Why Leeds United Should Rescue Arsene Wenger from Ungrateful Arsenal – by Rob Atkinson

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If Arsenal turn their backs on Arsène – should Leeds pounce?

Let me say straight away that I hold Arsenal in the very highest esteem; after my beloved Whites, this is the club whose results I look for first. And, before I go on to extol the virtues of a Leeds United move to employ Arsène Wenger if his relationship with the Gunners does break down irretrievably, let me confirm that I feel we already have the right man for the job of United manager. Garry Monk is the man, he’s the right age, the right type, he’s proved his worth, and his position at Elland Road should be unassailable.

But still, Arsène Wenger would be a magnificent capture for Leeds. It would be, in transatlantic parlance, a no-brainer. If The Professor became available, he’d be just the man for a club like Leeds. And Wenger, at this stage of the game, might find that a project such as Leeds United would the very thing to bring down the curtain upon a glittering career. Because the role I see for Wenger at Leeds would be one that taps into his immense knowledge of the global game and of uncut diamonds in youth teams everywhere. It would be to work as a resource for a young manager developing in Wenger’s own image, a man who wants to play football the right way, someone that the old master Arsène could help develop into a world class coach and man manager.

I would consider that, after Arsenal, Wenger might be looking for something other than a front-line position as he seeks to remain involved in football. He’s been in North London, shaping and developing the capital’s premier football club, for two decades, encompassing some glorious success and producing football at times of breathtaking beauty. The challenge at Leeds would, initially at least, be different – and yet the aims would be comparable. It would be an ideal project for Wenger, something whereby he could wield his influence over the whole culture of a football club, without having to be involved in the nitty-gritty of day to day first team matters. Sure, he might expect to have an input, and Garry Monk is far too wise a man not to avail himself of such knowledge and experience. But there can be only one boss, and Monk is the right man for a long time to come. Still, some of the best of managers have benefited from that elder statesman, that éminence grise behind the scenes. Malcolm Allison had his Joe Mercer, Brian Clough his Peter Taylor. Neither of those two legends were quite so effective as a solo act, both needed that wise presence behind them to find true success.  After Arsenal, that kind of role would be a respectable and dignified option for Arsène at Elland Road – and he could just be the difference for Garry Monk between being a very good manager – and a great one.

And what, we have to ask ourselves, of Arsenal FC? Do they ideally want to keep Wenger, or are they considering a further year’s contract for their greatest ever boss merely as an obvious stop-gap until the real target becomes available? The truth is that the relationship between Wenger and many of the Arsenal fans is verging on the toxic. It’s a distressing situation for a great football man who genuinely loves his club; it’s a shoddy way to be winding down a stellar career. So, perhaps, for the sake of all concerned, a clean break between Arsenal and Arsène would be for the best. And, in that case – though I doubt it would actually happen – an opportunistic Leeds United should pounce. They should do whatever it takes to import the wisdom and status of one of the world’s foremost football people, someone who would have the class to respect boundaries and exercise his influence from a more detached position.

Leeds United’s gain would most definitely be Arsenal’s loss – but perhaps the situation for Wenger at the Emirates, with the Spurs-loving media pack slavering for blood, is already beyond recall. So Arsenal might appear ungrateful in dispensing with Arsène, if that’s what ends up happening – but it may just be their best option, even if results and performances were to dip in the short term.

But that’s not Leeds United’s concern – they, for their part, should be looking at what Wenger could bring to the Elland Road table, without unduly rocking the boat, if I might be permitted a mix of metaphors. The answer to that question is: plenty. Wenger has presided over a revolution at Arsenal, and in the wider English game as a whole. His ideas about diet, nutrition, the maintenance of the human machine, were revolutionary but demonstrably sound. He’s the kind of influence any forward-thinking club could do with, quietly influencing the whole setup with improvement and the maximisation of potential in mind. As somebody to stand behind Garry Monk, outside of the immediate first-team picture but always available as a consultant, his value to a club on the way up, a true giant of the game like Leeds, looking to re-establish itself as a major force, could be immeasurable.

So when I say “Wenger for Leeds”, I’m not joking, I’m deadly serious. As ever, I’d be interested in the views of others – but don’t be too quick, please, to leap into a dismissive posture. Consider. The question is – if a man like Wenger were to appear on the market and prepared to accept a different role – could we really afford to overlook him?

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Leeds and The Pontus Mystery: Was Jansson Believing His Own Publicity? – by Rob Atkinson

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After such a very impressive result as Leeds United earned against Brighton yesterday, it’s quite perplexing to see quite so many virtual furrowed brows across social media today. The reason, of course, is The Mystery of the Missing Pontus – why, oh why was Jansson benched?

In a way, it’s an irrelevant question – Leeds won, so all is well. The margins between victory and defeat, though, are narrow – and we were only a slip or two from what might have turned into a full scale post mortem, had Rob Green not saved Liam Cooper from a spectacular own goal, for example. Or had Brighton capitalised on a couple of other defensive wobbles, and emerged winners. They say that being a lucky manager is at least as important as being a good manager. Garry Monk has shown over this season that he is arguably both – and it was certainly vital for United to do well and win, after what was, to say the least, a bold decision to drop his talismanic defender.

All we were told was that the decision made was the “best for the group”. That’s pretty much in line with what we are coming to know and love as the Monk Mantra; everything is done for the good of the team, the good of the group, the good of the club. The issues underlying this particular decision were not gone into – Garry is inviting us to accept that he knows what’s best and can be relied upon to act for the good of Leeds United. But still, we can speculate.

I’ve been as impressed as anyone by the startling effect, the galvanising influence Pontus Jansson has had on Leeds United since his arrival in the first team. He’s been a colossus, endlessly effective at both ends of the field, a giant unit of a bloke fit to fill that famous shirt. But, as a relatively young man (for a central defender), and as a mere mortal besides, Jansson is prey to human failings just as anyone else. And the truth is that there have been signs lately of the guy starting to believe his own publicity; buying into, perhaps, the “legend” status accorded him by so many, so soon. There have been times when Jansson has made challenges when perhaps he could have backed off, times when he’s dived in and then been found out of position and unable to recover. Huddersfield away springs to mind. All in all, the more recent Pontus performances have not been quite of the same vintage as those that went before, and it’s difficult not to wonder whether the lad’s got a bit carried away with that early success, to the detriment of his finer judgement.

Leeds can be a difficult place to perform; for players of doubtful character, it can be a veritable snakepit. Once the crowd gets on a player’s back, you can sometimes see that player shrink and shrivel – and you know that the player will then have the devil’s own job restoring the fans’ faith in him. But, on the other side of the coin, the adulation of our crowd can have its downside too. Such a very vociferous set of fans we are, that – when we take a player to our hearts – it’s a real production number. The player is levitated to hero status, then rapidly proceeds to be worshiped almost as a god. Jansson has had this treatment, since his amazing early impact and given his undeniable rapport with the crowd. He’s had his own song, he’s enjoyed his own one-on-thousands encounters with delirious fans in the wake of victories he’s helped win. Perhaps – just perhaps – he’s started to believe that he really could head that brick back. Perhaps the time had come to get the boy’s feet back on the ground.

Some say he failed to acknowledge the fans yesterday, a very un-Pontus-like thing to do. But we don’t know what’s been said to him. In the ultra-professional, hyper-focused environment of Garry Monk’s Leeds United, maybe Pontus has been told to cool off the love affair with the fans, stop believing in his own legend, concentrate on doing the simple things well, and get his mind set on the team and the three points up for grabs. That seems likely to me, and appropriate, given the recent slightly diminished level of the Swede’s performances.

There’s also the issue of a forthcoming suspension for Jansson, depending upon further bookings ahead of an approaching deadline. From a pragmatic point of view, that might justify taking the lad out of the firing line in order to avoid losing him for a couple of games later on. But a vital match against the second in the league seems an odd time to be quite that pragmatic – and so I tend to favour the view that Pontus is being, in a reasonably gentle and fatherly way, taken down a peg or two.

I hope it works, and I hope that Jansson can come back stronger and wiser, fiercely focused on the team and its aims. Because, on his day, and along with fellow juggernaut Kyle Bartley, he’s by far and away the best this league has to offer at centre-back. Liam Cooper did well yesterday, being slightly lucky to be saved from a calamitous misfortune by his own keeper. It’s starting to look as though, with Ayling and Jansson to return, we have a decent four from six perm for our back line, with Coyle and Denton showing potential to raise that six to eight. Not bad for a “paper-thin squad”.

Jansson will be back, we will all sincerely hope, as good and commanding as ever. But, for the time being, if he learns that he’s not utterly indispensable – if he can absorb the truly legendary Billy Bremner‘s maxim of “Side before self, every time” – then this will be a lesson well learned, and we’ll be getting back a better and more grounded hero. 

Memories of a Kings School Kipper Leeds United Fan – by Rob Atkinson

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The Kings School, Pontefract – this blogger’s alma mater from 1972-78

For some reason, an inner voice is telling me it’s high time for a nostalgic trawl through some school memories. Mine take me back to the seventies, when I attended a school of mellow, weathered brick atop Mill Hill in Pontefract. For I was, in local parlance, a “Kings School Kipper” – and the teachers I met there were a mixed assortment of individuals, the like of which I suspect you do not encounter these days. It was in these years that my passion for Leeds United flowered and bloomed – sometimes I think it was my nascent love for football that saved me from despairing about the dusty and cheerless environment of a soon-to-be ex-grammar school. It was all boys, of course, no feminine distractions apart from some dragon-like dinner ladies with moustaches that outdid anything in the sixth form as well as most of the whiskery efforts among the hairier masters.

In order to protect the not-quite innocent, I’ll refer to the following erratic examples of the teacher’s art by their commonly-used nicknames. That should be enough for my contemporaries, those lucky enough to go through the KSP experience at around the same time. But, even without nicknames, many of the masters are recognisable by their individual quirks of personality. The teaching staff at Kings School were remote and forbidding figures for the most part, who used to prowl the corridors cloaked academically, like a horde of demented bats. They were as motley and weird a bunch as you’ll find outside the walls of Billy Bunter’s Greyfriars.

My own favourite remains the man with the unforgettable drawling delivery; a French master and perennial form teacher known to us all as “Jack”, because his surname rhymed with that of the bandleader Jack Parnell. Jack was notorious for a series of stock phrases delivered in a characteristic nasal drawl. We’d dread the sound of “Get a move on, get some work done!”, or the doom-laden “Right, lad; fifty lines.” Jack was fanatical about his Chess Club and also his support for the gruelling coast-to-coast Lyke Wake Walk. His finest hour, for me, came when he was delivering sentence on a classmate with the surname Grace. Jack’s nickname for him was “Amazin’”, and when Grace annoyed him this one time, Jack came out with “Right lad. Fifty times in French, backwards: it’s amazin’ what raisins can do”. As the youngsters are wont to say: how random is that?

There was another Jack too, a scary character in the maths department, whose party-trick was to make his voice grow deceptively gentle, lulling a drowsy class off to sleep. Then, when he could see heads nodding, he’d give the blackboard an almighty clout with a board ruler, making a sound they must have heard down at Carleton Secondary Boys’ School. The shock effect of this ensured our wakeful attention and our sadistic teacher was plainly delighted each time he thus traumatised us.

Among the many other odd characters on the staff, there was a music teacher commonly referred to as “Tramp”, for his lack of sartorial elegance; an English master known for some obscure reason as “Bungee” – and a fearsome character whom we dubbed “Chopper”, for the swinging axe-like nature of his disciplinary methods. When another, younger teacher of the same surname joined the staff, he was immediately christened “Chipper”, in a neat tribute to a couple of popular Raleigh bikes of the day. Another English master was a man of rotund aspect, who spoke with an accent straight out of Golders Green, and was also an enthusiastic spare-time football coach. One day, an inspired member of our form looked out of the window and saw “Fat Ron” wheezing up and down as he reffed a game on the pitch just in front of the main building. “Oh look, sir,” he piped up. “There’s a heavy dew on the grass”. It took a moment only to catch his double meaning, and then the lesson dissolved into fairly malicious but honestly not anti-Semitic laughter. As a memorable bon mot, this one passed straight into Kings School legend and was much admired for years afterwards. I remember it more fondly than perhaps I should, as it was “Fat Ron”, the interfering git, who later grassed me up for being an underage member of a local club where I’d often pleasantly wasted time drinking lager and playing snooker or pool.

In the science department, we had a tall, thin physics master of amiable disposition who, although afflicted with a speech impediment, was often called upon to read the lesson in assembly. This seemed harsh enough, but the cruelty of us boys went a stage further; we called the poor bloke “Splut”, often to his face. Then there was another physics teacher, of Lancastrian origin, known as “Mad Brad”. He used to say to me, “Atkinson lad, this homework is di-A-bolical” (as it invariably was). His colleague in the chemistry lab, nicknamed Taff in tribute to his origins in the valleys, would doubtless have agreed – when he wasn’t lifting us by our sideburns, that is, to an anguished protest of “Sir, sir, sir, gerroff, it kills!” And don’t even get me started on the nasty little punishment habits of the games masters…

Given the suffering occasionally inflicted upon us by these out-dated brutes, it’s surprising how almost-fondly I now look back on my time as a Kipper. Distance lends enchantment, of course, to those dear old golden rule days – but my only truly positive memories are of the jam roly-poly in the dinner hall and playing football with a tennis ball on the basketball court. Most of us were Leeds fans, but there were a few renegade scummers and one lad who insisted on supporting Arsenal or Derby for no apparent reason. The teachers, meanwhile, were diverse in their football affiliations. One of the English masters was a Burnley fan who I remember engaged me in a serious discussion about the pros and cons of Ray Hankin – and there was a Coventry fan in the Sports department whose chief disciplinary trick was to hand out impositions of ten lines at a time – trouble was, the lines were about three pages long. I honestly can’t recall any Leeds-supporting teachers; perhaps life would have been more pleasant for some of us, if there had just been that little bit of common ground.

It strikes me that there must be readers of this blog out there who were Kings School Kippers, just as I was in the seventies. Please feel free to share your memories of the place and its barmy inhabitants – I’d be really interested to read the recollections of others who went through that particular institution and emerged more or less unscathed. Or just recount your own school memories – all contributions welcome subject to the usual moderation…

Agony for Leeds but Ecstasy for Sky’s Jeff Stelling as Fulham Snatch Late Draw – by Rob Atkinson

Stelling celebrates

“And there’s bad news for Leeds United, ring out the bells, rejoice!!”

We all know that Leeds United aren’t exactly the pin-up golden boys for various shallow media types and embittered ex-footballers turned pundits. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when every now and then some be-suited eejit just can’t help himself, and goes into an ecstasy of raucous celebration when some misfortune befalls the mighty Whites. It happened again, last night on Sky TV’s soccer special – Fulham scored a last-gasp equaliser against a dogged but tiring Leeds, and the world’s most famous monkey-hanger, Jeff Stelling, almost literally exploded with joy.

It was actually quite worrying on an empathetic level, once you got past the bleak realisation that two points were drifting away from Leeds at the very last minute. Poor Jeff looked to be on the point of apoplexy, his face swelling almost to bursting point and veins throbbing in his temples. His eyes were those of a man on the edge of Hartlepudlian hysteria – you’d have feared for the life of any simian in the vicinity had Mr. Stelling a convenient length of noosed hempen rope handy. From his demeanour, you might have thought that Hartlepool United had just clinched the Champions League by battering Bayern Munich – and all of this because Leeds conceding a late leveller completely robbed a so-called professional of any poise and impartiality. It’s a rum old world.

Of course, Sky Sports as an entity has form for this kind of thing. Seasoned watchers of their rolling scoreline programme on a Saturday afternoon or weekday evening will be aware of familiar signs allowing them some prior awareness of what’s going on in Leeds United games. It works like this: once you know who is watching the Whites in action, you listen for that voice. An exultant yelp in the background while Jeff is waffling on about Man U means the Whites have conceded; a despairing punctured gasp of dismay signals a Leeds goal. I’ve seen it happen any number of times.

Getting past my possibly paranoid take on Stelling & Co, it also has to be said that Leeds United were at least partially the authors of their own misfortune last night. Once again, as in times past, they allowed a situation to develop that bore more than a passing resemblance to the siege of the Alamo, in attempting to defend a one goal lead for nigh on ninety minutes. The occasional chance to put the game to bed was spurned, for the rest it was all about facing a huge majority of possession for Fulham, while retreating deeper and deeper into defence. As the finish line came into sight, Leeds were down to ten men after a fairly soft sending-off for Kalvin Phillips, who then took an inordinate amount of time to leave the field of play. And, naturally, it was in the extra minutes added on for that sluggish exit from the arena, when Fulham at last beat Rob Green with one of the worldy strikes we seem to concede far too often.

At the end of the day, Brian, it was a good point gained at a difficult venue against worthy opponents – though it did rather feel more like two dropped. But these things happen, and not just to Leeds. We all suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune from time to time, after all. It’s just that – when it does happen to Leeds – I’d rather not have my nose rubbed in it by some joke of a TV presenter who can’t maintain his thin veneer of professionalism due to an all-too-typical hatred of Leeds United. That really does grind my gears.

Even Stelling himself appeared to realise he might have gone too far, once the red mist cleared and his face reduced to a more normal size. “The Leeds fans won’t thank me for that,” he quavered accurately. Well, you got that right, didn’t you. Shriek with joy as a battling team sees two vital promotion points disappear, to the frustration of their legions of supporters everywhere? It’s more than just a little unprofessional, that – it’s unbelievable, Jeff.

Monk Nails Wagner for Lacking Class as Huddersfield Edge Out Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

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Wagner – a technical breach

When the prizes are handed out at the end of this Championship campaign, it may well be that this feisty – for want of a better word – encounter between Huddersfield and Leeds United will be the one to look back on and say “that’s when the season turned”. Not so much for the result – because I fully expect United to finish above Town despite the Terriers’ success today. The significant factors to come out of this game will be the effort and emotion that Town poured into edging the contest – and the bonding effect on Leeds United of the little contretemps that followed a fortuitous winner for the home side.

I feel that United will now kick on. Burning with irritation at their opponents’ classless triumphalism and a perceived lack of respect, the Leeds players and coaching team will find a new level of togetherness. The scenes towards the end of this derby showed a “cut one of us and we all bleed” attitude that has always served Leeds teams well. The players reacted like tigers when Town coach David Wagner topped off his ill-advised pitch invasion by encroaching on the Leeds technical area. Garry Monk stood his ground, and his players piled in. Great stuff. Its something to draw on for the rest of the season, and I fully expect that to happen. I’d give a lot to be a fly on the wall at Thorp Arch when the players reconvene this week. Feisty will be the least of it.

As for Town, they could well become victims of what I have in the past termed “post-Cup Final Syndrome”. It affected supposed big boys Newcastle in the aftermath of their Elland Road win, and one glance at Huddersfield’s next six fixtures shows that there is potential for the kind of falling-away that I’ve often noticed in smaller teams after managing to win against Leeds. If this sounds arrogant, then I’m sorry. It’s borne out by verifiable facts, so there you go.

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Classless, sick dog-botherers

The lack of class embodied by the Town coach was sadly not confined to the touchline. In the stands as well, Terriers fans, hyped beyond all taste and reason, flourished a Turkish flag in a deliberately gloating gesture designed to rankle with Leeds fans still haunted by the murders in Istanbul 17 years ago. On the taste scale it was way down towards the Millwall and man united end of things. You expect more of fellow Yorkshire clubs, but clearly Huddersfield, as we’ve long known deep down, is a taste-free zone. The media make nothing of this sort of thing, but it’s among the worst aspects of our game today – and one can only feel sympathy for the bereaved families when they see yet another example of idiots taking some sort of sick, perverted pleasure in the deaths of innocent football fans.

The upshot of this afternoon will turn out to be one result that doesn’t change much, and two off-field factors that could affect things greatly. Watch for Huddersfield to fade away and see how Leeds now pick up. There’s a long way to go, and much can yet happen. 

And should these two clubs chance to meet again in the play-offs, do you think that Leeds will now lack for incentive and motivation? Not a chance. Be afraid, Town. Be very afraid.

Leeds Need to “Nail” Huddersfield’s Mooy: Ironic Whinge from Town Fan – by Rob Atkinson

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Terriers fan, moral high-ground holder and justice evader David Foster

As the latest Yorkshire Derby edges closer, with Huddersfield Town due to host Leeds United at High Noon on Sunday, the build-up took a slightly hysterical turn earlier today, when respected YEP reporter Phil Hay observed that United’s main job would be to “nail Aaron Mooy. If he runs the show, Huddersfield will win”. A fair enough observation, you’d have thought – but the reaction among certain Huddersfield fans of nervous and delicate dispositions was frankly ludicrous.

One Town fan in particular, a Mr. Duncan Foster, twittered his distress: “What an appalling tweet. If you worked for me I would fire you. To suggest “nail” a player is wrong. You have a responsibility”. Mr Foster, you may not be surprised to learn, is a drama director – so his hissy fit and histrionics were possibly to be expected. Feelings run high when local rivals meet, and that appears to be particularly the case among the denizens of Huddersfield’s Coronation Street-style cobbled streets, with their dark, satanic mills and packs of rabid poodles.

Ironically, Aaron Mooy himself has some form in the matter of “nailing” opponents – and in a much more literal sense of that word than Hay intended. Huddersfield’s early season win at Elland Road turned on an incident which many, Town manager David Wagner included, felt should have earned Mooy a red card, when he was guilty of a two-footed challenge on Liam Bridcutt. To add insult to injury, Mooy not only remained on the pitch, he also went on to score a fine winner. Huddersfield fans are neither the first nor the only ones to suffer from selective memory disorder but, in the case of Mooy, Leeds could respond with “live by the sword, die by the sword”. Phil Hay, for his part, found it scarcely credible that anyone could seriously think he’d been advocating injuring the Town man. The Town side of the exchange reeked of small-time paranoia and opportunism, and what has to be said is a slightly precious attitude from Huddersfield’s most prominent drama queen, Mr Foster.

It has to be said also that any attempt to occupy the moral high ground on the part of “Corrie” director Mr. Foster tends to leave a slightly odd and repellent taste in the mouth. Foster, who was secretary of his local branch of Gamblers’ Anonymous at the time, narrowly escaped a driving ban in 2010. He was found with over twice the legal limit of alcohol according to a breathalyser test, asleep at the wheel of his car, which was parked three metres from the kerb, engine running and lights on. Foster escaped a ban only “by the skin of his teeth” after an emotional plea to magistrates, citing his many debts and his utter penitence. Such a narrow escape from just deserts puts him almost in the Aaron Mooy class for dodging justice, but it does also tend to make him look a bit of a hypocrite when he lectures a professional journalist about “having a responsibility” – and on the most specious and contrived of pretexts. Still, it takes all sorts.

The fact of the matter is, Phil Hay has it spot on with his analysis. Huddersfield work their best moves through Aaron Mooy, and any sensible opponent would set out to nullify him, if they can. Clearly, a team of Leeds United’s reputation and devotion to the beautiful game will take a more scientific approach than the one chosen by Mooy himself at Elland Road. We are not, after all, a side known for dirty or foul play.

After his assault on Liam Bridcutt, can that dirty dog Mooy – or indeed the hardly blemish-free Mr. Foster – really say the same? 

Jansson to Leeds for £3.5m is, Quoting Mr. Revie, “Robbery With Violence”   –   by Rob Atkinson

Pontus Jansson, Superstar

It’s difficult to overplay the impact this season of Pontus Jansson on Leeds United. Since a relatively low-key debut at Luton in the EFL Cup, the big Swedish defender has barely put a foot wrong, becoming a talisman for the Whites. He’s been almost equally effective at either end of the field, and his headed clearances have formed the basis of a highly effective central defensive partnership with Kyle Bartley. Those clearances are paid ample tribute in Jansson’s very own song, the United support having waxed creative in a witty ditty featuring magic hats and hurled bricks. It’s a hymn of praise that could hardly be better deserved.

When legendary United manager Don Revie signed John Giles from a smallish club near Manchester in 1963, for a paltry £33,000, he was exultant enough to describe the deal as “robbery with violence”. The selling manager, one Matthew Busby, later described the sale of Giles, who went on to fashion an unparalleled midfield partnership with Billy Bremner, as his “greatest mistake”. This coup of capturing Jansson for maybe 25% of his actual value, puts you in mind of that earlier robbery. I don’t know who mans the central defence for Torino – but they must be bloody good players. 

As long as Jansson doesn’t now go all Lubo Michalik on us, Leeds have pulled of one hell of a capture here. We currently have a defence that looks rock solid, and that sort of thing has proved the foundation for many a promotion charge. And both Bartley and Jansson offer so much more than defensive excellence. Organising and cajoling the back line, motivating and inspiring all over the park and still finding time to create havoc in attacking set pieces, they both influence the game positively more or less the full 95 minutes. That’s invaluable for any team with pretensions to success. 

Robbery with violence sums it up nicely. May we also mug Swansea with a similar deal for Bartley. Both players have what it takes to be United legends for several seasons to come. 

Welcome to the ranks of the greatest club in the world, Pontus, and all the very best as you go on to confirm legend status by helping us back to the top. 

Leeds CAN Secure Automatic Promotion as Rivals Falter – by Rob Atkinson

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Garry Monk – the man with the plan

We’ve had false dawns aplenty before at Elland Road. Many a time, a false dawn has appeared to be the only possible light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. But this time, things do feel different. There’s a momentum steadily gathering, a feeling that Leeds United are developing slowly into an unstoppable force. History tells us that, often in the past, the leaders of the chasing pack benefit from a sudden uncertainty and crumbling of long-time front-runners. That scenario is developing right now at the head of the Championship – and Leeds United, to our delighted surprise, is the form horse.

One of the characteristics of a successful team is that it can grind out a result when playing badly. Leeds demonstrated that strength against Blackburn Rovers last night at Ewood Park, in a game that could easily have slipped away, but which was decided by a late and thumping header from the talismanic Pontus Jansson.

Another sign of a team going places is the quality of being able to bounce back from the occasional lapse. That’s something that this Leeds United team has been able to do on several occasions this season, going on to compile unbeaten runs after reverses that would have sapped morale in other years under other managers.

Garry Monk has had his less than brilliant moments since taking charge of United, but overall has seemed determined, self-assured and unflappable. He survived early difficulties, avoiding the ever-poised axe in the hands of maverick owner Massimo Cellino. Indeed, one of the main achievements of his first season in the Leeds hot-seat has been to marginalise Cellino, quieting talk in the media of the owner picking the team and generally remaining his own man. Other factors may have helped push Cellino into the shadows, but it’s still the mark of a strong man to succeed at Leeds where so many others have failed.

On the whole, and despite the odd, inevitable blip, Leeds United are very well placed now for the last, crucial stage of the League campaign. Free of cup commitments, with the squad enhanced by quality additions and vital players returning from injury, the platform is there for a decisive surge between now and May. Much will depend on the durability or otherwise of the teams ahead – Brighton, Newcastle and, to a lesser extent, Reading. Huddersfield and the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and even Barnsley, present a threat from behind. But Leeds have the resolve and the personnel to emerge from the pack and take advantage of any crack-ups from the top two. And there are definite signs of such frailty and vulnerability in both Brighton and Newcastle.

The top two seem concerned about each other, when they should perhaps be looking fearfully over their shoulders at the play-off pack. Usually, somebody comes with a late run, exploiting a loss of bottle above them to reach the tape ahead of the pace-setters. It’s a situation that could well work in favour of Leeds United.

This weekend is the first of many pivotal League rounds to come. Huddersfield and Brighton meet tonight, in a game where any result will have some advantage for Leeds. And United have that extra twenty-four hours recovery time before having to travel to Huddersfield on Sunday. It will be very interesting to see how the Championship top six looks on Sunday evening.

But whatever happens over the next few days, there are golden opportunities for Leeds to assert themselves over the remainder of the season – and both Newcastle and Brighton will be feeling the heat. That’s a situation a canny manager like Monk can and should exploit; this blog believes that he is willing and able to do just that.

Leeds United for automatic promotion this season? You’d better believe it.

Last Gasp Bullet Header from Jansson Sees Leeds Win at Blackburn – by Rob Atkinson

jansson-and-co

Jansson & Co – victorious at Blackburn

The Leeds United team tasked with laying the grisly ghost of FA Cup humiliation at Sutton last Sunday contained only one survivor of that sorry afternoon. And, fittingly, it was that one man, Stuart Dallas, who finally made the breakthrough after 74 minutes last night at Blackburn Rovers, as United made a belated start on making up to their fans for such an awful lapse. Latching onto a sumptuous cross-field ball from Liam Bridcutt, the Ulsterman took one touch on his chest before firing in left-footed from the left of the penalty area into the far right-hand corner of Rovers’ net.

What had gone before was a lot of huffing and puffing, with quality at a premium but no little effort. League strugglers Blackburn were earnest but incompetent, while high-flying Leeds threatened more but failed to deliver. A major feature of the match was the sight of the home team’s attacks being repelled time after time by United’s returning colossus Pontus Jansson. As it turned out, in making so many aerial clearances, Jansson was just warming up his forehead to deliver a late coup de grâce in typically emphatic and ebullient fashion.

It was a goal-laden final quarter of an hour to finish a match that had been mostly dour and scrappy. Once Leeds had taken the lead, you fancied them to hang on and see the evening out. Ten minutes after the Dallas opener, though, Leeds keeper Rob Green managed somehow to let a scrappy bobbling low shot slip past him at the foot of his left hand post, and it looked as though the hosts would salvage an unlikely point. In previous seasons, we might even have worried that such a late pegging-back of a hard-earned lead would result in United chucking even a draw away and ending up beaten. But this Leeds side is made of sterner stuff – and they showed the character and persistence to come storming back and seal a late, late victory.

The winner, when it came, had a familiar look about it. United have been quite lethal from corners lately, with the diminutive Spanish trickster Pablo Hernandez seemingly able to place his corner kicks precisely where he wants to. On this occasion, he floated the ball with quality and accuracy into exactly the right cubic foot of Ewood Park airspace, where the hurtling Jansson met it resoundingly to send his header flashing into the back of the net, before the massed ranks of the joyous, exultant travelling White Army. In almost the same last-gasp moment, miles away up on Tyneside, Newcastle conceded a comical own-goal equaliser to QPR, completing an instantaneous four-point swing in Leeds’ favour. As last minute bonuses go, even Carlsberg would be hard-pressed to do better.

So Leeds, after such a calamitous Cup capitulation (which may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise) march on in the league. Next stop is local rivals Huddersfield on Sunday, and Town themselves face a home clash with fellow contenders Brighton on Thursday evening, in a match Leeds fans will fervently be hoping that both teams can lose. For the moment, some measure of forgiveness can be extended to our heroes in white (who actually turned out at Blackburn in a decidedly natty yellow/blue/yellow ensemble). Such an ignominious exit from the FA Cup will take longer to forget than completely to forgive, yet any fan with yellow blue and white running through his or her veins will know that cups are merely tin-pot, compared to the holy grail nature of promotion.

The least welcome statistic of the evening was another yellow card for the redoubtable Jansson, but that sort of thing goes with the territory of his robust and committed approach to keeping the opposition at bay. As long as he can continue doing just that, with the occasional fringe benefit in the shape of decisive goals from crafty corners, then everybody who loves Leeds United will allow him some latitude in matters disciplinary.

Because, make no mistake, the iconic Jansson is set fair to become the biggest Leeds United hero since Gordon Strachan – and he may well soon emulate the diminutive Scot by leading the Whites back up where they belong.

Leeds’ Promotion Push Bolstered by £17m Worth of New Talent   –   by Rob Atkinson

Modou Barrow (left) and Alfonso Pedraza (right)

The Leeds United powers that be have thankfully shown a pleasing amount of last-minute transfer market acumen with the deadline day acquisition of two pacy, talented wide players whose effect will potentially be to enhance the attacking unit’s potency all the way across the forward line. 

With the “try before you buy” loan signings of Alfonso Pedraza from Villareal, with an option to buy in summer for £8.5m, and Modou Barrow (purchase option £9m rising to £11m) from manager Garry Monk‘s former club Swansea City, Leeds have not only added options out wide, they have made the whole offensive situation that much more fluid. Both new signings are able to play out wide or more centrally, but their addition to the squad frees up the likes of Roofe, Doukara and even Dallas, none of whom are natural touchline-huggers, to operate further infield in support of lone spearhead Chris Wood. The advantages of this increased flexibility could be considerable, both game-to-game and within games, to stir things up as may be necessary. And suddenly having two proper wingers could even reap a bonus in terms of increased effectiveness for the misfiring Marcus Antonsson, a good striker who has starved for lack of service on his rare appearances for the first team. 

The Leeds United Twitter timeline was a toxic place to be, though, up until the signing of Barrow, with much wailing, cursing, rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth. Even after the arrival of the Swansea man, there remained some truculence and discontent. But many more were quite happy in the end, with a window that had added two quality arrivals to a highly effective if hitherto slightly patchy squad. Among those satisfied, we can presumably count Monk himself, who had appeared somewhat tense and distrait as the transfer clock ticked down. He wanted two signings and that’s what he eventually got. We can surely assume that he has the plan to make best use of the squad now in place. 

So, attention now turns to Ewood Park on Wednesday, and the urgent necessity of dealing with Blackburn Rovers. The standard approach of concentrating on each three points up for grabs as they coma along will continue to serve Leeds well, and the club will be acutely conscious of the need to restore face after the embarrassment of Sutton United

Neither new signing is available for Wednesday’s encounter, but both will be up for consideration at Huddersfield on Sunday. Six points is a lot to ask from these two tricky fixtures, but the form of our play-off and promotion rivals makes it almost a necessity to secure a maximum return if at all possible. But, according to the Monk Mantra, it’s still one game at a time and steady as she goes. 

The rest of the season beckons, with no Cup distractions. The opportunity is there for Leeds United, suitably bolstered by increased pace and width, to write another glorious page of their illustrious history. A promotion charge is a clear and present possibility, one glance at the table confirms that. In the race for the top-flight, fortune will surely favour the brave. Bring it on.