POLL - Leeds United 2 Derby County 0: Antenucci’s brace has Redfearn hailing ‘complete performance’ against Rams

Leeds United players celebrate after Mirco Antenucci's second goal against Derby, with several dedicating the win to the late Blake Cairns.
Leeds United players celebrate after Mirco Antenucci's second goal against Derby, with several dedicating the win to the late Blake Cairns.
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THE silence of the Rams has been a production over nine years in the making for Leeds United and it finally got an overdue airing on Saturday.

Punishing episodes against Derby for the best part of a decade have been as inevitable for Leeds as autumn leaves on the tracks, all a far cry from the the late Sixties and Seventies when the Whites were the ones usually left standing tall after some fiery encounters.

This latest encounter between two sides whose supporters do not particularly care for each other was similarly hot-blooded at times and did not disappoint, with nine yellow cards issued by referee Mick Russell.

But the retro rewind also extended to delivering the right result for Leeds as they secured their first win over the table-topping Rams in 13 games since Rob Hulse’s treble in a 3-1 home win in September, 2005.

It represented a glorious instalment of payback after an excruciating run of 11 losses in 12 outings against these bogeymen from down the M1. The clock eventually does go round.

While it is dubious as to how much two-goal Mirco Antenucci knew about that aforesaid run ahead of kick-off, he can be sure of gratitude from Leeds fans in the game’s aftermath.

The Italian’s two clinical finishes in the space of seven minutes either side of half-time settled the contest and bore the mark of a craftsman, but it was an afternoon when polish was also manifested elsewhere.

From the brio of Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt, who won their midfield joust with the feted Derby duo of Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick hands down, to the outstanding Stephen Warnock, who had another impeccable day, captaining the side with Jason Pearce on the bench. Plenty of others also put their hand up, too.

On an afternoon when United needed to deliver after such a dispiriting finish at Blackburn, they emphatically answered any probing questions in the affirmative on a day when their elder statesmen stepped up to the plate and their fresh-faced talents displayed maturity – helping to heal those self-inflicted wounds from Ewood Park in the process.

It was a performance of substance and small wonder manager Neil Redfearn labelled it as the best and most significant of his time in charge this season.

He said: “We showed a togetherness and a mental toughness to get across the line and get a result. I thought it was a complete performance.

“We were up against a top young side in Derby, who have got their own top young stars in the likes of Will Hughes. But I thought they were eclipsed by our young players and they are going to get better.”

Earmarking praise for the telling contributions at opposite ends of the pitch from two of his seasoned professionals in Antenucci and Warnock, he continued: “Mirco is a great player. He has got this touch and awareness around the box and he gives you energy.

“Stephen is a class act, an experienced pro, and he is infectious. He has got the bit between his teeth and he is playing really well.”

A first clean sheet in nine matches may have been the most welcome of developments for United, but equally pertinent was Derby not even mustering one effort on target with Marco Silvestri not having to make a meaningful save.

You knew where Rams boss Steve McClaren was coming from in saying Derby would not have scored if they had carried on playing until midnight.

Yet it would be disingenuous to suggest the result was down to the Rams’ failings and not the hosts’ accomplished play.

Leeds defended responsibly and also conjured two well-manufactured goals in the final anaylsis.

On each occasion the beneficiary was Antenucci, first on 43 minutes when Mowatt got the better of Hughes down the left before pulling the ball back invitingly for the striker, who finished with aplomb from around 10 yards out.

Five minutes after the break, Leeds doubled their lead when Mowatt found Warnock on the overlap, again down the left, with his cross finding its way to Antenucci, who composed himself before firing a precision finish past Lee Grant.

Derby momentarily felt theywere afforded a lifeline just before the hour when Liam Cooper, booked in the first period, tripped Cyrus Christie right on the edge of the area.

But no yellow card was shown on this occasion and Omar Mascarell’s weak free-kick hit the defensive wall.

It summed up the Rams’ day, as did a glaring late miss from substitute Kwame Thomas after Warnock, typically, had made a heroic block.

The only thing missing for United was Antenucci recording his first hat-trick in English football, with the forward going close with two efforts following his two-goal blast.

But it was a landmark afternoon for him all the same and he said: “I am happy with two goals for the first time in England.

“It gives me great satisfaction and it was extra-special because my daughter (Camilla) was in the stadium. It is a fantastic moment for me and I hope it continues.”