Leeds United 2 Reading 4: Fightback unable to mask the problems at Leeds

Ross McCormack shows his despair as Leeds go 1-0 down.  Picture Bruce Rollinson.
Ross McCormack shows his despair as Leeds go 1-0 down. Picture Bruce Rollinson.
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THANKS to the protracted takeover saga involving Massimo Cellino, Leeds United should be used to handling delays by now.

The Italian has been waiting to ratify his £25m deal for well over a month and yet there is no clear end in sight, even though his proposed purchase of a 75 per cent stake is set to be discussed at tomorrow’s Football League board meeting.

It has meant a waiting game has had to be played at Elland Road. Last night, however, Brian McDermott’s side showed few signs of having learned anything about coping with unexpected hold-ups as they crashed to a dreadful 4-2 defeat in a delayed clash with Reading.

An accident that led to the M62 motorway being closed in the afternoon pushed proceedings back half-an-hour and the home side were caught cold.

Basic errors, slapdash play and a general lack of backbone in the first hour contributed to Reading coasting to a four-goal lead and a situation that could not be retrieved despite an almighty effort.

Matt Smith and Rodolph Austin both scored inside a minute to create hope of what would have been a truly epic comeback.

Too much damage, however, had been done and as well as United finished the game, that cannot take away just how poor they had been in the opening hour.

‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ and ‘we’re s*** and we’re sick of it’ were just two of the chants as a distinctly unhappy Gelderd End made their feelings known in the wake of Hal Robson-Kanu firing in Reading’s fourth goal on 54 minutes.

On the touchline, McDermott cut a forlorn figure and there must have been a few in the 19,915 crowd, as the Royals ran amok, who wondered if they were witnessing the final act of his reign.

United’s response in the final half-hour should have banished those thoughts but, even so, a manager who has already overseen the abominations that were the defeats to Sheffield Wednesday, Bolton Wanderers and Rochdale cannot afford too many more showings like last night.

His response to the most recent of those embarrassments – Saturday’s 5-1 home defeat to Bolton – had been to make five changes and switch to a three-man back-line.

It did little good, with Jason Pearce and Marius Zaliukas, two of those who had not featured in the capitulation against Wanderers, combining with Jack Butland to gift Reading the lead on 25 minutes. A loose pass from Zaliukas, not seen in a Leeds shirt since a truly abject showing in the 6-0 humiliation at Hillsborough two months earlier and surely destined never to be seen again after last night, set the ball rolling.

Butland and Pearce then left it to the other to clear the danger, allowing Garath McCleary to nip in and score an easy goal.

The loanee goalkeeper partly redeemed himself six minutes before the break when he somehow kept out a drive from Robson-Kanu after the Royals’ striker had been presented with a golden chance by a sublime cross from McCleary.

It was a big let-off for Leeds, as was the case just before the break when Alex Pearce headed wide with the goal gaping after Butland had flapped at an in-swinging corner.

United’s good fortune, though, did not last with just 62 seconds of the second half having elapsed when Royston Drenthe doubled the visitors’ advantage with a stunning free-kick.

Nick Blackman, the former Sheffield United striker, netted Reading’s third less than two minutes later when he pounced to head in a cross that the home defence had left to each other.

Robson-Kanu fired in a fourth on 54 minutes, prompting McDermott to put Zaliukas out of his misery and revert to 4-4-2 with Matt Smith up front.

At last, Leeds discovered some grit and guts as Smith reacted quickest to Jason Pearce’s knock-down to beat Alex McCarthy from close range just after the hour.

Within a minute, Rodolph Austin had further reduced the arrears with a stunning 25-yard effort that gave the former Leeds loanee no chance in the visitors’ goal.

With the home fans back on side, United were transformed as Luke Murphy showed tremendous determination to race to the byline before chipping a cross that Smith headed wide.

Austin then had a drive well saved by McCarthy before Ross McCormack diverted Alex Mowatt’s cross wide to ensure Reading would return south with three points as the manager they had sacked exactly a year earlier pondered how to improve a run of just two wins in 15 games.

Leeds United: Butland; Lees, Pearce, Zaliukas (Smith 60); Byram, Mowatt, Austin, Murphy, Pugh; McCormack, Wickham. Unused substitutes: Cairns, Hunt, Brown, Wootton, Poleon, Stewart.

Reading: McCarthy; Gunter, Obita, Gorkss, Pearce; Akpan, Guthrie, McCleary (Blackman 40), McAnuff; Drenthe (Hector 78), Robson-Kanu (Cummings 85). Unused substitutes: Federici, Le Fondre, Taylor, Tshibola.

Referee: O Langford (West Midlands).

Reports: Pages 24-25.