Daily Archives: 29/11/2014

White Saturday Follows Black Friday as Leeds Slam the Rams – by Rob Atkinson

Antenucci at the double: United's bearded wonder celebrates

Antenucci at the double: United’s bearded wonder celebrates

Leeds United 2, Derby County 0

There had been a definite feeling of optimism – the kind of optimism where you’re not really sure what it’s based on – ahead of this clash between Leeds United and league leaders Derby County. Whether it was a sort of pre-Yuletide glass-half-full ebullience, or merely good old Yorkshire blinkered pig-headedness, the vibe in the ether had been remarkably positive. There were a lot of “funny feelings” that Leeds could – would – win. And sure enough, by the final whistle, the joke was very much on the Rams, our one-time rabbits but more recently an irritating nemesis. Leeds had won decisively, 2-0, with current pin-up boy Mirco Antenucci scoring either side of half time to give us our first success over the sheep since 2005.

The game started with the visitors as the more measured side, as befitting their lofty status. Derby had that ever so slightly arrogant air about them, redolent of aristocrats pitched against peasants in a village cricket match. Their early play suggested a blithe expectation of victory – but they failed to capitalise on this brief superiority and, when the young midfield guns of Leeds started to blaze in and around “Schteve” McClaren’s bewildered officer class, the writing was very much on the wall. In the end, for all their occasionally threatening encroachment into the United defensive third, Derby were sunk without a trace and subsided with barely a whimper, never mind any truly threatening signs of defiance. No shots on target over the whole piece is a damning indictment of supposed promotion favourites and ultimately the White tide simply swept poor County away.

Antenucci the Adored

Antenucci the Adored

Antenucci’s two goals were deft finishes of contrasting types, one tucked neatly away from a quality low cross from Mowatt, the other a precise finish after the luxury of a touch on the ball to set up the strike, following more good work, firstly from Mowatt. He prepared the way for a fine pass from Warnock to the Bearded Wonder, who languidly scored the clincher. Two goals and a clean sheet might appear to have been ample reward for Redders’ improving unit but, in truth, United could and should have had more. Still, after a nine year famine against these opponents, enough was as good as a feast, with subsequent near-misses providing the lightest of desserts for discerning Leeds palates.

We’re often told that we’re “not famous any more”; we’ve even been known to throatily echo that sentiment as the Elland Road Kop indulges in a little post-modern irony. But defeat at the hands of Leeds really does hurt Derby; in a rivalry going back even before the feuding of Hunter and Lee, we’ve always been a desperately desirable scalp for the ovine followers of the Rams – right up there with Forest in that respect. So a long overdue victory against them is all the sweeter for the pain etched so deeply across County faces, souls, and indeed the entire #DCFC Twitter feed. Schadenfreude has a flavour all of its own and, like revenge, is a dish best served cold. It’s been cooling away nicely for nine years and it tasted just right yesterday.

So what now for Leeds? As the Redfearn touch continues to mould the youth, talent, Latin flair, vigour and experience of this squad into an ever more cohesive unit, there are grounds for guarded optimism. We’re not there yet, not by a long chalk. There are still worrying deficiencies, vulnerabilities that might have been exploited by a team with more stomach for battle than this somewhat effete Derby side. But the Leeds work in progress is starting to show signs that progress is indeed being made. Those signs were there also in rather unlucky defeat at Blackburn last week; seven days on, they were stronger and still more promising. One pundit in the Leeds blogosphere dared to speak the word relegation yesterday morning; he may now conclude that he was being needlessly, almost treacherously, pessimistic. Defeats are hard enough to swallow, surely there’s no call for defeatist talk.

Make no mistake, Leeds beat a fine side yesterday and beat them well. Derby will play worse and win in the face of less gutsily determined opposition. Leeds for their part will have to strive to maintain at least the standards they set on Saturday afternoon; in fact, they will need to raise the bar still further if any real upward momentum is to be generated. If a young side of such rich potential can do this, then they will expect to win more than they’ll lose – a verdict that the defeated Mr McClaren might well now be prepared to endorse.

Advertisements

Noel Hunt Scores to Leave Leeds Boo-Boys Red-Faced – by Rob Atkinson

Ipswich Hero Noel - not good enough for 15th placed Leeds

Ipswich Hero Noel – not good enough for 15th placed Leeds

Really, you had a feeling it might happen. After a barren spell at Leeds United, Noel Hunt has made the loan switch to high-flying Ipswich Town – and has become an instant Tractor Boys hero with a last-gasp winner at Charlton Athletic.

No Tractor Boys at Elland Road – but boo-boys aplenty. Sadly, ’twas ever thus. I go back as far as Terry Yorath, who was routinely slaughtered by those on the terraces with size 12 gobs to accommodate their size 12 bovver boots – and with a size zero brain ostensibly directing things from somewhere in the pelvic region.

Yorath was a Welsh international who went on to have a fine career with Coventry and then Spurs. He was just one of too many players chased out of LS11, confidence in tatters, by the hard-of-thinking masses whose idea of motivational support amounts, it seems, to monosyllabic, visceral abuse. Great way to back the lads, lads.

Two of Cloughie’s imports in the autumn of ’74, John McGovern and John O’Hare, suffered ignorant abuse and were likewise sent packing from Leeds, doubtless grateful to get away. Instead of pining for what might have been in the White shirt, they settled for an English Champions medal, two European Cups, sundry Wembley triumphs and a bucketload of glory down Nottingham way. The bright lads on the Gelderd, unabashed, continued to hold that they were “roobish. Not good enough for Leeds, like”. Our talent as fans for shooting ourselves in the collective foot was honed as sharp as a knife in the back, even then.

This level of expertise as assessors of footballing talent is still manifesting itself among the Leeds United faithful. A small but loud minority will concede nothing to the pros in terms of their ability to label a player as “crap”. Even in the immediate aftermath of Hunt’s late winner at Charlton, there were many rather defensive tweets in the ether, insisting that Noel is “still crap”. After all, what does his manager know? Or his fellow pros??

Several United players down the years have been unable to give of their best with this sort of “support” ringing in their ears. Unaccountably, a goodly proportion of these hopeless, useless articles have gone on to do well elsewhere – at clubs whose fans embrace old-fashioned and out-dated practices, like cheering on whoever wears the shirt. That’s far too naïve and unsophisticated position for the bright sparks in the Leeds crowd, though. Of course it is. We’re Leeds and we know best – right?

It could be that Noel Hunt might still have a future at Elland Road. It’s hardly unknown for a player, his confidence holed below the water line, to be buoyed up by the experience of a run in some other club’s side, a chance to play his way back into form. Perhaps Hunt will be an example of that kind of renaissance. But equally, he may prefer to pursue his career elsewhere. You could hardly blame him.

Players are a valuable asset for any club. Those assets may appreciate over time, given success and the adoration of the fans. But some may sink without a trace and feel no option but to start again elsewhere, if anyone will take a punt on them. Ipswich boss and Leeds United fan Mick McCarthy must be pleased right now that he took a punt on Hunt.

Leeds fans are as self-congratulatory a mob as you’d find anywhere in football. They are prone to applauding themselves as the best supporters around. Taking an army of 7,000 to Blackburn as well as frequently following Leeds in numbers for midweek games away on the south coast – this speaks volumes for the fanaticism of the United support. But support is about more than just turning up in numbers, and sadly Leeds fans in my experience are frequently lacking in the aspect of support that involves actually being supportive. And that’s a significant fault that can have real consequences for players’ careers and, by extension, the club’s prospects of success.

Good luck to Noel Hunt in his loan spell at Ipswich, and beyond – wherever that might be. It’s difficult to envisage him back at Leeds, but I for one would be delighted to see him return, confidence restored. But confidence is a fragile flower, easily blown away by the scorching wind of spectator scorn in a white-hot cauldron like Elland Road with its mad up. The question Hunt might be asking himself in January, with a successful loan at Portman Road behind him, is: “Do I really need that??

The answer to that question might well result in Noel Hunt bearing down on the Leeds goal in some other team’s shirt in the not-too-distant future, to score against us and condemn the Whites to a possibly costly defeat. It’s happened before, it’ll almost certainly happen again. And you know what? We’ll bloody deserve it.