Leeds United 1 Cardiff City 1: One year and five days on
Neither Leeds United nor Cardiff City were unable to find a winner to settle a below-par game which Cardiff led at the break before a second half dominated by Leeds.
This time last year
25th October 2010. One year and five days on, some things have changed and some have stayed the same. Middlesbrough (22nd) and Crystal Palace (23rd) were level on points. Middlesbrough (4th) and Crystal Palace (3rd) are level on points. Watford (5th) sat one place above Coventry (6th) in the table. Watford (21st) sit one place above Coventry (22nd) in the table. Bristol City were and are bottom of the Championship. 25th October 2010 – Leeds United 0 Cardiff City 4.
Any casual viewer tuning in just over twelve months ago would have put Cardiff streets ahead of their opponents. The fabled BBC front three of Jay Bothroyd, Craig Bellamy and Michael Chopra looked unstoppable, with Chris Burke providing an injection of pace in wide areas and Peter Whittingham and Seyi Olofinjana complementing each other perfectly in midfield.
Of that front six, only Whittingham remains. Incoming manager Malky Mackay has had to build a new-look attack on a budget and his excellent summer dealings can be demonstrated by the fact that only four teams had scored more goals prior to his side’s trip to Leeds. Their hosts this weekend were one of them, registering 24 strikes to Cardiff’s 23 thanks largely to nine from the former Bluebirds striker Ross McCormack, while both teams had conceded 19 times – more than Coventry City, who sit in the relegation places.
That one-time viewer enjoying a dash of Championship action for the night just over a year ago probably wrote off the home side’s promotion hopes as well. But defeat to Cardiff sparked Leeds into life – they went on a 12-match unbeaten run which sent them into the New Year with hopes of a return to the Premier League very much in mind. It was Cardiff that finally ended the sequence in January. It had to be. That was the most recent of six successive Cardiff wins over Leeds United, a team which hadn’t beaten them since 1984. It was also Cardiff that made the play-offs in May, eight points ahead of 7th-placed Leeds.
Here and now
Fast forward to this weekend and the two sides were separated by just a point prior to their meeting at Elland Road. A repeat of the result last October looked unlikely, but it was reasonable to expect another fascinating encounter.
In most circumstances, it would be a mouthwatering prospect for visiting supporters. Sadly, the real story of this match wasn’t anything to do with events on the pitch – it was the £36 cost of an adult away ticket for the fixture. Multiply that figure by ten and you are left, entirely understandably, with the number of Cardiff fans who decided to fork out for a game which was also televised.
Compare and contrast with the sold-out allocation of 2,100 Peterborough supporters who were encouraged to Vicarage Road a day earlier by Watford’s one-off ticket pricing of just £10 per adult and £1 per Under-16 and you can see why Ken Bates is not the most popular chairman in the Championship – neither among the Leeds fans who have to cope with him daily, nor the away fans he discourages from visiting Elland Road each season.
Amanda Jacks, a caseworker for the Football Supporters’ Federation, used her Twitter account both to paint a quick pen portrait of the visiting support’s experience and post a telling picture too. There were, she said, at least three police officers filming Cardiff fans standing outside their coaches as they were being searched. Her photograph said it all – a long line of police vans parked up at Woolley Edge service station to accompany less than 400 supporters to a football match. Woolley Edge, woolly thinking.
The match in brief
And so to the game itself. Whereas Cardiff’s visit last season had felt like a real event, this was a low-key occasion played out in front of a sparse crowd. Stand-in Leeds goalkeeper Paul Rachubka denied Aron Gunnarsson from outside the box in the fourth minute, while the hosts soon twice threatened through their strikeforce of former Cardiff men McCormack and Andy Keogh. David Marshall made a smart stop from the latter’s point-blank header.
Leeds could have been forgiven for thinking the prospect of facing lone striker Joe Mason, a summer capture from Plymouth Argyle, seemed less daunting than the star-studded attack that Cardiff brought to Elland Road last season, but that was a costly attitude. Darren O’Dea was weak in dealing with an innocuous long ball and Mason nudged him out of possession before rounding Rachubka to score.
The home side looked threatening from set pieces and low crosses from open play for much of the first half without managing too many attempts on goal, with Cardiff’s hard-working midfield tracking back well. The last chance before the interval went to Leeds captain Jonny Howson whose shot was blocked by Mark Hudson following a driving run through the middle.
It was back to the Twitter account of Jacks at half time for further evidence of the pathetic state of affairs in the stands at Elland Road. It was revealed that 20 Cardiff fans had been ejected for standing and that those remaining had threatened to walk out if any more of their number were removed from the ground. Early in the second half, around 100 travelling supporters left of their own accord to protest outside the stadium. This is certainly not the first time that away fans have been dealt with forcibly at Leeds.
On the field, the best opportunity of the early exchanges after the break went to Leeds winger Robert Snodgrass. The Scot unleashed a fierce drive from outside the area which was beaten away by Marshall. Grayson opted to shuffle his pack, bringing on last season’s top scorer Luciano Becchio for Keogh as Leeds pressed hard for an equaliser. Marshall then made two superb stops to deny Adam Clayton and Jonny Howson halfway through the second half, the latter – a low fist to a firm header from a Snodgrass corner – particularly admirable.
To say the equaliser had been coming would be an understatement. It arrived in the 73rd minute with Snodgrass prodding home from close range after a free kick had been nodded down by Tom Lees. The young centre-back then wasted an excellent chance to give Leeds the lead when he glanced wide from substitute Lloyd Sam’s cross.
At the other end, Rachubka was underworked during a second half dominated by his team-mates but Gunnarsson nearly provided a late twist. The Icelandic midfielder was put off by Aidan White’s challenge on the line as he rose to nod home and Cardiff were denied. It was the last chance of the match and both sides had to settle for a point, Leeds ending their six-match losing run against Cardiff but still without a win against the Welsh side in over 25 years.