Leeds United 1 Watford 6: Leeds stung by the Hornets as Austin injury blows plans apart

Leeds United's Jason Pearce, is shown the red card by referee Trevor Kettle, following a hard tackle on Watford's Matej Vydra.
Leeds United's Jason Pearce, is shown the red card by referee Trevor Kettle, following a hard tackle on Watford's Matej Vydra.
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WHAT a time to be welcomed back into the Elland Road fold!

Following Saturday’s debacle, that must be the feeling of some of the Supporters’ Club members who have settled their differences with club chairman Ken Bates.

There were obviously extenuating circumstances behind Leeds suffering their heaviest defeat in history to Watford but even when they had 11 men Leeds had been far from their best.

A breakdown in relationships with the club’s hierarchy led to the Supporters’ Club leaving Elland Road last season but they are now free to resume using the club’s facilities for fortnightly meetings.

They will have plenty to talk about at their next one after Saturday’s loss revived memories of last season’s 7-3 defeat by Nottingham Forest.

Gianfranco Zola took full advantage of knowing how desperate Leeds were to get back to winning ways and his counter-attacking tactics worked a treat.

Counterpart Neil Warnock realised Zola and his collection of European loan signings would line up with five across the middle so he, too, went with three across the back.

It was a ploy which backfired terribly largely due to central defenders Tom Lees and Patrick Kisnorbo not being fully fit to start the match.

It left poor old midfield man Paul Green to play at right centre-back, a position he was wholly unsuited to and one which Watford exploited from the start.

Green was no doubt relieved to be sacrificed when centre-back Jason Pearce was red-carded for his lunge on Matej Vydra close to half-time and Lees, nursing a damaged eye from the midweek encounter at Burnley, was brought on.

The Czech youngster Vydra, on loan from Udinese, had already fired Watford into a 28th-minute lead from the edge of the area after taking a return pass from Alex Geijo, who had drawn Lee Peltier across, before bearing down on goal.

It came just when Leeds had appeared to be getting on top despite their frailty at the back.

David Norris, operating behind a front two of Luke Varney and El Hadji Diouf, had struck the post with a deflected shot from 12 yards and Varney raced down the right channel only to be denied by goalkeeper Manuel Almunia on the corner of the six-yard area – both players receiving treatment after their collision.

The red card prompted manager Neil Warnock to make two changes at the break, Michael Brown replacing left wing-back Aidy White and Ryan Hall coming on for Diouf.

Warnock explained: “I think with 10 men it’s very difficult to keep Diouf on. He plays a role which wouldn’t have benefited us. I didn’t think he was having a good game in the first half so, if I’m honest, that decision was a no-brainer for me.

“I wanted to try and win the game with 10 men. I just felt that if we could get a grip, be positive, keep two up front and go about things in a different way then we’d have chances.

“We couldn’t go chasing because they had the extra man but we thought we’d get chances. Then it happens to Rudy and, really, everything’s irrelevant then.”

By that he meant the collision between Rodolph Austin and Marco Cassetti as Leeds defended a corner which resulted in the Leeds player being taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg.

The Hornets took full advantage of Leeds being down to nine men but the vociferous backing of the Elland Road faithful kept their team battling on.

However, Almen Abdi expertly conjured space just outside the area to hit a low shot inside Paddy Kenny’s right-hand post to make it 2-0 in the 61st minute before being stretchered away soon after with a suspected dislocated shoulder.

Peltier’s trip on Ikechi Anya resulted in Mark Yeates curling home a 74th-minute free-kick but Varney was rewarded for a non-stop performance when he first harried Lloyd Doyley and then Joel Ekstrand, who bundled him to the ground for a penalty although he was not sent off for what appeared his second bookable offence. Michael Tonge cracked the penalty into the roof of the net and the Kop roared Leeds on.

There was to be no great escape, however, as Vydra again swopped passes, this time with Anya, before chipping the ball over Kenny for the fourth in the 83rd minute. Then in the 10 minutes of stoppage time, Sean Murray and Troy Deeney drilled home shots from outside the area as Kenny fell below his normal excellent standards.

“I can’t fault the lads and I felt sorry for Ryan (Hall) having to come on and then to go down to nine men,” said Warnock of his Southend loan signing.

“I thought Luke Varney was fantastic and I think the fans will give him a chance now. They saw the effort he put in in the second half.

“I was pleased for Luke. This might be the making of him. It might be the start of something for him.

“I just think we had an opportunity to win the game. I felt like that last year when we got beat 7-3 by Forest. I thought we should have won that game.”

Watford manager Zola said: “To be fair, Leeds tried until the end. I am sure that if they had stayed with 10 men it would have been more difficult for us. They played with passion and heart until the end.

“On the counter-attack, though, we looked dangerous and I tried to put a team on the pitch with good balance going forward, because I knew that Leeds badly wanted to win today.

“I am pleased for our strikers because we needed a confidenc-booster and this will certainly provide it.”