IN RECENT years, there has been a growing trend among football clubs to include ‘Fans’ in the squad list on the back of the matchday programme alongside the number ‘12’.
The inference that supporters are the 12th man is laudable. But it can also come across as a gimmick, the type of thinking that seems great amid a marketing brainstorm but one that does not transport to the real world.
Sometimes, leaving something unsaid is best and it is to be hoped no Yorkshire club is tempted to copy the likes of Reading and Portsmouth in making such a crass attempt to curry favour with their own followers.
That said, Leeds United supporters can justifiably claim an assist from yesterday’s remarkable fightback to rescue a point when all had seemed lost against Bristol City.
Two goals down and performing so badly that it seemed Paul Heckingbottom’s home bow was going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons, Leeds had been reduced to being ridiculed by their own fans.
The natives had been restless from the moment the Robins had gone ahead in the 12th minute courtesy of a horrendous blunder by Felix Wiedwald.
Once 2-0 behind courtesy of more lamentable defending, the gloves were well and truly off with the German completing even the most basic of goalkeeping duties being met with ironic cheers. He was far from the only player sporting a white shirt to be lampooned in such a way.
Midway through the second half, the mood among the 28,004 crowd had, if anything, slid even further downhill. Mockery had turned to sarcasm, as three passes being strung together elicited cries of ‘ole’. Chants of ‘Leeds are going up’ and ‘we’re going to win the league’ also reflected the dissatisfaction.
Then, though, everything suddenly changed. ‘Marching on Together’ filled the air and the locals were once again right behind their team. Elland Road was transformed and so was the match, as United staged a fightback during the final quarter that had seemed scarcely possible just moments earlier.
Pierre Michel-Lasogga began the on-field drama with a volleyed finish at the back post with 18 minutes remaining.
The scarves were out and they played a part in getting a point for their team. The backing was unbelievable. As the game went on, if a team was going to win it then it would have been us.Richard Sutcliffe
Pablo Hernandez provided the assist for his team-mate with a sublime cross and the Spaniard was at it again in the 80th minute with a floated corner that evaded a scrum of red and white shirts. Kemar Roofe, ghosting in at the back post, stretched every sinew in his body to apply the final touch and prompt bedlam on all four sides of United’s home.
The 536 visiting fans sitting in a corner of the West Stand could only then watch anxiously as Leeds poured forward in search of a winner. This time, though, City stood firm. Just. Kalvin Phillips and then Lasogga, the pair set up by the vision of Hernandez, both went close with the German powering his header against the crossbar deep into stoppage time.
“The crowd got us a point,” said head coach Paul Heckingbottom at the end of a pulsating contest in which he was given a crash course into the very best and worst of United’s season.
“They made a difference and really spurred the players on. The scarves were out and they played a part in getting a point for their team. The backing was unbelievable. As the game went on, if a team was going to win it then it would have been us.”
Johnson, Heckingbottom’s predecessor at Barnsley, was in agreement as to the decisive role played by the Elland Road crowd. “It became a difficult atmosphere to play in,” said the Robins chief. “We had nullified them with our performance and it was almost out of jest that the fans got behind their team. At first, it was almost ironic.”
As impressively as United finished the game, that should not disguise just how wretchedly poor the hosts had been for the best part of 70 minutes.
Had this been a boxing match, chances are it would have been stopped due to a punch drunk Leeds being on the ropes.
The tone was set with the opening goal, as Wiedwald made a total hash of trying to claim a trademark long throw from Hordur Magnusson.
The United goalkeeper had been fortunate to get away with a weak punch moments earlier but there was not to be a second let-off as he allowed the ball to sail over his head to Famara Diedhiou, who rolled a shot into the unguarded net.
Four minutes later and the considerable power in Magnusson’s arms led to further panic in the home defence. This time, Aden Flint won the initial header and then Marlow Pack capitalised on Lasogga being caught ball-watching to fire across the face of goal for Bobby Reid to nip in front of a flat-footed Eunan O’Kane and score.
Even at that early stage, the game seemed up for a wretchedly poor Leeds. Come the final whistle, however, fan power and some magic from Hernandez had rescued a point and brought a smile back to the face of Heckingbottom, despite his Elland Road bow not yielding the desired victory.