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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

“What’s it like to be outclassed?!”


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


“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…


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…


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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