Daily Archives: 04/12/2013

Good Day at the Office as United Beat Wigan and the Pride of Devon Lose to Everton – by Rob Atkinson

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Ross “Magic” McCormack scores again

Carlsberg don’t make Wednesday evenings, but if they did…

Victories don’t come much sweeter than a triumph over the Cup holders, with the decided bonus of a home defeat for the champions thrown in.  Like it or not (and I’m aware to my bafflement that taking pleasure from a Man U defeat is scorned by some of my more joyless fellow Leeds fans) – any Leeds win is a heightened pleasure when it’s accompanied by a defeat for Them.  When they lose at home, to their new manager’s and “star” striker’s former team, to the misery of their legion of armchair fans from Torquay to Singapore and back to Milton Keynes, then it’s several shades of sweet.  So slag me off all you like, you puritanical killjoys, I couldn’t care less. I was in a fine mood at United’s victory over Wigan – historic in its own right as we shall see – but news of a defeat for The Greatest Club in the Universe™ at the Theatre of Hollow Myths itself – that was the cherry on the icing on the cake.

Back to Leeds’ own fine win, and several “firsts” came along all at once tonight at Elland Road.  Our first league goal against Wigan Athletic, scored by – who else? – Ross McCormack.  The first time we’ve avoided defeat against the FA Cup winners, having lost our only two previous league meetings to nil.  And obviously, our first league win against the lancastrians, ending a 26 year wait for a victory of any sort since goals from Micky Adams and John Stiles (now, as then, a comedian) gave United a 2-0 win at the dilapidated old Springfield Park on the way to the 1987 FA Cup semi-final.

So, it was a great night at Elland Road, the fifth home win on the trot as United seek to make Elland Road the fortress it will have to be if we’re to challenge seriously this season.  It had been a worrying midweek thus far, a trend being established of clubs who have just sacked their managers achieving unlikely wins.  Wigan of course had just dispensed with the services of Owen Coyle.  Could they, wondered the football world hopefully, maintain the pattern and win at Leeds?

In the event, Leeds won decisively, before a decent midweek crowd of 25,888, although not without having to deal with a fair amount of pressure from visitors who had more than a fair share of possession.  But they didn’t have a Ross McCormack and that was the difference.  One goal in the first half and at the very least an assist for the winner after the break, and McCormack continues to demonstrate just how vital he is to this Leeds team.  One priority in January has to be the recruitment of an alternative source of goals – just in case disaster should strike and our major threat should be unavailable, whether through injury or suspension.  As for the possibility of losing Rossco in that transfer window – well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.  His recent form will have seen his price rocket skywards, but it might be a price some are prepared to pay.

But enough of such paranoid gibberings.  McCormack must know he has the chance to write himself into the Leeds United history books as the natural successor to Jermaine Beckford, architect-in-chief of our last promotion. And now – in stark contrast to earlier in the season – the league table demonstrates quite clearly that it’s all up for grabs for Leeds, only a whisker outside the play offs and, with 28 games to go, a mere nine points off the very top of the league. Whatever the doom-and-gloom pessimists might say, that is not an unbridgeable gap, and there will be a few anxious glances being cast back over shoulders by the top few clubs as they hear the sound of Leeds United on the charge from the rear of the field.

After the “blip” at Blackburn, this win was as badly needed as it was efficiently executed.  Now, attentions must switch almost immediately to a Watford side who have lacked this season the con brio approach they showed last, when they were operating as the Italian B side in the English second tier – only to suffer the play-off disappointment so familiar to us Whites.  Beat Watford, and we’ll be looking well set.  This group of players is showing all the signs of togetherness and good team spirit and, all of a sudden, Elland Road may be seen as the place to be for good players looking for a good move in January.  That promises to be a very interesting month, but the priority now must be to make sure that December continues in the way it has started.

Whisper it softly – Leeds United are on the promotion path.  This could yet be a memorable and historic season.

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Should Leeds Keep Hold of Maverick El-Hadji Diouf? – by Rob Atkinson

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Regular all-round nice guy Dioufy

He’s a rum cove, that El-Hadji Diouf.  You don’t get many like him to the pound.  At first glance, his link-up with Leeds United seemed like a match made in hell.  He was signed by a manager in Neil Warnock who had previously referred to Diouf as “lower than a sewer rat.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m sure I’ve heard more sparkling endorsements than that – even from the notoriously uncouth Colin.

For a while there, we very probably had the most gleaming, five-star example of the full set hate-wise.  The most hated club, with the most hated Chairman, the most hated manager, the most hated fans and the most hated player.  It rather made your heart swell with pride, and you felt that if Dioufy could be taken to anyone’s hearts, then perhaps Elland Road was the most likely place.  We are rather fond of our villains down Beeston way.

The down side of the former Liverpool man – other than his alarming tendency to get involved in trouble at the drop of a blob of phlegm – is that he doesn’t look the fittest of lads.  He’s not yet 33, and he’s got undeniable pedigree – but you’re not going to see him running past opponents too often. His main contribution to the Leeds team last season seems to have been an ability to hold the ball up in confined spaces, draw a foul and win a free kick.  There was an early flurry of goals, but it was this ball retention ability that really shone in a team which appeared quite inept in that regard.

Sadly, a few live games in the first half of the season were characterised by the commentator making a fuss about this facet of Diouf’s play, and refs seemed to be on the lookout for any possibility of being hoodwinked by the wily Senegalese schemer.  Give a dog a bad name, eh?  There were certainly quite a few occasions that I noticed where Diouf would go down with a pained expression on his face, only for the ref to airily wave play on, to approving noises from the gantry. This detracted greatly from his general effectiveness, but he still contributed to some reasonably encouraging performances in that pre-Christmas part of last year’s league programme.

Overall, I think I would say that it remains doubtful we have anyone else on the books who can use the ball in a confined space, under pressure from close markers, as Dioufy can.  Time and again, he can either slip the attention of a couple of defenders to find a man in relative acres of space, or (more often) he would gain one of those free-kicks.  Both of these gifts were invaluable to last season’s Leeds side which otherwise appeared to regard the ball as a bit of a hot potato. It’s only that telling lack of pace which limited his overall contribution.

In the home match against Brighton late in the last campaign, Diouf managed to get himself sent-off in the aftermath of a successful penalty conversion.  It appeared that he’d taken some stick from Brighton’s rather over-sensitive away support, and responded in sign language involving a too-public manipulation of his genitals, to shocking effect as far as the away crowd and sadly also the ref were concerned. A little surprisingly, this was Diouf’s first dismissal since he joined the club.  We were told that he was sorry, and that he remained committed to the Leeds United cause coming into this season (but as it’s turned out, we’ve hardly seen him since.)

So should we hang on to this mercurial talent, or not?  He’s been this season’s forgotten man and yet, since signing an improved contract, he’s taking more out of the club by far than when he was making a real impact on the first team. I would cautiously vote to retain him, unless the rumoured influx of cash really does turn out to be enough to buy someone as good as Dioufy – and maybe younger and faster.  If that turns out to be the case, then sadly it’ll be a no-brainer.  All’s fair in football and war – and there’s precious little room for sentiment.

What do other people think?  Keep him or get rid?  And if he goes – just who are the likely candidates to replace him, depending on whether we have a Red Bull sized budget, or just a tidgy little David Haigh one? Answers on a virtual postcard, please…