Daily Archives: 01/01/2014

Man U’s “Olympic Diving Trio” Fail to Deny Spurs – by Rob Atkinson

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That Moyes half-time team talk in full

It seemed as though the selection of referee for today’s Man U v Spurs match at the Theatre of Hollow Myths was spot on and just right for the job in hand.  Howard Webb is a man who has proved time and time again that he’s one referee who knows exactly how to deal with the acknowledged divers of the best Man U tradition. Howard does not shirk his responsibility, Howard acts decisively. Howard doesn’t even hesitate; he gets the whistle to the lips and blows shrilly for the statutory penalty.  We’ve seen it repeatedly down the years.  The man is Mr Consistent, and his collection of Premier League title winners medals have been due reward for this.

But clearly, something went badly wrong today.  A goal down at half time, and needing their main man on form in the second half, Man U increased their divers complement, using all three specialists at the club with Ashley Young joining Welbeck and the promising young triple-salko expert Januzaj.  Between them, these three gave Webb every opportunity to award penalties, with brilliant build-up play leading to immaculate finishes, landing on the face in the box in the approved fashion. Webb, though, appeared to have forgotten his lines completely, refusing to give even one penalty and actually booking the latest “New George Best”! His performance was disgraceful, and he is expected to be carpeted at Carrington later this week. On this performance, Webb’s place in Moyes’ matchday squad must be in doubt.

Looking at the displays of the three-man dive squad against Spurs, any and all of them could have had success on the day were it not for the official deciding to come over all impartial, in blatant breach of the standard contract.  Let’s take Danny Welbeck first:

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Welbeck’s matchday scorecard

Danny tried hard, but possibly a little too hard.  One of the tabloids, the Metro, has chosen to be a little treacherous and highlight one of the lad’s less subtle dives – and oh dear, it does look bad (see here). Overall, not one of Danny’s better displays. But, at the risk of straying into irrelevant areas, at least he scored.

Moving on, let’s check out the promising young Adnan Januzaj’s form:

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The Januzaj scores.

Young Adnan again is a trier and he shows real potential.  The fact is though that he’s been booked at least twice now, for “simulation” as they prefer to call it these days (cheating is such a nasty word). This may indicate that he’s perhaps not yet a true Man U class diver.  It’s a part of his game he’ll obviously be encouraged to work on – Moyes is on record as saying he’ll be having a chat with the lad, and there are good, solid examples of effective diving already at the club, from whom he can learn a great deal.  But for the moment, he’s flattering to deceive, and there are even suggestions that the blatant nature of some of his “precipitate descents to ground level” are threatening to blow the gaff on the very fabric of the club’s entire diving policy. This is something that should put all concerned on notice; the quality of diving needs to be addressed just as much as does the inexplicable form of the normally-reliable Webb.

Last, but by no means least, we have Man U’s main diver, usually benched until his particular gifts are needed – the one and only Ashley “Nautilus” Young:

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Ashley’s impeccable style and artistic interpretation

If there is one man who should shoulder no blame whatsoever for today’s defeat, it’s that man Young.  Always available to come on when required, his single-minded approach warms the hearts of every fan from Torquay to Milton Keynes and back again.  Such dedication deserves some reward; on days like this, Ashley could be forgiven for thinking he might as well go back to playing football.  But such a devoted practitioner of his art will not long be cast down.  You can guarantee that Ashley will be back, arms and legs akimbo, nose ploughing a furrow inside the eighteen yard box and that lovely, fluid motion as the dive turns seamlessly into a loudly-squealed appeal to the normally willing ref.  Looking at today’s match, Moyes was livid that one dive of utter quality didn’t result in a penalty. Unlucky, Ashley – don’t give up.

As for the rest of the match – Spurs even had the cheek to claim a penalty of their own.  But goals either side of half-time, both inexplicably allowed, were enough in the end to see them take the three points.  Sadly, it will have been an uncomfortable journey back south for the bulk of the Man U support, having to share trains with gloating Spurs fans.  It’s at times like these that the mettle of such faithful and dedicated gloryhunters is truly put to the test.

These are worrying times though for Man U.  Spurs have been nothing special this term, and the fact that they have been able to face Man U’s triple threat and not concede even ONE penalty is a matter of grave concern.  Some MPs in Home Counties constituencies are being asked to table questions in the House.  It’s that serious.  The problem, clearly, is with Webb – and you’d almost wonder on today’s performance if someone’s got at him? The Premier League Referee’s Panel, perhaps – though they’re normally very good at keeping their nose out of Man U’s private affairs.  Whatever has happened, something has to be sorted out, and soon – or it will be hard to see how personnel changes are to be avoided.  Several younger refs have put in promising performances for Man U lately, one even pulling a muscle in his eagerness to point to the spot.  It may even be time to think the unthinkable and act to replace Howard – even though there’s little doubt that he will go down as one of the true greats in the club’s history.

It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when Webb is summoned to meet an irate David Moyes in the next few days. He’s likely to have to do some hard, fast talking to have any hope of retaining his squad number, and even then it’s likely that beady eyes will be watching him from the stand.  Yes, even his old mentor S’ralex is rumoured to be bitterly disappointed with Webb’s lamentable display today.  Things are getting serious – for sound marketing reasons, Man U simply must finish in the top four at the very, very least.  So could we really be about to see the end of a glorious Man U career?  The next few days way well decide that.

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Happy Birthday to Tony, Tony Currie – by Rob Atkinson

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Currie for England

Very happy birthday wishes today for one of my late seventies heroes, probably still one of my favourite ever United players, though his stay was relatively brief and the team he graced was not of that vintage which lit up Elland Road only a few years earlier.  Tony Currie had been the idol of the Sheffield United fans at Bramall Lane, making over 300 appearances for the Blades in a nine-year spell after starting out at Watford.  But he played arguably his best football at Elland Road between 1976 and 1979, winning the bulk of his England caps in that period and inspiring a declining team in Leeds to three semi-finals.  What an option he would have been as part of the great Revie squad – one of the few players I can think of from the post-Revie era who could have held his own in that auspicious company.

Currie made his debut for Leeds United on a sunny August afternoon at Elland Road against newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion.  Coincidentally, Johnny Giles – whose mantle Currie was meant to assume as the creative heartbeat of Leeds – was in the opposition side that day as a 2-2 draw was played out, United coming back from two goals down.  It was my first solo trip to Elland Road and I was right at the front of the Lowfields as over 40,000 packed the ground.  I can vividly remember Paul Reaney right in front of me, looking up and shouting “Tony!” as he played a perfect ball up the line towards the Kop End for Currie – it was the first time I’d realised what a shouty place a professional football field was.  For some reason, that image is burned on my mind; it could have been yesterday.

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Currie of Leeds

As his Elland Road career progressed, Currie achieved cult status with the Leeds fans.  The chant of “Tony, Tony Currie” was a hymn of adulation to a flamboyant and gifted star – you always thought he was just about to do something special and unforgettable and, of course, he frequently did. One speciality was the volleyed pass out to the wing, invariably finding a wide player in space, the ball dropping perfectly into his path and United were on the attack.  To watch Currie run with the ball, doing that deceptive little shimmy of his to take him past a defender, leaving the guy for dead as he moved upfield, is not something that any Currie fan will forget.  Whilst he was at Leeds, he scored a couple of his most spectacular goals in an England shirt, to my intense pride.  But he frequently had his shooting boots on for United too – who can forget that legendary “banana shot” against Southampton in 1978?  For my money though, one of his finest goals was against Arsenal at Highbury on the opening day of that season, a searing shot into the far top corner from wide right, struck with the outside of his foot and giving the startled keeper no chance at all.  Liam Brady had already scored a wonder goal for the Gunners, but Currie’s superb strike took the honours on the day in another 2-2 draw.

Three losing semi-finals are all that Tony Currie had to show for his time at Leeds, but he provided so many golden memories and is rightly regarded as a legend by those of a certain age who were fortunate enough to see him strutting his stuff for Leeds.  He was an imperious player, a character on the park and a genuine, massive talent who really deserved to play for a team right at the top to crown his career with trophies and medals.  I wouldn’t have begrudged him that, but I was crushed when, with his wife wanting a move back to London, Currie left for QPR in 1979.  It was a bad move for him, though he did get to play in a Cup Final, even captaining Rangers in their losing replay against Spurs in 1982.  But his marriage didn’t survive anyway, and you just wonder how things might have turned out if Currie has stayed at Leeds – although that late seventies decline may have been too steep even for the talented Tony to prevent.

Tony Currie at Leeds was the classic example of the right man at the wrong time; in a better United side, he’d have shone even more because the gifts he had were tailor-made to complement those of the stars that had started to fade or had left the club by the time TC joined.  As it was, we may well have had the best of him during that golden three-year spell, although Sheffield United fans still hail him as their best-ever player.  It was to Bramall Lane that he eventually returned after his playing days were over, working in community roles for the club he’d served so well before moving to Leeds – and even starring as himself in the movie “When Saturday Comes” alongside Blades fanatic Sean Bean.

Tony Currie: maverick entertainer, sumptuously-talented midfield general, movie star and all-round good guy.  Thanks for the memories and a very happy 64th birthday.

Leeds United To Make Winning Start to 2014? – by Rob Atkinson

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Happy New Year

For the second year in a row, Leeds have rounded off twelve months of little real achievement on the pitch by sliding to defeat – last year it was a 2-0 drubbing at Hull City, this time around a slightly tighter affair at the City Ground saw us edged out by Nottingham Forest, courtesy of a late screamer from Matt Derbyshire after we’d fashioned what seemed like a point-saver from Ross McCormack.

It would be slightly rude of our heroes, then, not to avail themselves of the chance presented by a home fixture against Blackburn to get the New Year off to a positive and optimistic start. Three points against mid-table dwellers Rovers would very neatly sum up the mood in which United and most of its fans are starting 2014. A takeover is due to be ratified “imminently”. Signings are in the air, possibly costing actual money. Recent stand-out performer Marius Zaliukas has been handed an improved contract, something to gladden the heart of any White who has marvelled at his sterling work at the core of our defence. Things are looking pretty good with the likelihood of them getting even better – so surely Leeds can reflect this and send a 30,000 plus crowd home happy today by routing the Rovers?

The other side of that coin, of course, is that victory for Blackburn would haul them within a point of United, making both teams part of the pack chasing the play-off spots as opposed to being in there and consolidating. But, enough of that. This preview shall be informed by the prevalent air of optimism; no more defeatist talk.

Such a bullish mood must survive some slightly worrying team news as goalkeeper Paddy Kenny and attacking hero and demigod Ross McCormack both face late checks on injuries picked up in Nottingham. Kenny suffered a heavy blow on the ankle early in the piece, and had to delegate goal-kicking duties to Super Marius. McCormack was feeling a tight hamstring late on, and his importance to the team simply cannot be over-stressed.

More positively, teenager Alex Mowatt may be able to resume his midfield duties after being rested since coming off with a back problem during the Barnsley match. An injection may have helped the youngster overcome this discomfort, and his creativity and poise would be welcome after two matches in which United have struggled to create a great deal.

Blackburn will be without suspended Jason Lowe, while Corry Evans (ankle) and Todd Kane (thigh) are injury absentees. Rovers may welcome back David Dunn and Josh King as they seek to complete a double over United.

Having predicted defeat at Forest, I will be hoping to continue some rare good form as a pundit, because I’m calling this one as a 2-0 home win. The clean sheet would be a bonus, but really any kind of victory would do as we seek to get the new year – and the second half of the season – off to the best possible start. I’ll tip McCormack and Smith to do the damage and send Leeds off into Cup football with a 100% record in the league for 2014. Happy New Year!