BEFORE kick-off against Barnsley, Elland Road’s giant electronic screen played a video montage that, in marking the first anniversary of GFH Capital buying Leeds United, made much of what had changed over the last 12 months.
New era, new faces, new approach, new thinking, new ambition, new alliances, new contracts, new initiatives… you name it, they all got a mention to the backdrop of the Shed Seven lyrics ‘It’s getting better all the time’.
The question that such an exhaustive list of self-congratulation begged, however, was whether this ‘new’ Leeds would also include a long overdue change of fortunes against Barnsley, a club who since United’s promotion from League One in 2010 have held something of an Indian sign over their neighbours from just up the M1.
Come 5pm and the end of the United owners’ first birthday celebrations, we had the answer. And it was a resounding ‘no’, thanks to the Reds, with new manager Danny Wilson at the helm, having maintained their impressive recent run of form against Leeds with a hard-fought goalless draw.
Of the two goalkeepers, Barnsley’s Jack Butland may have been the busier with his saves to deny Matt Smith in the first half and Ross McCormack after the interval being of the highest order.
But, on the balance of play and chances created, the visitors were full value for their point – not least because it came after they had played the final five minutes of normal time and six minutes of stoppage time with 10 men following Marcus Tudgay’s dismissal for a late challenge on Marius Zaliukas.
For Leeds, it means they have now lost four and won just one of their seven meetings with Barnsley since winning promotion from League One. Considering the Reds have finished 21st, 21st and 17th during that period and will go into this Christmas rock bottom of the Championship, that is not a sequence of derby results to give anyone at Elland Road any satisfaction.
For Barnsley, though, it is an accurate indication of their performances against Leeds thanks to the Reds having continually reserved some of their best football for taking on the West Yorkshire club.
That was again the case on Saturday, as Wilson’s new charges made a mockery of their lowly standing in the table.
Compact and solid in defence thanks to a 4-1-4-1 formation, the visitors also passed the ball impressively and, with steadier finishing, could have claimed all three points.
No wonder, therefore, that the Barnsley camp were in satisfied mood at the final whistle.
Loanee goalkeeper Butland said: “We knew with the game being a derby and with 31,000 here that we would be in a fight. But we had a game plan and that was all about being solid.
“You have to keep clean sheets away from home and it was a fantastic team performance from everyone. We dug it out at times when under pressure.
“But I also thought we got forward and created a few chances. Of the two managers, I would imagine ours will be a little bit happier.
“I thought it was the sort of defensive performance that we all relished – getting blocks in and sliding tackles.
“It is always great to come away with a clean sheet. Maybe the save gave the lads a boost, as after that we restricted them to few chances.
“In the changing room, we were disappointed not to nick a goal but this is a good result and a point that we fully deserved.”
The first half had been all about spurned opportunities, Leeds being culpable in the early stages before this inability to hit the target spread to Barnsley in the latter stages.
Smith, the United striker, was guilty of wasting two excellent chances inside the opening 12 minutes. First, he rushed a shot that Butland was able to block with a fine reflex save when a defter touch would surely have resulted in a goal.
Then, after being set up wonderfully by McCormack, Smith fluffed his effort to allow Barnsley’s goalkeeper to save with ease.
After those two early let-offs, Wilson’s men improved markedly and it took a tip over from Paddy Kenny to keep out Tudgay’s header seven minutes before the break.
Tudgay then had an even better chance just seconds later when, after holding off a challenge from Zaliukas, the loanee from Nottingham Forest shot wide from just 10 yards.
That miss ensured the two sides went in level at the interval and it was a similar story after the restart as McCormack’s looping header from a corner was clawed to safety by Butland.
At the other end, Jacob Mellis fired wastefully into the side netting following a loose pass from Sam Byram before Jim O’Brien shot straight at Kenny when the midfielder seemed ideally placed to break the deadlock.
Tudgay’s red card for his clumsy challenge on Zaliukas then raised Leeds hopes of a late winner but Barnsley stood firm to claim deserved reward for their efforts.
For Leeds, a consolation came with the news they had moved up a place but it was far from the celebration owners GFH Capital had been hoping for on their first anniversary.
Defender Lees said: “We had done well at home so, from that point of view, it was disappointing. But we also went up a place despite drawing at home.
“We also kept a clean sheet. It was the sort of game where we were piling men forward and in the second half we were all over them. To be honest, it was a bit of a leveller with the new manager so we couldn’t look at it like they were bottom of the league. Give Barnsley credit, they played well in the first half.
“We are getting that consistency now. If we can get through this busy period to mid-January in the same position then that would be a nice place to build on.”