Leeds United 2-1 Nottingham Forest (Premier League)
It’s a game I’m not that fussed about going to in truth… My beloved Reds are in free fall without victory since the start of February, they can’t win on the road, the football and tactical approach to games in recent weeks, especially away from home, has been dire and awful to watch, and the Manager who all Forest fans like myself, love and adore, could be facing the sack should Forest suffer another inevitable away day beating.
Add to that, I’m going to be sat in the home end, midst cheering Leeds United fans, I can’t bloody wait.
Credit the wife who’s got us tickets though… Her office has corporate ties with Leeds United as well as Liverpool and the 3Arena in Dublin, “we can go to Elland Road whenever we want” she says, so last summer she put our name down for when Forest were in town.
The original match was scheduled for September following an equally depressing run, that game was postponed due to the death of QEII and ever since, we’ve been checking the fixtures as to when it would be re-housed, sods law it would be at the stage of season when ‘everything’ riding on it was so important to both clubs.
Forest’s last win, against Leeds on February 5th, saw Peacock’s boss Jesse Marsch immediately sacked, replaced by one of Watford’s many former Managers, Javi Gracia, who’s not done much himself, ahead of the match United were in the bottom three but a point below Forest midst a Premier League scrap that has nine clubs all fighting to survive the drop into the Championship.
I’m shirt and shoes under a jumper for warmth as the wife’s brought her laptop with her for the car journey to take a couple of ‘teams’ calls as we drop the dog off at grandma’s and head up the M1 nice and early to ensure we enjoy every bit of corporate hospitality pre-match.
It’s just gone 4pm and she wants a coffee, so I’m off at Tibshelf Services where I fall in luck, a Costa Drive Thru, I don’t even have to get out of the car as I order a Caramel Frappuccino and regular Latte.
A short stop for topping up an annoying slow puncture with air, £1 contactless, we’re back on the M1 and heading past Sheffield Meadowhall at 70mph before spotting Emley Moor Mast in the distance, sunny skies a fresh April day as we come up to the M62 which Sat Nav is telling me to join.
I refuse, traffic on the slip road is a nightmare, although I soon find it’s even worse on the M621 as roadworks ensure delays in getting to the ground, frustrating so near, but so far as we’re at a standstill for half an hour plus, trudging along to junction 2.
You can see the huge, cantilevered roof of the East Stand from the motorway as you near the stadium amongst the 6pm traffic, looking for parking there’s roadworks ensuring you can’t get down Elland Road itself, pulling off onto Wesley Street which is opposite the ground, a huge car park thankfully has plenty of space for a fiver cash.
There’s a couple of mates who’ve just arrived, I give them a shout as I get out the car, before walking down to the Centenary Club, a plush event space opposite the road, it has the feel of a wedding venue with a marquee style interior, plenty of full tables with a band on, free drinks and a cashless bar for even more booze.
We’re sat on a table with four Leeds fans who live in Morecambe, there’s Leigh Bromby and John Hendrie on stage before their former defender Paul Reaney predicts a 3-1 win. It’s all friendly as we chat about the relegation scrap and how we prefer it down at those spit and sawdust grounds anyway, a chicken pate starter with a lamb, sausage and mash main washed down with a couple of Heineken zero’s as the wife helps herself to white wine.
There’s time for a lovely pudding before crossing the road to the stadium, ten minutes before kick off there’s a clamber to get through the turnstile, they say technology makes things easier but in scanning these barcodes on entrance, it all feels much slower than it was back in the day when a bloke simply ripped off your ticket and wished you well along your way.
Inside the concourse of the huge East Stand it’s dated but spacious, we’re up it seems an eternity of stairs before reaching the third tier, a padded seat on half way but by god we are high up, a great view of the playing surface, nice and cool up here with no worries about the wind and the rain hitting our faces, not that they’ll be any tonight, a huge roof keeps us well covered and closed in.
The Leeds fans sing ‘marching on together’ as the two teams come out, you look down onto the green surface lit up by the electronic advertising boards, the John Charles Stand opposite, Forest fans making a noise in the left corner of that, Norman Hunter (South) Stand to the left, behind the goal, Don Revie (North) Stand to the right, you can see the traffic along the motorway above the pitched roof, full to the rafters a good 36,000 plus in tonight.
Forest in blue instantly look to frustrate their hosts in white who have some decent early possession, Sinisterra down the left is looking confident with swagger, cutting in and switching play, he coaxes Williams into an early booking and it’s the start of a long night for the Welsh international right back.
The away team have a corner though and crack a post against the run of play, Dennis should have probably done better from close range, but it’s no harm as the Reds play some surprisingly slick football down the left, Dennis with a one-two before picking out Mangala who coolly takes a touch before placing home from just inside the area.
That gets the back up of a few Leeds fans who start to show frustration, Forest fans are doing all the singing but the away team never look like holding on… Harrison on the right and Sinisterra down the left are getting too much time and space, they threaten on timeless occasions before a shot from the edge of the area is saved well to his left by Navas, nobody in blue reacts as Harrison runs in to slot home the rebound. A defensive error on a night, where both sides seem to make plenty.
The goal no doubt lifts Leeds more than it does Forest who surrender deeper, defending with no real game plan when eventually in possession, I like Felipe and Niakhate as individuals, but there’s plenty of space in between them, the Leeds wingers are still proving a menace, and as the board goes up for added time in the first half, Williams is standing off Sinisterra, who glides into the box and smashes home a beautifully curled goal, to cap off a dominant display of creativity and execution on his excellent behalf.
At half time I’m stood up already contemplating the best time to leave, it’s not a night where I fancy Forest to get anything at all, too easily picked off, they’ve offered very little as an attacking threat, it’s never nice seeing one you love, suffer in this way, especially when those around you are enjoying it so much.
The wife’s sat down checking the score from Eastwood’s match at Pinchbeck, the lads’ came on 1-0 down and helped his team to a point, the only other positive on the night is that Ollie Watkins has scored for my fantasy team.
Leeds come out and Sinisterra goes close again, the home team have chances as they look the more threatening to score again, but the melee of substitutes disrupt the second half flow, by now my only thoughts are getting out of the car park before the mad rush, I leave it until 80 minutes before nudging the wife to say ‘come on’. A quick wee and we're on our way.
Colombian winger Luis Sinisterra is one I’ve painfully enjoyed watching the most, confidence, almost arrogant on the ball, he cuts inside with intent and has a great right foot, he’s been the difference but when you look at the two teams, Leeds seem to have so much more in attacking depth than Forest. Jack Harrison plays well, substitute Crysencio Summerville looks like a lovely little player, Wilfried Gnonto also on the bench, wasn’t even needed.
For Forest, I see little in stand out footballers who have attacking quality. Just one of those nights? Morgan Gibbs White who I like, just can’t seem to sort his feet out, Brennan Johnson, who I like, offers very little, Gustavo Scarpa who I like, comes off the bench and is asked by his manager to play with chalk on his boots at left wing.
Defensively I don’t particularly rate either team, Leeds at times conceding possession when they shouldn’t, a decent side might have picked them off, especially 1-0 up on the night. Forest have more questions than answers now 29 games into the campaign, the more I see of Neco Williams the less I like from a defensive perspective. Trying hard and running around is one thing, but making good decisions is the level he, and a few of his teammates now need to get to.
I said ahead of the game that regardless of the outcome of this match, there’s still a lot of football to play. Nothing is decided on tonight's showing. But whilst I now think Leeds might have a chance, especially with their next run of fixtures, of staying up, my concern for Forest is growing, without a win in eight, they have now conceded twenty points from winning positions, and have surrendered leads in their last three matches, to return just a solitary point.
My biggest fear is not for their survival in the Premier League, but for the survival of Manager Steve Cooper who gave the club and its fans Premier League football after 23 long years. He’s certainly made mistakes in recent weeks, and he has to take the brunt of the blame, but without him, the club would be in a much worse place. Let’s hope he’s given the time to see the job through, as another previous Nottingham Forest Manager once famously said, “I hope anybody’s not stupid enough to write us off”.. Regardless of recent results, Forest can still survive, they'll have a better chance if that's with Cooper, than without him.
Leeds United: Illan Meslier, Luke Ayling, Robin Koch, Pascal Struijk, Junior Firpo, Weston McKennie, Marc Roca, Luis Sinisterra (Rodrigo 74), Brenden Aaronson (Crysencio Summerville 74), Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford (Rasmus Kristensen 90).
Nottingham Forest: Keylor Navas, Neco Williams, Felipe, Moussa Niakhate, Harry Toffolo, Orel Mangala (Jonjo Shelvey 56), Remo Freuler (Cheikhou Kouyate 64), Danilo (Taiwo Awoniyi 56), Morgan Gibbs-White (Gustavo Scarpa 71), Brennan Johnson, Emmanuel Dennis (Andre Ayew 71).
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 4th April 2023, Elland Road, Leeds (att 36,740)