Brian McDermott has definitely endeared himself to the fans far better than Neil Warnock ever did. Despite a dreadful run of form, an insistence on a diamond system that clearly isn’t working and significantly less points at this stage of the season than Warnock had this time last year, still the fans seem to believe unwaveringly in him and have faith in him to restore the good times.
And so they should.... despite recent results, Elland Road still has a positive feel about it and there are still many more people whose glasses are half-full, rather than half-empty. “It is better to have a half-full glass in your hand...” my dear old Dad used to say, “than a full one that you simply can’t find.” You can imagine his delight when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, rather than Alzheimer’s.
What was even more endearing about McDermott was the announcement of three centre halves on the teamsheet. Clearly he had decided enough was enough with the diamond formation and was willing to change things around.
As the teams lined up, he had gone for a fluid 3-5-2, morphing into 5-3-2 when we were on the defensive (which wasn't often) with Warnock and Byram as wing backs. I must say I fancy White more than I do Warnock in this role, purely for reasons of pace and energy – but like everyone else I was pleasantly taken aback by the way the game began to unfold.
To be fair, it was difficult to really balance the extent to which we were excellent against the extent to which they were sh-it, but we rapidly began to dominate – Ross going close early on when clean through and should have done better than to clatter a too casual effort against the keeper’s legs. Shortly afterwards, an excellent cross from the right found an unmarked Ross who again forced a good save from the keeper – this time, it was a more difficult chance with the ball arriving slightly behind his run.
But we already looked more dangerous than we had at any other point this season. My personal biggest criticism of displays to date are that we are too pedestrian when going forward, always giving the opposition time to regroup behind the ball and we simply don’t look like we’re going to score, unless the opposition make a mistake.
Not so today, thankfully, with some excellent interplay down the flanks bringing Sam and Warnock into the play and looking to play Ross or the excellent Smith into the game wherever possible. Surely the first goal had to come soon?
And it did. Another good through ball saw their keeper run the ball outside the area when an alert Matt Smith challenged and robbed him. The ball broke loose to McCormack who bent it deftly between two defenders and into the net. Again a balance needs to be struck between whether it was our good play or their poor play – but you can only play what’s in front of you, as they say.
The second goal was sheer class. If Arsenal had scored it, it would have been on Match of the Day - though in fairness, they do show all premiership goals, anyway. A sweeping pass from inside his own half from Rudy to Ross; Ross drifts down the left wing then plays an inch perfect cross right onto the head of the onrushing Rudy who netted from six yards. Again, one could argue where the marking was... but with a run like that and such a perfect cross, perhaps no marking was really possible.
Before long it was 3-0 – the impressive Smith sweeping home from the edge of the box after we had caused yet more confusion in their defence.
So 3-0 at the break – without looking it up, when was the last time we went in 3-0 up at half time? Anyone?
On to the second half and Birmingham simply had to change something – not least because they needed four goals and, so far, their only real chance had been an effort from the edge of the box after Alex Mowatt had naively tried to dribble the ball clear.
So they brought on Nikola Zigic. Now, here was a giant of a man who had been known to bang four goals in from time to time – I’m sure we all remember that horrible 4-1 home defeat at the back end of Grayson’s reign, when he bagged all four. Anyway, the giant came on and, at 8 foot 6 inches tall, was arguably the tallest player in the Birmingham front line.
And his arrival seemed to make a difference. Birmingham dominated the early stages of the second half and we began to look a bit frail for the first time in the match. A couple of crosses from the impressive Burke, who we have tried and failed to sign on no less than seventeen separate occasions (or two, maybe) was giving Warnock a lot of problems and his crosses caused much confusion. Zigic was predictably winning everything in the air, but – aside from a couple of nervy scrambles – the only real save that Paddy had to make was from a Zigic shot from the edge of the box which he turned over very competently.
But Birmingham always looked vulnerable on the break – and we looked very good on it. Smith had the ball in the net but was adjudged offside. Their keeper made a couple more one-on-one saves before another excellent move down the left saw Mowatt whip a perfect cross into Smith, who’s bullet header was unstoppable. 4-0 (last time we won 4-0 in the league anyone?) and now we were back in cruise control. “5-0 and we’re on the pitch” sang the Kop.... and why not?
Birmingham’s heads dropped and we coasted home with comfort. An excellent performance with a brave new system – I wonder though (sorry to be a tad negative here) how this system will hold up against any decent team? A great performance, but I've seen many better League One teams here over the past few years.
Batfastard's Ratings – can’t give anyone less than 8 after that display;
- Kenny – 8- couple of good saves, never put a foot wrong
- Lees – 8.5 – an extra half point for an amazing headed goal line clearance
- Pearce 8 – very solid game
- Wootton – 9 – looked Premiership quality
- Byram – 8.5 – getting back to his best
- Warnock 8 – good game all round
- Murphy – 8 – good game all round
- Austin – 9.5. – MOM. Tireless, box-to-box performance
- Ross – 8.5 – would have been MOM with a ten if his finishing had been up to his usual standards – should have had 4 or 5
- Smith – 9 – excellent display – had four chances and buried three of them (one offside). Worked hard throughout, but certainly not premiership quality.
- McDermott – 9 – well done for changing system and making use of what we've got. I still retain every faith in the man – I just wonder how weak the midfield will look against anyone with quality and how quickly that will lead to the back three getting pulled out of position? We will say.
As for this match.... an excellent job, very well done.
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