Notts Forest 0 Leeds 4: Howson inspires Leeds to emotional triumph

Jonny Howson, right, and Adam Clayton celebrate a 2-0 lead.
Jonny Howson, right, and Adam Clayton celebrate a 2-0 lead.
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‘DO it for Speedo,’ had been Simon Grayson’s pre-match message to his Leeds United players.

How proud, therefore, the Leeds manager must have been come the final whistle last night after watching the Yorkshire club produce a vintage performance to pay a fitting tribute to his former team-mate.

Goals from Robert Snodgrass, Jonny Howson, Adam Clayton and Luciano Becchio ensured United’s proud record of not having lost to Nottingham Forest since March 1996, was extended in fitting style.

Leeds’s four strikes, though, told only a fraction of the story on an emotional night for the 3,597 supporters who followed their team down the M1.

The trip to the City Ground being United’s first game since Gary Speed’s death on Sunday had been the reason for Grayson pleading for his players to do justice to the memory of his close friend, the two having signed schoolboy forms at Elland Road on the same day as 14-year-olds.

United did just that.

Along with his players, Grayson deserves tremendous credit for the manner of the victory – United’s fifth in six games on the road.

His response to a string of indifferent performances over the past month or so was to revert to the 4-2-3-1 formation that served United so well for much of last season.

To do so, he had to drop top scorer Ross McCormack – a decision that, had things gone wrong against Forest, would have left the Leeds manager open to criticism.

It was a bold move but one that his players thoroughly vindicated with their most complete performance since Doncaster Rovers were beaten 3-0 in mid-October.

Aidy White, pushed forward from left-back to fill the wide role that Max Gradel so excelled in last season, was a revelation with his pace causing Forest all manner of problems.

Snodgrass, too, relished the space afforded by the switch of formation while Michael Brown enjoyed a fine return to the side. Perhaps the biggest winner of the night was Howson.

The United captain has not had his best season, the rigid nature of 4-4-2 negating much of his attacking instinct.

Returned to a role just behind lone frontman Becchio, Howson was superb with his intelligent timing of forward runs a major feature of the visitors’ play.

This paid off in fine style just before the break when Howson raced on to a clever pass from Snodgrass after Becchio had flicked the ball in the direction of the Scot.

What happened next took not only Lee Camp but the majority of the 23,577 crowd by surprise as Howson unleashed an unstoppable shot past the Forest goalkeeper from 20 yards.

It was a stunning strike and one worthy of winning any game. Instead, all Howson’s first goal of the season did was underline Leeds’s dominance with Snodgrass having already given the visitors the lead.

The Scot had pounced on 20 minutes, latching on to a deft pass from Adam Clayton before drilling a low shot beyond Camp’s despairing dive.

Going ahead had been no more than Leeds had deserved for their enterprising play in the opening exchanges. It took Grayson’s men just 27 seconds to fashion their first chance of the night when White left Luke Chambers trailing down the Forest right before picking out Snodgrass, whose shot flew high and wide.

Snodgrass also went close 10 minutes before the break, the Scot looking certain to score after dispossessing Camp only for his goalbound shot to be deflected behind by a superb block from Guy Moussi.

It was a major let-off for Forest, though not one they learned from – as was proved when Howson made it 2-0 just before the interval.

United’s dominance continued in the second half, just four minutes having elapsed when Becchio flicked an inviting cross from White beyond Camp and into the corner of the net.

Clayton then netted the visitors’ fourth after Howson’s initial shot had been blocked by Camp to ensure the mission of doing justice to Speed’s memory had been accomplished.

Forest’s misery was completed 12 minutes from time when Andy Reid was sent off for a lunge at White that earn him his second yellow card of the game and an early exit. At the final whistle, the chant ‘4-0 for Gary Speed’ filled the air to ensure a touching end to a night that had seen Leeds extend their record against Forest to five wins and six draws from the last 11 meetings.

Nottingham Forest: Camp; Chambers, Morgan, Lynch, Cunningham (Gunter 64); Anderson, McGugan (McGoldrick 64), Moussi, Reid; Tudgay, Findley (Miller 46). Unused substitutes: Greening, Gunter, Smith.

Leeds United: McCarthy; Connolly, Kisnorbo, Lees, Pugh; Snodgrass (Nunez 80), Brown, Clayton (McCormack 75), Howson, White; Becchio (Keogh 75). Unused substitutes: Taylor, Bromby.

Referee: D Deadman (Cambridgeshire).