All eyes on Massimo Cellino, yet again.
In a week when blame seems to be the name of the game at Elland Road, David Hockaday can point the finger at Luke Murphy for last night’s cruel defeat at Bradford City but it is his job on the line and his fate that Cellino controls.
Hockaday was inches away from the bullet after Saturday’s defeat to Watford and a dramatic exit from the Capital One Cup did nothing to reinforce the dubious ring of steel around him.
United’s head coach says Cellino believes in him and trusts him but the owner of Leeds will only tolerate so much, regardless of his backtracking over the weekend. The result at Valley Parade last night was another black mark and another question mark over his man in the dug-out.
In the days after the loss at Vicarage Road and Cellino’s aborted plan to sack Hockaday, four of Hockaday’s senior players sought him out to tell him that he had their support and that of the dressing room. Another less experienced played let him down badly yesterday, sent off after half-an-hour in irresponsible style and leaving Leeds at Bradford’s mercy.
Murphy was lucky to avoid a red card for a mistimed tackle in the eighth minute but an identical challenge later in the first half - high, wild and unnecessary - earned him the ignominy of a slow walk to the tunnel. It also gave Hockaday a crisis he could have done without.
Leeds held out for over 80 minutes and silenced Valley Parade by opening the scoring but Bradford have form in this competition and form in their division too. The club sensed a first win over United at their current ground since 1932 and they snatched it in dramatic fashion, fighting back after Matt Smith nodded a beleaguered United side in front on 82 minutes.
Billy Knott equalised within moments with a 20-yard rocket and James Hanson’s diving header during the next attack deflated a group of players who appeared to have ridden a hard, horrible evening against the odds. As weeks go, this is one that Hockaday won’t forget, much as he might like to.
He called this fixture one of the six biggest in England, despite many views to the contrary, and the breathless finish was worthy of any rivalry. This particular derby is also one of the most dormant. The last time Leeds played at Valley Parade, Stan Collymore was goading the away end and Mark Viduka nicked a point 10 minutes from time. As with most things these days, the comparisons between then and now are not at all flattering for either club but the ground was suitably packed and feisty, producing the sort of tie the second round needs.
Leeds and their head coach needed it less, or so it seemed beforehand. Hockaday fought his corner in the aftermath of his near-sacking, defending his performance and his singular owner, but he is living a game-to-game life having survived by the skin of his teeth over the weekend. A simple home tie would have sufficed last night; away to Bradford, the bookmakers were all inclined to side with United’s League One opponents.
Hockaday’s encouraged that negativity by naming a changed but fairly unimaginative team, a team which included Scott Wootton and a largely forgotten David Norris. Wootton had been unused since struggling through the back end of Leeds’ win over Accrington Stanley in the previous round. Norris’ last appearance was made a year ago and he is one of the players who United could attempt to move on before the transfer window closes.
The team in its entirety was not exactly the foreign guard Leeds were supposed to be under Cellino - 10 English footballers around Tommaso Bianchi in Hockaday’s midfield diamond. At the head of the team, the presence of Smith made the midfield’s industry key. He saw two chances in the first five minutes, one nodded wide and the other sent over the crossbar from close range.
That early intent would have dissipated quickly had referee Graham Scott taken a different view of a wild challenge by Murphy on Bradford’s Gary Liddle eight minutes into the tie. Murphy dived into a tackle and caught Liddle’s ankle but Scott, under intense pressure from a large home crowd, opted to book him. The reprieve was only temporary.
Murphy’s indiscretion caused Leeds more concern than Bradford did in an opening spell which Hockaday’s players made the better of.
Stephen Warnock lashed an angle shot across Ben Williams’ far post after a sliding tackle from Sheehan stopped David Norris striking first inside the box, but City sensed the need to strike back and began to attack United’s flanks. Jason Pearce blocked a goalbound volley from Billy Clarke and Aaron McLean sent a diving headed a foot wide after Alan Sheehan picked him out at the far post with a deft sweep of his left foot.
The game flowed in parts, became ragged in others and gave no hint of which way it would swing in the first half hour. But as Hockaday waited for a shot in the arm, Murphy gave him a knife in the back. The midfielder brought on his own dismissal with a loose and obtuse tackle on the halfway line, this time on James Meredith. There was no protest as Jones brought out the red card, just a sorry look from Murphy which spoke volumes about the trouble Leeds were in.
There is, already, a problem with United’s discipline - four red cards already this season and only one that the club have had cause to argue with. Leeds were without Giuseppe Bellusci and Sam Byram through suspension last night and will plan for Bolton Wanderers on Saturday without Byram and Murphy. In the midst of a changing squad and a transitional period, Leeds are doing a poor job of helping themselves.
Bradford took Murphy’s dismissal as a sign that the tie was theirs. They ravaged the flanks , gravitating towards the pace of Meredith on the left and let down by the accuracy of his crosses. Leeds needed half-time and it came before City could do any damage to 10 men lodged behind the ball.
Hockaday made no changes at the interval but tweaked his formation in an attempt to avoid an onslaught, using Michael Tonge as a holding midfielder. Bradford should still have scored five minutes into the second half when Meredith picked out Kennedy who, with bodies everywhere, bounced an ugly finish wide. It was indicative of a game in which Stuart Taylor, United’s goalkeeper, had few saves to make.
His best came in the 68th minute as Meredith caused trouble again, slipping Clarke into space inside the six-yard area. The former Reading keeper stood up as Clarke attempted to chip him and beat the ball behind with one hand.
Leeds held on and looked for a telling chance but they came only at Taylor’s end of the field and Jason Pearce’s goalline clearance kept out a touch from Clarke which looked destined for the back of the net. The fatigue in United’s football began to show but Hockaday resisted any substitutions, provoking dissent from the large away crowd.
But against their expectations, he was briefly vindicated on 82 minutes when Leeds plucked a goal from nowhere. Billy Sharp and Tonge led a counter-attack and Smith arrived on the end of Norris’ crossed, thumping the ball past Williams.
Bradford’s shoulders sank but the response was quick, brutal and decisive. Knott sparked it with a brilliant finish, seconds after Taylor tipped away a similar effort from Clarke, and Leeds had barely caught their breath when Hanson anticipated Liddle’s delivery and drilled it over the line. At the full-time, the immediate blame lay with Murphy. The pressure this morning falls again on Hockaday.