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Match report: Leeds United 1, Bolton Wanderers 0
NEIL Warnock wanted to make Elland Road a fortress when he took over as manager last February.
Gradually, there are signs he is putting some of the building blocks in place to make Leeds hard to beat on home turf.
Their 1-0 win against Bolton was their fifth npower Championship win on the bounce on home soil – form which has kept them on the fringes of the chase for a play-off slot.
It was certainly not pretty, more perspiration than inspiration, as both sides served up a poor match for the New Year’s Day crowd.
After successive dire displays on the road at Nottingham Forest and Hull, Leeds began like a side low on confidence.
Mis-placed passing and a tendency to be caught in possession meant Warnock’s team were hardly able to mount a first-half attack of note.
Bolton were not much better, although Chris Eagles shaved the outside of a post with an angled shot and the same player forced Paddy Kenny into a full-length save from 25-yards.
However, Leeds were able to nullify the threat of striker Kevin Davies and slowly inched their way into the game which was settled by Luciano Becchio’s 64th minute penalty.
There seemed little danger as Ross McCormack, with his back to goal just inside the box, collected the ball, but Tyrone Mears’ rash challenge from behind gave Becchio the chance to net from the spot for his 18th goal of the season.
After that Leeds were content to soak up pressure against a Bolton side which huffed and puffed but could make little in-roads on a defence well marshalled by Alan Tate and Jason Pearce.
The result leaves Leeds two points from a play-off place and business in the January transfer window could well define the Whites’ season.
Winger Ryan Hall has already signed from Southend while midfielder Michael Tonge looks set to sign a two-year deal today after a successful spell on loan from Stoke in the first half of the season.
The bigger test for new owners GFH Capital is not necessarily the money they will spend this month, but resisting bids for the likes of Becchio, who now has 85 career goals with Leeds, and rising star Sam Byram, from York.
Warnock lost Jerome Thomas and Luke Varney to a virus the night before the game and revealed how Paul Green, McCormack and goalkeeper Kenny all defied the illness to play.
Warnock expressed pride in his side’s character as they moved up to eighth in the npower Championship.
“In the circumstances I can’t be any prouder of the lads or praise them enough for the effort they put in,” said Warnock.
“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 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.”
Bolton boss Dougie Freedman felt his side should have had a penalty for a foul on substitute David Ngog but Warnock countered: “It was a blatant attempt to win a penalty out of nothing. It was clutching at straws.”
Freedman added: “The referees and their assistants are part-time, so it is not their fault. They don’t train all week and they don’t get help. They don’t get coached or mentored.
“There should be a more professional approach because there is so much at stake.”
Leeds United: Kenny, Byram, Tate, Pearce, Peltier, Green, Austin, Norris, Diouf (Gray 90), McCormack, Becchio. Subs (not used): Ashdown, Drury, Lees, Brown, Somma, Hall. Caution: Byram.
Bolton Wanderers: Bogdan, Mears, Ream, Knight, Alonso, Eagles, Andrews, Spearing, (Butterfield 78), Pratley (Ngog 67), Lee (Afobe 67), Davies. Subs (not used): Petrov, Ricketts, Sordell, Lonergan. Cautions: Knight, Andrews.
Referee: Phil Gibbs (West Midlands).
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