What a night, what a perfect night for Leeds United. The Whites travelled to Nottingham on the back of a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Barnsley and boss Simon Grayson decided to shake things up by starting the game with a different formation. It was a formation that worked so well for him last campaign and saw Aidan White take up the ‘Max Gradel role’ on the left wing for Leeds in a 4-5-1/4-3-3. Michael Brown was recalled to the starting line up in the place of Ross McCormack to take his place in 3 man midfield alongside Adam Clayton and Jonny Howson while Danny Pugh won his place back in the team at Lloyd Sam’s expense.
It was a game that was all about Gary Speed and the minute`s applause at the beginning of the game was well respected by both sets of supporters. United looked dangerous right from the start of the game and threatened down both wings on a few occasions in the opening stages. It was something that was well reported about before the game but the plan of the travelling United supporters to chant Gary Speed’s name from the eleventh minute of the game for eleven was brilliantly carried out and I’m sure brought a tear to many. The Whites didn’t let the great Welshman down though, not on the field and not off it and just as the Leeds fans great tribute to Speed came to an end, United scored literally seconds later. It was perfect, there could have been no better tribute to Gary Speed and it was certainly an emotional moment. The ball broke to Robert Snodgrass just outside the box and he smashed the ball past Lee Camp in the Forest net to send the Leeds fans into delirium.
Many would have wondered why experienced midfield man Michael Brown was included in the starting eleven but he was putting in his best performance so far in a United shirt. His inclusion also gave skipper Jonny Howson his first opportunity so far this season to get forward more. United should have got their second when the poor Lee Camp came out to clear the ball but was dispossessed by Robert Snodgrass. Unfortunately for the Scotland International, Wes Morgan was in his way and managed to deflect the ball wide for a corner. Leeds continued to dominate the game and again should have stretched their lead when the instrumental Robert Snodgrass worked his magic down the right hand side. Unfortunately for Leeds, Jonny Howson was unable to convert his cross and the score remained 1-0.
With the half time whistle fast approaching, it looked as though Leeds would have to make do with a slender one goal lead at the interval. That was until a truly excellent Jonny Howson goal gave United just what they needed. A Luciano Becchio flick on found its way to Snodgrass, who cleverly flicked the ball wide to Howson, the Leeds captain took it on the half volley and smashed the ball in to the back of the net. It was his first goal of the season but it was well worth waiting for and the Whites went in to half time with a 2-0 lead.
Leeds fans have been accustomed to being worried, even when their side are leading 2-0 and the start of the second half at the City Ground was no different. However, Forest continued to struggle and it wasn’t long before United were three up. It was another well worked goal, this time down the left hand side. It was a goal which saw Michael Brown’s cross converted by Luciano Becchio’s head and now the travelling army from West Yorkshire could relax.
Leeds really began to enjoy themselves and the likes of Jonny Howson and Robert Snodgrass were having great games. Snodgrass in particular has been outstanding in recent games, it has been a joy to watch and long may it continue. It was more hard work from United’s Scottish winger which saw Leeds stretch their lead still further,his persistence ensured that the Whites won the ball back from the home side’s defence and he guided the ball to his captain Howson. Howson again did well before seeing his shot saved by Lee Camp. Luckily for Leeds though, Camp’s poor performance between the sticks continued and despite numerous opportunities to claim the ball, it fell to United midfielder Adam Clayton. Leeds’ number 15 made no mistake and United were leading 4-0 away to the team who beat them to play-off spot last campaign.
Despite the fact I have highlighted Snodgrass and Howson for particular praise, all eleven players were brilliant. Simon Grayson’s call for United to win tonight for Gary Speed was well and truly answered by his players and the defeat to Barnsley at the weekend was all but forgotten. Alex McCarthy, who played between the sticks for Leeds, didn’t have a thing to do and the few times the defence were called upon were well dealt with by Patrick Kisnorbo and co. McCormack and Keogh were brought on in the place of Becchio and Clayton and United’s top scorer McCormack could have ended the game with a couple of goals. It would have been the cherry on the top for Leeds but it couldn’t take away from what had been a brilliant performance from the team from LS11. Nottingham Forest did finish the game with 10 men when it all got too much for the frustrated Andy Reid who was forced to get an early bath after receiving two silly yellow cards. He jogged off to the particular amusing chant of "He’s Andy Reid…He eats what he wants".
Everybody hoped that the team could pull it out of the bag for Gary Speed and they well and truly did. It couldn’t have gone better especially with the first goal coming at the end of United’s unique tribute. I have been unsure of Grayson lately, some of his decisions have been bizarre but he really pulled it out the bag tonight. I feel sorry for Ross McCormack but if it’s for the best of the team, maybe his place in the team has to be sacrificed. It would be a real shame for the Championship’s second top goal scorer who has been in fine form so far this year. I will wait until after Saturday`s performance to make my decision but if we pull it out of the bag again, we may have to stick with this formation.
4-0, that’s for Gary Speed!