Leeds United said farewell to one former custodian last night, sending off the late Leslie Silver with a minute’s applause. The club’s current incumbent departs today with his legacy at Elland Road far less secure.
Massimo Cellino’s disqualification as owner of Leeds should officially start in the next 24 hours – unless he and the Football League can agree a period of grace while the Italian gets his affairs in order – and he has no way of knowing what he will return to when he resumes control in April.
He goes nonetheless with something to cling to after a splendid demolition of the Championship leaders and a result in keeping with another unfathomable period at Elland Road. It is typical of Leeds that in the week of Cellino’s unprecedented ban and after eight games without a win they should find away to beat a largely unbeatable Bournemouth side.
Leeds have given Bournemouth the treatment once already this season – amazingly, the only squad to have beaten Eddie Howe’s home and away – but last night’s win was worth infinitely more than their frantic second-half fightback at Dean Court four months ago.
Luke Murphy settled the game with a pearl of a finish, finding the top corner in the 36th minute as Bournemouth’s lax attitude caught them out once too often, and Leeds dug their claws into a win which is priceless in the extreme. The league table looks vastly improved this morning and the pressure elsewhere has climbed a notch. Relegation feels avoidable again.
Cellino called on Monday night for “fight” from the club’s players and a performance which made a stand in the name of their temporarily-deposed owner. How much the outcome of his failed appeal against the Football League drove Neil Redfearn’s squad was hard to say but Leeds have not been this switched-on since the Italian’s disqualification was first announced on December 1.
They survived a barnstorming finish in which Marc Pugh hit a post and substitute Yann Kermorgant smashed a penalty against the frame of their goal but fortune favoured United for the first time in a while. The 88th-minute dismissal of Giuseppe Bellusci was almost a price worth paying.
Redfearn used a flat midfield four during Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Birmingham City, in the belief that Birmingham were a team Leeds could and should attack in numbers. The switch back to a solitary striker against Bournemouth was a reflection of the form and the pace of the side they were playing; a side who have dominated the Championship since United turned them over at Dean Court in September.
Leeds have dropped nine places in the interim and Bournemouth have climbed 14. United’s win on the south coast – contrary to their dreadful away form – stands out as the most remarkable of their results this season. Yesterday’s, in the circumstances, was no less surprising.
Bournemouth’s style is pronounced to anyone who watches them and a length-of-the-field break from Callum Wilson in the opening minutes – ending with a cheap and scuffed finish – served notice of the way in which Eddie Howe’s players would come at United.
Leeds let them play that way briefly but soon began responding in kind as the game opened up dramatically. Bournemouth’s goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, tipped a Rudy Austin header over his bar moments after Brett Pitman had passed up an inviting chance at the other end.
Austin went closer with a shot on the turn on 20 minutes after Bournemouth’s devotion to interplay tied them in knots on the edge of their own box and the visitors’ casual, confident air was a red rag to Redfearn’s side. The brilliant Lewis Cook set the example from deep, a seasoned pro in a 17-year-old’s body.
There were times when it seemed that Bournemouth had come to Yorkshire with the expectation of teaching Leeds a lesson.
In the first half they had no authority at all. United cut their defence open at will with searching passes but, true to form, lacked the precision to put Boruc’s clean sheet to the sword until Murphy picked a finish out of the top draw.
The midfielder – the source of United’s late equaliser against Birmingham on Saturday – drifted up field and took a lay-off from Austin before cutting into space and slashing a left-footed finish into the top corner of Boruc’s net from 20 yards. This is a renaissance from Murphy and no mistake. In 18 months at Elland Road, his influence has never been so great.
Pitman had the ball in United’s net before half-time but an offside flag ruled out his volley and Marco Silvestri kept out Wilson’s header by a matter of centimetres in the 42nd minute, a moment which would have called for goalline technology if Elland Road had it. There were shaky seconds but not enough to question the merit of United’s lead.
The importance of the second half did not need stating but there was no great sign of a second goal at either end of the field for an hour, even when Silvestri sliced a hurried clearance straight into the path of Matt Ritchie. Wilson eventually threatened an equaliser after getting a run on Liam Cooper but his cut-back trickled wide, and the striker came within a fraction of scoring on 64 minutes when he advanced on Silvestri and chipped a finish past the Italian’s goal. Pugh struck the inside of a post late on and with 88 minutes gone, Bellusci was dismissed for a tackle on Wilson on the very edge United’s box. Replays showed the challenge outside the area.
Referee Oliver Langford pointed to the spot and sent Bellusci off. Kermorgant took the penalty but, with the snow coming down, he lashed it against the top of Silvestri’s bar and Elland Road breathed again. For a split second, a huge result was in doubt.
Isn’t everything at Leeds?