ALTHOUGH far from impressive Leeds United started 2013 with a win as they edged to a 1-0 success in a dour game against Bolton Wanderers at Elland Road.
In a typically flat New Year’s Day atmosphere, the Whites were grateful to a 66th minute penalty from Luciano Becchio as they took all three points to lift themselves back up to eighth place in the Npower Championship.
After two defeats and poor performances away to Nottingham Forest and Hull City over the Christmas period Leeds appeared to lack confidence in the first half and their disjointed, hesitant play saw them create only a couple of half-chances with Rodolph Austin’s 30-yard free-kick being deflected wide and Becchio sending a header well over from a corner.
Manager Neil Warnock had made several changes to the starting line-up with Jason Pearce preferred to Tom Lees at the back, skipper Lee Peltier returning from injury at left-back, Austin back in midfield, Ross McCormack handed a left-wing role and strikers Becchio and El Hadji Diouf restored to the starting side after sitting out the Hull match.
But the alterations did not bring any fluency to United’s play and they were fortunate to get to half-time still goalless with Bolton’s Chris Eagles hitting the outside of the post with one effort and seeing another strike from long range well saved by Paddy Kenny.
There was a marginal improvement after the break and the winning goal came after the best move of the game. Austin burst powerfully past three players to get to the bye-line and pulled the ball back for fellow midfielder Paul Green. Although he could not make full contact, Bolton failed to clear and David Norris set up McCormack inside the box only for the Scottish striker to be brought down by Tyrone Mears as he tried to turn past the defender.
There were few complaints over the awarding of a penalty and Becchio stepped up to confidently fire past Adam Bogdan for his 18th goal of the season.
Within two minutes Leeds should have had a second as a counter attack saw Diouf send McCormack clear only for his shot to be blazed over.
McCormack dragged another shot wide and further efforts from Becchio and Austin missed the target as the hosts looked to kill off the game. Bolton did exert some late pressure, but rarely threatened to score apart from one chance when substitute David N’Gog stretched to meet a low cross only to send his shot over.
Leeds boss Neil Warnock was delighted with the win, especially after revealing that a virus had narrowed his selection options with Jerome Thomas and Luke Varney ruled out and Green, McCormack and Kenny all defying illness to play.
He said: “In the circumstances I can’t be any prouder of the lads or praise them enough for the effort they put in.
“It wasn’t a classic, but it was all about desire.
“We were a bit nervous in the first half. When you get the drubbing we did at Hull it knocks the stuffing out of you, but we grafted in there today and the best move of the match led to the penalty.
“On paper Bolton have a far better team than us, but you don’t win matches on paper.”
Leeds United 1
(Becchio 66, pen)
Bolton Wanderers 0
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Leeds: Kenny, Byram, Tate, Pearce, Peltier, Green, Austin, Norris, McCormack, Diouf (Gray 90), Becchio.
Bolton: Bogdan, Mears, Knight, Ream, Alonso, Eagles, Andrews, Spearing (Butterfield 79), Pratley (N’Gog 68), Lee (Afobe 68), Davies.
Referee: Philip Gibbs.