Daily Archives: 04/01/2014

Leeds Humbled in Cup: The “Soccer Saturday” Experience – by Rob Atkinson

Merse at the back, looking “fick”

So, it was FA Cup time again – a competition where we’ve actually done OK these past few years, as a bit of light relief from generally mediocre league form. This year, the Cup Magic was to be non-existent, the Cup run very short and not so sweet. Out we went, humbled by League Two Rochdale, of whom it must be said: they deserved it. 5-0 would hardly have flattered them. Leeds played like a side who felt they had only to turn up to win; the thing is, they didn’t really even turn up.

But are we downhearted? Well, yes – some of us are. But not me. I’ve grown out of disappointment at cup exits. They’ve happened every year, twice a year – sometimes more in really good seasons when we’ve qualified to be beaten by some continental team – for all of the forty-odd years that I’ve actually cared. You become immune – and that helps, especially when our league status argues that we’re never going to have a chance of winning the bloody thing anyway. Let’s worry about cups when, on form, we should beat pretty well anybody. When those days return, the cups will look a lot more likely and a lot more attractive.

Today, without a match ticket and with no live TV coverage, I gave myself over to the tender mercies of the Sky Sports “Soccer Saturday” team.  It was an enlightening experience, confirming for me that, yes, we played terribly and that, yes, they still hate us.  We’re still the Damned United.  At one point, Jeff Stelling told us that he’d been told to stop referring to us as “the Mighty Leeds”.  He didn’t say by whom – I had it narrowed down to Phil Thompson (still bitter over some ribald jibes at his Manilowesque nose from the Gelderd End back in the day) and Paul Merson who, as the token Fick Cockney, simply doesn’t know any better.

Stelling got more excited as the afternoon went on, returning frequently to Spotland for reassurances that Leeds weren’t threatening to get back into the game (we weren’t, either).  His references to our glorious Cup history, for the purpose of contrasting today’s dismal display, seemed a little forced as we’ve only won it once – 42 years ago.  But Jeff wanted this to be the Marquee Giant-Killing, and he bigged it up accordingly.

It’s not as if there weren’t other shocks.  Villa lost at home to third division Sheffield United, much to the joy of their Cup-hating manager Paul Lambert.  Donny lost to little Stevenage – and the excitement of this game was enough to bring on earache, as the reporter at the Keepmoat was one John Gwynne.  He has one of those “rich north country” voices which sound like a goose farting through a foghorn, and many were the updates he loudly bawled, with scant regard for the sensitivities of the more delicate viewer.

Soccer Saturday sets its stall out to entertain as well as inform – which is presumably why they employ clowns like Merson (How’s it going Merse?  Still free-nil, Jeff.)  One of their comedy themes lately has been the appalling record of Hyde in the Skrill Premier League.  They’ve gained only three points all season and have a goal difference of minus 51.  Today, they lost 4-0 at Gateshead – one of their better results of this campaign.  But on this FA Cup day, the chance was missed to mention that Hyde are record breakers themselves, having once lost 26-0 to Preston in the 1887-88 competition.  Surely, they could have got a bon mot or two out of that?  But no, sadly they were too ill-informed – unless I missed it in listening out for a Leeds recovery.

Back at Spotland, it was becoming ever more obvious that our beloved United were merely going through the motions and that the mighty Rochdale were having it easy.  A richly-deserved second goal arrived, and we were well and truly Out – much to the malicious satisfaction of the United-Damning hacks in the Sky studio.  The Leeds fans packed behind the goal at Rochdale’s ground took it all in good part.  “We’re shit, and we’re sick of it,” they bellowed, displaying a keen sense of observation as well as a powerful collective ability to convey angst.  Sad to report, they gave Brian McDermott a pretty frosty reception at the end of the game.  It is to be hoped that the resolve of that gentleman was stiffened, rather than shattered.  My money is on him; he’s a never-give-up type.  He’ll have to be.

Worse things happen at sea – or, indeed, at Histon.  Rochdale have done well at home this season and in Keith Hill they have a manager who’s used to slaying the Whites with a nominally inferior team – he did it all the time at Barnsley.  His side played football today that put to shame the more direct approach of Leeds, but there is a lesson to be learned and it’s to be hoped the players learn it.  No league points were lost today, as Brian McDermott, looking for scraps of consolation, ruefully remarked.  And of course it seems likely that big changes are afoot.  For all the hysterical reaction over this defeat, you’d think that people out there actually thought we might have gone on to win the Cup.  Truly, that was never going to happen.  So, what have we lost, after all?  Only the chance to be beaten in the next round or two, possibly by someone against whom we’d simply hate to lose.  What should we do, then?  Why, we should draw a line under it sharpish, and move on.

This season is not going to be a season of on-field achievement – I will confidently predict that here and now.  The progress made this season will be mainly off the field, as a hideously-neglected scouting network comes online, and investment makes possible the instigation of a more progressive transfer policy.  Plans are afoot for Elland Road too, to brush up some of the tired old fabric of the place.  It’s long overdue – and I know people will say “Get the team sorted first”.  But there’s no reason why both areas can’t be addressed at the same time, if the right levels of investment are – as rumoured – shortly to be available.

The baseline requirement for this season, football-wise, is not to go down.  Making the play-offs would be a massive bonus; actually going up, little short of a miracle.  We’re currently just too far behind the teams that have invested properly for this level – they will likely pull away as the months go by.  Going up next season, on the other hand, is a reasonable ambition; there are three transfer windows to do the necessary work.  I would happily settle for that as the immediate aim – if next season is to be the Big Push, then there’s a lot of excitement in store.

Who knows?  Perhaps in a year or two, we really will be “Mighty Leeds” again, and maybe Jeff Stelling will even be allowed to admit it.  Won’t that be a glorious day?  And as for Paul Merson – well, he can bladdy-well stick his hard-of-finking objections where the sun don’t shine, squire.

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Theo Secures Arsenal Legend Status With Two Fingers Up at Spurs – by Rob Atkinson

Two nil, chaps...

Two nil, chaps…

Another day, another North London derby win for Good Old Arsenal, who didn’t have to exert themselves unduly to knock pallid Spurs out of the Cup.

In the end, the difference between the teams was the quality of the finishing. Two sublime strikes saw off Spurs, one in each half. First Cazorla lashed a first time effort past Lloris from Gnabry’s perfectly-weighted pass. Then in the second half, Rosicky mugged Rose in the Spurs half before running on to execute a beautiful chipped effort – job done.

The remaining highlight of the game came out of a worrying moment as Walcott seemed to jar his left knee. A stretcher was called for, and it may well be that young Theo has sustained some damage. The incident took place right in front of the sullen mass of away fans, and they naturally proceeded to give the stricken Arsenal player dogs’ abuse. Encouragingly though, Theo felt well enough to sit up on his stretcher and, by means of hand signals, remind the Spurs contingent of the score.

It was a brave, possibly foolhardy thing to do. The stretcher bearers may not have thanked their patient for inviting a hail of missiles, but the Gooners clearly loved it. Theo left the arena in triumph, festooned with Arsenal scarves thrown in tribute by his adoring fans. In adding insult to Spurs’ two-goal injury, the likeable Walcott had put the seal on Arsenal’s joy as well as the misery of Spurs.

A good day for the Gunners, who march onwards and upwards. For Sherwood’s hapless troops, it was an unwelcome reminder of just how far they remain behind the Kings of North London.

Warnock the Clueless Bemoans Leeds’ Loss of “Pacy” Snodgrass – by Rob Atkinson

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Colin & Brian

A fascinating quote today from Neil “Colin” Warnock’s Saturday collection of epigrams, sideswipes and bewildered bits of nonsense in The Independent.  The piece opens with a characteristically self-aggrandising few paragraphs describing various situations in which he had to deal with stroppy owners or chairmen.  Invariably, of course, Colin was right.  It’s typical of former football managers of the Colin ilk that they will always emerge as heroes from their own reminiscences.

The bit that comes nearest to being of any interest to Leeds United fans goes as follows:

Come off it, Brian – I left you a decent side at Leeds

I heard Brian McDermott on the radio taking issue with my comment that he only needed to “put the icing on the cake” when he took over from me at Leeds. I stand by it. The main thing lacking when I left was pace – because I had to sell Robert Snodgrass.

Brian’s had good money to spend, whereas I was forced to make a profit on transfers, but they still lack pace. Eight of the XI he picked at Forest last Sunday he inherited from me.

Now obviously, this basically boils down to “I had it tough and it’s a bed of roses for the guy who’s followed me.”  Standard whinging fare from yer actual has-been who still wants to have enough to say so that his weekly column remains in demand.  But portions of that shortish quote do rather take the breath away.

Take for instance this gem: “The main thing lacking when I left was pace – because I had to sell Robert Snodgrass.”  Pardon me?  Was Snoddy really known for his pace?  He’s a fine player, and I would carry him on my own back to Elland Road, should he wish to return.  But the Snodmeister’s thing was trickery, sleight of foot, skill.  He did not scorch past opposing full-backs, leaving them gasping for oxygen in his wake and turning the turf to cinders with his state-of-the-art afterburners.  You’d have thought his manager might have noticed this, but evidently Colin had got Snoddy all wrong – which may explain a thing or two.  Perhaps it also sheds some light on why he preferred the class and skill of Browneh over that mega-hyped upstart Ross Barkley, who we had on loan from Everton, but for whom Colin couldn’t find a place.  Barkley has since that time somehow managed to fool everyone into rating him as a top Premier League performer and the likely future of the England national team.  It’s a pity that people don’t listen to Colin about things like this.

The not-entirely-coherent Mr Warnock also points out that eight of Brian McDermott’s starting XI at Nottingham Forest were inherited from Colin’s potential top-flight squad.  This may be true – as is undeniably the fact that we lost that game, looking particularly inept in the first half.  It all comes down to the fact that dear old Colin seems to feel that he left Brian with the basis of a very good Championship side of promotion pedigree, needing only “the icing on the cake”.  The folly of this seems obvious to anyone who has watched Leeds United this season.  Things have improved, thanks to a previously unknown level of investment in the summer.  There have been no 6 and 7 goal thrashings at home, for instance – things that most Leeds fans are glad to see the back of. Brian was swift to disagree with Colin’s “ice on the cake” jibe, and this is Warnock showing his displeasure at being contradicted by the current United manager who is, annoyingly for Colin, far more popular with the fans than he ever had a chance of being.

Worryingly, though, a few coldly mutinous voices are being heard to question whether things really are that much better under Brian McDermott.  It seems a daft stance to take, when the stench of Bates has been fumigated from the Elland Road corridors and so many facets of the club are starting to gleam positively again, such a difference from the murky despair which typified the previous regime.  The daftness can probably be explained when you look at the sources of some of these remarks – the WACCOE forum, for instance, home to so many of the younger and yappier, wet-behind-the-ears type of Leeds fan who will never be completely happy unless they’re showing how all-fired wry and cynical they can be.  Or the Service Crew equivalent, mouthpiece of middle-aged boneheads who like to have a moan about a popular and progressive manager who has a good rapport with fans and owners alike, just to provide a change from espousing their right-wing agenda, or boasting about what hard and tough chaps they used to be and still could be if the need arose.  Yawn, yawn.  But the thing is, impressionable people read this rubbish, and there is always room on a bandwagon for a few more idiots.

Sadly, then, there will more than likely be a few dim types who will read what Colin has to say and wonder if those EDL chaps on Service Crew might not have a point.  Despite the fact that Snoddy covered the ground with all the searing pace of an elderly snail, and looked tired just standing up, these easily-persuadable people might feel tempted to agree with Mr Warnock, and put down the lack of pace to the loss of our skilful Scot.  They might feel that Colin did a good job after all, having provided the bulk of the side that lost so convincingly to Forest.  Delusions like this spring up quite easily when fertilised by a high enough grade of manure in a seemingly respectable publication like the Independent.

It’s at times like these, with former managers injecting sly doses of poison, and the dimmer section of fans mouthing approval from the fringes of reality, that we have to make sure the bulk of the support – those able to think for themselves and recognises the inherent stupidity of Colin’s comments – need to redouble our backing of Brian McDermott and the current regime at Elland Road.  Just think where we were a little over twelve months ago.  Chilling, isn’t it.  It may well be that the league record over that time is virtually identical to the one of the previous year or so – but that sort of thinking is akin to judging a book by its cover.  The work of restoring Leeds United as a real force has, so far, been mainly a behind-the-scenes thing.  There is still much to do on the field, and we should be thankful the person who will do that work is not the type of man who would prefer Browneh to Barkley, or who would regard Snoddy as someone who could routinely out-pace Theo Walcott.

We have the right man in charge.  It’s important that we pay scant regard to Colin, or to anyone else – our own dumber than dumb tendency included – who might wish to persuade us otherwise.