Scunthorpe United v Leeds United

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Football League Championship

Scunthorpe United1(1)Leeds United4(1)

Byrne 27

Gradel 8, Howson 60, 74, 75

Scunthorpe United :
Warner, Byrne, Raynes, Mirfin (Canavan 46), Nolan, Togwell, Woolford, O'Connor, J.Wright (Forte 76), Dagnall (Thompson 68), Sears.
Subs not used:
Slocombe, McClenahan, Collins, Grant.

Leeds United :
Schmeichel, Connolly, Bruce, McCartney, O'Brien, Gradel, Kilkenny, Howson, Faye (Johnson 55), Becchio (Paynter 81), Snodgrass (Nunez 83).
Subs not used:
Brown, Collins, Hughes, Somma.


by Yorkshire Evening Post at Glanford Park

IT is a little-known fact that Jonny Howson was an aspiring striker in his academy years.

Nothing in the 22-year-old's resume speaks of a pronounced talent for scoring goals.

Only when Leeds United's first team began to beckon did the club rebrand Howson as a central midfielder, the position with which he is synonymous at Elland Road and from where his goals were liable to be limited.

Five-a-season is Howson's average but that diminutive total belies his uncanny sense of timing.

A first career hat-trick, scored against Scunthorpe United on Saturday, was four years and 169 appearances in the making; worth the wait for a club who needed inspiration and a shot in their arm.

Howson's finishing touch - a get-out clause invoked by Leeds at crucial junctures of previous seasons - came to the fore in the second half at Glanford Park, delivering three goals in 15 minutes and winning decisively a game which was less clear-cut than the scoreline.

"He played like a captain today," said United manager Simon Grayson, complimenting a player who carried the armband with distinction.

Howson soaked up the attention after full-time with his usual modesty, mulling over a hat-trick which veteran members of the press corps described as "classic" - compiled with each foot and with his head.

But Saturday, like several of his past conquests, was an afternoon when the collective effect of Howson's brilliance obscured his personal satisfaction.

United were some way short of must-win territory in Scunthorpe but the distance between the club and stony ground had shortened during the weeks of October.

As self-assured as he sounded, Grayson appreciated that defeat at Glanford Park would encourage vociferous voices outside his dressing room to grow in number. "We needed a win," he said, without admitting that the need amongst his players was unusually urgent.

United dipped their feet into the bottom half of the Championship last month and realised quickly that they ought not to do so for long. The excuse proffered after defeats to Leicester City and Cardiff City - the crux of it being that both squads were essentially better than Grayson's - would not have washed at Glanford Park, a ground where crowds and budgets equate to League One. Some expectation is impossible to argue with.

A draw would have provided United with space in which to breathe but Howson's treble made that likely outcome an improbability with 15 minutes to play, notwithstanding Grayson's maligned defence.

His goals were the product of the shift in power that occurred at half-time, the point on Saturday when a storm around Leeds threatened to gather. Scunthorpe it was who felt battered and beaten by the final whistle.

Crucial to that swinging momentum was the premature exit of Scunthorpe's David Mirfin, a smothering centre-back who for 45 minutes marked Luciano Becchio, United's lone striker, out of the game.

Mirfin's foot injury forced his manager, Ian Baraclough, to call upon 19-year-old Niall Canavan immediately after half-time, and the result was akin to removing a supporting wall from a house. Howson alone saw more chances in the second-half than Leeds' entire team did in the first.

For that, Grayson was also responsible, alive to the disparity between the sides. "It was made very clear to us at half-time that we'd had one corner to their seven," said Andy O'Brien, United's debutant defender.

He and the players around him understood the message and began to ask questions of Scunthorpe, questions which Baraclough's team could not answer.

O'Brien's selection, a day after he moved on loan to Elland Road from Bolton Wanderers, was not even open to debate in the mind of a manager whose patience with his club's defensive record ran dry last week. But of the two centre-backs involved in a 4-0 loss to Cardiff City - Neill Collins and Alex Bruce - it was not entirely logical that Collins would be the player asked to make way. Grayson preferred to give Bruce the benefit of the doubt.

Partially culpable for Cardiff's first goal, Bruce relied on O'Brien's anticipation to spare him an own goal in the second minute at Glanford Park, a concession for which a mis-hit clearance by Kasper Schmeichel would have carried more blame.

The anxiety persisted until the interval but lifted eventually, dispersed by O'Brien's strength and defensive nous and the continuity provided by the extension of George McCartney's loan from Sunderland. Grayson might at last have the basis of a settled back four.

O'Brien's first act was his most crucial, hacking the ball away from United's goal after Scunthorpe returned Schmeichel's weak kick with interest. Bruce slid in to dispossess Chris Dagnall inside the box but chipped the ball over his keeper's diving body and towards his net.

By then, Grayson was already grateful for O'Brien's presence.

The early exchanges continued in that nervous vein but Howson gave a hint at his pro-active mood when, against the run of seven minutes' play, he cut open Scunthorpe's defence with a slick through-ball.

Max Gradel anticipated it by sprinting past Cliff Byrne and slipped a low shot to the right of Scunthorpe goalkeeper Tony Warner.

Gradel's selection was one of three changes to Grayson's team, named as part of a five-man midfield that also included Neil Kilkenny and left Becchio isolated up front.

It was not until Grayson dispensed with Amdy Faye and introduced Bradley Johnson in the 55th minute that United's intensity became overwhelming but the involvement of Gradel made use of a player whose claim to a starting position has gained strength in the past month.

Either side of his goal, pressure weighed on Leeds. It told in the 27th minute when Byrne climbed above O'Brien to head Michael O'Connor's corner through the right hand of Schmeichel and into the corner of his net.

As a sum of their first-half performance, Scunthorpe had reason to feel that one goal was a modest return.

But Mirfin made way at half-time and Faye followed before the second-half had taken shape, allowing Howson to drift forward and throttle Scunthorpe. Carlisle United and Bristol Rovers can sympathise with Baraclough's players, prior victims of Howson's goals. His first on the hour was sublime, struck across Warner with his left foot after Michael Raynes failed to intercept Paul Connolly's cross.

Twice Scunthorpe threatened to reply as Schmeichel pushed Sears' shot over his crossbar and watched Canavan send a dropping corner in the same direction, but their defence was strewn across the field when Howson met Gradel's deep cross and headed it into the roof of Warner's net.

No sooner had the keeper fished the ball out than Howson was meeting Becchio's pass with a cultured shot from the edge of the box, curled home with his right boot and the help of a post.

"The way we collapsed was like a deck of cards," said Byrne.

Howson was asked later whether the performance was the best of his career. "That's for you to decide," he said with a smile.