Monthly Archives: November 2019

Echoes of the Last Champions in Leeds United’s Late Winner at Reading – by Rob Atkinson

ChapmanHarrison

Lee Chapman and Jack Harrison, years apart but similarly great goals

There was something about Leeds United‘s winning goal at Reading on Tuesday evening that awoke golden memories of Sergeant Wilko’s Warriors of 1992 as they upped the ante one January Sunday afternoon to ignite a title charge. On that long ago day Leeds, marking Wilkinson’s return to Hillsborough to face his old charges Sheffield Wednesday, were utterly irresistible and ran riot, emerging winners by six goals to one. The display at Reading this week, nearly 28 years later, was not of the same vintage. And yet Jack Harrison’s emphatic far-post finish bore a remarkable similarity to the second Lee Chapman goal of his Hillsborough hat-trick all those years ago.

If you can cast your mind back that far, you may remember that Leeds, 2-0 up and cruising, had just suffered the most outrageous penalty decision when Gordon Watson of the Wendies did a somersault with half-pike and triple twist with Chris Whyte nowhere near him in the Leeds box. The ref eagerly fell for it and, though John Lukic saved John Sheridan’s spot kick, the former Leeds man buried the rebound. So it was 2-1 and Leeds were seething over Wednesday’s fraudulent route back into a game that had looked lost to them.

Lesser teams may have been discouraged, but not Wilko’s United. Showing the mettle that would see them crowned Champions just a dozen or so weeks later, Leeds bit back, putting together a devastating length of the pitch move as the first half drew to a close, to re-establish a two goal cushion going into the interval.

This is where the similarity is so obvious, in the fluency and sweeping nature of both moves, with a bullet header finishing each off to perfection. Back then, Lukic rolled the ball out to left back Tony Dorigo, who instantly played a beautifully weighted pass down the left for Gary Speed. Speedo took one touch, looked up, and delivered the perfect cross which was met mid-air by a hurtling Chapman to bury the ball unanswerably into the Wednesday net. It was a rapier thrust down the left, the ball moving from goal to goal in mere seconds to kill off Wednesday hopes.

Fast forward to this week, and the resemblance is remarkable. After a Kiko save from Reading’s free kick 25 yards out, the ball squirted out to the left where Jack Harrison played a neat reverse pass to Stuart Dallas. The Irishman immediately hit a fine, first-time crossfield ball to find sub Gjanni Alioski in space on the right. Two touches from Alioski, and he fed a great ball forward for Helder Costa, who didn’t have to break stride or take a touch before delivering a great far post cross, which took a slight deflection and was met by the onrushing Harrison – the man who had started the move seconds earlier at the other end of the pitch. Harrison’s finish was just as emphatic as Chapman’s had been, all those years before, with the reaction of the United fans behind the goal just as ecstatic.

One sweeping, end-to-end goal redolent of a similar effort almost three decades ago does not, of course, a team of champions make. And yet the winner at Reading, just as beautiful in its construction and just as devastating in its execution as Chapman’s effort at Hillsborough, may just be a sign of what Marcelo Bielsa’s team are beginning to be able to do – impose their style, stifle resistance, and then apply the coup de grâce to exhausted opponents. That happy knack could well lead to many more such victories where United haven’t played all that brilliantly – and maybe, just maybe, finally lead us back to the Promised Land.

Opportunity Knocks for Leeds United After International Break – by Rob Atkinson

Forshaw hip injury

Adam Forshaw – hip trouble

There are no easy games in the Championship, as any windswept and cynical pundit will tell you; it’s a highly competitive, dog-eat-dog league, a marathon and not a sprint, a nine month war of attrition where every point is won only via the lavish expenditure of blood, sweat and tears. Add in the fact that the division’s undoubted aristocrats, Leeds United, bring out the very best in their opponents due to the fact that the Whites are every other team’s bi-seasonal Cup Final, and you can begin to comprehend why the men from Elland Road are not striding miles clear at the top of the league. Even so, United are right up there, only two points off the top and rightly ruing the three daft defeats so far this term that have stopped them turning their regular domination of games into an even healthier position in the table.

So far, so good then, as we head into yet another International break. It’s quite timely, really, as the injuries are starting to niggle a bit, with skipper Liam Cooper having to withdraw from the Scotland squad to nurse a troublesome groin. The two week hiatus in the league programme might also nudge the likes of Jamie Shackleton (hamstring), Adam Forshaw (hip) and Ezgjan Alioski (side) nearer to a first team return. And it’s a fortnight-long chunk out of Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah’s regrettable absence, as he recovers from what looks like a medium term abdominal muscle problem.

The United path to promotion never runs smooth; it’s in the DNA of the club to do things the hard way. But maybe, just maybe, there’s good reason to be cautiously optimistic about the Whites’ league programme in the period following this two week festival of representative football. The reason behind such an upbeat attitude is to be found in the fact that, so far this season, Leeds have faced mainly rival teams towards the top end of the league, still managing to remain in a challenging position. When league competition resumes, though, the picture changes slightly, with United facing four teams currently placed 21st, 17th, 22nd and 19th. Meanwhile, league leaders West Bromwich Albion have to face the sides currently 2nd, 4th, 7th and 8th – clearly there is the potential for Leeds to pick up points against notionally weaker sides while simultaneously the Baggies have to face some of the cream of the division, including Preston North End, who sit in second a mere one goal ahead of Leeds who are tied on the same points total.

Dog-eat-dog always means there will be losers; teams in the top four who have to play each other face the mathematical certainty that points will be dropped, and it’s likely that none of United’s rivals will be able to reap maximum rewards from a difficult run. So, if Leeds can take full advantage of their relatively less demanding quartet of games, then the prospect of creating a nice cushion at the summit of the table must be a realistic one.

Of course, this is Leeds United, which means things probably won’t work out according to such blatant wishful thinking. On paper, of course, there’s no reason why our heroes shouldn’t take full advantage of the unusually promising hand the fixture computer has dealt them. But sadly, football isn’t played on paper, and our old friend the Imp of the Perverse could well dash our top of the league aspirations, as he’s done so many times before. As ever, we just have to wait and hope, with fingers firmly crossed for an improved injury list and twelve lovely league points from those four “easier” games.

Marching On Together