Daily Archives: 21/02/2015

Resilient Leeds Count on Silvestri to Pip Boro at the Double – by Rob Atkinson


Graphic illustration that there’s only one really important stat…


Middlesbrough 0, Leeds United 1 (Mowatt 3′)

This was not exactly the archetypal “classic” away performance by Leeds United. There were too many easily identifiable flaws for that accolade, not quite enough accuracy in the passing, too much profligacy in possession, far too many clear sights for Middlesbrough of the admirable Marco Silvestri‘s goal. It was certainly an effective performance in the end though, and without doubt a hugely significant win, a massively valuable three points and a welcome second successive away clean sheet. But what an uncomfortable lunchtime it made for us poor fans, our nerves raw and shredded, our backsides numb from sluggish circulation after two hours on the very edge of our seats. It was a time of two, maybe three moments of climactic fulfilment (including the final whistle) and many, many more times of bowel-loosening terror. One way or another, watching Leeds United on a day like this is not easy on the underwear.

Leeds started as if they meant to tear the Smoggies’ throats out, fresh from a pre-match repast of raw meat washed down with rocket fuel. They harried and snapped at the hosts, pressed hard, closed down and all those other coaching manual phrases so beloved of Redders and others of his ilk. And, after a mere two minutes or so, United had their reward when Lewis Cook anticipated brilliantly to nip in front of his man and seize an unwise throw-out from the Boro keeper. Cook, looking as if he’d been patrolling Leeds’ midfield for a decade rather than just a few months, surged into the area on the right and cut a smart ball back to the ever-available Alex Mowatt. With a challenge steaming in, it was an act of calculated bravery for the Leeds youngster to get his shot off, and Mowatt was not found wanting for bottle; the slight deflection that took the ball into the corner of Boro’s net was ample and deserved reward.

After that, it must be said, the story of the match was Boro constantly battering away at the Leeds defence, more often than not being thwarted by the very last line as keeper Silvestri earned a full month’s wages in a tad over 100 minutes. Leeds managed to punctuate the hosts’s sustained assault with some lethal-looking breaks out of entrenched defence, but they didn’t win a corner until the very last knockings of the first half. This first flag kick should have sent Leeds in at the interval 2-0 ahead and really far more comfortable than the balance of play would suggest – but new hero and captain Sol Bamba, having made up ground brilliantly to get to the ball as it swung in low, sadly made a poor contact with his head and a golden chance went begging.

The second half was one of those where, the longer it went on, the clearer it became that – try though they might – there was nothing happening today for the side on the wrong end of the scoreline. That much was clear to anyone not suffering in Leeds United colours, tensely watching the siege continue and the last-ditch resistance miraculously holding firm, every second dragging by like five minutes of regular time. The harder Boro tried, the less likely it appeared that anything would drop for them – and, amazingly, there was not one opportunity for even an FL-briefed ref to award a penalty against the dogged United, who retained their shape admirably and did not allow the increasing fury and desperation of the onslaught to rattle them.

Late in the game, as the ninety minutes were slowly running out, Boro went down to ten men, having already made their three substitutions, when Jelle Vossen had to go off with a head injury. This may have done something to settle the visitors’ nerves, if not the anxious United supporters – but it didn’t stop ten-man Boro continuing to push hard for at least an equaliser during over ten minutes of stoppage time. Leeds saw it out, utilising what they’re now calling “sensible game management” – probably a modern-day term for time-wasting. But the whistle went with Leeds still one up, having even carved out the odd late chance to put the match away completely. It was a hard-fought win, a tenacious performance and a deserved result – though anyone with a heart would have to weep for poor Boro. Heartlessly, I merely laughed.

In the end, Leeds had secured a league double over probably the best team in the division, courtesy of two goals in a little over four minutes playing time. Billy Sharp’s late winner at Elland Road in August and Alex Mowatt’s early strike on a sunny Teesside February Saturday, combined with excellent results against other divisional high-flyers, might just give a firmer indication of United’s potential for next season than any brief flirtation with the relegation battle at times in the current campaign.

Looking up, which we now can legitimately do – as opposed to nervously over our shoulders – we can still see a seemingly unbridgeable gap between our mid-table berth and the play-off pack. But stranger things have happened than for such a gulf to be bridged – though not many. After five wins in six games for Redders’ previously hapless troops, and perhaps a few judicial additions in the loan window, who can possibly know or guess what might lie ahead now?

BBC: ‘Eastenders’ Goes For Cockney Cred by Introducing Man U Family – by Rob Atkinson

Mr Harris and his ex-pug wife

Cockney reds, Mr. Reg “Prawn Baron” Harris and his ex-pug wife, Frankie Knuckles

Any soap-addicted Leeds United fan will be able to recall the most legendary reference to football in the BBC’s flagship offering, Eastenders. Saying farewell to a departing character bound for a new life “Ap Norf” in Leeds, Mark Fowler (played by Grange Hill‘s Tucker Jenkins) extolled the sporting virtues of West Yorkshire’s Number One city. “They’ve got a good football team!” he enthused, raising a glass in the Queen Vic and causing manly chests all over the Broad Acres to swell still further with justified pride. After all, at that time, the “good team” thing wasn’t even an exaggeration, as David O’Leary modestly watched “moy babies” take all comers apart with consummate ease. It was all a long, long time ago.

Now, though, as part of its quest to bring maximum realism even to its soap opera output – and building on the recent publicity surrounding the Eastenders’ 30th anniversary – the BBC has announced it will be introducing a family of Man U fans to Albert Square. It’s a move some regard as long overdue, reasoning that it’s impossible accurately to reflect life in the capital without a proliferation of glory-hunting, armchair-dwelling, plastic “cockney reds” skulking around every corner, tragically clad in the latest tacky 4th away strip. The Eastenders production office has promised us a family who will breezily reinforce all of those too-true stereotypes that make Man U the club we all just love to hate – even now that they’re crap.

The head of the family, a retired East-End boxer named Frankie “Knuckles” Kray, rules her household with an iron fist inside a chain-mail glove. No stranger to violence, she can be relied upon regularly to engage in some aggro in the Queen Vic, claiming afterwards that it was Leeds fans on the way back from Chelsea. Frankie is 46 and started supporting Man U as long ago as 1993. She is already on her fourth armchair.

Her common-law husband, Reg Harris, has also been a Man U fan since 1993, prior to which he had supported Liverpool from afar, only defecting when they “turned rabbish, squire, and stopped winning nuffink.” He is buoyed up in his change of allegiance by the fact that his hero, Zoe Ball, did exactly the same thing in order to revive a flagging career. Reg, who is in the Norwegian prawns import racket, says that supporting Man U has had a similarly positive effect on his own fortunes. He now supplies the executive boxes at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, and names Roy Keane as his least favourite player ever. He has never been to a football match, believing that he needs an up-to-date passport to venture north of Watford.

There are two children in the Kray/Harris family, Ryan and Eric. The lads were born in 2000 and 2009 respectively (coincidentally, nine months after each of the Pride of Devon‘s two most recent Champions League flukes). Both boys are fiercely proud and lifelong Man U fans who are now seriously considering defecting to Chelsea to avoid being ribbed and tweaked at school. Most of their mates have already switched clubs since Sir Taggart retired, and the lads now find themselves frustrated in their instinctive glory-hunting tendencies and laughed at by the teachers. Despite such ideological doubts, however, both are still forced by their parents to sleep in branded Cantona Kung-Fu pyjamas and, emotionally scarred, have been in touch with the NSPCC twice about this. Ryan, the elder brother, has been force-fed Quorn since he was weaned and is consequently bow-legged and afflicted with boils, wind and close-set eyes.

The BBC are certain that the introduction of this family, with all of its obvious tragicomic potential, is a sure-fire ratings winner. “We expect to consolidate our pre-eminent viewing figures position in London and the Home Counties,” said a Corporation spokesperson, “as well as making inroads in the West Country and Devon/Cornwall. We may even pick up the odd viewer in the North…” he speculated, feverishly, as he checked the JICTAR figures on his iPhone.

Dirty “Den” Watts, erstwhile West Ham supporter, is dead. Twice.