’s tactics so nearly delivered that win.

In many ways a draw was predictable, Leeds have struggled to win anywhere lately – and our away performances of late do not bear revisiting.  Tonight was not one of those, tonight was a spirited performance from the Reds who created a plethora of chances which will leave us all wishing that Nathan Tyson in particular had a bit more confidence and composure at the moment.

The first half proved to be a high-tempo but scrappy affair, both sides clearly feeling the pressure of the fixture and making unforced errors aplenty.  The first chance of note fell to Commons from range, the familiar “why is he shooting from there?” comment aired on the radio, the ball falling kindly for Will Hoskins who teed Kris up for a second bite, but he could only blast wide from the edge of the area.

Howson drew first blood for the home side, a powerful drive from long range which didn’t present Smithy with too many problems as it was straight at him.  At the other end, Forest forced a corner which Commons whipped in onto the head of Ian Breckin who headed just over.  At the other end the dangerous Kenton whipped a ball across the face of goal, where Leeds protested a handball from Chambers which was waved on by the referee.

Leeds almost had us foxed with a quickly taken short corner (which should have been a goalkick, hence the slow reaction), the ball eventually ending up with Bradley Johnson who brought an excellent save from Paul Smith to concede another corner as Leeds did apply the pressure in a good spell.

Tyson spurned possibly the chance of the game, a poor clearance was powerfully headed forward by Julian Bennett towards the striker who put himself clear one on one with the ‘keeper – but alas he lacked composure and dragged his shot wide of the post.  The last chance of the half fell to Leeds when Hughes crossed it in and Johnson put the ball wide.

The second half started quickly too, and Forest were very much in the ascendency early doors.  Commons hit a shot from the edge of the box which was well saved by the ‘keeper.  Tyson again missed a golden chance when a Breckin ball over the top was latched onto, but his first touch made the chance awkward for him, and again failed to hit the target with only the ‘keeper to beat – this time with his right foot.

Tyson almost made amends seconds later with a tremendous break down the right, where he whipped in a wicked cross towards striker-partner Will Hoskins, who was agonisingly close to connecting after gambling in the box.  Shortly after this another penalty appeal from the home side, the ball did appear to strike Hoskins’ arm, but only as it was down his side, the referee rightly turned down the appeal made by the Leeds players surrounding the him baying for a penalty.

This perceived misjustice did spur a revival from the home side, the corner from the penalty-that-never-was found Sheehan in space, whose shot was deflected for another corner.  However Forest still had attacking in mind – Chambers rightly looked gutted to have missed a free header from a mere 6 yards out, the ball ending up wide of the post.

Smoulderwood oddly elected to make early substitutions at this point, Sammy Clingan introduced for Lewis McGugan – who picked up a knock during the game in transpires, and Grant Holt for Will Hoskins, presumably due to a lack of match fitness.  Lewis can’t have been feeling too bad, as he was visibly disappointed to be withdrawn from the action.

Commons had another shot from range, striking the ball powerfully along the ground – the Leeds ‘keeper spilled it almost into the path of Tyson, but was able to gather the ball at the second attempt, before entering into a spot of theatrics with some contact he imagined between himself and the Forest striker. 

The goal came next, a throw-in found Commons who whipped in a delicious cross which found Julian Bennett on the penalty spot, who unleashed a powerful header into the top corner of the ‘net right infront of the Forest fans, causing the inevitable delirium that such events generally do – so that’s two in two for Benno, what a pity he’s suspended at the weekend.

Forest reassuring didn’t just sit on it, either – Holt combined well with Tyson who attempted to lob Ankergen but the ‘keeper did tremendously well to get his fingertips to it to prevent the ball crossing the line – that would have done us and Tys the world of good, if anyone really needs a goal, it’s him.

Leeds almost equalised through Peter Sweeney, who had Smith well beaten however Bennett threw himself in a super-human fashion to clear with his head – spurring Forest and their fans alike to continue to press forward to dominate the match.  In response Leeds pushed forward with late substitutions to bolster their attack and pumped balls into the box at every opportunity.

The inevitable negative substitution happened now, James Perch coming on for Kris Commons – this is one area I will criticise the manager, Perchy had nothing to do with the goal we were soon to concede, but things were going well for us, and a move like that – and taking off our only remaining creative player – sends out a message to the side that we’re gonna defend.  To do it as we were defending a corner is just plain daft.

The equaliser, as we know, came from the penalty spot – it was a case of third-time lucky for dubious penalty claims for the home side.  Kandol went to ground easily supposedly aided by Wes Morgan, the decision was disputed by the Reds players – which is always a pointless endeavour – Jermaine Beckford slotted the ball neatly into the net, sending Smith the wrong way.

It was always going to be a tense finish, and both sides had opportunities to nick the points, but ultimately the game finished in a draw – meaning Leeds run without a win goes on, as does our quest for a win on our travels.  Naturally losing a lead to a late goal, particularly a questionable penalty (although of course, I’ve yet to see the incident) is absolutely gutting.

On the positive side, we created chances – lots of them.  We spurned them too, certainly tonight dropping points is as much down to our own lack of composure infront of goal as much as a supposed injustice at the end – we had the chances to have put the game beyond doubt before then.  We should also remember there were two potential handballs that weren’t given – deliberate or not, we’ve all seen them given.

And let’s also remember a good save from Smith, and a super-human goal-line clearance from goalscorer Julian Bennett.  The travelling Forest fans made plenty of noise throughout the game, and they responded warmly to the team and manager alike – and that reaction is my barometer for this.  Ask me this morning if I’d take a draw, and I would have – naturally I’m gutted we didn’t manage the win after having the better of the game, but there’s plenty of silver lining on this cloud.

So, since I’ve been ready to lay into Smoulders of late, he does deserve some credit tonight.  The five at the back seemed to do the trick to deal with the aerial assault Leeds pushed onto us, the initial substitutions were like-for-like (ish) and apparently prompted by injury and fitness – the only issue I have is the final change, but if the travelling fans can forgive him this, then I will too.

So perhaps we weren’t really robbed by Leeds at all – we must show more composure with our chances, if we had a dodgy penalty at the death would be irrelevant.  So I have that peculiar mixture of pleasure and disappointment – and I’ll tell you what, I’ve not felt that excited, tense and downright terrified whilst listening to a Forest away day for a long time.  Well done the Reds, keep that up and the results will come.