“WHAT do you mean ‘miss’?” asks Luke Varney about the moment that has been the talk of Leeds United fans. “I passed the ball back to Dioufy and was disappointed he didn’t put it in the net!”
The 30-year-old’s face breaks into a broad smile the moment the final few word leaves his lips. The Yorkshire Post knows Varney is joking and is impressed by the stoical manner in which he is handling the kind of miss that can break some players.
Just to recap, the moment Varney will take a long time to live down came 14 minutes into Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup fourth-round win over Southampton.
The game was goalless but Leeds were firmly on top when Aidy White’s cross from the right picked out El-Hadji Diouf unmarked at the far post. With the Saints defence scrambling to get back and goalkeeper Kelvin Davis drawn towards the ball and out of position, Diouf intelligently rolled the ball back across the face of goal towards Varney.
Just one yard out and with the whole goal to aim at, Varney’s second goal in a United shirt seemed a formality. A second later, however, the ball was squirming back towards Diouf, who was so startled that his own attempt from the tightest of angles flew wide as the linesman raised his flag.
As a replay was shown on the big screen a few moments later, a groan could be heard among the 17,002 crowd that was only broken by the guffaws from the away end at the sight of a former Portsmouth player making such an almighty blunder.
“I think I was celebrating before the ball came to me,” admits a refreshingly honest Varney of the miss that failed to derail an impressive United booking a place in the League Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 1996.
“These things happen and I have done it in the past. I must admit I thought the defender was going to get a touch and maybe that put me off a bit.
“But I know I should score and there are no excuses. I’m just delighted we got the win.”
Varney, to his immense credit, refused to be bowed by a miss that left regulars of many years standing at Elland Road struggling to recall a more glaring spurned opportunity.
For the rest of the game, he never hid and even helped create the first goal for Michael Tonge.
Varney said: “Even after the miss, I just wanted the ball again. The fans were brilliant and told me to keep going. The manager, too, helped.
“When I signed in the summer, the gaffer said, ‘I know you will miss chances but if you do then I want you to keep getting in there’.
“Having a manager like that is great. Obviously, he’s already had a bit of banter with me. But knowing that he has my back is brilliant.
“I haven’t really put the shift in yet but he has kept me going in the last few weeks. It is a great feeling to reward some of that.
“Character is a big thing in football and you have to show it.”
Varney’s performance drew lavish praise from Warnock, who described the striker’s night as, “maybe miss of the century but he was man of the match”.
A willing runner up front, his link-up play with Diouf, in particular, was a major factor in Leeds being able to take the game to Southampton from the start.
Okay, he missed a few chances with a second half shot being blocked by Davis, who Varney also beat to a miscued back pass only for the striker to then loop his effort against the post.
Substituted with a minute to go and Leeds 2-0 up, Varney left the field to a rapturous reception from a crowd who had regaled him with the chant: ‘Who needs van Persie, we’ve got Luke Varney’.
No doubt, United’s dominant display had a lot to do with the cheerful nature of the Elland Road faithful and Varney is hoping Tuesday night can be the spark his career at Leeds needs after a stop-start first few months.
He said: “On a personal note, it has been frustrating since I arrived because I haven’t put a shift in. I haven’t been enjoying my football like in years gone by.
“That is disappointing, especially when you join a club like Leeds. I haven’t been happy with my input.
“In recent weeks, though, I have felt myself get going in training and had a right, good go. I want to repay the faith of the gaffer.
“It is always pleasing to be as involved as much as I was in a game. When you have got the quality of lads like Dioufy, it means you can make the runs thinking you’ll get the ball.
“He holds the ball up so well. He is a class act. Even on the rare occasions when he loses the ball, he gets a foul for us. Having someone like that is great for me, because I know I won’t be wasting my legs by making a run because Dioufy will find me.
“Tongey also put me in a few times against Southampton, while even Pelts put me through to set up the first goal. It was really pleasing to have such an involvement.
“Hopefully, this is the start of something – for me and the team. On Monday, the gaffer called for us to create a bit of a spark.
“He said, ‘I want to really go on a run now and get us up this league’.
“It hit home that we probably hadn’t put a good shift in during the past few weeks and that things needed to change.
“We had let ourselves down a bit with the three draws and a defeat to Birmingham. We don’t want to be in mid-table so we now need to get going in the league, starting Friday at Brighton.”