Leeds United 0 Nottingham Forest 2: Derbyshire’s double does for sorry Whites

Jason Pearce, left.
Jason Pearce, left.
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Nottingham Forest have made an unholy mess of their season but now, at the last, they might salvage something from it.

For Leeds United there is nothing left to gain and little left to lose. League position, reputation and credibility went out with the bathwater weeks ago.

The cost of defeats is found in the manner of them and Leeds have been unrivalled in collapsing inwardly since Christmas.

Forest’s form has been equally dull but their results are not the same litany of hammerings.

Most Championship teams have the means of losing games without surrendering their dignity as well. At Elland Road, surrender is becoming second-nature.

Leeds were beaten at Forest four days after Christmas by a 20-yard bullet from Matt Derbyshire, a top-draw goal which gave his club the honour from a game they dominated throughout.

Derbyshire settled yesterday’s contest at Elland Road again but with none of the same brilliance, converting a gift of a chance after one minute and 32 seconds and scoring again 15 minutes later.

Gary Brazil, Forest’s caretaker, must have dreamt of that scenario on Sunday night.

The final weeks of the season bring their own, stressful pressure but Leeds were the team under a heavy weight yesterday, despite the fact that they will finish clear of the Championship’s relegation places and can climb no higher than 15th in their last two games.

The club’s new owner, Massimo Cellino, was not present at the game but he will travel to England from Miami this week with questions to ask not only of United’s week-to-week performances but of the club’s brittle psyche and fundamental failings.

Victories over Barnsley and Blackpool were, with hindsight, recorded against two of the poorest sides Leeds have encountered since August, and Forest were alive to United’s weak spots from the earliest seconds.

Derbyshire opened the scoring with their first attack and tucked away their second, leaving the visitors with 70-odd minutes to play out safely.

They put their backs to the wall in the second half and turned the contest into a defensive training exercise.

When these teams played at the City Ground in December, their respective coaches spent post-match talking about the play-offs – Billy Davies with more optimism than McDermott, admittedly.

The similarity now is the unmitigated shambles both clubs have become.

That Forest are still in contention for the top six after two wins from 15 games says so much about the way the Championship works.

Forest sacked Davies last month and McDermott’s survival at Leeds has been in spite of circumstances and results.

The first taste of foreign ownership was sour in Nottingham and Leeds, and this summer will be a time for lengthy reflection at both clubs.

In appointing Stuart Pearce as boss from July 1, Forest have at least given an indication of how their shortcomings will be addressed.

They are one of several Championship sides at risk of breaching the Football League’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, but the legacy of their expenditure is a useful squad for Pearce to inherit.

The changes at Elland Road should be more vast and there was no experimentation from McDermott yesterday, no risk-free blooding of youngsters. Barring Ross McCormack, this season has slowly destroyed so many of his players.

Marius Zaliukas and Matt Smith dropped out of United’s line-up and Rudy Austin and Noel Hunt stepped in, taking Leeds back to their starting point this season the diamond midfield.

It let McDermott down back then and was cracked in no time yesterday, as Jamie Mackie threaded the ball through to Derbyshire in the second minute, inviting the striker to advance on goalkeeper Jack Butland and slot the ball past him.

It was apparent then that United were at risk of another hiding, as much because of their own ineptitude as Forest’s ability.

In the 16th minute, Scott Wootton lost possession outside his own box and Derbyshire made light work of rounding Butland neatly and guiding a shot into the net.

Game over, there and then.

The strategy of Brazil’s players never wavered and every one of their counter-attacks had United trailing backwards.

Derbyshire headed over from a yard out on the half-hour, flagged for offside but lost completely by McDermott’s defence as Leeds chased shadows.

When United were caught short of numbers again, Derbyshire and Jamie Paterson did them a favour by tackling and injuring each other.

The only convincing riposte was a free-kick from McCormack on 40 minutes, awarded on the edge of the box for handball against Mackie.

McCormack’s set-piece beat Dorus De Vries but whipped past the post, a fraction away from the striker’s 30th goal of the season. It is all Leeds have to aim for now, collectively and individually.

Their tactics yesterday seemed to stop with flighted, hopeful balls from the halfway-line, the sort of ploy used by Barnsley to ill-effect at Oakwell on Saturday.

Minus the tall presence of Matt Smith, the knockdowns were few and uninviting.

Forest mopped up everything and turned the crowd on McDermott’s players before half-time.

Yet again, the changes at the interval could have run to 11 but McDermott left his starting side to fight the scoreline.

A spell of pressure came as Forest took time to warm themselves up, and De Vries was lucky to see the ball roll into his hands after Luke Murphy’s shot caught the heels of Hunt.

The goalkeeper’s two-handed save from McCormack’s free-kick on 55 minutes was a sharp reaction, denying the only player who threatened to conjure something from nothing.

McDermott tried to find another by replacing Hunt with Smith on the hour, to the sound of more jeers at Hunt’s expense. McCormack whipped a difficult volley into the crowd and Wootton and Smith fared no better with similar opportunities as Forest dug in.

An effort from Tonge, also on the volley, flashed wide and a cross from substitute Danny Pugh clipped the crossbar.

They were desperate hits; pot-shots in the twilight of a season which really needs to end.

United have had their fill of it.

Chris Martin

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