Leeds United 0 Charlton Athletic 1: Reza inflicts more pain on sorry Whites

Diego Poyett challenges Aidan White for the ball. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Diego Poyett challenges Aidan White for the ball. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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And the question lingers: where will it all end? The results, the ownership, the club.

Leeds United are taking punch after punch, desperately hoping that Massimo Cellino can somehow outwit the Football League and break the trend.

If results on the pitch and United’s affairs off it are anything to go by, their board and the owners should prepare themselves for the worst as Cellino’s takeover awaits independent judgement.

When games as benign as last night’s meeting with Charlton Athletic slip by, the dice are rolling belligerently against them.

Leeds are so riotous and on the edge that the football is struggling to keep up.

Quiet nights at Elland Road are not to be sniffed at when each day threatens to bring God-knows-what, and football at its most drab was – for almost an hour – a night without blood and tears. Then Reza Ghoochannejhad found the corner of Jack Butland’s net and the downward spiral began again. United are lodged in it and have been for weeks.

Charlton set up for a goalless draw at Elland Road and would have considered that result a good point. Only one season was alive last night and United’s visitors reflected their perilous position in the Championship with risk-free football, a brand which their ambitious Belgian owner will look to dispel before long.

It was still enough to eke out a winning goal on 55 minutes, moments after Ross McCormack hit the crossbar 90 yards up the pitch. To rub it in, an injury-time penalty from McCormack was saved by Ben Hamer, the angel on Charlton’s shoulder.

There is too much water between Leeds and the bottom three – a shake-up which Charlton are heavily involved in – to suggest that six defeats from seven games could signal the walls closing in as they did last season, but United’s next point and their next win are difficult to see.

The past month brought a spate of home fixtures, all bar one of which their squad have wasted. The Championship table is depressing and the form statistics even worse. Brian McDermott would look to the summer were more immediate matters not so pivotal or utterly unavoidable, and he would not deny that he is weakened horribly by United’s results; vulnerable regardless of how Cellino fairs.

Nothing said more about the loss of faith in Leeds than an attendance of less than 18,000. Even those who turned up were at Elland Road in body with their minds elsewhere – fixated on the six hours of complex legal discussion waged in London on Monday.

Tim Kerr, the independent QC hearing Cellino’s appeal against the Football League, reserved judgement after listening at length to arguments for and against the Italian’s stricken takeover of Leeds and gave neither side any direction about when he would make his judgement.

Those who have been through similar legal processes before did not expect an immediate ruling. Leeds, on the other hand, were caught by surprise by Kerr’s decision to delay.

“By the time you read these notes, we will hopefully have been notified of the outcome of Massimo Cellino’s appeal,” wrote chairman Salah Nooruddin in last night’s programme. No such luck.

Nor did wages reach United’s players yesterday, as agreed when they and the club’s coaching staff agreed to defer half of their pay for March on Friday. The absence of a resolution with Cellino’s takeover meant no agreement over whether he or Gulf Finance House would swallow last month’s wage bill. Again, the squad arrived for work in search of clarity and answers.

McDermott had solutions of his own to find after another week of ineptitude and defeats. The only straw for him to clutch was Leeds’ refusal to roll over and die against Doncaster Rovers in the second half on Saturday, and his loyalty leaned towards the players responsible for that effort. Michael Tonge and Aidan White started. Four players in total were dropped. McDermott’s find-a-way mantra has taken him round the houses this season.

The purpose of the line-up was evidently to free White and Sam Byram to carve Charlton up on either side, and White nibbled at the right of Jose Riga’s defence, but the congestion inside him was London-esque. It took a quick free-kick from McCormack to flick the game open in the 14th minute, presenting Tonge with a ball which the midfielder controlled beautifully but thrashed over the crossbar with his second touch.

There was little more than that for Charlton’s goalkeeper, Ben Hamer, to deal with but Riga’s continental manner – fluid movement, Joe Pigott wading away in deep, lonely water up front – gave Leeds the possession and time which better teams have starved them of.

Hamer looked rattled every time United tried to involve him and Lawrie Wilson helped him out with a sliding tackle on White after Hamer ran out rashly to chase a loose ball in the 20th minute.

If nothing else, it was nice to see Leeds perform as if the pitch and the stadium was theirs.

Charlton’s commitment to their system and philosophy was admirable but flawed. In all but a couple of moments, it got them nowhere. Dorian Dervite’s 30-yard shot – requiring a one-hand save from Jack Butland –was their first shot in anger and Butland coped more comfortably with a strike on the half-hour from shirt-printer’s dream Ghoochannejhad, holding an attempt on the turn.

Matt Smith’s volley from Stephen Warnock’s cross brought a sharper save at the other end of the field, though Hamer stopped it easily enough. It was, for the most part, a game which needed a rocket in the right opening.

McCormack almost provided it five minutes into the second half when Hamer grazed his 30-yard shot with his fingertips and scraped it onto the underside of the bar.

It was as clean a hit as Ghoochannejhad’s five minutes later which curled sweetly around Butland and into his net after Jason Pearce stood off him on the edge of the box.

As happens so frequently, the players drew a deep breath of nervous air and muddled around in search of an equaliser.

Noel Hunt, who replaced Smith at half-time, teed up McCormack nicely with a cross from the right wing but McCormack side-footed the delivery high over Hamer and Dervite tested Butland again with his hammer of a right foot 10 minutes from time.

There is a familiar pattern developing at Elland Road – United chasing a result at the death as their opponents lie deep and counter-attack. It isn’t supposed to be like this but not much about Leeds is.

Hamer’s nerveless save from McCormack after Diego Poyet fouled White inside the box on 93 minutes reminded McDermott of that.

Samuel Saiz.

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