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Monday, 13 December 2010

Carlsberg don’t do perfect away days…

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…But if they did, Leeds United’s trip to Turf Moor on Saturday would be a pretty good blueprint.

Despite what the many Burnley websites and Brian Laws have claimed, Leeds more than matched their host in the opening half hour and had arguably the better chances.  The main difference being that Burnley took their opportunities and United didn’t. Max Gradel blasting wide for our most clear cut opening. Burnley’s first 2 shots on target resulted in a 2-0 lead and they threatened to extend that advantage as The Whites struggled to remain in the game going against a side now full of confidence.

I can honestly say though, even at two down I felt that if we got the next goal then we had every chance of getting something from the game, had Max Gradel been a little more composed on several occasions we would probably have been enjoying the advantage at the break but as they say, what will be, will be.

Half time brought about the usual activities that best pass the turgid 15 minutes of boredom. For me, Angry Birds and a conversation with my brother explaining the importance of the next goal, max v burnleyas quite frankly Burnley looked weak at the back and if I’m honest, a little shocked by their two goal advantage.

Quite what the respective managers said at half time will never fully be known but it certainly worked in our favour. With little to lose, the change in tempo from United’s midfield was obvious. In-form Jonny Howson dragged Leeds back into the game and probably for the first time displayed the necessary qualities of a club captain. Seven minutes into the 2nd period and Max Gradel had given Leeds something to fight for; the all-important 3rd goal in a very tight contest. Snodgrass and Connelly combined down the left and Becchio’s intelligent knock down fell kindly for Max, who smashed The Whites back into contention via his shin. Although I was so far back in the dreadful away stand at Turf Moor I thought he had missed it.

Suddenly there was only one team in the game, with United pouring forward and forcing the home side into mistake, after mistake. Becchio had an effort scrambled off the line and Chris Iwelumo should have restored the host’s two goal cushion but his wayward header was in keeping with an all-round dreadful display from the frontman. Wave after wave on United attack eventually produced an equaliser, Jonny Howson combined with Paul Connolly down the right, with a delightful through pass for the full-back to pick Luciano Becchio out at the back post, One of the Argentinean's easier opportunities of the afternoon had Leeds level.

0,,10273~9265636,00 Bradley Johnson could have given Leeds the lead just moments later but sliced an effort wide as United ravaged a shell-shocked Burnley and another swift counter attack via a magnificent cross-field pass by Howson saw Snodgrass curl a near-perfect effort against the crossbar. At this point only one team were in the game but you sensed that the goal needed to come before the home team composed themselves again. Step forward United’s star man – Jonny Howson, finally showing the consistent form he has promised for so long… A Leeds clearance was worked to Jonny by the excellent Snodgrass as he was crossing the half way line , unopposed he strode up to the edge of the ‘D’ and curled a perfect effort into the bottom corner. cue delirium in the away stand!

Credit to the Leeds fans who had stood by their team even at 2-0 down, although as stated before, the reports of Leeds being ‘hammered’ in the first half are greatly exaggerated. Had it been Leeds who were 2 goals up at the break, few inside Turf Moor could have complained and Brian Laws post match comment of “It wasn’t a case of how well they (Leeds) played, it was a case of how bad we played” is frankly laughable.

The White Army were responsible for the next highlights of the afternoon with their own rendition of Burnley’s cringe worthy post-goal music after Howson’s winner (a small clip of it is on our YouTube channel courtesy of STFCVids). Quite why clubs feel fans need help in celebrating goals is beyond me, the most ‘tin-pot’ practice in modern football. As good as that was, and had it been the other way around, would have cut me to the bone. It was bettered by chants of “You should have gone Christmas shopping!” directed at the stunned home support – a true classic!

From that point on, the game opened up and although Leeds had several chances to wrap up the 3 points, they had Kasper Schmeichel to thank for preserving the lead as Burnley fought hard to rescue the situation. As the referee blew for full-time (possibly the only decision in Leeds’ favour that he managed in the entire game) The 5,000 travelling fans reflected on an epic comeback and probably Leeds’ best performance of the season. Simon Grayson again reiterated the need for a level head after the game and I won’t be mentioning the ‘P-Word’, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t crossed my mind…

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Monday, 6 December 2010

PROGRESS should be the only ‘P-word’ we’re concerned about

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The final whistle on Saturday not only confirmed another 3 points for The Whites but marked the latest 90 minutes in an impressive seven match unbeaten run, the most productive set of results the club have achieved at this level since 2006. It isn’t just the final scores that have been positive either, the individual performances of Robert Snodgrass, Jonny Howson and Luciano Becchio have arguably been of the highest standard each has achieved in a Leeds shirt.

With everything looking so well, and the club’s current Play-off berth surely above all pre-season expectations it’s easy to get over-excited. Especially when Eddie Gray confidently predicts promotion to The Premiership on Yorkshire Radio after the match on Saturday. If last season taught us anything, it’s that the position you occupy after 46 matches is the only one that matters!

Whilst I appreciate the ‘feel good’ atmosphere around Elland Road at the moment, and the talk of Promotion is a lot better than the dreaded fight for survival that many predicted (myself included, just 6 weeks ago), lets not lose sight of where we’ve come from and get ahead of ourselves.

As we approach the 2nd anniversary of Simon Grayson’s appointment as United boss the difference in Leeds United Football Club, as a whole,  is stark to say the least. When Grayson took charge of the squad for the first time on Boxing Day 2008, Leeds languished 9th in League One just below Tranmere Rovers and Stockport County… Our F.A. Cup dream was over before it had even begun having suffered humiliation at non-league Histon, a 3-1 reverse at MK Dons was the final nail in Gary McAllister’s coffin.

Fast forward almost 2 years and the club occupy a Play-off spot in The Championship and have an F.A. Cup tie at Arsenal to look forward to. Not only that but we have a squad of players who appear hungry to bring success to Elland Road. We have individuals whom, whether we like to hear it or not, would command a decent return upon the purchase price should we choose to sell them on. The likes of Becchio, Snodgrass and Howson are likely to command 7 figure sums in the current market and whilst that may be seen as counter-productive, it’s a positive compared to the paltry fees we have received for our better players in recent years.

So whilst promotion would be fantastic and more than welcomed by the thousands of Whites around the globe, let’s just be glad that we’re a club on the up once more…

Note: If anyone found 4 season tickets at Saturday’s game, please get in touch.

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Friday, 26 November 2010

What does Sunday's Cup Draw hold for us?

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Rewind to 29th November 2009. Eyes glued to TV sets, ears pinned to radio's, fingers rapidly pressing F5 on keyboards. It was the weekend of the 3rd Round Draw for the F.A Cup, to be played the 2nd and 3rd of January 2010. We'd just drawn 1-1 with Kettering away from home, avoiding another 'Histon', yet still not clear of embarrassment. We'd gruelled and grafted in the mud, not being that bad, but it's typical Leeds. Nothing can go your way, regardless of performance. Anyway, a replay at Elland Road beckoned which we'd surely win easily and go on to face whoever we were drawn. Scum, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal would all be nice I told myself. Just not another year of Swindon at home or Brighton away, we prayed. Not another fixture we'd played just 2 weeks ago, please. I sat with my mug of tea on my right, my Sunday Dinner on my left. Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal, all drawn out within the first 15 ties. At this point, it was just a matter of time before Scum were drawn away against Tranmere or similar. Team after team drawn, until there were 6 or 7 teams drawn. Heart beating faster, hope in my head, realisation coming closer. 4 teams left : Leeds United/Kettering, Scum, Accrington Stanley/Barnet, Gillingham. Remember that point about not another league fixture in the cup? Please not Gillingham, I prayed, on the edge of my seat. "Accrington Stanley or Barnet will play..." seconds seemed like hours, like days, shouting at the box, screaming 'GILLINGHAM, PLEASE GILLINGHAM'. God knows what the neighbours thought. Steve Redgrave's hand reached in and it all seemed to happen in slow motion. He grasped the ball and I was about 20 centimetres away from the TV at this point on my knees, hands grasped, eyes fixated. He looked at the ball and slightly chuckled. It couldn't be, surely?

"...Will play Gillingham at home." Screams, celebrations, dances, obscenities were all exchanged within 10 seconds. 15 phones calls recieved in as many minutes, it was as if we'd won the bleeding thing. Plans put in place already, an early birthday present if we did the 'impossible'. Scum. Away. Some say the magic of the FA Cup has gone, pushed aside by Murdoch and co., but moments like that come once in a lifetime. We overcame Kettering quite easily in 15 minutes after 90 minutes of slightly struggling and it kicked in. Scum, afuckingway. And the rest of course, shall be repeated on January the 3rd 2011 in a special anniversary post.

But enough of that. What about January 2nd/3rd 2011? What does it hold for Leeds United? Another Premier League giantkilling tie? Another visit to a Salmonella ridden ground? Another lovely return to the police forces of Carlisle? Oh wait, just mentioned that. After last years heroics, anything is possible. The magic of the FA Cup still shines bright, waiting to come out behind the covers of the dark and dingy corporate values of Football today.
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Thursday, 18 November 2010

Leeds held to ransom by most deluded ‘star’ in club’s history.

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For fear of getting a reputation of only appearing with posts when the team are playing poorly or that something isn’t going right, I feel I should first explain my recent absence;

After berating the performances of Jonny Howson and Robert Snodgrass in my previous articles, I thought it best to keep a low profile after they have both been leading lights of our current up-turn in form. ‘Our Jonny’ even notched a perfect treble at Scunthorpe, and I know it wasn’t an error on the Sky Sports vidiprinter as I was one of the lucky few to see it with my own eyes… So having had my words shoved firmly down my throat and my posts relating to our quest for survival being the best we can hope for made to look ridiculous against our current 5th place standing. I shall apologise to the pair here. Whilst pointing out that the real reason for my absence is that it is a busy time at work and unfortunately this blog gets pushed to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list .

Now, with that out of the way lets approach one of the craziest stories released by Leeds United’s press officer in recent memory; MIDFIELDER TRANSFER LISTED appeared on NewsNow this afternoon, the initial fear of what, or whom the article could be referring to quickly subsided upon clicking the headline. Thankfully, Robert Snodgrass, Max Gradel and Neil Kilkenny are all staying put and even Andy Hughes will remain at Elland Road… I can hear you thinking, “well who else is there!?!”

It turns out Bradley Johnson has rejected the club’s final offer of a 3 year contract.

Firstly, I’d have to question Simon Grayson’s thinking in offering Johnson another contract, never mind a 3 year deal!  For me, Bradley Johnson will always epitomise the ‘average’ players that have passed through the door at Thorp Arch since our decline to League One. He is by far the most infuriating player I have ever seen play, he obviously has some talent but it is totally undermined by his lack of vision, awareness and terrible decision making. I was hoping he would leave in the Summer on a free, so any sort of transfer fee would be a bonus!

Quite what goes through the head of some players is a mystery. Perhaps his agent has pointed to the amount of games he has started this season and that his wage should reflect that of an important first team member… he has obviously forgotten the game at Boundary Park a couple of years ago when Bradley turned in the worst performance of any professional footballer I have witnessed. Can anybody think of anything Johnson has done this season that would look out of place in an amateur game at your local park? Even his decent finish and steady game against Hull was undone by a comical own goal due to lack of concentration.

Out of the whole squad, I can’t think of a player who I would be less upset or concerned about leaving.

I’m sure he’ll find his rightful place back in League One again before long…

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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Leeds still a MASSIVE draw for fans…

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Leeds United’s NEWSNOW page is as busy as ever, especially with news of Andy O’Brien’s imminent arrival from Bolton. However, between all the muted excitement there are several stories regarding our upcoming away matches…

Saturday’s opponents, Scunthorpe United have released a statement indicating to fans that only 900 tickets remain for the fixture and they’re in the standing area of the stadium. The article is reminiscent of a concert billboard with dozens of ‘SOLD OUT’ notices across every section of the ground.

Article Here – STANDING ROOM ONLY FOR FANS

Perhaps such a situation is to be expected, just 2 days before the game and in a relatively small arena. Further down the news page Coventry City’s Official Site are promising fans a season best crowd that will smash through last season’s record of 22,209 against local rivals Leicester City. Almost 6,000 United fans are expected to roar The White’s on at The Ricoh Arena on November 6th.

Article Here – LEEDS CLASH SET TO ATTRACT BIG CROWD

Again, a sceptic would indicate that we haven’t played The Sky Blues for 3 seasons, and the fixture is viewed as a novelty by local fans…

Also on the page is an article courtesy of Norwich City’s Official Site, the article reads; BE PART OF A RECORD CROWD!

Apparently Leeds United’s arrival in town has spurred the Canaries into breaking the all-seater record crowd for Carrow Road. The previous best of 25,749 when England U21 beat Romania looks set to be consigned to the annals of history.

If only we had a team to match such euphoric expectation…

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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Operation: Survival

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Another midweek game, another thumping. To say Leeds were outclassed last night would be a severe understatement. It’s difficult to stomach, and equally difficult not to demand something be done, be it a change of expectations, a change of personnel or a change of manager. Either way, something MUST change.

My first suggestion is a strange one, but I have to question the attitude of the coaching staff, the players and ultimately the manager with regards to half time. Whilst the majority of the crowd may have been occupied by another dreadful attempt to win £50 by a member of  The Revie Stand, I noticed that the Cardiff substitutes were put through a rigorous training session of running and passing with a coach keeping an eye on proceedings. Meanwhile, the Leeds substitutes were in groups of two kicking a ball about, talking and generally just passing the time before they returned to the dugout. A coach was nowhere to be seen. I realise that this is a minor issue and probably has little bearing on our current form but it looked like a Sunday League team against an established, professional outfit. We may not be at our most grandest at the moment but that doesn’t mean we have to abandon all sense of professionalism.

My next suggestion is an obvious one; The players. I could write all day about the shortcomings of our squad but my opinion, although deemed worthy enough to be read by a few hundred people browsing the internet, in the grand scheme of things is going to change very little, so I will get right to the point – More than half the squad are just not good enough. A point highlighted last night when the crowd reacted angrily and ferociously to a few heavy tackles just before half time, the ball fell to Bradley Johnson, who’s response to the heightened atmosphere was to loft the ball to the far corner flag and out for a goal kick, no team-mate was within 30 yards of his pass… I say ‘pass’ in the broadest sense of the word, in actual fact it was a desperate attempt to get rid of the ball for fear of incurring the wrath of the crowd – a trait that has no place at this level. Similarly, when Schmeichel was looking to release the ball early ALL ten outfield players had their back to him, seemingly praying that he wouldn’t choose to pass to them.

He was far from alone though, Robert Snodgrass is rapidly earning the accolade of ‘Most overrated player of a generation’ and the entire back four have struggled all season, regardless of which quartet is chosen. Rule number one of defending is ‘never let the ball bounce’, if you do, disasters similar to that of the opening goal last night happen. It’s easy to blame Schmeichel but he clearly shouted for the ball, only to be dispossessed by Bruce getting in the way… Amateurish.

One passage of play last night underlined the difference in quality between ourselves and Cardiff; Jay Bothroyd picked up a long ball played into the right-hand channel from a central defender, he had barely moved 10 yards across the penalty area, yet the ball was at his feet and he had turned to attack the goal. The pass was weighted just over Neil Collins and between the central defender and full back – A simple pass, yet so effective. We managed to quell that attack and within 30 seconds had punted the ball at Davide Somma’s neck, in the hope of something similar whilst surrounded by 3 Cardiff defenders…

This brings me on nicely to The Manager, I like Simon Grayson and the job he has done at Elland Road is undoubtedly a good one, but should one of the seemingly never ending line of people I know who love poking fun at Leeds United defeats ask me how Leeds set out last night, or indeed against Leicester, I couldn’t answer them. I couldn’t tell them what our game plan was, or what we attempted to do to stifle the unquestionable talent of Craig Bellamy. We appear to just take to the pitch and play off the cuff, whatever happens, happens and we’ll deal with it afterwards…

I hate questioning the manager because it’s his right to test his skills at this level having finally dragged us out of League One but I have to question a few things;

His Signings; For every Kasper Schmeichel and Paddy Kisnorbo there have been several Frede Bessone, Jason Crowe, Gary McShefferey and apparently Ross McCormack – disappeared without trace.

His Tactics; or lack thereof. As I mentioned, what has our game plan been these last few weeks? Now that we don’t have the quick striker we seem to be  devoid of ideas. I thought Grayson had solved that with the acquisition of countless wingers, yet last night we had a left footer on the right and a central midfielder on the left… I don’t know either.

Another thing I noticed last night (yes I was paying close attention) was, from one of our corners a Cardiff player found himself with the ball, facing his own goal roughly around the penalty spot, a precarious position to be in for any player. Yet, without looking he hooked the ball out to the right back position where his right winger collected the ball and proceeded up the pitch. This might be a happy coincidence but I doubt it, it’s obviously a premeditated tactic when clearing in such a situation – he knew his player was there. Can you imagine the current Leeds team having such a plan?? no, thought not. That is ultimately down to the manager.

His Selection Policy: Another defeat last night and the expected departure of George McCartney will mean another list of changes for Saturday. Injuries have been cruel this season but towards the end of McAllister’s reign I remember players complaining that one mistake meant a month on the bench, de ja vu?

Finally the fans, no not change the fans, and not another plea for some realistic expectation. Most fans seem to realise that anything above 15th is a decent season. I’d like to take issue with something that is a problem for our game on a National level, probably why our National team look as likely to win anything as Newcastle; Let me explain:

Last night Jonny Howson picked up the ball in central midfield and after noticing he had a little bit of space proceeded directly at the centre of the Cardiff defence, still going towards the edge of the area he was greeted unanimously with shouts from the crowd of “GET RID OF IT, GET RID OF IT…” Can you imagine that attitude in a football stadium anywhere else in the world?? Spain haven’t nurtured Iniesta, Xavi, Ramos etc on such mercurial teachings and nor was Lionel Messi ever taught to “GET RID OF IT..”

There will be those that point to our decent start and our acceptable league position but all promoted teams set off well with the momentum that promotion brings but after four defeats in five (three at home) we’re in a battle for survival.

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Friday, 22 October 2010

Jamie Forrester: My Time at Leeds United – Part 3

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As I posted the opening 2 parts of Jamie’s account of his Leeds United career, here is number 3!

http://beh1ndthescenes.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/my-time-at-leeds-united-part-3-a-yorkshire-derby-and-stitches/

Again, an incredibly honest reflection… young academy players would do well to read it!

Parts 1 and 2 for those that may have missed it are HERE

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Keep Fighting: The Billy Bremner Story ON SALE NOW!

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I received an email about an hour ago informing me of this book, so I thought I’d share my knowledge of it’s existence. I had no idea such a title was planned, never mind already released. So for those in a similar situation – here you go!

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PRODUCT DESCRIPTION
Billy Bremner is a football icon. During his years playing for Leeds Utd and Scotland his passion for the game and his commitment to the cause made him an all-time footballing legend. When Billy Bremner died in 1997 at the age of just 55, Paul Harrison was working with him on a definitive biography. They had completed extensive no-holds-barred one-to-one interviews covering Bremner's distinguished career as a player and manager. With Bremner's untimely death the book was never published but, now, Paul Harrison has reworked the original material into the definitive biography. With contributions from many of the greats of the game, including Sir Alex Ferguson, Franz Beckenbauer, Ian St John, Kevin Keegan, Jimmy Greaves and late contemporaries such as Brian Clough, Don Revie, George Best and Sir Bobby Robson, Billy Bremner: Keep Fighting tells the story of Bremner's life both in his own words and those of the author and the distinguished contributors. Packed full of stories, anecdotes and reminiscences, this is a fitting tribute to one of the greats of the game.





CLICK THE PICTURE TO PURCHASE AT AMAZON OR FOLLOW THIS LINK – Keep Fighting: The Bill Bremner Story

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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Foxes expose United’s lack of quality.

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Only poor finishing, a bit of luck and a crossbar saved Leeds from another humiliating reverse last night. To say that we were second best doesn’t do justice to the superiority enjoyed by Leicester, as the Foxes served Leeds a footballing masterclass.

From the very first minute, the visitors formation and crucially their extra width caused United all sorts of problems. Leeds could have been 3 adrift before Grayson reverted to a 4-1-4-1 formation with top goalscorer, Davide Somma operating on left wing. The change in system restricted Leicester’s options but not their dominance… The ‘Mighty’ Whites literally had no answer to the high tempo, fluid performance of ‘Sven’s Men’. Becchio’s goal was the only real half-chance that we created in 95 minutes!

We played over an hour with 5 midfielders and it wasn’t until the introduction of Neil Kilkenny that we actually passed to any of them, favouring instead to punt long to an out-numbered Luciano Becchio, it all combined for a miserable night at Elland Road.

Rather than berate the fact that we were clearly not good enough last night, and could easily be licking the wounds of another 5 or 6 goal humiliation, lets look at the reasons why we failed to compete with a team who were in the relegation zone prior to kick-off…

The main reason is that individually too many of our players are just not good enough for Championship football; in recent years plenty of Leeds players have been accused of lack of effort, lack of caring or even apathy towards the club, but I don’t believe that is the case with the current squad – they are simply just not good enough, operating at least 1 division higher than they should be. Richard Naylor for instance could easily have cost us 3 goals last night as a direct results of individual errors. We’re not talking poor marking here, we’re talking blatant misjudgements, bad positioning and/or lack of concentration, as it was only one Leicester goal can be laid at the door of our club captain. Add that to the catalogue of errors already this season and the number of goals he can account for must surely be in double figures!

It’s hard on Richard Naylor, a revelation when he arrived amid similar defensive disasters after the reign of Gary McAllister, he unfortunately appears to have become the victim of age and the step up in quality that promotion brings with it. Alongside Neil Collins, it is a defensive pairing screaming out for leadership that neither player commands. I dare say that along side Paddy Kisnorbo or similar defensive behemoth both players would prosper. As it is they look very pedestrian every time we are required to defend.

Whilst Naylor can point to a relatively successful career that is only faltering due to his age and the quality of opposition, the likes of Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson and Robert Snodgrass have no such saving grace.

Eyebrows may be raised by the mention of Robert Snodgrass in what is a very critical article but despite his recent injury problem can anybody remember the last thing he did in a Leeds shirt that an average semi-professional player couldn’t muster? Are we looking as far back as the curling winner against Southampton almost a year ago!?! His decision making and distribution leave a lot to be desired. That said, I’m sure he has enough in his locker to rise to the challenge of  The Championship. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for messrs Howson and Johnson.

Despite the odd flash of brilliance, usually reserved for critical moments for which we have all been very grateful (see Bristol Rovers HOME May 2010 and Carlisle AWAY May 2008 for details), Jonny Howson remains a bit of an enigma. Should you be dominating  a game or competing against a lesser midfield then Jonny will produce a performance to rival anything that Zinedine Zidane had to offer, but should you chasing a game or struggling to get a foothold then Mr Howson literally evaporates and offers absolutely nothing aside from the odd misplaced pass or an incredible ability to get dispossessed in his own half. Unfortunately, our vice captain will never be able to dictate a game. Similar to Naylor, mistakes from Howson have attributed to the concession of several goals so far this term. Having said all that, I’d love him to do well and prove all the doubters wrong.

Surely the most frustrating player to grace Elland Road in recent times is Bradley Johnson, a decent player who is undermined by his own decision making. Be it sky-high shots, wayward free-kicks or over ambitious passing it all culminates in a player who is again probably playing higher than his natural level.

Despite all of this, these players have earned the right to operate at this level, they are the ones who gained promotion out of League One and the fact that they’re not good enough must surely leave the blame with our manager. I am in full support of Simon Grayson but of those that started last night I’d say only the two full-backs and the two front men have done enough to be considered Championship players, and question marks still remain over Max Gradel and Neil Kilkenny who tried in vein to rescue a desperate situation last night.

I do try not to overreact on this site, it is very easy when you control a medium such as this to vent your spleen over a performance such as that witnessed yesterday but the facts are that we have lost 3 of the last 4 and only a nervy victory at a beleaguered Middlesbrough team has kept The White Army from pressing the panic button.

The most distressing element of last night’s defeat was that we played with a five man midfield to combat a team that were better than us, both collectively and individually and yet we still couldn’t get near them. This is a team that has struggled thus far and were 2nd bottom, We literally had no answers…

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Monday, 11 October 2010

Jamie Forrester: My Time at Leeds United

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Whilst browsing the internet on my phone tonight  in a desperate attempt to find some relief from the dreadful viewing that was Swindon Town v Bristol Rovers, I came across this;

A blog written by Jamie Forrester, the man who all Leeds fans will remember for scoring a spectacular overhead kick against Manchester United in the Youth Cup Final back in 1993

http://beh1ndthescenes.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/my-time-at-leeds-united-part-1/

http://beh1ndthescenes.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/my-time-at-leeds-united-part-2/

It makes interesting reading, I will try to post any further entries, should there be any…

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Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Dirty Leeds Returns…

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Amidst a very hectic work schedule and the first birthday of my Daughter, writing on this site has become an item resigned to my ‘to do’ list. The odd Twitter and Facebook appearance has been the sole presence of  The ‘Dirty Leeds’ Blog since early September (a fact not missed by ClarkeOneNil – Cheers!). Whilst I’ve been away, life as a Leeds United fan has seldom been more chaotic…

Indeed I experienced first hand the horror at Oakwell, one of almost 7,000 Whites crammed into the North Stand and one of probably several hundred who missed the opening goal due to traffic congestion on the M1, and after watching a very average Tyke outfit smash five past Shane Higgs, left for home. Partly to steal a march on the traffic that was so infuriating inbound and partly in total disgust at a performance that was as bad as any I can remember. The sum total of my trip was to miss both Leeds goals and witness a Barnsley side ravage a desperate United defence. The joys of being Leeds…

If that wasn’t bad enough, the inexplicable collapse from a commanding 4-1 lead against Preston left me totally numb and totally speechless. I’m sure the rest of the Leeds United internet community have had their say in my absence, so I’ll put it down to ‘a freak’ result, and leave it at that!

Sandwiched between the two defensive horror shows were two hard fought performance against South Yorkshire also-rans in Doncaster Rovers and Sheffield United. Unfortunately hosting a company golf day and my Daughter’s birthday party prevented me from attending both games, by all accounts, I missed very little.

It all contrives to leave my recent Leeds United viewing at; Goals scored – 4, Goals conceded – 11, 0 Points!

This season was always going to be a bit of a rollercoaster, but as usual Leeds United seem to be taking it to a whole new level. Our defensive frailties have been obvious and Shane Higgs’ performances have been that of a player who already seems to have one eye on the exit door after being replaced as ‘Number 1’ by Kasper Schmeichel. The much maligned Richard Naylor has mirrored the up and down form of the team, with slightly more downs, it has to be said…whilst Frede Bessone has shown all the hallmarks of a player who will be added to the long list of professionals who struggle to get to grips with the expectation of playing for Leeds United.

All that said, it’s better than being in League One and I would have taken where we are now after the defeat to Derby. October looks like a month where we can pick up a few points, providing Kasper sorts his foot out.

A special mention here to Davide Somma, despite the two desperate defeats he has been superb in what I have seen, both live and on LUTV.

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Thursday, 9 September 2010

Frazer’s Curse Strikes Again….!

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Back in May I posted an article regarding the ill affects Frazer Richardson’s presence seems to have on the football clubs that he is contracted to - “Is Frazer Richardson Cursed?”

richardson bw Following the article, Frazer secured a move to Southampton who were obviously unaware of the evil within. The move surprised many, but as part of ‘The League One Team of the Year’ Frazer’s stock was in high regard throughout the third tier. Richardson joined a team that narrowly missed out on a Play-off place the previous season despite a 10 point deficit from The Football League.

Over the course of last season Alan Pardew spent a small fortune assembling one of the best squads ever at League One level. Ricky Lambert and Lee Barnard were recruited to spearhead the attack and Jason Puncheon joined to compliment the already impressive Adam Lallana.

The current season had pundits and experts writing off any challenge to Southampton’s march to The League One title and Championship football, few could see past The Saints replacing their local rivals Portsmouth in next season’s second tier… They obviously don’t read this blog!

Three weeks into the season, manager Alan Pardew was relieved of his duties following an average start to the campaign and the clubs owner had tragically passed away! Since Pardew’s dismissal, St Mary’s has witnessed  a 3-0 reverse to Swindon in the dreaded JPT and a humbling 2-0 defeat to my home town club Rochdale (which incidentally won me a few pounds to boot!).

Southampton may well go onto achieve promotion come May but it’s not a great start by any stretch of the imagination. Should The Saints fail this time around, surely there can only be one person to blame…

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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

“What’s it like to be outclassed?!”

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I’m not certain whether it was Leeds who were a class above or if Millwall were having an 'off day’, perhaps a bit of both. Maybe The Lions arrived at Elland Road anticipating the usual physical contest that has become synonymous with this fixture. Either way, United produced a performance that would have caused problems for every team in this division. Sanchez Watt strode around Millwall’s defensive third like he was the only player on the pitch, dropping into ‘the hole’ and neutralising any combative game plan that Kenny Jackett’s side had set out with.

His dribbling ability and willingness to get on the ball switched Leeds from defence into attack in the blink of an eye, complimented by excellent performances from Neil Kilkenny and Jonny Howson, the latter serving up his best attacking display in many a month. United’s midfield four were so good that Jackett switched his side to 4-5-1 after an hour with Jimmy Abdou trailing Watt across the park in an attempt to get a foothold in the game.

It was refreshing to see an opposition team come to Elland Road and have to worry about how they were going to contain The Whites. Too often in the last few seasons the better teams have come to LS11 and passed us off the park, with most of our fans biting their nails down to the knuckle every time they crossed the halfway line.

The fluidity in which United moved the ball in the final third was alien at times, content in previous seasons to hit high balls into the channels for Beckford to chase or Becchio to get underneath has now evolved into a high-tempo, passing game plan that looks for a killer pass to unlock defences. Failing that, we have two genuine wingers who enjoy beating the opposing fullbacks. It all makes for exciting match each time we take to the field.

Credit must go to Grayson who, unlike his predecessor Gary McAllister, seems to have more than one plan of action. Our 4-5-1 formation that we settled into during pre-season seamlessly snapped into a more familiar 4-4-2 after 20 torrid minutes at The City Ground and served us well in what was a ultimately a clinical dismantling of a Millwall side that had been leading The Championship prior to kick off. I’m not going to get overly excited just yet, if last season taught us anything; it’s that the season isn’t over until the final ball is kicked, and although Millwall’s excellent start speaks for itself I can’t help thinking that it was more down to the fact that Bristol and Hull weren’t prepared for their style of play and acute physical approach. However, after 8 encounters in the last 3 seasons Jackett’s men held few surprises for United.

After much fear over the last few weeks about the lack of investment into the playing staff and apparent lack of ambition, it was nice to see that, after all the dust of the narrow opening day defeat to Derby had settled, Grayson has assembled a team that can more than compete at this level. And all this without arguably our three best players…

Finally, it would be stupid of me to pass up an opportunity to gloat about a victory over Millwall. Not because they’re such great rivals, or that it was such a magnificent feat, but when a team continually gets the better of you for such a sustained period (except when it counted in May of course) it’s nice to put things right. Maybe because we’re such familiar foes, the ‘Cup final’ feel has evaporated for the Bermondsey boys, hence their inability to raise their game again… ‘aint that right Jackett?? … you dick!

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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

A Very Rare Mindset – Leeds United 2010/11

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“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that.” – Bill Shankley

For as far back as I can remember, a match involving Leeds United has had the ability to dictate my immediate wellbeing. Entire weekends have been lost to depression and despair following adverse results, similarly the joy and elation of past and more recent triumphs have had me walking on air for days. The crippling, constant stress that last season’s promotion run-in brought upon me is not something I’d relish on an annual basis. I even developed a skin irritation that surfaced around early April, coincidence? probably not…

For years the pleasure of a bi-weekly trip to Elland Road has always been tempered by the thought of what the return journey across the M62 might bring. Would Eddie Gray still be as positive following another shambolic home defeat to the likes of Cheltenham Town?? Knowing that I’m at the mercy of a force that has the ability to destroy my entire weekend, and the worst thing? I’m powerless to stop it.

Now a Father, I’ve tried to limit the impact that Leeds United defeats or general disasters have on my life. By the same token, with our fixture against Nottingham Forest to be broadcast directly into my living room, I took the opportunity to stay at home and spend the time with my family. Having said that, it was only me watching Leeds!

One-nil down and probably only touched the ball a handful of times, it made for very difficult viewing. It was at this point I had something of an epiphany… Leeds United aren’t expected to get anything out of this game, we’re up against a side that only dropped points at home on five occasions last season. Meanwhile, we were making hard work of escaping the league below. As long as we reach the magic 50-point mark come February or March, I’ll be more than happy.

As much as our opening day defeat to Derby was difficult to stomach, it may actually have done us all a favour. Gone are the crazy optimists who were predicting The Whites to rampage through this league to the land of gold, sharp suits and inflated egos that is The Premiership. Instead we all pretty much accept that this will be a season of consolidation, a season to build foundations. Yes, our 20 year record of no opening day losses has gone, and was only made worse by the pantomime antics of Robbie Savage. Who incidentally, has threatened to retire from Twitter following the abuse he and his family received from some Leeds United themed usernames. Something to do with his ill Father, I'm not sure, I can’t fully remember…

Unfortunately, Robbie’s threat to abandon his online followers came at roughly the same time that David Beckham was publicly axed from the England National team. Alas, only 5Live took a mild interest in his plight, and he is still desperately living up to his childish Disney villain persona via the online network.

So here we are, about to embark on 9 months of football that will undoubtedly have more than a few ‘ups and downs’ but ultimately enjoyable and stress free. I think we’re steady enough that it shouldn’t be a matter of life and death come May. Having said that, with arguably our five best players set to return before Christmas… who knows?

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Monday, 9 August 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly…

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Well that’s the first game out of the way, and as the hysteria of an opening day defeat for Leeds United begins to subside, I’m sure, like me, most people realise that this league isn’t going to be easy. I’m not suggesting for a moment that we’re in dire trouble, far from it. Saturday’s performance would have produced 3 points in League One  eight times out of ten. On another day, with a little more luck we’d have been celebrating 21 seasons without an opening day defeat.

As it was, we were punished for mistakes that ultimately cost us the game. Mistakes that wouldn’t necessarily have been exposed in the third tier.

The most pleasing aspect of Saturday, and the part that should fill all Leeds fans with confidence was the ease in which we created chances and real goal scoring opportunities, this without arguably our three best attacking players in Gradel, Snodgrass and Paynter.

I’m sure most will point to the defence as our main achilles heel, and without a solid base, our attacking prowess is academic. There is no denying that we looked shaky at the back, ok downright awful at times, but as the squad and players settle down and with games, I’m sure that they’ll improve. Kasper aside though, the rest of the back five seem devoid of leadership, I hope that changes as the various individuals become more comfortable with their new colleagues.

For me, our main area of concern is central midfield. Three in the middle is fine, providing they’re not all doing the same thing… Kilkenney is not a holding midfielder, nor does he play like one. He comes short for balls into feet to link defence to the attack, which is exactly how youngsters should be taught to play the game. Unfortunately, such qualities are useless when a move breaks down and you’ve got three midfielders running at an exposed defence, as was evident for Saturday’s opening goal. An orthodox holding midfielder would have halted that move, legally, or otherwise before Rob Hulse was released.

Strangely, this has been Leeds’ problem for over 18 months now and has yet to be addressed. League One midfielders won’t punish such a tactical omission, but in the coming weeks we’ll be coming up against much tougher midfielders than those that Derby possess, players who just 3 months ago were lining up against the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Cesc Fabregas. Grayson has to act on this issue! Our new 4-5-1 formation, that was so effective for teams in South Africa operated with TWO holding midfielders, we don’t have any!

That also brings me onto what exactly Bradley Johnson brings to the team? Answers on a postcard please. (or the comments section below)

Going forward we seemed fine, a little lack of understanding and unfamiliarity was obvious, but to be expected. I can see why Simon brought Billy Paynter in; to share the duties of lone frontman with Luciano Becchio. Evidently leading the line on your own is a tiring job, poor Luciano looked like he was about to keel over towards the end on Saturday, expect his number to appear on more than a few fourth official’s boards this season as soon as Paynter is fit.

All in all, it was a decent performance and an entertaining match for any neutrals. Kasper Schmeichel looked for all the world like a top class goalkeeper and his ability will undoubtedly earn us several extra points this season, both in his handling and his kicking. Jermaine Beckford would have notched at least another ten goals last season had we possessed a goalkeeper with such distribution.

More difficult games on the horizon and we need to pick up a win ASAP but I'm not besieged with fear so far,  I’m as confident of a midtable finish as I was on Friday… the dreams of a surprise promotion party come May though are beginning to fade…

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Tuesday, 3 August 2010

-15 Points, Three Years On…

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This coming Sunday marks the 3rd anniversary of the 15 point sanction that Leeds United incurred from The Football League. Leeds were guilty of breaking a rule that didn’t exist, but were left with little option other than to accept the punishment, just 24 hours before the season was due to commence at Prenton Park. The incredibly steep sanction brought to an end one of the most miserable close seasons in the clubs history, a period when even the most intellectually challenged Whites became overly familiar with the terms; “Golden Share”, “CVA”, “HMRC” and discovered who exactly who, Lord Brian Mawhinney was.

I don’t wish to delve into the rights and wrongs of the sanction, the court case and the subsequent “Kop out” from The Football League, that’s been covered from every corner already. The main questions for me are, would we have taken our current situation the morning of that game at Tranmere? and had we started on zero would we be where we are now?

Fifteen points adrift at the foot of League One (The club’s lowest ever position), a partially assembled team of free agents, youth graduates and players on high wages that the club were unable to move on. Understandably, most supporters were just grateful to have a team to support, as the carnage of the Summer became clear the moment the team was announced on that opening day.

So here we are, once again a Championship club with a capable squad that should more than hold their own, in what is not an especially strong division this year. Would you have taken this in 2007? Most would agree that Leeds made hard work of escaping the clutches of the third tier, but given the upheaval that had preceded their arrival, was it really unexpected? With the majority of the “football family” predicting another relegation for The Whites back then, well, when they all ceased their celebration and self-congratulatory appraisal, at the disaster they’d landed upon us, that is.

So what if the power-mad imbeciles at The Football League had a pair of testicles or didn’t hate Leeds United and/or Ken Bates so much? What if the rest of the members had voted in our favour at the ‘Kangaroo Court’? instead of smugly pointing the finger or greedily clapping their hands at the prospect of inflated gate receipts for at least another season – Where would we be now? I’d guess, probably not too far away from where we currently find ourselves, although the current squad is better equipped for the second tier than the one that failed at Wembley against Doncaster.

Personally, I found the “Minus 15” season one of the most enjoyable we’ve had, probably only surpassed by the season just gone. However, writing this and reliving the anger and despair that the rest of British football inflicted upon me and Leeds United, I can confirm that I’m still very bitter about the whole situation and that I will never have any sympathy for clubs who find themselves in similar situations…

How much did the “Minus 15” affect Leeds United?? Not much…

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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Mid-Table Mediocrity – Acceptable? You bet ya!

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 leeds shirt 2 leeds shirt

With the promotion-clinching victory over Bristol Rovers now just a very happy memory in the rear view mirror, it is with great excitement, and reserved  expectation that I gear up for the new season.

Season Ticket has arrived, albeit with Jermaine Beckford as the only recognisable player on the front. And despite a major problem concerning a lost season ticket application for a member of my family, that United CEO, Shaun Harvey was good enough to rectify, the arrival of my new home shirt today, completes the pre-season preparation.

With a disastrous performance against League Two Bury, quickly erased by an impressive 5 goal demolition of Hartlepool and an even more impressive victory at SK Brann of Norway. Eight goals and a few injury worries later, spirits are raised ahead of Saturday’s home friendly with Wolverhampton Wanderers and The Championship season opener against Derby County a week later.

This new season holds a strange new attitude, for me at least. For the first time in probably 6 years I won’t be entering Elland Road each week with the belief that defeat is unacceptable. Of course, too many defeats become a worry, but the fact that we are no longer the leading club in the division, in terms of starting XI, squad, finances or wage bill, would suggest that we will be on the receiving end of a few adverse score lines this season. I think it’s important that fans adjust their expectations accordingly… A relegation fight would be classed as an underachievement by all, but mid-table mediocrity is attainable and respectable – Anything above 10th position would be a magnificent season for Leeds United.

Only nine days to go now… watching YouTube clips of the win at Old Trafford and Beckford’s promotion clincher last night, really got me in the mood. Some of the clips I watched can be found on The ‘Dirty Leeds’ Blog YouTube Channel.

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Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Not only ‘Dirty’ Leeds, but Prejudiced too?!

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On Sunday morning, as I basked in the morning sun and the shallow wellbeing that only a thumping Leeds United victory brings. I set off on my usual walk around a local reservoir with my 10 month old daughter in a rucksack style seat on my back, iPod in ear (just one so I can hear my youngster) and my wife power-walking away into the distance.

All was ‘as per usual’ until I came across a white haired man of perhaps 65 years old who was remonstrating with a motorist who, in making his way to the local yachting club had almost relieved the man of his dog. The car had come past me, much to my surprise at quite a speed for such a small track road. It seemed the old man agreed and was rather flustered by the sudden incident.

Naturally, you are sympathetic to the old bloke, and glad that, despite his reprimanding of the driver, nothing was too serious… that was, until he stood up. Lifting his head away from the driver’s window he stood, not 20 feet away from me in a bright red T-shirt, with the unmistakable white crescent moon, alongside a solitary star. The word ‘TURKIYE’ was emblazoned underneath.

Now, I’d like to point out that, in no way would I consider myself a racist, nor would I condone or accept actions or words of racial hatred from anybody in my presence but as the poor bloke looked up, presumably for sympathy or an acknowledgement that his outburst was justified from someone deemed impartial, I couldn’t look at him!

As my legs propelled me towards the scene of said ‘incident’ I suddenly became uncomfortable, knowing that I would, at some point engage in the customary greeting that is the norm if you’re walking across the Great British countryside. It wasn’t the man’s fault, I had nothing against him. He was just enjoying the weather and the scenery with his faithful friend. Chances are that he had no more of an association with the shirt he was wearing than the fact he liked the pattern, or that his wife had chosen it for him during her weekly trip to the local supermarket. Unfortunately, it provoked a reaction within me that I struggled to come to terms with for the rest of my walk. It was so irrational, and so unexpected. Thankfully my daughter is of an age that it didn’t register.

I don’t wish to go into the rights and wrongs of that faithful day in Istanbul, but I vowed then, that I would never set foot in Turkey, for no other reason than, as a Leeds fan, it just wouldn’t seem right. Since that time the government have failed to bring anybody to justice for the events that saw Kevin Speight and Christopher Loftus lose their lives. It’s just easier if I avoid that particular country.

I’m quite ashamed of how I reacted. I’m sure the man had no idea, but I knew. I knew that the mere sight of a Nation’s flag had caused me to avoid eye contact with a member of society who could, quite conceivably have fought a war to rid the world of such reactions in total strangers.

Am I alone in such irrational behaviour? I’d like to think so, but some how I doubt it…

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Monday, 26 July 2010

Who can fill Beckford's shoes?

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As Gary Hooper signed for Celtic this morning, any (very) slim hopes of him becoming a Leeds player were well and truly dashed. A similar story to Billy Sharp a few weeks ago, when he signed for Doncaster Rovers.

It seems to be a recurring theme with Leeds - linked to a striker, reports of a failed bid, and then he signs elsewhere. Most would claim that a lack of ambition and funding for Grayson is to blame, so how else can we fill the boots of the man who scored 85 goals for Leeds?

Those who have faith in the current regime at Leeds would argue there are still 5 weeks of the transfer window left, and this is more than enough time to bring in a replacement. Leroy Lita, Jason Roberts, Adam LeFondre and Charlie Austin are just four names being thrown around as potential suitors for Simon Grayson, but most would come with a hefty price tag - something which almost seems to rule out Leeds United these days.

So, can we look closer to home? Nobody can argue with bringing in a 29-goal striker on a free transfer, but Billy Paynter is not seen as a direct replacement for Beckford, and looks more suited to the role that Becchio already plays in the team.

Davide Somma impressed Lincoln City fans with 9 goals on loan last season, and looks to be in Grayson's first team plans this season. But the step up from League 2 to the Championship will not be easy, and our hopes shouldn't rest on him, despite looking promising in pre-season.

Mike Grella will also be looking to make an impact this season, despite being behind the mighty Paul Dickov and Tresor Kandol in the pecking order last season. Clearly a player with talent, but doesn't look to have any sort of natural finishing ability à la Beckford.

Whatever happens, there is no way that Leeds United will be able to cope without somebody shadowing Beckford's achievements over the last 3 seasons.

As it stands, Bates' blunder in not offering Beckford a new contract earlier in proceedings can only be rectified (partially) in one way - getting his chequebook out and replacing him adequately.
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Who next for Leeds United's frontline?

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The past few days have shown change and maybe an air of disappointment, but hope at Leeds United. Jermaine Beckford scored his first goal for Everton on Saturday against Preston and netted another shortly afterwards, linking up well with the rest of his team mates and generally getting positive reviews from the club's supporters. Many had seen David Moyes to be taking a risk with the capture of Beckford, who jumped 2 leagues up to join the Toffees. Beckford also picked up a knock, but it doesn't look to be as serious as first thought. So Jermaine Beckford looks to be settling in well at Everton at this early moment in time. But what about his former club Leeds United?

Beckford placed his name into Leeds United's history, with a sizeable amount of goals during his spell at Elland Road. Beckford was described to be a lightswitch player, on and off with his popularity amongst teammates and fans alike. Beckford secured popularity on the last day, with his goal bringing us back onto target for last day promotion, as he did so many times in the last 3 years. Although we knew he was leaving, we couldn't help but thank him for his services, many a time singlehandedly winning us games when in top form. Many wondered how we would cope without him in a much harder league, but the promises of Uncle Ken's warchest eased their fears for a bit. Apparently, the signing of Swindon's Billy Paynter on a free was common knowledge and it looked at first as if he'd be backup or even the 2nd striker if he did well enough. Paynter scored against MSK Kosice in Slovakia to give United the 1-0 win and impressed many, looking to be a popular acquisition already. But the hunt for Beckford's replacement was still on. Names were thrown about like Jonny Howson in the Under 14 girls league, Billy Sharp and Gary Hooper were the two players Leeds fans wanted most. Shaun Harvey told supporters that we wouldn't make a bid for Sharp as we'd been unable to compete with Burnley for Sharp, who joined Doncaster Rovers a week later for £1.1m, a seemingly paltry fee in this league for a 20 goal striker. Gary Hooper was hailed as the new messiah by many fans, a very popular choice, but ended up joining Celtic today. Which leaves the question, if we haven't got £1.1m to compete with opposition teams for players, how much of the warchest is there? And who is next? Another ride on the free transfer market? Another loan of a youngster that has the potential but not experience to deliver goals? There is options in attack we can use and good ones at that, but the fans want to see a player we know will deliver. Luciano Becchio is a popular player at the club, has a good goalscoring record and now the new saviour, although at times he can hit dry spells of form and is unproven in this league. Paynter looks to be a good signing but can he step up to the level of the Championship and perform well enough for us? Max Gradel is predominantly a winger but has the pace and skill to perform upfront if needs be, although as said, he's much better suited to the right wing. Davide Somma performed brilliantly at League 2 Lincoln and looks ot have the potential to do well for us, but again, he is unproven. As is the case with Mike Grella, who will have to work equally as hard to get the pitch minutes. Neither Gradel or Somma, equally important as one another, will start against Derby due to suspensions so if Grayson wants a striker that will A) Have settled into the setup by Derby and B)Guarantee him goals, he'll have to be quick about it.

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From the Ridiculous to the Sublime…

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Having watched in horror (and the rain) on Tuesday, as The Whites were systematically dismantled by a League Two team, that are nothing more than promotion hopefuls, I can honestly say I wasn’t looking forward to the upcoming season. For the first time since 2007, I was confronted with the possibility that we were going to be out of our depth in The Championship.

Despite calls from all quarters that my initial reaction, was indeed, an overreaction, the ease in which United were cut open time after time still haunted me. I was scathing in my assessment of our midfield, a midfield that looked more dysfunctional than a Gallagher family portrait. Snodgrass, Howson and in particular, Bradley Johnson all appeared to be basking in the glory of promotion.

For all the negatives that were taken from the display at Bury, and there were many. Grayson hoped that it would be a “wake up call” for everyone, and that a performance of a team playing under little pressure, free from the restraints of a promotion race, would be just around the corner.

Despite my scepticism, or perhaps pessimism, after 70 minutes of Saturday’s friendly at Hartlepool United, Leeds were 5 goals up and cruising, after a display that suggests I had indeed, overreacted…

Leeds put Hartlepool to the sword from the opening minute, with an excellent team display, punctuated with some fine individual performances. Snodgrass, Howson and Johnson all got themselves on the score sheet, not a bad return from three players who appeared to struggle with the mere basics of the game at Gigg Lane.

Hopefully this is the level of performance that United can maintain this season… but it was only a friendly, and friendlies mean nothing – right!?

My initial reaction to the debacle at Bury can be found here - Cause for Serious Concern...

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Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Cause for serious concern…

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First of all, I realise its only pre-season and that, in the grand scheme of things it will have little bearing on the forthcoming season.

But, and it’s a BIG but. Anybody who witnessed last night’s debacle will realise that Leeds United, as a club, have failed to address the issues that almost saw us throw promotion away last season. I assumed that now the shackles and pressures of a promotion run-in are long since gone, we would have witnessed a controlled and quality performance against a decent League Two outfit.

Unfortunately, we were a yard off the pace for the entire 90 minutes and could easily have been one down within 30 seconds. Bury looked sharper, calmer and more comfortable and will feel aggrieved that it wasn’t more than four. Our midfield quartet were literally non-existent, Johnson contributed nothing as usual, Kilkenney and Howson are still too lightweight, repeatedly giving the ball away and Snodgrass looked like he was playing with chains around his ankles.

I’ m not usually one to over react to situations like this, but I can assure you, based on last nights performance, we should all be very worried… Our back five are probably suffering from having never played together before and that’ll take time but the only positive I can draw from them is Kasper Schmeichel’s kicking ability.

It wasn’t individual performances that concerned me most, it was the apparent lack of ideas. Without the option and outlet of a ball over the top, we looked very average and seemingly clueless about how to get beyond a League 2 defence. I hope the likes of Paynter, Sam and any additional signings we may or may not make can breath some life into Leeds United, as the only player who looked capable of performing at Championship level last night was Max Gradel.

So over to you Messrs Grayson and Bates, we need a leader and some deranged lunatic in central midfield, Oh and a 20-goal striker. Without these we are in for a very, very long season…

Oh, and Bury Football Club, charging £9.30 for 2 packaged pies and 2 Diet Cokes at a pre-season friendly is an outrage!

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Monday, 19 July 2010

Promotion: The Leeds United Way! - 2009/10 Season Review (Part Three)

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PART 1  | PART 2

With Leeds doing all that was asked of them in the opening month of the season, September looked a little more tricky. Notoriously difficult away trips to Southend and MK Dons meant that we were probably going to need a full return from home matches with Gillingham and Carlisle to maintain the pace in League One.

Anybody who has followed Leeds over the last five years or so will be fully aware that nothing spoils a good run of form, or feeling of optimism like a fixture at Roots Hall. On the previous 3 visits to the home of Southend United, Leeds have left with just a single point. A point that proved academic as Leeds unsuccessfully battled relegation from the Championship in 2007. With that in mind, to say that I wasn’t overly confident would be putting it mildly. I did what I usually do in these situations; pretend I'm not really that interested and try to occupy the 2 hours with something else, in the hope that my perceived apathy will somehow have a positive effect upon the fortunes of the team. Inevitably I end up with phone in one hand, laptop on knee and praying that LUTV’s usually reliable service doesn’t go AWOL at a crucial moment (or that one of my relatives doesn’t log in with the same credentials and the system boots me out – Sorry Ken!).

SOUTHEND 0, LEEDS UNITED 0

Southend: Mildenhall, Francis, Barrett, M'voto, Herd, McCormack, Grant (Scannell 80), Moussa, Christophe, Laurent (Freedman 80), Barnard. Subs: Walker, Sankofa, O'Keefe, Joyce, Sawyer.

United: Higgs, Crowe (Michalik 48), Kisnorbo, Bromby, Hughes, Snodgrass (Kilkenny 75), Howson, Doyle, Johnson, Becchio (Grella 82), Beckford. Subs: Ankergren, Prutton, Robinson, Showunmi.

Referee: P Taylor     Booked: McCormack (Southend), Crowe, Hughes (United)

Att: 10,123 (2151 Leeds)

With the game moved to a Friday night, proceedings followed the well worn script of a Leeds United fixture in a small, tight, floodlit ground, in front of a full house… Leeds dominated the early exchanges and were good value for a lead that would have put them clear at the top of League One as Charlton weren’t in action until the next day. Snodgrass, Beckford and Howson all went close before The Whites reverted back to type and allowed Southend in at the other end. As the clock ticked towards half time the Leeds defence presented Anthony Grant with the simplest of opportunities to open the scoring, poor marking left the midfielder with a chance that was easier to score than blaze over the bar. Grant opted for the latter, much to the relief of  The Whites faithful.

leeds_southend After surviving the scare at the end of the opening period Leeds never really got going again, and just after the hour looked to have handed the advantage to the South Coast club when Leigh Bromby was adjudged to have pushed Lee Barnard in front of the Leeds goal. Barnard opted to take the penalty himself but was as surprised as anybody to see Shane Higgs produce a magnificent one-handed save to his left, leaving Barnard to reflect on his first ever penalty miss. 

The game flat-lined from there on in and a late penalty shout apart, Leeds fans had little to get excited about…

Leeds have still never won at Roots Hall.

United had dropped their first points of the season and would now look on nervously at what Charlton could muster at home to Southampton.

Prior to the trip to the South coast, it had been a busy week in the world of Leeds United. Ken Bates stepped up his argument with Everton over the ‘baby farming’ of Luke Garbutt, Leeds had been awarded a potential £1.55M via an independent tribunal. Ken called for clubs guilty of ‘baby farming’ to face European bans and even points deductions. The Chairman went on to say  that “If we are going to be world champions at international level we have to have a tremendous stream of good English players and that seems to be reliant on third and fourth division clubs, and indeed even non-league clubs, to find these players in the outposts of football and develop them.” – Looking back now, perhaps somebody should have listened! Meanwhile, Paul Huntington joined Stockport County on loan and new-boy Davide Somma bagged a brace on his reserve debut.

With the Gillingham game now on the horizon, the entire week seemed to revolve around Ken Bates. Firstly, his usual slanging match with Gills chairman Paul Scally reared its head again, with Scally accusing Bates of talking rubbish and feeding United fans with what he wants them to believe. Unfortunately, Kenneth’s chance to riposte was quashed by news that Leeds United were struggling to broker a deal that would see the reacquisition of the Thorp Arch training complex. Ken had always assured supporters that the ultimate plan was to bring Thorp Arch and Elland Road back onto the club’s list of assets, and that every prior budget decision had been to that end. Such news sent alarm bells ringing throughout the White Army, as Ken enrolled the services of Leeds City Council to assist in reacquiring the club’s Academy base.

LEEDS UNITED 4 (Johnson 14, 28, Howson 46, Beckford 80), GILLINGHAM 1 (Barcham 50)

United: Higgs, Crowe (Kilkenny 67), Bromby, Kinsorbo, Hughes, Snodgrass (Michalik 67), Doyle, Howson, Johnson, Becchio (Grella 80), Beckford. Subs: Ankergren, Prutton, Robinson, Showunmi.

Gillingham: Royce, Fuller, Gowling, Bentley, Palmer, Maher (Payne 83), Weston (Rooney 88), Barcham, Jackman, Oli (Erskine 81), Jackson. Subs: Nutter, Richards, Miller, Julian.

Referee: G Salisbury    Booked: Bromby (Leeds)    Att: 21,026

After dropping their first 2 points of the season the previous weekend, Leeds were looking for a 15th straight win at Elland Road against a Gills side that had made a bright start to life back in League One. They had, however, only managed a single point from four games on their travels and were firm underdogs against Leeds.

Despite their lack of form away from Priestfield, manager Mark Stimson set his men out to attack Leeds from the off. A strategy he would live to regret as, despite an early opportunity for Andy Barcham, Leeds smashed the newly promoted Gills out of sight. United were unfortunate to be only two Bradley Johnson goals up at the interval after completely dominating the opening period.

Jonny Howson made it three, finishing off a spectacular, flowing move just seconds after the break and Jermaine Beckford rattled the crossbar just a minute later as Leeds looked to underline their title credentials… In typical Leeds fashion however, just before  Ladbrokes closed the book on promotion betting, Leeds let Gillingham back into the game with their first shot on target. A first time effort from Andy Barcham, following a well-worked free kick had the home crowd a little nervous, in what had been an explosive start to the second period.

leeds_gillingham With the visitors showing more belief, The Whites had to readdress a performance that, had so far been very straightforward. Despite a number of close calls, Gillingham managed just one more shot on target and the game was put to bed 10 minutes from time when Beckford converted a Mickey Doyle shot that had come back off a post.

As attention turned to Tuesday’s League Cup encounter with Liverpool, Leeds were buoyed by news that they were outright leaders of League One for the first time, as Charlton drew at an improving Norwich City.

Following the win over Gillingham, the White Army geared themselves up for a night that would evoke memories of better days for Leeds; nights when Elland Road was packed to bursting and ‘United’ behind The Whites. Rafa Benitez’s side were set to be victims of a cup upset…

UNITED 0, LIVERPOOL 1 (N'Gog 65)

United: Higgs, Crowe, Michalik, Kisnorbo, Hughes (Kilkenny 79), Snodgrass, Doyle (Showunmi 89), Howson, Johnson, Beckford, Becchio (Grella 81). Subs: Ankergren, Naylor, Prutton, Robinson.

Liverpool: Cavalieri, Riera, Aurelio, Kyrgiakos, Babel (Skrtel 90), Mascherano, Carragher, N'Gog (Gerrard 78), Spearing, Degen (Johnson 72), Dossena. Subs: Voronin, Reina, Plessis, Torres.

Referee: A Wiley    Att: 38,168

This game will undoubtedly go down in history for me personally, despite seeing no more than 10 minutes of the game…

Scheduled just 48 hours before I was due to become a Father for the first time. I had passed up the opportunity to watch the match from my usual seat and was all set to take up my place on the sofa to cheer on the new League One leaders!

That was the plan anyway… (From this point, I have to be careful how I choose my words, missing a Leeds game is usually the cause of great suffering and anguish… these were, however, exceptional circumstances! (and my wife occasionally reads this site…))

On the Sunday evening my wife complained of pains and the usual warning signs of an impending arrival. Having been turned away from the hospital several times, we were still in the same situation come Tuesday afternoon and an increasingly desperate situation was showing no signs of progression as Leeds kicked off against Liverpool. I saw glimpses of the game via the various televisions around my home as I hurried from place to place to keep my wife as comfortable as possible, conscious of the fact, that if I was seen to be more concerned about Leeds United during this time then I would most likely lose a vital appendage.

Amidst the growing hysteria, I was inwardly furious about Beckford’s disallowed goal but was struggling to get a grasp of the game through the occasional muted periods of action I was able to steal.

Leeds lost 1-0 to a goal that I have since watched with full audio and in a relatively calm atmosphere. By all accounts the lads played well and matched their Premiership opponents all the way. With a little bit of luck, we may have witnessed a famous victory, well some of us!

For the record, my wife gave birth to our daughter, Georjie Elizabeth on the Thursday evening via emergency caesarean section – A full FOUR days after going into labour. Laura, if you do read this - Thank You! I love you more than you’ll ever know!

As you can imagine, keeping in touch with Leeds United over the next few days was the last thing on my mind. Both Mother and baby were kept in hospital for a number of days and the next time The Whites encroached on my consciousness was at 5.55PM on the Saturday whilst sat in a hospital ward, a text message from my brother that read “Snod Scored!” was all the invitation I needed to find out what was happening in a game that I had forgotten about at Stadium:MK…

MK DONS 0, LEEDS UNITED 1 (Snodgrass 90)

MK Dons: Gueret, Lewington, Doumbe, McCracken, Gleeson, Wilbraham (Ibehre 78), Johnson, Gobern (Leven 45), Puncheon, Powell, Chadwick (Howell 80). Subs: Searle, Partridge, Davis, Swailes.

United: Higgs (Ankergren 62), Crowe (Michalik 9), Bromby, Kisnorbo, Hughes (Robinson 55), Snodgrass, Doyle, Howson, Johnson, Beckford, Grella. Subs: Naylor, Prutton, Kilkenny.

Referee: A D'Urso    Booked: Lewington, Gleeson, Johnson, Doumbe, Powell (MK), Snodgrass (Leeds) Sent-Off: Puncheon (MK)

Att: 16,713 (4119 Leeds)

I’m not sure what happened before Snodgrass’ in injury time header won the game. ‘The Championship’ highlights suggested it was an even game and the goal celebration that included every member of the playing staff and management was the real highlight.leeds_mkdons

Not to be out-done though, Paul Ince insisted that “it was a close game between two massive clubs” in his post match interview. Obviously exercising his comedy prowess in preparation for someone, at some point, realising that he can’t actually manage a football team and he’d be in the dole queue.

As my life returned to something that resembled normality, it became apparent that the victory at Milton Keynes had come at a price, Shane Higgs had limped out of the fixture just after the hour mark. Simon Grayson moved quickly to bring in Frank Fielding form Blackburn Rovers on a months loan. Meanwhile striker Luciano Becchio welcomed a daughter of his own ahead of the visit of Carlisle.

LEEDS UNITED 1 (Beckford 30 pen), CARLISLE UNITED 1 (Dobie 75)

United: Ankergren, Bromby (Kilkenny 38), Naylor, Kisnorbo, Hughes, Snodgrass, Doyle, Howson (Prutton 66), Johnson, Beckford, Becchio (Showunmi 84). Subs: Grella, Michalik, Robinson, Fielding.

Carlisle: Pidgeley, Raven, Livesey, Keogh, Harte, Hurst, Kavanagh, Taiwo (Murphy 85), Bridge-Wilkinson (Dobie 70), Anyinsah, Robson. Subs: Collin, Horwood, Rothery, Offiong, Burns.

Referee: R Booth   Att: 19,673

The last of the games I would miss, due to the smallest member of my family still being in hospital.

Simon Grayson made two enforced changes with Casper Ankergren returning in goal and Leigh Bromby replacing Jason Crowe at right back. It was obvious from the out-set that the Cumbrians were content with a point, five across the middle kept Leeds at bay for the majority of the opening period. It took Leeds 30 minutes to get a real foothold in the game, Mickey Doyle was felled in the area and Beckford converted the penalty at the second attempt.

Following that relatively early breakthrough, many expected Leeds to go on and record a 16th consecutive home win and Snodgrass almost doubled the advantage seconds later hitting the inside of a post from distance. Unfortunately an injury to Leigh Bromby forced Grayson into shuffling his pack further and Carlisle came into the game more as half time approached.

After making a decent start to the second half Leeds were starting to get frustrated at the lack of return for their efforts, Johnson, Snodgrass and Beckford could all have sealed the game. As time ticked towards a conclusion, Greg  Abbott broke Carlisle out of their rigid 4-5-1 and introduced Scott Dobie to partner Bridge-Wilkinson up front. Five minutes later and the substitute had levelled matters, heading home, unmarked from a corner.

So far this season, United had managed to squeeze the three points out of such fixtures but couldn’t get out of jail this time – 2 more points dropped.

Despite the disappointment, news of Charlton’s defeat at Colchester moved Leeds 3 points clear in League One and confirmed The Whites as the countries only unbeaten professional team. 

Part 4 – October sees Leeds lock horns with promotion rival Charlton, Millwall and Norwich, oh and another game against Darlington.

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Thursday, 15 July 2010

New Kits, Infidelity & Leeds United

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As England’s World Cup campaign becomes nothing more than a bitter memory, attention returns to the domestic season. Fans up and down the country are gearing up for another nine months of ‘ups and downs’. As a youngster, the most exciting element of this part of the football calendar was all the new kits that would no doubt be catalogued in MATCH or SHOOT magazine for myself and my friends to choose which one we thought was the best.

This brings me onto a question that has troubled me for years…

Is it acceptable to wear another team’s strip, a team other than the one you support?

As a kid, I had ‘official’ Juventus and Ajax shirts from a friendly street seller in Majorca, at least he claimed that they were official. He also claimed that the Leeds shirt I was wearing was a fake, and that I should part with another 20,000 Pesetas for one that had the Nike logo the wrong way around. Those and a  Blackburn Rovers kit, hastily engineered with a white t-shirt and blue marker pen to salute their Premiership triumph in 1995. Much to the annoyance of my plastic Red supporter friends.

That was then, nowadays the thought of wearing the colours of another team fills me with guilt. I’m Leeds United and Leeds United only. No matter how obscure the team, or how attractive the kit, the thought of being mistaken for anything other than ‘Dirty Leeds Scum’ fills me with angst and sin. I have to point out here that I don’t wear football shirts as a fashion statement, far from it. I occasionally wear them to Elland Road, weather permitting and when playing 7-a-side football on a Wednesday. Still, it has to be Leeds United or nothing.

During my 4 years playing 7-a-side we have had a whole range of kits grace our pitch; Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter, Sporting Lisbon, Bayern Munich and even a Croatian kit, with its distinctive checkerboard design. All of these kits worn by people who have little or no association with said club. We have had a few Poland shirts worn by 2nd and 3rd generation Poles, that's acceptable I suppose. I imagine there will be a few Spanish shirts over the coming months too…

Unfortunately, as much as I’d like a Barcelona shirt with Messi or Iniesta across the shoulders, my love for Leeds will not allow it. I think I’d feel like I’ve let the whole club down, turned my back on them, you might even go as far as ‘cheated on them’ with another, more successful club. I am not prepared to do that!

Obviously there are clubs that are a given; Manchester United or Chelsea for example is tantamount to treason and should be punished with the death penalty. But is it acceptable or appropriate to wear the colours of another club? Your participation in our poll on this matter would be greatly appreciated, as would any comments… Am I being over dramatic?

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Poll Closed 30/07/10 -

Is it acceptable to wear another team’s strip, a team other than one you support?

Yes – 1 (1%)

No – 34 (39%)

If it’s not that of a rival – 29 (33%)

International teams only – 22 (25%)

86 Votes


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Monday, 12 July 2010

Howard’s Way…

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In the aftermath of the 2010 World Cup Final it seems the Dutch are far from happy… Mark van Bommel claims that  English referee Howard Webb had “clearly affected the final” and that his team’s performance deserved more.

Now as much as the irony of a website entitled ‘Dirty Leeds’ having a pop at an overly physical football team is unavoidable, I have to take issue with Mr van Bommel and his team-mates.

Lets not pretend that Holland’s ‘tactics’ were not premeditated. The classic case of ‘the old cloggers’ hacking down the more energetic and skillful opponents; A scenario that can be witnessed on any local park each Sunday morning in this country. I’m sure any amateur player who was quick off the mark can tell stories of how they have been ‘dispossessed’ down the years. 

It’s a strange quote from van Bommel, Howard Webb could have easily affected the final to a larger extent and reduced the Dutch to 8 men without being overly strict. Nigel De Jong was shown a yellow card for a challenge that, had it happened outside the stadium, would have seen him facing charges of GBH this morning. Yet the Manchester City man had the audacity to claim that “Mistakes are part of every referee in football, but tonight it was very unfortunate for us”. Arjen Robben’s clear time wasting exercise after being deemed offside should have seen him dismissed without hesitation, just seconds after Heitinga had made the walk of shame.

Many will point to the fact that Howard Webb’s reluctance to hand down sufficient punishments indicate that he had a poor game. I’m afraid I disagree totally. As a referee myself, albeit a million miles away from the standard that Howard Webb has achieved. I’m fully aware that there are more ways to attempt to control a game than just sending players off, in the hope that players take heed and things calm down. I can think of a number of  Premiership officials that would have dismissed four players in the opening hour last night, only to be greeted with the morning headlines berating his performance and claiming he ruined the game.

Its curious how the star players are quick to point out any issues they have with the referee’s performance but fail to appreciate that the childish antics of them and their team-mates reduced the world’s greatest footballing spectacle into a scene not to dissimilar to the opening scenes of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. Mr van Bommel’s atrocious lunge on Andres Iniesta in the first half was enough to warrant an early bath alone, yet he successfully avoided further reprimand despite a string of cynical fouls and off the ball tangles, more through experience than luck, having created a career of butchering players who are technically superior.

I noted that of all the Dutch stars who graciously assembled a guard of honour for their victors, only one refused to congratulate them… van Bommel stood, stern faced and with arms crossed. I hope it cut you to the bone to see Iker Casillas’ triumphant celebration, for International football is no place for you and your like. It would have been a travesty had you got your hands on a winners medal.

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Thursday, 8 July 2010

Promotion: The Leeds United Way! - 2009/10 Season Review (Part Two)

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New readers of The ‘Dirty Leeds’ Blog can find Part One HERE

After a positive start to the new season, expectations were astronomically high. Dreams of a first league title in 18 years were only reinforced as Leeds welcomed Tranmere Rovers to Elland Road. John Barnes had taken over from Ronnie Moore in the close season after ‘Rovers narrowly missed out on a Play-off berth in May, by a single goal.

Rovers’ players had already voiced concern about John Barnes’ ‘total football’ approach to League One. Claiming that you can’t mould 3rd teir players into playing International standard football and that they should work to their strengths. Two defeats in the opening three games suggested a validity to their claims. It was amid such turmoil that the Mighty Whites were looking for their 4th straight victory…

UNITED 3 (Johnson 14, Beckford 35, Becchio 86), TRANMERE 0

United: Higgs, Crowe, Marques, Kisnorbo, Hughes, Snodgrass (Robinson 80), Howson, Doyle (Kilkenny 80), Johnson, Beckford (Grella 84), Becchio. Subs: Ankergren, Prutton, Michalik, Showunmi.

Tranmere: Daniels, Logan, Gunning (Taylor 40), Goodison, Cresswell, Shuker (Fraughan 81), Welsh, McLaren, Mahon, Thomas-Moore, Curran (Ricketts 46). Subs: Collister, Edds, Gornell, Barnett.

Referee: E Ilderton      Booked: Goodison (Tranmere)         Att: 21,692

The match itself, was a mixture of Leeds announcing their title credentials and Tranmere displaying all the hallmarks of a team in disarray. The Whites started at a tempo that The Wirral outfit just couldn't cope with. Becchio and Beckford were denied by goalkeeper and upright respectively inside the opening moments, as Leeds underlined their intent. When on 14 minutes Bradley Johnson gave Leeds the lead, slamming the ball home from a tight angle after Becchio’s header had been saved, many expected Leeds to cruise to victory and equal a club record of 13 straight home league victories.

 leeds_tranmereLeeds continued to dictate every aspect of the game and should have been further ahead before Ian Goodison’s headed back pass was seized upon by Beckford, who steered it goalwards via the foot of a post.

The home team continued to dominate and only an inspired performance from Rovers’ number one Luke Daniels kept the score respectable. John Barnes conceded afterwards that Leeds could have had 6 or 7 claiming “We didn’t get what we deserved, they (Leeds) could have had more than 3”

The game was made secure with 4 minutes remaining when Becchio headed home after a Bradley Johnson freekick came back off the bar.

A fourth league win had kept Leeds in touch with Charlton at the top of League One, as the two teams moved clear of Colchester who dropped their first points of the season. The league table had a very unfamiliar look to it, with The Whites leading the way…

After the break-neck speed of the opening weeks of the season, the whites had a welcome relief from the ‘favourites’ tag as they welcomed Championship side Watford to Elland Road for a Carling Cup second round encounter.

UNITED 2 (Snodgrass 38, 98), WATFORD 1 (Sordell 86)

United: Higgs, Crowe, Marques, Kisnorbo, Hughes, Snodgrass (Becchio 116), Howson, Doyle, Johnson, Beckford (Showunmi 79), Grella (KIlkenny 82). Subs: Ankergren, Prutton, Michalik, Robinson.

Watford: Lee, Mariappa, Hodson, Doyley, Williamson, Cowie, Eustace, Jenkins (Lansbury 64), Cleverley, Hoskins (Sordell 72), Graham (Henderson 46). Subs: Loach, Severin, Harley, Bryan.

Referee: A Hall       Booked: Doyle, Snodgrass (United), Eustace, Mariappa (Watford)          Att: 14,681

Despite the alleged ‘gap in class’ between England’s second and third tiers of football. I’m sure, like me,  many Leeds fans felt that Leeds had every chance of progressing in what promised to be a very tight affair. Leeds had comfortably despatched of Crystal Palace at the same stage the previous season and in Watford, were facing a team struggling to get their season off the ground.

Grayson used the opportunity to rest Luciano Becchio, but reaffirmed his desire to win as many games as possible by selecting a ‘first 11’ thereafter, as The Whites went in search of a 6th straight win.

An entertaining opening to the match saw Leeds match their higher ranked opponents ‘stride for stride’ with Snodgrass, Johnson and Howson in particular looking more than capable against the  Championship outfit.  The first moment of class came from Robert Snodgrass on 38 minutes, breaking into the right side of the penalty area and curling a low shot past the goalkeeper. 1-0 Leeds! It was just rewards for United who had taken the game to the side that cruelly extinguished their Play-off dream, four years previous in Cardiff.

The second half continued where the first left off, end-to-end with United’s backline called into action on a regular basis. Grella, Johnson and Beckford all went close at the other end but it looked as if Leeds would squeeze through, thanks to Snodgrass’ first half strike. However, with four minutes to go, Leeds failed to clear in the South Stand goal area and were punished by substitute  Marvin Sordell, firing home on the turn from close range. Taking the tie into extra time. It was harsh on the home team and was the first goal Leeds had conceded from open play this season.

As the majority of the 14,861 in attendance retrieved their phones to inform their loved ones of the impending extra 30 minutes, many would have expected the usual Leeds United story, dominate a game, look good value for a victory only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. As it transpired, Robert Snodgrass bagged his second 8 minutes into the added period, applying a composed finish to substitute Enoch Showunmi’s knock down. Despite some desperate moments at the other end in the dying minutes, Leeds were safely into the third round draw.

Leaving Elland Road that evening, I remember thinking that maybe promotion was a real possibility, instead of the usual ‘bridge too far’ that has become synonymous with Leeds United for longer than I can remember. The Whites had a maximum return from all their games so far and without getting through the gears, had managed to snatch wins from games that perhaps they didn’t warrant all three points –  Sky Sports presenters would be falling over themselves for the ‘Sign of a good team’ clich√©.

Not one to get over excited, I was more than aware that our next game was away at Colchester… a prime opportunity for that Leeds United bubble to be burst. Despite ‘The U’s’ moving from the terrible Layer Road and into a new ‘flatpack’ stadium bought from IKEA, it was still potentially a difficult game against a team who had won all but one of their opening games. It was just the type of encounter that Leeds had a habit of losing…

COLCHESTER 1 (Lisbie 57 pen), UNITED 2 (Johnson 47, Beckford 65)

Colchester: Williams, Maybury, Okuonghae, Baldwin, Tierney, Vincent (Perkins 75), Fox (Wordsworth 84), Izzet, Hackney, Vernon (Platt 67), Lisbie. Subs: Cousins, Thomas, Holt, Lockwood.

United: Higgs, Crowe, Marques (Michalik 87), Kisnorbo, Hughes, Snodgrass (Prutton 80), Doyle, Howson, Johnson, Beckford (Showunmi 90), Becchio. Subs: Ankergren, Kilkenny, Grella, Robinson.

Referee: D Phillip    Booked: Maybury, Izzet, Vincent, Hackney, Tierney (Colchester), Johnson, Beckford (United)

Att: 8810

As my beloved Leeds United were far away from home and my wife was becoming increasingly excited about her baby shower, I decided to put my enforced exile from our home to good use and make the 200 yard journey to Spotland, to watch a potentially ferocious local derby between Rochdale and Bury. Having acquired tickets to the Directors Suite via a friend within the club, I sat back in my padded seat, iPhone in hand, listening to the various musings of  Adam Pope and Andy Richie on BBC Radio Leeds. Despite the ‘alternative’ commentary, at least I’d know if Leeds were winning or not.

The game at The Western Community Homes Stadium (tut!) was a bizarre one, well at least it appeared that way to me. I’m guessing that listening to a football match via partial commentary whilst watching another one live is probably not the best way to keep track of both games. As it turned out Jermaine Beckford had the ball in the net twice in the first 15 minutes, both of which were ruled out for offside, a fact that the Radio Leeds reporter failed to acknowledge on the latter occasion.

So as Leeds lead 1-0 (at least in a small corner of Spotland anyway)  it was becoming apparent that Beckford was having a very busy afternoon, going close on several more occasions and leeds_colchesterworking his way into the referee’s notebook. At half time, I had the luxury of an over-heated function room with Gillette Soccer Saturday on screens at each end, my mood was that of confusion and disappointment as Jeff Stelling confirmed that it was indeed goal-less in Suffolk. The mid-match fare of pie,chips and gravy improved my outlook on the day somewhat.

Lured by the more reliable media at BSKYB, I remained in the stuffy function room/Directors suite for the first few minutes of the second half. As if the pie wasn’t good enough, Leeds really had taken the lead this time, Bradley Johnson had broken the deadlock with a powerful header from a Robert Snodgrass freekick, his third goal in as many games! As is so often the case, I now felt sick. It would be easy to blame the pie, but it really was ok. No, Leeds now had something to lose and a seventh straight win was within our grasp… this wasn’t the usual Leeds United way, something had to go wrong…

Predictably, it did go wrong. Shortly before the hour, Rui Marques took it upon himself to reinforce his status as serial liability by dragging back Clive Platt in the area, the incident actually started some way outside the box but Rui had hold of him for so long he could have been confused as a mugger. Platt nursed the nail marks in his side before converting the penalty himself and levelling the match. Leeds were in a situation that was more than familiar.

In seasons past, Leeds would have buckled under the pressure of an excited crowd and a team with a renewed optimism. However, this new Leeds United seemed to have a little more composure about them and a very composed finish from Jermaine Beckford 8 minutes later restored United’s lead. A mistake from Leeds old-boy Alan Maybury left Beckford with a simple task of beating Williams from six yards.

The Whites successfully negotiated the final half hour or so to record a 7th straight win, equalling the achievements of Denis Wise’s team 2 years previous. This time however Leeds were sitting pretty in pole position rather than propping the league up on ‘zero’.

Incidentally, Rochdale won 3-0.

Prior to the victory at Colchester Leeds had landed a plum tie at home to Liverpool in the Carling Cup. Excellent news! Sky chose the fixture for their coverage and arranged the game for Tuesday 22nd September, a date that was contentious for myself, as it was just 48 hours before I was due to become a Father for the first time. What to do…?

As August came to a close, as did the transfer window. Simon Grayson identified Leigh Bromby of Sheffield United as his only acquisition although Davide Somma, who had been on trial at Thorp Arch was offered a permanent deal with the club. Alan Sheehan and Tom Lees left on loan deals for Swindon Town and Accrington Stanley respectively. 

As The Whites geared up for a potentially record-breaking home match with struggling Stockport County the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy draw handed Leeds yet another game against Darlington, this time at Elland Road. Ken Bates took a public swipe at Premiership clubs who lure youngsters from lower league academies, instead of investing in their own youth development, labelling them ‘Baby-farmers’. The outbust followed a high-profile deal in which Manchester City signed two 14 year olds from Thorp Arch and Everton stole Luke Garbutt. Such incidents really underline how far Leeds have fallen and feel like a dagger to the chest of any fan… the idea of anybody leaving Leeds for Everton or Manchester City just a decade ago was laughable.

LEEDS UNITED 2 (Grella 8, Michalik 37), STOCKPORT COUNTY 0

United: Higgs, Crowe, Michalik, Bromby (Robinson 64), Hughes, Snodgrass, Howson, Doyle (Kilkenny 42), Johnson, Grella (Showunmi 72), Becchio. Subs: Ankergren, Prutton, Kandol, Huntington.

Stockport: Fon Williams, Mullins (Griffin 78), Rose, Bridcutt, Vincent, Tansey, Baker, Poole, Pilkington (Johnson 59), Havern, Bignall (Thompson 85). Subs: Rigby, Turnbull, Halls, Rowe.

Referee: D McDermid

Booked: Doyle (United), Rose, Mullins (Stockport)

Att: 22,870

As the lads stood on the verge of starting the season with a record-breaking 8th successive victory, some bad omens hung around Elland Road… As Denis Wise’s men occupied the same position 3 years previous, prior to an away game at Gillingham, hopes were high of Leeds overcoming the 15 point penalty and securing automatic promotion against all odds. That day, United were reduced to 9 men as referee Danny McDermid dismissed both Jermaine Beckford and Tresor Kandol as Leeds succumbed to an injury time equaliser to shatter their 100 percent start. Denis Wise described the official’s performance as “The worst he had ever seen”.

As fate would have it, Mr McDermid was charged with keeping control of proceedings against Stockport, his first Leeds United fixture since the infamous day at Priestfield. Further distress for Leeds fans was the  absence of Patrick Kisnorbo and Rui Marques due to international commitments and Jermaine Beckford with a hamstring injury. Simon Grayson drafted in Lubomir Michalik, new signing Leigh Bromby and Mike Grella to deputise.

Despite all of the upheaval, only the most pessimistic of Whites fans could envisage anything other than another 3 points against a side destined for a relegation battle. The Whites duly obliged and were in front after 7 minutes, Mike Grella curled a low effort beyond the goalkeeper after good work by Bradley Johnson. The American’s first goal for the club was the only shot on target in a rather uninspiring opening 25 minutes.

The game did liven up as a spectacle after the half hour as Stockport showed glimpses of breaking out of their rigid 4-5-1 formation and Shane Higgs was called into a couple of saves. However, their new found sense of adventure was swiftly punished when Michalik poked a Snodgrass free kick home following a contentious challenge by Bromby on goalkeeper Fon Williams. The debutant appeared to impede the Stockport stopper in an aerial challenge but the goal stood, much to the despair of County boss Gary Ablett who was dismissed for his protests by McDermid.

With the game all but won, the second half was punctuated only with a penalty miss from Robert Snodgrass, the Scotsman’s seeing his spot-kick saved following a foul on Luciano Becchio. Far from being a costly mistake, Leeds eased to another record; a fourteenth successive home league victory.

Despite a maximum return from the opening six league games, Leeds were not quite in top spot. Newly relegated Charlton had matched United stride-for-stride, scoring three more goals in the process. Surely, after two failed attempts to escape League One, Leeds were finally set to leave the lower leagues behind – 18 points from 18 would suggest so…

Part 3 details the much anticipated cup tie with Liverpool and the unique way in which I watched the lads give Rafa’s over-paid chumps a huge scare!

PART 3

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