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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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