Can Darko’s Leeds Cope with the “Cup Final” Mentality of Local Rivals Rotherham? – by Rob Atkinson


Huddersfield’s low-key celebrations after edging out Leeds

In the wake of Leeds United’s recent failures on the road against inferior local opposition, it’s well past time to take stock of the problem behind this unwelcome phenomenon, which is set fair to drag us down and keep us away from the top level –  if it continues as it has in past campaigns. It’s to be hoped that, in the new Darko Milanic era, things might be different. There were some promising signs against the Wendies the other week, but away from home against pumped-up (yet lower-class) opposition, some fight is what’s sorely needed.

Firstly, let’s put to bed any foolish suggestion that the local opposition aren’t inferior. They are – by definition.  Leeds do not and never have in living memory played local derbies where they are the underdog in terms of club size and history.  We’ve been the biggest club in Yorkshire – by far the biggest, and the only one with a global profile – for the last fifty years plus. Whatever the relative squad merits – and for 90% of the time, Leeds have possessed demonstrably more accomplished players too – any meeting between Leeds and a smaller Yorkshire club has seen the Elland Road outfit cast as Goliath to some horrible, backstreet David. The real question is – does such superiority of status confer any advantage at all?  The answer to that would appear to be a resounding No, and a reminder that, horrible and provincial though David might have been, he still gave Goliath one in the eye.

The extent of the problem may be brought into focus simply by comparing two different sets of results over the past few years.  If you look at league games against other Yorkshire teams, together with a selection of upstarts around the country who have a similar chip on the shoulder, as compared with our reasonably regular Cup meetings with Premier League clubs over the past three or four years, the contrast is startling – and it says a lot about what it has taken to motivate our white-shirted heroes.

Taking league games first, and looking at the locals – the likes of Barnsley, the Sheffield clubs, Huddersfield and Hull, together with self-appointed rivals like Millwall – the results have been unacceptably bad.  Barnsley in particular have visited embarrassment upon us in match after match, often by a significant margin, whilst keeling over to most other clubs and usually only escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth, prior to their welcome demise last year.  Our relatively close West Yorkshire neighbours Huddersfield are nearly as bad for our health. The other season, these two clubs met on the last day, and over the course of ninety minutes, first one and then the other seemed doomed to the drop.  In the end, both escaped because of events elsewhere – and what did both sets of fans do to celebrate their shared reprieve?  Why, they joined together in a rousing chorus of “We all hate Leeds scum” of course.  This tells you all you need to know about what motivates such dire and blinkered clubs – but at least the motivation is there.

And the motivation is there for Leeds United, too – just not, seemingly, on those bread-and-butter league occasions when we need it.  What seems to turn your average Leeds United player on over the past few years, is the glamour of the Cup – either domestic cup will do, apparently.  Results and performances in these games have left bewildered fans scratching their heads and wondering how such high achievers can then go on to perform so miserably against the envious pariahs from down the road in Cleckhuddersfax.  Look at the results – going back to League One days.  A narrow home defeat to Liverpool in the League Cup when by common consent we should have won and Snoddy ripped them up from wide areas.  The famous win at Man U when we went to the Theatre of Hollow Myths and showed neither fear nor respect in dumping the Pride of Devon out of the FA Cup.  Draws at Spurs and Arsenal, beating Spurs, Gareth Bale and all, at Elland Road.  Beating other Premier League sides such as Everton and Southampton in games that had you wondering which was the higher status club.  Great occasions – but of course we haven’t the squad to go through and win a cup, so these achievements ultimately gain us little but pride. And, naturally, when we draw a Yorkshire “rival” away in a Cup, we contrive to lose embarrassingly as per Bratfud earlier this season. It’s just not good enough.

Often we will sing to daft smaller clubs’ fans about the Leeds fixtures being their Cup Finals, but this is becoming a joke very much against us.  The teams concerned seem to take the Cup Final thing literally, they get highly motivated, roll their metaphorical sleeves up, the veins in their temples start to throb and the battle cry is sounded.  Their fans, normally present in miserable numbers, are out in force – and they are demanding superhuman endeavour.  Faced with this, too many Leeds teams over the past few years have simply failed to find a comparable level of commitment and effort.  There’s no excuse for that – it has meant we’re almost starting off a goal down – even when we swiftly go a goal up.

The sheer number of local derbies will count against a team which allows itself to suffer this disadvantage, this moral weakness.  For Leeds, since we came back to the second tier, there has usually been one Sheffield or another, usually Barnsley or Huddersfield or Hull, Middlesbrough perhaps – even the just-over-the-border outfits like Oldham and Burnley feel the same ambition and desire to slay the Mighty Leeds.  It amounts to a sizeable chunk of a season’s fixtures – if you fail to perform in these, then you’re struggling.  The pressure is then on to get results against the better teams at the top end of the table, and we don’t fare too well there either.

It’s easy to say that it’s a matter of getting better players.  Largely that’s true.  But we’ve usually had better players than these annoying little Davids, and yet the slingshot has still flown accurately right into Goliath’s eye and knocked us over. Professional football is a game of attitude, motivation, mental readiness to match the opposition and earn the right to make your higher quality tell.  This, over a number of years, is what Leeds United have signally failed to do.

Can it change?  Well, so far this season we’ve played Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield at home  – plus Millwall, who qualify as a southern member of the chip on the shoulder brigade, away.  We’ve four points out of nine to show from that little lot, which is the difference between our current position and sixth – in the play-off zone.  Even three of those lost five points would see us just a point off the top six places.  And the thing is, ALL of those games were distinctly winnable, so it’s no pipe-dream to look at where we might have been.  The difference is down to attitude; our opponents have had it and – with the notable exception of the Huddersfield performance – we simply haven’t.

It’s a sobering message at this stage of the season, with only three such games played – and plenty more to come.  But it’s a message that should be heeded, or the effect on our season will become more profound as it goes on.  The potential is there for us to take advantage of games against inferior but highly-motivated opposition, to match the attitude of these teams and to reap our rewards.  The failure to do this will see us endure yet another season of under-achievement. We have to overcome the “Cup Final Mentality” of certain other clubs, mainly those in Yorkshire but elsewhere too.

The Rotherham game next Friday night is an ideal opportunity for this new, tougher mental attitude to kick in. Again, we have small local rivals who nurse a fierce and unrequited hatred of Leeds United – and they have the odd old boy in their ranks as well as a wily manager who has been busily bigging us up. Our heroes will include a number of quite new foreign signings, who may still be a little wide-eyed and naive on occasions like this. So the ingredients are all there for the relative big boys of Leeds to turn up, find the environment not to their liking – and roll over once again in abject surrender. Please, let it not be so.

Leeds United –  you just need to get psyched-up and go out to win some of these pesky and troublesome “Cup Finals”.  Darko can inculcate his principles and make a pretty pattern of play – but when blood and guts are needed, some fight and some grit – then it really is up to you lads who wear the shirt we’d all of us out here be willing to walk on hot coals for. 

36 responses to “Can Darko’s Leeds Cope with the “Cup Final” Mentality of Local Rivals Rotherham? – by Rob Atkinson

  1. You’ve only got to read the uddersfield press to see what it means to them, this is ecohed when we lose to barnsley , bradford , sheffield etc , we are thier cup final


  2. AllWhiteNow

    Thank you Rob – beautifully expounded. As I said yesterday and you say today: ‘The difference is down to attitude – our opponents have had it, and we simply haven’t.’ The impact on points and places is stark and I’m pretty sure that BM is well aware of this. One of my worst experiences, ever, watching Leeds was that debacle at Oakwell which signalled the end of Grayson. So I won’t mention the embarrassment at Histon (Who they?) that spelt the end of McCallister. Or the shambles at Hereford (where are they now?). It’s got to stop and we wont get anywhere near competing with the likes of, err, Stoke, until players get what BM calls That Winning Mentality. MOT


  3. Compo's Style Guru

    Spot on Rob and the photo of the wild celebrations at the top of the piece are uncannily close to the actual parade of blue and white clad cave trolls I had to endure all day Sunday as I was out and about.


    • Awful – but what goes around comes around and we’ll be back. Meanwhile a lot of deeply troubled people have had their best day since the last time they beat us, and it’s the closest they’ll ever come to football Nirvana. I’d rather have my memories than theirs.


  4. A cup final indeed. But as we know, nobody takes them as seriously as they used to. Leeds have turned into a very beige championship club. I know you want to be feared and still think that everyone hates you more than any team but the truth is miles from that. Not the best supported in the league, not the worse behaved fans, not the best team. I saw more fervour and delirium against Barnsley, Wednesday and surprisingly, Burnley last season. And I blame the Leeds years in the Premiership for that….


    • True…….but its too convenient just to blame the Cup Final effect, our players arnt consistent enough because they are not good enough…. Mowatt has won man of the match almost every game he has played and its that consistency that separates the best players


  5. Michael Foley

    Rob,our problem is simple we have not got the players to cope with a local derby.Far too long now
    we have signed journey men and overated players like White and Lees.Sold good players- Snodgrass,Bechio and Gradle(what a loss).We are at a crossroads where we slip back to being a run of the mill club or we go forward and become the club we once were.


    • We need a midfeild general….. MCD beleives that Diouf isnt physical enough for midfeild…. but in comparison to what. I still think giving Diouf a shot to boss the team is worth it…..hes a bad loser and that what we need right now


  6. Just out of interest any idea wen Huddersfield last finished above leeds in the league


  7. Mr. Oldroyd

    It is not just derbies where Leeds have not performed well. When relegated to League One and over the course of the last few years, Leeds have not extracted the points one would have expected from competitions against the lower echelons. A team will fall apart with a few weak links and it is human nature, usually exhibited by the immature and the conceited, characteristics not found in truly solid professional performers, which fail to treat these opponents with respect and systematically set about day in and day out to exterminate them. Whether winning a game by a lopsided score or returning from a previous week with a swollen head, a team must work the entire 90 minutes as though they intend to annihilate them. Anyone who fails to produce at this level goes off. McD wants a winning mentality. This is what it is about.


  8. all you ask for was delivered for 45 mins against brum .so we know its in there somewhere


  9. Big club..Big city…Big History.Thats true but the team here and now cant cut season is when it will change for the better when we have a clear out.Oh and IF of course we get the backing.


  10. They are really are milking their shallow win over such a defensively weak Leeds team. It just shows their small time mentality when they are still coming out with gloating comments like “this is as good as it gets”. “As good as it gets” is winning the Premiership or Champions League and not beating an inconsistent, mid table Leeds team, who have now been out of the Premiership for 10 years.
    What really angers me though is the lack of passion and commitment from Leeds players when they play in the derby matches, where every Yorkshire team always raise their game and seem to give a superhuman effort.
    Leeds will never get out of this division if they can’t win their derby games and with Millwall and Derby also treating the Leeds games as their derby games, there are far too many bogey teams for Leeds to compete with and move forward.


  11. I think Huddersfield won a League championship before Leeds did….


  12. Another great blog, keep em coming Rob!


  13. First of all it was a great turn out from leeds fans on Saturday. It was a great game of football and I was proud to be a leeds fan! I do have to say though that I thought Huddersfield was the better team and even though we have a better history and are a bigger club I feel huddersfields future is going to be a lot better than ours.


  14. Good article Rob and painfully accurate. There’s no denying that Leeds are Yorkshires premier club in terms of history but that counts for very little when your sitting mid table in your 10th year out of the top flight of English football and have a squad full of players who are no better than most of our Yorkshire “rivals”.
    We are also saddled with potless owners who failed miserably to back McD at the start of the season when he gave them his bare minimum shopping list. Offering cash in the dreaded loan market is swinging stable doors and bolted horses isn’t it? Dreaded talk of two, and suddenly three year plans is even more disheartening-who really expects GFH to be owners of Leeds in three years time-not me for sure..


  15. SouthWestWhite

    A great article Rob. One look at NewsNow feeds since the weekend shows that Huddersfield think they’ve won the world cup. Still, if they suffer from the same malaise we have over the last decade, they will now systematically lose against all teams in the bottom half of the Championship and return to their rightful place, nervously looking over their shoulders from January onwards.

    By the way, not sure that photo is a celebration. I think they’re short on public transport in Huddersfield; that’s just a normal morning trying to get to work…


  16. We beat Spurs at the first time of asking, we didn’t need a replay, the spurs replay was a few years earlier and they beat us. Get ya facts right Rob!!


  17. Pingback: Safe standing and Barnsley u21′s in the Cup – @nicholassm1th #LUFC | altwoodmoon's Blog

  18. Pingback: Post Leeds United “Cup Final Syndrome” is Reality for Huddersfield and Millwall – by Rob Atkinson | Life, Leeds United, The Universe and Everything

  19. As I’ve mentioned before I work in rotherham rob so I know the two scalps they want this year is Leeds and Wednesday , but I’m quietly confident of getting a result down there , yes they’ll up thier game because its Leeds and its a very rare visit from sky to the new York stadium , but I’ve heard that becchio has a broken foot ??! that’ll help the Leeds cause , nothing worse than facing an old favorite


  20. Thing is rob, yorkshire teams or not we are everyone’s cup final in this division as we are by far the biggest club outside the premiership, sure they might raise their game against forest or Wednesday but Leeds is the scalp everyone in the championship wants. Only exceptions would be a few years back when Newcastle and man city were down here.


  21. A big juicy three points this weekend, thanks lads!


  22. MarttheMiller

    Agree, Leeds are the biggest club in Yorkshire and best supported and I take great pleasure in telling both Blunts and Pig fans of that when they are lording it over us (Rotherham). As a Rotherham fan I know our place in the footballing pyramid, so it is great to be in the Championship as it is stress free football as we are expected to get hammered everyweek, anything more than that is a bonus.
    Will Rotherham try harder because it is Leeds? No as they simply can’t try any harder. We haven’t the money to sign the best players so to counteract this the manager demands all out effort, if not players get dropped and eventually get kicked out of the club, you just have to look at the amount of players we have signed and released.
    It must be just me but I don’t get that consistent sense of hatred towards Leeds from our neck of the woods, I think it must be because there aren’t many ‘proper’ Leeds fans unlike you get in Barnsley due to the proximity of Wakefield.
    Yes we will be desperate to want to beat you as you are a big club, but that hostile environment is usually created in the ground for all big clubs.
    I’m looking forward to Friday it should be a good match, it is a shame Becchio isn’t playing but there are other players such as Bowery or Derbyshire who can step in, I just hope Arnason isn’t tired from marking RVP out of the game last night.


    • I was impressed with the quality of football Rotherham played last season, notably at Wembley. I’m impressed also by your manager. It’s a shame you lost the lad who scored so many goals for you and who nearly joined us. Odd, the way that worked out. Not seen you play this season, but some good results and clearly you’re not to be underestimated. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to get turned over on Friday, we’ll just hope for the best. Good luck for the season – our meetings apart!


  23. Can’t see a repeat of this tomorrow rob,, although the memory is a good one… I fear the Italian we failed to land will be our undoing ,.. hope I’m wrong (it has been known before ).. MOT & A happy 2016 mate


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