The weather was glorious as I went to pick up my granddaughter Hannah. The difference it makes to a footballing day is unbelievable in my opinion as it made me feel upbeat and more positive than of late. We were looking forward to another 30,000+ crowd to roar the team on and it was perfect conditions for a home game. The Peacock was packed out with lots of fans outside enjoying the sunshine and there was a positive feel about the place.
As we headed into the ground I saw a couple of policemen with a little boy who said he was lost. As they asked where he had last been with his dad he said the shop. I said he was probably queuing and still in the shop. With that a man came across and said he knew the lad’s dad and then a woman came over and said she had seen him queuing in the shop by the printing. I’m sure he got reunited very quickly but this was Leeds fans at their best all out to help each other. We got into the ground before kick-off and once the team were out, both teams headed to the centre circle for a minute’s applause. With the 17th anniversary since the tragic deaths of Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight in Turkey last Wednesday, their photos were put up on the screen as the whole ground rose as one to pay tribute to them both. I had to stifle a sob as I found this so emotional (one of my friends said the same at half time). RIP lads and thoughts with your families and friends.
The team today was Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi, Vieira, Phillips, Pedraza, Hernandez, Wood and Roofe. Subs were Dallas for Roofe, Doukara for Wood and Taylor for Hernandez. Attendance was 31,851 with approx. 1800 Preston fans.
In my blog from last Tuesday at Brentford I had said “Interestingly in my opinion, since we’ve reverted to playing deeper with the return of Bridcutt into the side, our play as a team seems to have suffered. Our best form of defence is attack so maybe it’s time to revert to what helped us start on our winning run.” Bridcutt wasn’t playing today due to an injury to his Achilles (according to BBC Radio Leeds) and to be honest we didn’t play as deep and had an attacking side to our game. We set off at a fast pace but in the first 15 minutes Preston had the chance to put the game to bed, having a few chances including a one to one that Green pulled off another fantastic save to deprive them of a goal. Green has shown to me just how much he has grown into the position this year and looks so self-assured, even jumping high to catch the ball when under pressure from their attack. I am so glad that he has been in goal this year, giving us some stability in that position. One thing I will say is that for this stage of the season the pitch is in a fantastic state. The amount of times in the past that it was threadbare in front of the goal and other places, the is very good to see.
The fans in the crowd were in good voice getting behind the team and this is what is needed to put the opposition under pressure rather than have a quiet stadium. We had been turned round again at the start with us attacking the Kop in the first half which isn’t as much a jinx as it used to be. We started putting our attacks together when we were winning the ball in defence and using our wings to move forwards. Ayling was a completely different person to Tuesday as he was attacking down the wing. We were playing as a team once again and backing each other up and fighting for the ball which was good to see. After another good move coming forward Roofe put the ball into the net to put us into the lead within 20 minutes. Getting an early goal was always going to be vital in my opinion. We kept attacking after this and played some great football including some great passing. Just before half time Chris Wood put the ball into the net to put us 2-0 up or so we thought, until the ref went to speak to the linesman and disallowed it, for offside I think. That was very disappointing especially as it was so close to half time and I really hoped that decision wouldn’t back fire on us. I needn’t have worried because with another attack Hernandez seemed to fall as he hit the ball past the advancing goalkeeper. Even though the ball was travelling very slowly, it was good to see it have enough momentum to go into the net before the Preston players could scoop it out. What a great feeling to know we had scored two goals (three really) before half time and it felt more comfortable than a one goal lead.
At the start of the second half, Preston came out fighting and to start with the crowd wasn’t as vociferous as they had been in the first half. It took approx. five minutes before we found our voices again so luckily it wasn’t for long. Not long after that we were very unlucky not to get another goal when Wood’s attempt came back off the crossbar. We had a few more chances which came close before Grayson now the manager for Preston, made a double substitution with Beckford coming on. Beckford had been welcomed by the Leeds fans chanting his name almost hero like but ensuring he was remembered for his goal at old trafford in the FA Cup 3rd round when we beat man u. “You’re Leeds and you know you are” was also chanted when he had been warming up and when he turned back to the Kop gave us a quick clap! The substitutions put us under pressure for quite a spell though as the minutes were ticking by and we had Green to thank again for making a great save before the crossbar saved us from the re-bound. Doukara had a good chance and should have done better. As Taylor was due to come on as sub, Hernandez was fouled near the corner by the cheese wedge. As I followed the direction of the ball I only heard everyone going mad as my daughter said did he just stamp on him. I don’t know where Hernandez was stamped on but the referee had no hesitation in sending the Preston player off. The same player had seemed very angry early on so had his just desserts by getting sent off. Straight away before the free kick was taken Taylor came on and went to left back. Berardi was on the right wing with Ayling playing to the left of him and both marking the tall blonde haired Preston player. Luckily for us the pressure was taking off us with the sending off and then to crown it all, when the ball was passed through for Doukara we got the rub of the green. He advanced with the ball and beat their goalie on the near post to give us a third goal on the day. That was it, game over in our favour and the three points that we really needed to get today to keep us in with a chance of the play offs.
The players came around the pitch at the end of the game as Jansson engaged with the fans in the South Stand first. As he approached the East Stand he took his shirt off and then took hold of the Swedish flag as he gave his shirt away. After posing with the flag he gave it back and then engaged with the fans in the Kop too. It was a welcome sight as he had also had a good game too as well as the whole team. My granddaughter had said how good it was to know there were Leeds fans from other countries at the game. I told her we had a worldwide fan base as she tried to reel off the places where Leeds fans come from. At Billy’s statue after the game there were some Leeds fans from Mexico which she thought was fantastic. Just before we’d got there it was funny seeing the police escort for some Preston fans where there was nearly as many police as fans!
The win today couldn’t have come at a better time with us playing Newcastle on Good Friday in our next game. It will be another hard game that’s for sure, but we have to go into the game playing to our strengths and not to be scared of them by standing off them. We need to approach the game in the same way as today and you never know, we may upset the applecart! I may not be looking forward to climbing the mountain of steps to our seats on the seventh level, but with the rest of the Leeds fans travelling up there, another three points would make our day. You never know – see you there, LUFC – Marching on Together!