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Monday, 19 July 2010

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


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: 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: 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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