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Blimey, I thought it was bad against Brighton but this one really took the biscuit. Absolute garbage from start to finish, I can't think of one shining moment to brighten the day. It started with Killgallon hoofing the ball into the blue yonder for Hulse to battle it out - eh? I thought we were supposed to be "going for it", aren't Gillingham third from bottom? -then Gregan couldn't find anyone with his short sideways stuff let alone his hallmark telegraphed raking ball to the right, then Gray got sent off for retaliation against...against what exactly?...whatever it was he decided to get hissy about it didn't even merit a free-kick, and it finished with a seriously bemused crowd, stretched to breaking point, losing patience with a 17 year old kid playing out of position. What in Don's name is Blackwell doing putting this kid through such misery? What a strange manager he is turning out to be.
The first half was as bad a game of football seen at Elland Road since relegation, and that's up against some pretty stiff competition. Gillingham are deep in a relegation battle and need every last point they can muster so it was no surprise they set themselves up to defend. What was a surprise, considering our play-off aspirations, was the ineptitude and listlessness of the Leeds response. Killgallon hoofed half a dozen balls up the middle in the first five minutes, which to be fair to him turned out to be the only balls that got anywhere near their box in the first half. The only shot I can remember is Kelly Heskeying it over the bar from outside the box. Hulse and Healy saw virtually none of the ball, Wright was as invisible as every single person at Elland Road bar the manager knew he would be, and by far the busiest centre-backs on show were Butler and Killgallon. This remember against a side who came for a point. By 35 minutes Gillingham had cottoned on that Leeds were so abysmal they could actually win this game and started to push more players out on the break.
It really wasn't much of a surprise when they scored. Kelly roughed up a player in possession on the edge of the box and Leeds, despite bizarrely having all 11 players behind the ball, failed to charge down the player who was by a mile the favourite to whack the rolled free kick. It got a bad deflection and we were one down with two minutes left to half-time, guaranteeing the whistle would be immediately drowned out by mass booing. It crossed my mind that this could be Blackwell's last day in the job.
By the start of second half the crowd had obviously had a few beers and wound themselves up with a few half-time rants because they took it upon themselves to do what Blackwell was seemingly incapable of doing, namely putting a rocket up the arses of the players. Unfortunately it also evolved into barracking of any player who made a mistake, which is completely understandable but didn't do much for Walton's already brittle confidence. By the time a crowd is barracking one of their own players it is already way too late to bring him off since it's seen as a weak manager responding to the crowd. Blackwell should have brought him off at half-time. As the weeks go by he is more and more appearing as a stubborn cuss unable to see and rectify his mistakes.
So the players finally responded and became more impassioned, but they still had little to show for it in terms of goalmouth action until Michael Gray's petulance finally kicked the game into life. I was too far away to see the start of it but Gray has since said Henderson attempted to nudge him into the water bottle basket on the 'cinder' track. In the 2004/5 Handbook of Footballers' Responses this heinous act apparently warrants a furious leap to the feet and a girlie slap across the offenders neck. Cue 25 man melee (benches also got involved), a comical dance routine from the gorgeously coiffered ref and, after about five minutes of standing around, marching orders for Gray and Henderson. All of which provided the main show of the day.
10 against 10 and suddenly we all realised what a brilliant tactical masterstroke Gray had performed. Certainly more insightful than Blackwell's barking decision that the whole problem could be solved by swapping Kelly for Richardson. Talk about fiddling while Rome burned, what mind-altering substances is this man on? A fired up crowd, more space, players burning with the injustice of it all, and...well, frankly still bugger all in terms of chances actually. The real turning point of the game came when Blackwell's patience finally ran out with Wright and he brought on King, the ex-Gills frontman. My god, a revelation, someone who along with Lennon could run at the defence. Better late than never but really way way way too late. Just as with the first against West Ham it was a burst to the right hand byline that brought our goal. King was the instigator, whipping in a ball to the near post that the Gills keeper and a defender under pressure from Hulse couldn't cope with, and Hulse poked in the bobbler from close range. It was deserved, just, and there were a couple of efforts that went very close in the final five minutes but I don't think anyone would suggest Leeds were unlucky not to win.
Then again, I haven't heard Blackwell's post-match comments yet. Cuckoos signal the start of spring don't they?
Copy from Football Unlimited of 14/03/2005.
Kevin Blackwell summed up his 10 months in charge of Leeds in the terms of a building-site foreman doing a spot of fire-fighting and sinking new footings before starting to see signs of what he described as a decent-looking house.
The manager has signed 27 players this season and shares more than a set of initials with his chairman Ken Bates, namely the intention to move to the sought-after areas of the Premiership. But here this season's attempt was almost floored by a creation which could have done with a few more bricks in the right places and by a back door which swung open alarmingly.
Blackwell, citing an improvement in results - four wins and now three draws in the nine games since Bates took over - and last season's promotion from afar by Crystal Palace, again fielded a 4-3-2-1 with the striker David Healy pushing up on the left and Aaron Lennon on the right in support of Rob Hulse. As a result his team promptly ceded control of central midfield to a side who have been in the relegation places for five months, survived several Gillingham chances to score a second and took 72 minutes to get a shot on target.