Daily Archives: 09/11/2013

McCormack Exposes Strachan’s Lack of Four-sight as Leeds Romp to Victory – by Rob Atkinson

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Ross McCormack – surplus Scot

Gordon Strachan has always been good value, whether plying his trade as Leeds United’s traditional diminutive ginger midfield maestro, or later as a manager with a penchant for the apposite quote, frequently a venom-tipped barb delivered with his own brand of waspish humour.  He’s not been somebody noted for getting things wrong all that often. There was a dressing-room tantrum in the early days at Elland Road, when it took Jim Beglin to calm him down – politely but firmly.  And there was the famous own-goal near the end of the Charity Shield match against Liverpool at Wembley in 1992 – but that didn’t matter as Leeds won in the end.  Other than those two minor blips, he’s normally got most things right.  But Leeds fans will have been queuing up to tell him that he dropped a right clanger this week.

Somehow, by some convolution of his venerable grey matter, Scotland manager Strach has managed to select for his next international squad NINE players from the Championship – and yet omit Ross McCormack.  I’d be very hard-pressed to name one Scottish player in the Championship better than Rossco, and yet wee Gordie somehow managed to find these nine.  It’s to be hoped they do well – they’ll have to if they’re going to prove their worth ahead of a man who has been excellent for Leeds United this season, a man who wears his heart and his commitment to the cause on his sleeve, a man, moreover, who has scored 6 goals in his last two outings whilst threatening to stage a one-man goal of the month competition.  Strachan did concede that McCormack had been “unlucky”, thereby adding to his considerable reputation for dry understatement.

At the time of this unlucky omission, Ross McCormack could point to just the two goals in his most recent game; now he’s trebled that output in one further game as if to emphasise just how bloody unlucky he really has been.  This approach of letting his boots do the talking instead of whinging in the press – and Ross can be quite vocal at times as his Twitter followers will confirm – is highly laudable of course, and something that Leeds fans will appreciate.  Those fans might rather, anyway, that Ross should be putting his feet up for a couple of weeks and doing the odd bit of training at Thorp Arch, instead of gadding about Europe with the Sweaties.  That way, the Leeds faithful will figure, he’ll be rested and ready to poke a few more goals in, a fortnight hence, against his persistent summer suitors Middlesbrough.  So even if we feel a bit bruised and crestfallen on McCormack’s behalf – there are compensations for Leeds supporters in what seems an inexplicable decision to deny the lad some more international experience.  Ross will be wondering what, exactly, he has to do in order to merit selection.

Some more of what he served up today certainly wouldn’t go amiss.  McCormack was hailed by both managers after Charlton versus Leeds as “the difference”.  On a disgraceful bog of a pitch reminiscent of some of the marshlands at Derby and elsewhere in the 70’s, Leeds managed to overcome a determined Charlton side, one that hadn’t conceded a solitary goal in over seven hours of football.  The home side had made the brighter start, but Leeds scored with their first real chance, as McCormack fastened onto Blackstock’s neat flick to dink the ball over Charlton’s onrushing keeper.  United then survived a penalty appeal and a shot against their woodwork before conceding the equaliser just before half-time to one of those “worldies” we see fly into our net all too often.  This time it was Cameron Stewart blasting a twenty-yard volley past a helpless Paddy Kenny, and Leeds were on the back foot for the remaining couple of minutes before the break, grateful in the end to go in level.

After the interval, the match swiftly swung back Leeds’ way.  A penalty was claimed and awarded when Danny Pugh – back after a long time in the doldrums and playing well – was tripped by Charlton’s Harriott, and McCormack leathered the spot-kick fiercely into the roof of the net.  Charlton were still full of fight and saw Kenny make one great save to deny the penalty villain Harriott, whilst squandering at least one other decent opening, before they finally levelled the match at 2-2 in the 70th minute.  Simon Church carved out the chance with a low cross, converted by Johnnie Jackson.  This is the sort of scenario that makes the Leeds faithful groan in collective pain and pessimism; normally, having been pegged back, we expect further disaster to ensue.  The three thousand plus United followers in the Jimmy Seed stand must therefore have been anticipating the worst, but glory be – the best was yet to come.

It came quickly, too.  Barely three minutes had elapsed since Charlton’s second equaliser when McCormack, again benefiting from an assist from loanee Blackstock, smashed home a close-range volley from a tight angle.  There hadn’t even been time to sink fully into the default Leeds state of pessimism and now all was joy and rapture again as the travelling faithful bellowed their appreciation. Surely, Leeds would hang on now.  And hang on they did, defending resolutely enough for the remaining seventeen minutes, at the end of which Rudy Austin was fouled just outside the area by Rhoys Wiggins. McCormack sized it up, took aim, and curled a beautiful free kick past Hamer to end the home side’s hopes.

It was the first time a United player had scored four in a game since Brian Deane made QPR suffer at Elland Road in the noughties. Heaven only knows when a Leeds player last grabbed four away from home.  That might be something for Strachan to contemplate, with his Elland Road connections, as he watches the highlights of this performance. Chances are, though, he’ll have a lot more to think about than that.

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Leeds One-Two Beats West Ham as the Canaries Sing Again – by Rob Atkinson

Man of the match – ex-Leeds hero Rob Snodgrass

This relegation six-pointer at Carrow Road was always going to be a tense, tight affair with both teams having their problems lately. West Ham have been racking up the 0-0 draws by ignoring the old Academy of Football tag, eschewing strikers so the midfield can be packed out and generally boring the arse of everyone from Alf Garnett downwards. Norwich have had a dire run, culminating of course in last week’s 0-7 capitulation at Manchester City.  A draw seemed a likely enough outcome to this meeting of mediocrities, the ‘Ammers being impotent up front but tighter than a gnat’s chuff in defence, where only one penalty goal had been conceded away from the Boleyn all season.

Given West Ham’s ineptitude in front of goal, it was somewhat of a surprise when they took the lead after 32 minutes, Nolan keeping the ball in play on the goal-line before turning it back across the six yard box for Morrison to finish close in.  At this point, you might have wagered some decent money on the away side prevailing; it’s not exactly unknown for a team who’ve just been whopped 7-0 to let their heads go down if they then go on to concede the first next time out.  To their credit though, Norwich battled on where they might have surrendered – and the deficit at half time was still just the one goal.

After the interval, Norwich again showed an inclination to roll up their sleeves and redeem themselves from last week’s shame.  At one goal down, there are always possibilities, and Norwich were destined to find those possibilities and realise them.  The comeback was started after 54 minutes by some uncharacteristically nervous jitters in the Londoners’ defence, Jaaskelainen first gathering an innocuous high ball, then dropping it unaccountably at Hooper’s feet.  In the subsequent scrimmage, the Hammers keeper fouled Hooper to concede a penalty, converted by the former Celtic striker to level matters.  This was only the second away goal West Ham had conceded all season – both penalties – but things were about to get worse.

It was the old Leeds one-two that saw West Ham go behind after 72 minutes. Johnny Howson had nicked possession in midfield and advanced unchallenged to unleash a shot that beat Jaaskelainen all ends up, hitting the crossbar and rebounding outside the penalty area.  In the scramble to win the ball, a foul was committed by Nolan, who was booked for his trouble.  The free-kick gave Rob Snodgrass his chance and he took it brilliantly, curling the ball over the ‘Ammers wall to nestle in the goal at the near post. The awful reality was dawning on West Ham that – having performed above all expectations to score once, they’d now have to do it again.  But not a lot was ‘appening for the ‘Ammers, and really Snodgrass should have extended the lead on 85 minutes when he was unable to keep a fairly simple volley down with the net gaping.

It was all over in stoppage time when Leroy Fer rode a weak challenge just outside the West Ham box, worked his way into the left hand side of the area and then planted a low cross shot into the far corner for 3-1.  That was it; the whistle blew and the ‘Ammers had contrived to lose to last week’s whipping boys, demonstrating who really has the problems at the moment.  Norwich have climbed from their relegation-zone berth to fifteenth on the back of this win, but West Ham now hover uncomfortably over the trapdoor, as unproductive as ever and now with the previously tight rearguard starting to fail them.

For Norwich, there are glimmers of hope.  A response like this to the humiliation City inflicted shows reserves of character that may yet see them through.  West Ham, on the other hand, will be conscious that at 1-0 up against a team so demoralised as the Canaries must have been, they missed a great chance to capitalise.  Worrying times indeed for Fat Sam and his punchless charges.

WACCOE: What to do When a Good Leeds United Forum Goes Bad? – by Rob Atkinson

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WACCOE – used to be good

For Leeds United fans of an enquiring bent, anxious to keep up to date with what’s being discussed about our great club, keen to be in the know as regards the latest rumour, scandal or joke – the internet forum is frequently the resource of choice.  Football fans of the last couple of generations are lucky like this.   It’s not always been so easy to communicate your point of view, or to take counsel of others.  Every football fan everywhere is more or less in touch with every other football fan these days; nobody who wants to be informed has to remain in the dark.  It’s all out there for the finding, and some pretty knockabout “banter” into the bargain.

Naturally, this plethora of information and opinion has its downside.  It’s quite easy for any football forum, fansite, call it what you will, to become dominated by “banter” to the detriment of information or serious discussion.  If you think about it, there’s a place for banter as there is a place for pepper on the dinner-table.  It’s a useful and piquant seasoning to the main course – but you wouldn’t want to just take the cover off the pepperpot and swallow the whole lot on its own.  It would be unpleasant and unseemly.

In some corners of the internet, some sites are falling prey to just this syndrome, and any attempts at moderation are proving inadequate to stem the prevalence of pepper over good wholesome fare.  The banter is taking over and – more and more – you find yourself having to dig deep for anything of any content or value.  Even items – “threads” – that start off by highlighting some real issue, or by asking some highly pertinent question – even these are swiftly pounced upon by a clutch of self-appointed wits, scrambling over each other to post some fantastically funny reply, busting guts to out-do everybody else in showing just how awfully pithy they can be.

The WACCOE forum is a tragic example of just this sort of problem.  Time was – and not so long ago at that – WACCOE was virtually indispensable as Leeds United fans tried to keep themselves up-to-date with the unfolding saga of the takeover.  A legendary thread called TOMA (Takeover, My Arse) extended to an incredible length over months and months, documenting each twist and turn of the epic battle for Leeds United.  Initially anonymous buyers were struggling to wrest control from the evil grasp of Uncle Ken, and TOMA readers followed the story for what turned out to be significant portions of their lives.

There was some banter, sure – but it served just to season the staple diet of information and debate.  Refresh buttons were worn out, sleep was dispensed with, coffee was imbibed by the vat full, jobs were lost, as fanatics out here in fan-land gave themselves body and soul to the outcome of this elemental battle.  Where would we have been without WACCOE and TOMA?  The mainstream press had nothing, the club was tight-lipped.  We relied on those allegedly in the know – the ITK-ers – and we rode a seemingly endless roller-coaster, elevated by the highs and cast down, crushed by the lows, time and time again.  It was a hell of a trip.

Before that – a few years back, we had a comparable event with the whole Minus 15 thing. WACCOE was seen at its best then, too – people with some knowledge and expertise in the complex issues behind the Leeds United administration and the subsequent actions of the Football League and rival clubs, were able to shed some much-needed light.  Again, our interest was captured, for weeks, months on end.

Despite the gravity and possibly disastrous consequences of those issues, they were great days for any forum, and particularly auspicious for WACCOE as it facilitated some quality work by the people who troubled to find out what was going on and to communicate this to the rest of us.  But oh dear me, what has happened since?

WACCOE now is merely somewhere to go if you have some masochistic need to grind your teeth to powder, or to have your blood pressure raised to unhealthy levels.  It’s a showcase for the yappy student type which used to infest – and for all I know still does infest – the BBC 606 site and its various spin-offs.  You get elderly idiots reminding themselves, each other and the poor bloody rest of us how tough they used to be and how hard they still are.  You get young, attention-starved look-at-me types, striving desperately to jump on some admired bandwagon in the hope of getting a “lol” or a “like” from some nobody who doesn’t deserve their tragic hero-worship.  The standard of repartee – never all that high – is plummeting downhill like a greased pig.  Egos abound, nobody feels able to let anything go without adding their own two penn’orth, and threads worth maybe two or three comments stretch out to page after agonising page.   It’s dreadful to behold and an awful indictment of the mindset we – the collective of online Leeds fans – seem to have sunk into now there is no more Minus 15, no more TOMA.

Maybe it will take another major issue to restore WACCOE to its former glory (a strictly relative term).  Maybe – because you just never know with Leeds – such a major issue is just around the corner.  It could be.  It usually is.  I have some hopes for the forthcoming January transfer window, which should be good for some debate, some sort of relevant, on-message chat.  I’ll have my fingers crossed and – if I’ve not been booted off the site by then, I’ll be ready to have my say, for what it’s worth.  But I have this horrible suspicion that, for far too many contributors, WACCOE is now some sort of cabaret arena for them to show off their own little party piece, or maybe try desperately to gain the approval of some other nonentity who has somehow managed to attract a following.  Then, it’s like watching some lurid re-enactment of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, as the yappy classes yap loud and long enough to be noticed, and the few dissenters find themselves savaged, Geoffrey Howe-like, by dead sheep.

It’s a pity, it’s even a bit of a loss.  But there are other forums out there and some excellent fans sites – these tend to be rather better moderated than the once half-decent WACCOE.  So, what DO you do?  Well, if you don’t want to grit your teeth down to gum level, if you don’t want to feel your head creaking as hypertension threatens to blow the top of your skull off – why, simply browse elsewhere, for the sweet voice of reason still speaks in certain quarters. Leave WACCOE to stew in its own self-adoring juices, let the yappers yap to each other, let the various bandwagons trundle on into an uninspiring sunset.  Give it a break, and maybe go back when lack of attention has starved the attention-seekers as the shortage of oxygen will extinguish any flame.

Whatever they might seem to think, it’s not all about WACCOE and its covey of self-regarding wits.  It’s still about Leeds United and those who want to talk about football – yes, and have a laugh, but not be too juvenile about it.  That’s how WACCOE used to be. I do hope it gets better one day.