Leeds v Nottingham Forest – The Post Mortem
“Things are won and lost in a season. You have your ups and downs”
The words above are the pre-match comments of Forest boss Billy Davies to BBC reporter Damian Johnson. The reactions of the supporters of his club following the match on Saturday have not taken these words into account. If they miss out on a place in the play-offs, as they currently look like doing, then Saturday’s defeat will not be the reason why.
Since the sending off of Chris Cohen after 35 minutes of the match, social networks and cyberspace have been full of some of the most pathetic vitriol aimed at Leeds United I have seen. Leeds United supporters are fully aware of the hatred out there for us. Most clubs however are more than happy to take our cash as we sell out our ticket allocation and fill your grounds for you week in week out up and down the country, morning or evening kick-offs. I don’t need to justify that comment, just look at the attendance figures for each ground we have visited this year and then look for the next biggest crowd.
The reaction of the Forest supporters has been hysterical to say the least, and has seen some of the most clichéd comment imaginable. “Dirty Leeds” kicked the pretty footballers of Forest off the park, yet they commit a good full blooded challenge and their player is unfairly sent off, changing the course of the game. I agree that the sending off did change the game, but does not totally absolve Forest of their second half capitulation.
Sick of comments about the “disrespectful” FA (Jonathan Stevenson – BBC Football writer on Twitter) regarding the fine Forest face for their six bookings, and accusations of Leeds players deliberately injuring players (Paul Anderson) or deserving to be sent off (Leigh Bromby), I decided to take a forensic look at what actually went on during the match, using the coverage and comments of the BBC team on site at the time.
I decided to watch the game, noting every chance but more pertinently every decision made by the officials, and if comment was passed, to note that down as well. Here is what transpired.
2nd min – Free kick given to Leeds. Foul on Gradel on edge of box, as ball breaks referee Mark Halsey tries to give Leeds the advantage, but as none transpires, brings play back for a free kick to Leeds. “Definite free kick … Excellent refereeing” says Martin Keown (MK) in the commentary box.
4th min – Gunter blocks Gradel. Free kick to Leeds. “Definite foul” MK.
5th min – Gunter challenges Gradel, hitting the Leeds player in the back. No free kick is given to the surprise of Keown. “For me that’s another free kick” he says.
It’s at this point its quite clear that Forest have set out to try to be quite physical, and possibly to attempt to provoke Gradel, known for his short fuse. Keown in the commentary box notes that there “is an air of physicality” to the game. As Leeds have yet to commit a foul, that comment can only be aimed at one team.
6th min – Foul by McCartney on Anderson. “No complaints, definite free kick” MK
8th min – First half chance, Chambers meets a corner on the volley but it’s well over the bar.
10th min – Lynch fails to connect with a header. “It’s a free kick really” Keown says looking at the replay as Lynch uses the Leeds player to get a boost.
11th min – Bradley Johnson is barged over in midfield, but ball breaks to Robert Snodgrass. He evades one hack at his legs before he is challenged by McGugan. Forest gets the throw, a decision Snodgrass just laughs at. “That’s one I would have given the other way” Guy Mowbray (GM) the main commentator says.
12th min – A throw in given incorrectly to Forest sees George McCartney argue with the officials. He is spoken to by the referee. “That’s another one they’ve got wrong” says GM.
14th min – Long range effort by Barry Bannan for Leeds, bobbled by Lee Camp in the Forest goal.
15th min – Free kick to Leeds for a challenge by Tudgay on Johnson. The Forest striker heads the back of Johnson’s head. MK comments “He (Tudgay) took a bit of a liberty there.”
16th min – Kris Boyd shoots high and wide from 20 yards out. “It’s an awful finish really” according to GM
19th min – Majewski curled effort deflected just wide.
20th min – Free kick to Leeds. Push by Tudgay on Snodgrass, the ball then hits Snoddy’s hand. Forest fans behind the goal appeal for the penalty. Even though there is “not a lot wrong with that challenge” according to MK, the referee has already blown to give the free kick to Leeds. (If that’s your blatant penalty – It’s not a penalty as the decision has been made before Snodgrass handles. Even if he had caught the ball it would still not be a spot kick.)
22nd min – Lynch fires a cross low and hard along the six yard line, Tudgay sliding in at the back post can’t finish. “It’s all Forest at the moment” says GM
23rd min – Snodgrass dances past a couple of Forest defenders, but gets away a weak shot straight at Camp.
24th min – Anderson with a scissor licked volley, blocked by O’Brien on edge of box.
25th min – Anderson goes down under a challenge form Johnson. Slow motion sees Johnson’s knee hit the Forest player in the back, but it’s completely unintentional. “Just one of those unfortunate incidents” is the view of MK.
28th min – Free kick to Forest, Bannan fouling McGugan. MK feels that Bannan is “all over him.”
29th min – Forest corner flapped at by Schmeichel, but there is no Forest player in a position to take advantage.
35th min – The key moment of the game for two reasons. Firstly Forest waste a gilt edged chance, Majewski’s low cut back to an unmarked Tudgay completely takes Schmeichel out of the game, but Tudgay’s weak finish is blocked by Bromby, and Leeds scramble the ball away. As McCartney runs the ball out, Cohen comes flying in and makes the tackle. After the kerfuffle, referee Mark Halsey consults his linesman and then shows Cohen the red card. “It’s the linesman who’s given that decision” says Keown and then adds, and this is a key point which seems to have escaped most Nottingham Forest fans, “there’s just no need for it from Cohen.” Why did Cohen dive in to make the tackle? The sensible play is to hold McCartney up and force him back infield. The challenge is a reckless one. Is it borne of the frustration of a simple chance going begging?
The BBC show a slow motion shot of Billy Davies as the red card is shown. The shot is not that of an angry man, who feels that the referee has made an incorrect decision. Davies puts his head in his hands, as if he knows that his player has made a costly mistake.
By now we have seen umpteen replays and slowly the incident is being dissected. It is now clear that Cohen has won the ball and that the red card is a little harsh. “I feel they’re unfortunate” MK says.
38th min – Forest gain a free kick as Lee Camp is fouled.
More replays are shown, and the discussion turns to Simon Grayson and the Leeds bench’s reaction. I will hold my hands up and say it wasn’t pretty. To say that solely swayed the referee’s decision is debatable. If Grayson received a touchline ban, I could not argue with it. All I will say is that it has taken a host of replays for the decision to be seen as incorrect. The officials get one viewing at full speed.
39th min – Gradel flagged offside. MK feels that “Forest are stronger than Leeds all over the pitch.”
More replays of the tackle. Some Forest fans have written that McCartney stamped on Cohen on his way down. That is just pure bollocks. His legs landed on Cohen, not his feet.
40th min – Boyd stays down after a challenge with Bromby. There’s no replay so can’t comment further, but the foul that Boyd claims is not given.
45th min – Tudgay is booked for bringing down the breaking Johnson. “A good decision by the referee. Tudgay taking one for the team” says MK
45 + 2 – Lynch knocked over by Lichaj and Forest are given a free kick. Schmeichel punches the free kick away.
45 + 3 – Mcleary shot saved by Schmeichel. As he attempts to get a quick delivery away, Boyd blocks his run and is booked.
The half time analysis is carried out by Gabby Logan, Steve Claridge and Danny Mills. The former Leeds full back is the first to comment and what he says, in my eyes, completely vindicates the referee’s decision. “At first look, it looks dangerous… at second look it still looks dangerous but he’s got a bit of the ball.” If he says it looks dangerous, in slow motion, with two viewings, then what alternative is open to the match officials who get one look at full speed. I agree that the game is too soft, and that it was, in my opinion, a good hard tackle. However, in the current climate, physical contact is virtually eliminated from the game.
Steve Claridge’s comments are a little confusing. He said “I don’t think he can make the challenge.” Does that mean that Cohen can get the ball, or that he can’t make a tackle like that? He again makes a pertinent point: “That is a Premiership decision.” Halsey generally takes charge of top flight games, where challenges like that are few and far between. Danny Mills again justifies the decision “The moment you take both feet off the ground you are deemed out of control.”
Talk eventually returns to the footballing action. Mills agreed that “Forest just about deserve to be up” whilst Claridge goes further stating that Forest have “still been the dominant force.”
The teams come out for the second half. This is where I feel that Billy Davies made the mistake which ultimately cost Forest the game. I know that the belief of many before the game was that the draw was not really any good to either side. I do believe though that the situation was such that if Forest could get a point, and maybe eke out a win, that would be a good result. Surely the right thing to do was sacrifice a front man to plug the gap left by Cohen, as it was obvious that Leeds would utilise the space now open down that flank.
46th min – Becchio penalised for backing in
47th min – Lynch blocks off Snodgrass but gets a free kick. “Maybe it’s Forest’s turn to get all the decisions in this half” ponders GM. Gradel is then played in by McCartney down the left, but dallies on the ball, eventually shooting wide.
48th min – Gradel penalised for backing into defender.
49th min – Bromby goes in with a high boot, and despite not making contact is penalised. Must have been for intent!
51st min – Leeds go 1-0 up, Lichaj getting behind defence to pull back and Howson ghosts in to control and fire past Camp.
52nd min – Becchio penalised for backing into Morgan
54th min – Forest substitution, but it’s a like for like change, Tyson on for Boyd.
56th min – Morgan penalised for a push on Becchio, “not a lot in it” according to GM. The free kick finds Johnson on the back post, with Camp blocking his effort behind for a corner. From it Leeds make it 2-0, Bromby heads against the post and Becchio is quickest to react to head home.
59th min – Tyson fouls Lichaj, but MK thinks it’s the other way round claiming that “Lichaj gets away with murder.”
61st min – Snodgrass curls an effort off the crossbar.
64th min – Becchio penalised for a foul on Chambers, but as has happened for most of the half, Forest get the benefit of the 50/50 decision. “Who fouled who there?” questions GM. Leeds straight back on the attack though as Howson plays Gradel in but his effort is a woeful one and well wide.
65th min. Tyson out jumps Bromby in midfield, but in an effort to get round him, pulls Bromby back. The two of them are grabbing and wrestling all the way down the field, as the ball finds its way to McLeary who curls in a stunning effort. Replays show Tyson goading Bromby after the goal is scored.
66th min – Bromby fouls Tyson and the bad blood from a moment earlier sees the two of them grapple again. Bromby grabs Tyson round the throat and claims to have been butted by the back of Tyson’s head. Both are shown yellow cards. No replays shown of the incident so difficult to back up Bromby’s claims. I would not have been surprised to see a red card, purely as I expected the ref to take the first opportunity to even things up. However, in my opinion, both players were equally culpable.
70th min – Gradel flagged offside, a tight decision as MK is “not sure he was.”
71st min – Forest awarded a corner, a decision disputed by Bannan. Morgan’s header is superbly saved by Schmeichel, twisting in mid-air to palm over the bar.
72nd min – Howson on a quick break is fouled by Morgan just over the half way line. It’s a clear booking, as GM points out that Howson is “pretty cynically blocked there.”
73rd min – Leeds go 3-1 up, Gradel with a smart flick and volley. “What a fantastic finish” purrs MK
75th min – Jake Livermore replaces Bannan.
76th min – Leeds get a free kick on half way, but I didn’t see what happened as I was making a note of the substitution.
77th min – Another Forest booking as McLeary is shown the Yellow Card for tripping Becchio.
80th min – Mcgugan fires well wide and with the horse having long bolted, Davies now has to chase the game bringing on Earnshaw for Tudgay.
83rd min – Tyson strikes a good effort wide.
84th min – Livermore fouled to give Leeds a free kick
86th min – Gunter finishes the game as he started it by blocking off Gradel. Leeds get a free kick.
87th min – Leeds seal the win with a fourth goal. Bromby chases a lost cause to keep the ball in, Livermore shows fine skill to create the space for a shot, which Camp saves and then blocks Becchio’s effort before the ball loops to Gradel to tuck in.
88th min – Leeds run down the clock, Kilkenny on for Johnson.
90th min – Gradel flagged offside
90 + 2 – forest claim a penalty as Gunter goes down in the box, but there is no contact by Gradel. “Looks a good decision, Gunter’s waiting for a challenge that never comes and takes a dive” according to MK.
The final whistle blows and Leeds win the game. David Kelly petulantly refuses to shake Grayson’s hand, Billy Davies walks over to the Forest fans.
Damian Johnson asks Simon Grayson about his touchline antics, particularly his frenzied celebrations when Leeds score. Grayson replies: “I celebrate like that every time we play … it’s just passion.” When asked about the sending off he says: “It was a blatant red card … I’m sure if it was a Leeds United player making that challenge, the Forest bench would have been up.”
Let’s get one thin straight. Grayson is a demonstrative manager. The most successful period of his career came at Leicester City, under Martin O’Neill, another man known for his touchline antics. Once again I will say that he was probably out of order to come onto the pitch, but it’s not as if he leapt out of his dugout. He probably strays no more than a couple of yards from the touchline throughout an entire game, and he quickly leaves the field of play. He’s probably not as good a whistler as Billy Davies, so has to be nearer the pitch to get his players attention.
To summarise then, I will concur that the sending off had a large part in the way the game turned out, but Forest were their own worst enemies on Saturday.
- Failure to take the chances they had. Tudgay’s glaring miss just before the sending off was as much a pivotal moment as the Red Card itself.
- Failure to create a massive amount of chances, despite their “dominance” of the first half. Both at Elland Road and the City Ground back in August, Forest should have been out of sight with the amount of possession they had. Both times they failed to do so and allowed Leeds back into the game.
- Failure to plug the gap left by the sending off of Cohen. Leeds were able to use their wide players to create problems in the second half, and Billy Davies did nothing to stop it.
The final point I wish to make is the failure of the appeal against Cohen’s red card, and again I feel that Billy Davies is to blame. Had he come out in front of the media and been humble, stating that he felt the referee had made a mistake, and would be grateful if he had another look at it, I’m sure that would have been well received. His option of blaming the Leeds bench for influencing the decision immediately puts the referee and the FA on the back foot. Mark Halsey is never going to say that he was wrong to send the player off, with an accusation like that levelled at him. Once Davies had fired off his volley of vitriol, any appeal was doomed to failure.
I’m pretty sure that I’ve covered every incident in the game. In my opinion, the major decisions were made correctly, and that over the 90 minutes the better team won the game. Football is about scoring goals, you get nothing for pretty play and dominating possession. Despite “dominating” the game in the first half, Forest really created one clear cut chance, and that was a sitter which Tudgay failed to take. Score that and the outcome may have been what Forest fans feel they deserved.
I’m sure I will receive some comments from Nottingham, and I would welcome them. But please don’t blame Leeds United for your failings. A run of one win in nine games tells me that the wheels were already coming off your season before you played us. We may just have been the final bump that knocked them off for good.