Leeds United 1 Doncaster Rovers 2: Donny inflict more woe on sad Whites

Ross McCormack
Ross McCormack
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Half a wage and half a performance, which is less than the crowd deserved but more than Leeds United did. The malfunctions are rife, the hole is deep and an entire stack of chips sit on black in London today.

Half a wage and half a performance, which is less than the crowd deserved but more than Leeds United did. The malfunctions are rife, the hole is deep and an entire stack of chips sit on black in London today.

This is 50/50; do or die for Massimo Cellino and his takeover of the club. An independent judge will either side with the Football League and see him off or grant Cellino a reprieve and allow a change of ownership which Leeds and Gulf Finance House are staking the house on.

It turns out that the Italian is fighting to buy a wreck.

United’s manager, Brian McDermott, says his side’s form since Christmas is frightening.

Everything about Leeds is frightening.

From their capacity to make ordinary Championship teams shine to their ability to create a scene where their playing staff go without full pay, the club aren’t doing this crisis by half.

“It’s not been the easiest of times,” McDermott said after another loss to Doncaster Rovers on Saturday. The defeats are so numerous and the football so broken that blame now lies at the manager’s door. But he has other things at his door too and on Friday morning he had the task of telling his players and backroom team that, in the absence of any cash at Elland Road, their pay for March would be late.

Fifty percent of it has been deferred until after Cellino’s appeal today. “It was a new experience,” McDermott said. “I’ve never done that before.”

McDermott is accountable for certain things, like the hopeless, route-one mess of a first half against Doncaster, but the responsibility for coming clean about financial hardship and chaos above him is not one of them.

Should David Haigh, United’s managing director, not have faced the squad at Thorp Arch?

“He would have come up, no problem,” McDermott said. “But I was there and I did it. I was fine with that.”

There was no point asking about Leeds’ other board members, Salem Patel and Salah Nooruddin, or GFH chief executive Hisham Alrayes, all of whom were thousands of miles away in the Middle East. The trenches in Yorkshire are awash with the smell of distant leadership.

The trenches are where McDermott’s squad find themselves without the will to fight anyone back. Saturday’s derby against Doncaster was lost to a period of 45 minutes which McDermott called “shocking” and “embarrassing”, defined by some chronic errors.

The team which started the second half should have started the first and the submissive air before half-time was an open door for Rovers to escape from a run of 15 games away from home without a win.

They had gone without a goal in their previous five.

United were 2-0 down at half-time and acutely aware of their own ineptitude. How much the wage dispute influenced that is impossible to say. None of the squad spoke afterwards, which made sense in the circumstances. McDermott on the other hand is always left to speak.

“Look, I’m not after excuses,” he said. “We were poor in the first half, really poor. I know that. It was horrible to watch.”

By half-time he was regretting allowing all bar one of the players thrashed at Bournemouth last Tuesday avoided the cull five days later.

Not for the first time, his midfield was obliterated and Luke Murphy and Rudy Austin retired to the dug-out at half-time. The substitutions brought Michael Tonge into the fray and with him a sense of control and creation in the centre of the pitch. United ran the second half with Tonge in their midst. Since Christmas, he has struggled to make the bench.

“He made a big difference I felt,” McDermott said. “Tongey got us playing and second half was night and day from the first.

“That’s something to hang onto I suppose but I’m very disappointed. Sometimes you keep faith with the group and you get a response. That didn’t happen.”

As Doncaster picked United off twice, McDermott’s players were sucked into playing long ball after long ball, scavenging for knockdowns and position inside Doncaster’s half. It caused Rovers goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone, no trouble at all. But Jack Butland was beaten at the other end of the field in the 23rd minute when Byram headed David Cotterill’s corner out to Richie Wellens who stabbed it back towards the right wing. An unmarked Cotterill retrieved the ball and pinged it beautifully into Butland’s net.

Doncaster’s second goal in injury-time was equally avoidable. Byram allowed Billy Sharp to nudge him away from a cross on the edge of his own box and Sharp steadied himself inside the area before turned a low shot past Butland.

“We can’t be 2-0 down before we start playing,” McDermott said. “In the second half we did quite well and restored a bit of pride and as I said to the players, that’s all the fans want.”

Tonge helped with that by making Richie Wellens feel his age, and more impetus came from Aidan White – a replacement for Austin whose free abandon suited United’s predicament.

Doncaster retreated gradually and were cut open in the 62nd minute when Matt Smith rose to head Danny Pugh’s free-kick into the crosshairs of Ross McCormack. The striker nodded a careful finish beyond Johnstone’s left hand. As the tension and intensity grew, so did the disparity between McCormack’s influence and that of every other player on the pitch. In a world of problems, there is no knowing how United will convince their captain that another season here might be worth his while.

He gave James Husband, the Doncaster left-back, the slip repeatedly and Johnstone risked his neck in the 73rd minute by averting an attack with a blatant foul on McCormack on the byline. Several defenders were covering the goal and referee Darren Bond resisted pressure from the Kop by showing Johnstone a yellow card. Smith’s injury-time header over the crossbar was a last chance for a point which Leeds had probably earned but it was still a late, desperate scramble, the likes of which Elland Road knows well.

Presently, it’s the Leeds United way.

Leeds United: Butland, Byram, Lees, Pearce, Pugh, Mowatt, Austin (White 46), Murphy (Tonge 46), Stewart, McCormack, Smith. Subs (not used): Cairns, Wootton, Poleon, Hunt, Warnock.

Doncaster Rovers: Johnstone, Quinn, Husband, Neill, Meite, Cotterill, Wellens (Furman 71), Keegan, Coppinger, Sharp (Robinson 83), Brown. Subs (not used): Turnbull, Duffy, McCullough, De Val, Stevens.

Felix Wiedwald

Leeds United boss Paul Heckingbottom makes no assurances over Felix Wiedwald