Leeds United Will Ignore Manager Monk’s Warning Tone At Their Peril   –   by Rob Atkinson

Garry-Monk

Monk: time for the club to support him

As the January transfer window draws inexorably to a close, Leeds United‘s highly-rated young manager Garry Monk has delivered himself of a cleverly-loaded quote – one that his employers would do well not to ignore.

On the same day that academy graduate Alex Mowatt finally moved on to Barnsley (despite assurances that nobody in and around the first team would be sold) Monk has reacted thus: “I can only assume that the players the club have talked about will come through the door as soon as possible. I am excited. We need to strengthen.”

It’s a statement loaded with subtextual significance. Reading between the lines, the manager’s “excitement” sounds more like the onset of frustration. When he says “I can only assume” in reaction to Mowatt’s departure, it sounds very much as though the sale was not entirely desirable from his point of view – unless there are incoming reinforcements due. The unsaid addendum to “I can only assume” is “because otherwise, the club is messing me about and not supporting me as promised”.

Time is running out, fast. There is 4th Round FA Cup business to attend to this weekend, a potential banana skin of a game at Sutton Utd in which, ironically, Mowatt might have been expected to play a prominent role. But, beyond that, there will then be mere hours to provide the couple of players that Monk has continually said he needs. It would not do to frustrate and stymie a manager who has made this season so much more memorable, and for all the right reasons, than the past few have been. Garry Monk has done wonders for Leeds United, and the club is honour-bound to back up his efforts with quality recruits to give his squad the best chance of success.

Furthermore, if Leeds are once more to disappoint their fan base as well as their manager, with yet another window in which expectations have been merely managed and not met, then it really does make no sense to lose Mowatt now, with so many potentially vital games left to play. The mercurial midfielder with that wand of a left foot may not be the kind of player to build a team or a promotion challenge around but, on his day, he could be a game changer with his undoubted potential to grab a spectacular goal like a bolt from the blue. You need that kind of unexpected element in a squad. With Mowatt gone, and even Murphy and Diagouraga too, the first team pool is markedly weaker than it was at the start of January – when the aim surely had to have been to strengthen.

Make no mistake, Garry Monk is putting the pressure on his employers to deliver, and rightly so. He’s saying that, with Mowatt sold, it would make no sense for there not to be incomings over the next few days. It would be against all logic, it would be foolish and it would be a betrayal. It’s all there. That one quote says it all, quite subtly, but nevertheless unmistakably. Garry Monk expects and requires action, not just words. If the club lets him down, they will potentially risk losing the best thing to happen to them in a long, long while.

Leeds United must listen to their manager, and they must heed his between the lines warning. It’s high time for the club to put its money where its mouth is.

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Doukara’s Screamer for Leeds Utd is an Instant Man Flu Cure – by Rob Atkinson

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The Douk celebrates a breakthrough in medical science

Leeds United 2, Nottingham Forest 0

I’ve had such a crap week, laid low with the terrifying complaint known as man flu. It’s a dread disease, enough to strike palsied horror into any male and, by the same token, it seems to reduce any woman to tears of scornful mirth as they make irrelevant comparisons with labour pains and other such gynaecological trivia. So there’s plenty of lonely misery for the hapless bloke thus afflicted, and precious little sympathy from the distaff side. Fine, we know it’s a hard life – and normally we just have to suffer in silence and see it through. Happily, though, it now appears that there may be a cure.

I base this upon my own symptomatology in a short study this evening just gone. At 7pm, I was helpless on my sofa, having missed out on refereeing duties for the local walking football lads, condemned to remain confined to barracks when I had the chance to be at Elland Road for the Forest game, and with every likelihood of being forced to cancel a trip to the Big Smoke (courtesy of that nice Mr. Branson and his tenner return ticket promotion). I was not a happy bunny; I was instead a sad, sick and sorry boy.

Just under three hours later, though, I felt as though I could run a half marathon through several brick walls. To say I felt like a new man would be a hopeless understatement. Charged with energy and glowing with health, I’d left my sniffles, snot and headaches far behind me, along with the leaden limbs and aching joints that have made this week such a nightmare. It was a hearty dose of Twitter video therapy that had done the trick and reinvigorated me – all it had taken to effect a cure was the view, from several angles, of the most stonking thunderbolt of a strike, courtesy of Souleymane Doukara, that Elland Road has seen in many a blue moon. Each different viewpoint gave me a boost, every aspect of the goal was a curative draught that restored and rejuvenated. The boom of boot on ball, the trajectory of the volley past a startled Forest keeper, the delighted roar of the crowd – all combined to provide a treat for all the senses and, lo – I was cured. A miracle!

Doukara’s goal was special; to me, that is a matter of medical fact. No word of a lie, I really do feel enlivened and repaired – even the wife’s stopped laughing at me (she’s also seen The Goal – “Did he really mean that?” she enquired). I expect it’s something to do with adrenaline or endorphins or some such malarkey – but I prefer to believe that it was the sheer aesthetic beauty of the Duke’s sublime strike that raised me off my bed of pain. I’ve seen comparable goals in the past, but I’ve usually been there in person, and I’ve never before been feeling quite so crap as I was last evening. So, when Tony Yeboah scored against Liverpool, or when Gary Mac knocked in a couple of fulminating volleys, also against the Reds – or even when Sol Bamba belted home a cracker some little while back, I could appreciate all these goals, not least because they were all at the Kop End. I wouldn’t say that Doukara’s goal was necessarily the best of this prize bunch – that much is arguable. But its remarkable effect on my waning health is not up for debate, so it’s in a category of its own as far as I’m concerned, for that reason alone.

Being a collector of data, I’d love to know if any other man flu sufferers experienced such a miracle after 73 minutes of the Forest game? We could perhaps add to the fund of mankind’s medical knowledge, who knows. I’m just happy that the Duke managed to belt home such a beauty, and not just for my own selfish reasons of feeling less bloody awful. It also finished off Notts Forest, hardly my favourite opponents. And I know for a fact that I shall never, ever get tired of watching those many angles of that ripsnorter of a goal. Everything about it is beautiful, the way Doukara ran around the falling ball onto his right foot, the way he caught it right on the sweet spot and sent it arrowing into the far, top corner, the keeper’s futile dive, which had barely started before the ball was rippling the back of his net…

The default effect of Leeds United upon my health is, generally speaking, at best neutral – and more usually slightly negative. Often and often down the years, I’ve emerged from Elland Road or whatever away dump we’ve graced with our presence, feeling deflated, depressed, physically sick, body all achin’ and racked with pain – that sort of thing. Even victories have usually been won at the cost of nails bitten down to elbows and veins throbbing in my temples. Last night was different, and it was all down to that one cathartic, sublime, unforgettable moment. So thank you, Mr. Doukara – and my long-suffering better half sends her thanks too.

For the record, I’d also appreciated Chris Wood‘s achievement, just after half-time, of hitting the twenty mark in all competitions for this season, and here we are only in January. That gave me a little glow of satisfaction too, though I was still feeling horribly poorly and I thought I’d have to live with the tension as United ground out another 1-0 win. Doukara’s volley changed all that, it’s given me a proper fillip and probably earned me a good healthy night’s sleep before tomorrow’s capital adventure.

And for all of that – and for the three points at the expense of the Twiglets – I am, believe you me, most profoundly grateful.

New from the White House: the alternate truths historical timeline since 1946


Some hoary old myths of World and American history have been dispelled since President Donald J Trump moved into the White House, and that process is continuing with the ongoing alternative truths campaign initiated by the President’s loyal staff. Below, we summarise the alternate truth historical timeline as it is now understood. 
Donald Trump was born in 1946, and by the tender age of ten had already gained first class degrees at both Harvard and Yale, reflecting his phenomenal IQ of 276. During his teens, he became a test pilot and then the leading combat pilot in the USAF, recording 65 kills in the Korean conflict alone. Moving into his twenties, Donald took up fighting and tennis, becoming undisputed World Boxing champion at four different weights simultaneously, as well as winning the tennis Grand Slam for five consecutive years. His sporting career went from strength to strength, culminating with a late bid to become a soccer star. He subsequently helped the USA win soccer’s World Cup in 1962, 1966 and 1970, scoring a hat trick on each occasion and being lauded by Pelé and Bobby Moore as their “most difficult opponent”. Trump rounded off his club soccer career by joining Manchester United in time to win them the 1968 European Cup, scoring all four goals at Wembley. 
Moving on from sport into business, Donald founded ICI and the IMF and became a multi-trillionaire in the six months after European Cup glory. This enabled him to take up responsibility for the funding of the continuance of the Apollo program, in which he took an active part, becoming the first man to walk on the moon in July 1969. Not content with this, Donald not only became the first man to hit a golf shot on the moon, he also actually achieved a hole in one, finishing 24 under par in history’s first extra-terrestrial round of golf and putting one lost ball into permanent lunar orbit. 
Back on Earth, Donald’s achievements continued apace. In the early seventies he returned to combat duties for the US Air Force, reducing Vietnam to a vanquished enemy with his 754 successful fighter sorties, knocking down an average of 2.54 MIG fighters per mission.
Having become the first American to win two wars single handed, beating Errol Flynn’s record by one, Donald Trump somewhat belatedly entered the world of entertainment, winning best actor Oscars for his first seventeen movies. He is particularly remembered for his bravura performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars, Danny Zuko in Grease and the shark in Jaws. The historical achievements were mounting up, and there seemed to be few fields left for this remarkable man to conquer. Becoming bored with sports, space exploration and movies, it was time for Donald to tread the boards of the world’s greatest stages, creating roles such as Lear, Othello, Lady Macbeth and the Grinch.
Throughout his life up until the end of the seventies, Donald felt that his incredible singing ability had been rather masked by his mastery of acting. Now though, his gift as an operatic tenor came to the fore as he performed all the great roles in a decade of virtuoso vocal displays. Perhaps his greatest triumph was his definitive version of Nessun Dorma, which became the most widely admired operatic performance of all time, providing the theme to the Italia 90 World Cup in which Donald also made a sporting comeback at the age of 44, scoring another hat trick to win a fourth title for the USA as Germany were trounced in the Final by 5-0.
In the next two decades, Donald relaxed slightly to concentrate on his personal life and establish a reputation as the world’s greatest lover and most attractive man. During this time, Donald was heavily in demand by all of the world’s most beautiful women, all of whom wanted to bear him a little Trump to improve the planet’s gene pool. It is estimated that Donald took 12,000 lovers in this period, whilst remaining a good and faithful family man and also becoming the first swimmer to conquer the Atlantic and the Pacific. In response to doubters, Donald later swam both oceans again, in one day, followed up by a solo trek across Antarctica.
Finally, for the crowning achievement of this extraordinary life to date, it was time for the Donald to bestow the gift of himself on politics. Starting out humbly as the power behind the Reagan and Bush dynasties, Donald also seduced Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain to ensure that the USA had a strategic platform off the coast of Europe and single-handedly causing the collapse of communism. Later, Donald became the Governor of every state barring Florida and Hawaii, reserving these for golf projects. When the time was finally right for him to run for President, Donald’s global reputation and skilfully developed power base would ensure him a landslide victory to eclipse any in history.
And this greatest of all triumphs is what we have just witnessed. Donald won all the states to romp home to the White House, gaining 99.86% of the popular vote and attracting 60 billion adoring fans to his record-breaking inauguration. In so doing, he has established a new American domination of global politics which is expected to last für ein tausend Jahre.
Hail to the Chief! Hail Donald Trump!! Hail, hail, Heil!!!

Leeds Taste Derby Day Defeat at Rampant Barnsley – by Rob Atkinson

mike-dean-arbitro-premier-league-169-1

Mike Dean – doubly incompetent

In football, as in life, timing is everything. And it was the timing of two rather poor Mike Dean penalty decisions during Leeds United‘s tumultuous defeat at Oakwell this evening that may well have been the factor upon which the outcome of the game ultimately depended. Had Leeds gone in at half-time 2-0 up, with a penalty to add to Chris Wood’s bundled opener after Kyle Bartley got a Barnsley hand in his face at a corner, there could have been few complaints from a home side that looked to be under the cosh at the time. But, in the final analysis, the fragility of a 1-0 lead was exposed by a late first half smash and grab goal from the hosts – and you sensed then that the tide had turned decisively.

In the second half, Barnsley came out like a pack of ravenous hounds and punctured United’s rearguard twice in quick time in a dominant spell. Two great finishes left Leeds with what, in the end, proved to be too much to do. This always looked to be the case, even after Dean’s second shoddy call of the match, awarding Leeds a penalty from a good forty yards behind play, for a handball offence that was clearly miles outside the box. Chris Wood duly converted but, even with their hopes so fortunately boosted, United never really escaped the stranglehold Barnsley had put on them from the time of the equaliser. In the end, the injustices evened themselves out, allowing the better side over 95 minutes to enjoy a deserved victory. 

What might have transpired had the hapless Dean got his calls the right way around is anybody’s guess – though it’s tempting to suppose a Leeds side two goals to the good would have taken some pegging back. As things were, there can be few complaints, and both sets of fans will be in agreement that Mr. Dean should go back to Premier League football and practice his dubious skills there.

For Leeds, defeat might just be a timely wake-up call and a reminder that the squad still needs a bit more strength in depth. It’s to be hoped that this will be addressed in the coming days, along with the pressing need to get back to winning ways on Wednesday against a Nottingham Forest side that should be ripe for the beating. United manager Garry Monk will be focusing already on that game, and the Whites should see it as a chance to start off on another positive run. 

Lastly, it has to be said that Barnsley’s grit and attitude were as commendable as the quality of the goals they scored. Everyone knows how much beating Leeds means to the Tykes, and those victory celebrations will be sweet indeed. With Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday also flying high in the Championship, it’s turning out to be a good season for Yorkshire clubs. None of which is any comfort in defeat – but Leeds know there is stiff competition out there and it’s up to our heroes to step up to the plate now and reassert their authority. 

That process can and must start on Wednesday. After a great run since December, we now expect nothing less.

Leeds Graduate With a 2:1 At Cambridge, But At a Price – by Rob Atkinson

mowatt

Mowatt – winner

When the story of this season is written, the worth of last night’s narrow squeak FA Cup victory at Cambridge United will be capable of objective assessment. As things stand right now, you’d have to say it’s unlikely to be of much if any intrinsic value; it may even be that the net effect upon our campaign will be decidedly negative.

On the credit side of the ledger, yet another fine second-half performance to paper over the cracks of yet another slow start, and this time it was the shadow squad that proved itself able to pick up its game. The downside is there for all to see; a tenth booking of the season for the iconic Pontus Jansson will deprive Leeds United of his services for two vital and rather tricky league games in Derby at home and Barnsley away. Jansson’s obvious deputy, Liam Cooper, also picked up an injury that may well see him sidelined for Friday. Given those painful drawbacks, the “reward” of a fourth round trip to past Cup opponents Wimbledon or Sutton United seems more of a booby prize than anything to exult over. Last night’s may have been a Pyrrhic victory – although at least it cut the rest of the footballing world off in mid-gloat.

The first half of any Leeds game is becoming a matter of some concern. Whatever team takes the field for United appears unable to come out of the blocks in full-on battle mode, and manager Garry Monk is having to do some sterling work in his half-time team talks. So far, that interval helping of bollockings/encouragement has more often than not done the trick; certainly last night Leeds were a different team in the second half and Cambridge were duly blown away after dominating the first 45 minutes. Some wags have suggested only half jokingly that Monk should deliver his half-time peroration before the team trots out at the start of the match, and you can sort of see why. But, looking at the positives of the manager’s input, it would seem he is adept at diagnosing the faults in a first-half performance and then remedying those faults, rather than deficient in his timing. The next step, presumably, is to eliminate the faults from the start – but that’s all part of the learning curve necessary for any “young group”.

In the event, goals from Stuart Dallas and Alex Mowatt saved United’s blushes, or at least postponed them till later in the competition. Now, with the serious business of accumulating more league points a priority, Leeds have to address the imminent problem of an in-form Derby County side managed by our bogeyman coach Schteve “Dutch” McClaren. In the certain absence of Jansson, whose weird pending permanent transfer has now been put back until perilously late in the window, and the probable absence of dead leg victim Cooper, it may be a case of asking Luke Ayling to slot in next to Kyle Bartley in central defence, with Coyle and/or Denton stepping up to one or both of the full-back berths. Not ideal against stiff opposition.

We will know more fully after the next two Pontus-less Championship games at what price this FA Cup progress has been secured, and we’ll just have to hope that it was a price worth paying. Four points out of Derby and Barnsley, two highly-motivated, Leeds-hating, chip-on-the-shoulder obstacles, and we’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to the next round for the fascination of revisiting Cup opponents past. Fingers crossed that last night’s damage really can be limited to the loss of a mere two points. 

Leeds’ Oxford Graduate Roofe Can Take Cup Honours at Cambridge   –   by Rob Atkinson

roofe

The trouble with FA Cup ties, for clubs challenging for league honours in particular, is that the kind of side which will take the field for the knockout game is a matter of some uncertainty. It’s the kind of match a wise manager will use to “give game time to fringe players” or “fully utilise the squad”. In other words, don’t be surprised if the eleven on duty for the Cup is significantly weaker than the team to contest that vital promotion six-pointer.

All of which means that it’s difficult to predict Garry Monk‘s intentions for Leeds United‘s 3rd Round FA Cup clash away at Cambridge United. We might speculate that Rob Green will get the evening off, and doubtless there will be other changes from league normality. But one player most Leeds fans would love to see involved, with the aim of continuing his Elland Road settling-in process, is summer signing from Oxford United, Kemar Roofe.

Roofe shone at Oxford last season in the less demanding surroundings of League Two, scoring for fun and generally tearing the division apart. He finished as League Two Player of the Year. At Leeds, in the hurly-burly of the Championship, Kemar didn’t find his feet straight away – but just lately, he’s shown what a class act he undoubtedly is, with more than a few signs of the kind of explosive talent that made him such a hot property last year.

Against lower league opposition in the Cup, a side in Cambridge who will surely be up for it, and who are in rather good form themselves, it would be a golden chance for Roofe to persecute the kind of defence he was making hay against last term. As a confidence booster – and assuming all goes to plan – this sort of tie could be ideal. It might also be a chance to have a longer look at how Roofe could combine with the likes of Marcus Antonsson, a £2m striker who has been so peripheral to Leeds’ recent success story. That kind of Plan B assessment is vital, when the main men could be struck down by injury at any time.

This season more than most, the FA Cup will be running a poor second to the league in United’s priority list. Promotion has to be the aim that eclipses all others, and the sparkling Whites form has put them into a position where they’re ideally placed to challenge, not just for a play-off spot, but even (whisper it) for automatic promotion. This being the case, it will almost certainly be the task of the less regular league performers to dispose of Cambridge. Nevertheless, out of respect for worthy opponents if for no other reason, there will have to be a sprinkling at least of first teamers. The case for making Roofe one of these is strong; he’s young, fit and just beginning to look like a real prospect. If he can help put Cambridge to the sword, then that would be a significant step on the way to being a big hit in what could be a very big season for Leeds.

There’s still a magic to the Cup, despite the shoddy way it tends to get treated by certain clubs these days. It’s up to Leeds to make use of their resources in such a way that progress in the competition can be secured by beating a very competitive Cambridge side. The United squad has shown already that it can cope with knockout football, even succeeding in a couple of penalty shootouts. The foundations are in place for another cup run if we show we want it badly enough; those foundations just need to be topped off by defensive walls, windows of attacking opportunity which could open the door to the 4th round, and – last, but not least – that all-important Roofe.

Aston Villa the Acid Test for Rampant Leeds United   –   by Rob Atkinson

Fortress Villa Park

Villa Park has in the past been a productive venue for various Leeds United sides down the years, but nobody at Elland Road will expect anything other than the sternest test of United’s promotion credentials when two giants clash at the famous old stadium on Thursday evening. 

History is not exactly against Leeds in this away fixture. The past throws up some memorable results for the Whites, including a surprise 4-1 victory for a relegation-destined United against a Villa side on the cusp of becoming European Champions in 1982. Nine years later, before a live ITV audience, Wilko’s Leeds repeated that scoreline and stunned Villa Park as they made their first declaration of intent to become the Last Champions of the old-style Football League. But, encouraging though history might be for the Yorkshiremen, it could count for little this time around. 

Villa Park, a bit of a gimme for Premier League sides last season, has been more of a fortress in the less demanding arena of the Championship. The Villans yield to no-one so far this season at home; Leeds would have to be at their very best to prise three points out of this match. With Kyle Bartley something of a doubt, the defence could lack some of its usual rock-like solidity although Cooper is an able deputy. For the rest of the side, the return of Pablo Hernandez and Chris Wood looks like a timely bonus. 

To win at Aston Villa would lay down a marker for the rest of the season, as well as confirming realistic promotion ambitions that would need to be supported in the coming transfer window. But it must be said that a draw would be no small achievement either – and the fact is that Leeds will be very pleased with anything from a fixture that will see them under the most intense examination. 

Villa will be stinging yet from their 0-2 reverse at Elland Road recently, manager Steve Bruce‘s first defeat since he took up the reins of the midlands giants. Leeds, on the other hand, will be understandably buoyant after their impressive dismissal of Preston on Boxing Day. Both sides should take the field confident and expectant. 

This blog will revert to its early-season caution in predicting a hard-fought and low-scoring draw. In truth, that would look a decent result for both sides, though Leeds in particular will be uncomfortably aware of the form being displayed by the other sides in and around the top six

A draw would be nice, a win would be bloody marvellous. But defeat would be no disgrace, so the Twitterati should think before pouncing on any slip-up. Hopefully, that won’t be an issue, and Leeds can bring back at least a share of the spoils to God’s Own County

21 Years Ago Today: Leeds United Crush Man U on Christmas Eve – by Rob Atkinson

fergie-nightmare

1995-96 was the last full season of Sergeant Wilko’s eventful reign at Elland Road. His influence over Leeds United was crumbling amid rumours of money problems, takeovers and dressing-room discontent, a tale that would doubtless strike a chord with Messrs. Grayson, Warnock and even Evans of more recent vintage. This was a season that had started off with a flurry of Tony Yeboah thunderbolts and some impressive results and performances which appeared to promise much. Sadly though, it petered out in a shocking late-season run following a League Cup Final humiliation at Wembley, courtesy of Aston Villa. Howard Wilkinson was a dead man walking from that time on.

This Christmas Eve match against the Pride of Devon found Leeds some way short of their peak form. Worrying signs of defensive frailty and general ineptitude had been all too obvious just the previous week at Hillsborough. United had succumbed spinelessly to a 6-2 defeat at the hands of an unremarkable Sheffield Wednesday side and – all bravado aside – there wasn’t much optimism in the hearts of the faithful as this fixture against the arch-enemy loomed.

It was certainly a different Christmas Eve for me. I hadn’t exactly led a sheltered life up to that point, but this was the first time – and the last, to date – I’d ever risen the day before Christmas to bacon sandwiches at 6 am, closely followed by numerous Budweisers with the Sunday papers in a fan-friendly pub, as we waited for our “Scum Match Special” mini-bus. The queasy feeling before any match against “Them” was therefore multiplied by unaccustomed early-morning grease and alcohol, and I was feeling several shades of not-too-good as we set off for Elland Road. It was an 11:30 kick-off, live on Sky, and it promised either to make or break the whole of Christmas for us fans, as well as for our hopeful families.

scum-programmeThe situation between the Uniteds of Leeds and Devon is one of a legendary mutual animosity, even at the best of times. Let’s not mince words here, the two sets of fans hate, loathe and detest each other – and open warfare is the norm. Revisionist football pundits would have us believe that this is strictly a one-way affair, but you only have to tune into one of Sky TV’s glitzy live love-ins for a Man U match, and whoever they are playing, our Home-Counties friends are in full voice with their “We all hate Leeds scum”. Even Alex Ferguson, back then the Media Darlings’ not-altogether-likable manager, makes no bones about it; some of his more coherent sound bites feature his opinion that Elland Road “is the most intimidating arena in Europe”. He’s also stated that going to Liverpool is nowhere near as bad as going to Leeds; clearly, he’s never been for a late-night pint in Dodge City.

So, Yuletide or not, the usual poisonous atmosphere was in evidence as the two teams walked out before a 39,801 crowd that overcast morning twenty-one years ago today. Just as Leeds were smarting from their Hillsborough debacle, so Man U were struggling to emerge from a poor run, winless for a month and dispatched by Liverpool the previous week. This seasonal fixture was a chance of redemption for both sides.

By kick-off time, I was starting to feel properly ill, and in dire need of a pick-me-up. This arrived in a most unlikely form after a mere five minutes, when a Leeds corner swung over from the right. Richard Jobson rose on the edge of the area to head towards goal, where David Wetherall, lethal against Man U in the past, was challenging for a decisive touch. But that touch came instead from the upraised, red-sleeved arm of Nicky Butt – and referee Dermot Gallagher’s whistle sounded for a penalty.

Peering from the Kop at the other end of the ground, through an alcoholic fug, I could hardly believe my eyes. Leeds just didn’t get penalties against “Them”. It would happen the other way around alright, way too often, and even from three yards outside the area but this was unprecedented, since our Title-winning year anyway. Steve Bruce evidently thought it was just too much to bear, and screamed his violent protests into Gallagher’s face, having to be restrained by Gary MacAllister, who appeared to be trying to explain the rules to the furious defender. The guilty look on Butt’s face, though, spoke volumes. MacAllister placed the ball on the spot, and sent it sweetly into the top right corner to make it 1-0, giving Peter Schmeichel not even the ghost of a chance. The celebrations were raucous and deafening as the Elland Road cauldron exploded with joy – and inside my skull, the trip-hammer of a beer-fueled headache pounded away anew, utterly failing though to banish my smile of delight.

Leeds had the bit between their teeth now, and Brian Deane was suddenly clear for an instant outside the right corner of the Man U penalty area, played in by a cute pass from Carlton Palmer. Schmeichel was out swiftly to smother the chance, but Deane managed to dink the ball over him, only for it to clip the crossbar and bounce away to safety. A two-goal lead at that stage would have felt unlikely yet deserved, as Leeds United had been on the front foot right from the off. Soon, though, a lesson was to be delivered about what happens when you miss chances against this lot.

The unlikely culprit as Leeds were pegged back was Gary Speed. Receiving the ball in the left-back position, he tried to beat Butt instead of clearing long, and was robbed of possession. Butt looked up, and placed a neat pass inside to Andy Cole, whose efficient first-time finish leveled the match. Suddenly, my headache was even worse, and I was starting to wonder about the fate of my breakfast too, as it threatened to make an untimely reappearance. Time for another reviving injection of optimism as Leeds surged forward, and Speed so nearly made up for his defensive error, playing a one-two with Tomas Brolin which gave him space to put in a right-foot shot that went narrowly wide.

The game had settled down by this time, and both sides were showing enough ambition to feel that they were in with a chance of victory. Leeds though had thrown off their Sheffield blues, and attacked with verve and purpose. Now, a defensive position was coolly handled by Gary Kelly, finding the time and space to launch a long clearance forward, where Brolin headed on. The ball was loose, and surely meat and drink for Man U’s international defender Paul Parker – but he inexplicably let it bounce over his foot. Tony Yeboah pounced on it like a hound on a rat, and he was away, surging towards goal with ex-Leeds defender Denis Irwin backing off. Yeboah in this mood was usually irresistible, and sure enough none of Irwin’s careful jockeying could prevent him from finding that vital half-yard of space. The gap appeared, Schmeichel came out to block, and Yeboah clipped the ball sumptuously just out of the Danish ‘keeper’s reach, up and over to nestle in the far corner of the South Stand net.

Again, that explosion of noise and joy, again my fragile system was assailed by the rough-and-tumble of riotous celebration. 2-1 up against the team we loved to hate; the cockneys at the far end were suddenly silent and morose. “You’re not singing anymore!” we blasted at them, and indeed, little would be heard from the away fans for the rest of the game.

The second half was another tale of give and take, both sides able to cause trouble up front, but both seemingly capable of dealing with all that was thrown at them. The onus was on Man U to retrieve a losing situation, but Leeds were rarely in great trouble, and as the game entered its final quarter there was unprecedented optimism that we could close this one out, and enter Christmas on a real high. Leeds weren’t simply sitting back and absorbing pressure – and the maxim of attack being the best form of defence was to serve them well. On 73 minutes, Jobson made a foray down the left, and was fouled by Cole chasing back. The resulting free-kick was played to MacAllister in space in the middle of the park, and he swiftly moved it out to the right wing. Brolin picked up possession and slipped the ball to the overlapping Palmer, who surged into the box and then turned past Irwin to set up Brolin again on the edge of the area. The much-maligned Swede, making the contribution I best remember him for, chipped the ball sweetly first-time, standing it up just around the penalty spot, where Brian Deane’s exemplary movement had won him the space to rise and plant a firm header past a helpless Schmeichel into the net. 3-1 and finis.

After the game, and before the seasonal celebrations could begin in earnest, other traditions had to be observed. Ferguson, naturally, had to moan about the penalty. “It was a very surprising decision, given in circumstances that were beyond me.” whinged the Purple-nosed One, in evident ignorance of the deliberate handball provisions – but perhaps aiming to justify Bruce’s undignified and almost psychotic protest at the time. And the massed ranks of the Kop Choir had to regale the departing Man U fans with victory taunts as they sulked away, silent and crestfallen, headed for all points south.

I can’t remember the journey home, nor even how spectacularly ill I was when I got there, although I’m told I was the picture of ecstatic yet grossly hung-over ebullience. I just know it was my happiest Christmas Eve ever, ensuring a deliriously festive spirit for the whole holiday, much to the delight of my long-suffering wife and two-year-old daughter.

Merry Christmas, everybody! And God bless us, every one. Except Them, from There.

Snodgrass: Ultimate Statement Signing for New Era Leeds   –   by Rob Atkinson

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Come back, Rob. You know it makes sense.

Every now and then a new story emerges from that part of the rumour mill labelled boldly “Too Good to be True”. Some you can dismiss out of hand as slightly less likely than Elvis appearing at the Batley Frontier Club. Diego Maradona to Division Two Leeds in the 80s would be an example of this. Others – well, you can’t help wondering. Sometimes, circumstances out of the ordinary can lend credence to whispers you normally wouldn’t even dare whisper.

The circumstances right now are out of the ordinary for Leeds United. Change is afoot, right at the top of the club and, not exactly coincidentally, things are going well on the field too. With new ownership a distinct probability, any incoming regime will be looking to stamp their mark on a slowly awakening giant of a club. The approved method is to make signings that materially improve first team options and, at the same time, send out an unmistakable message that these guys mean business. They’re called “statement signings” and they say, hey – look who we’ve got on board. This club is going places. Does the name Gordon Strachan ring a bell?

The news is that Rob Snodgrass, formerly of this parish but latterly plying his trade in the colours of a fishing village on the Humber, has turned down a new contract with his current club. This has been enough to set eyebrows twitching and tongues wagging around LS11 as well as further afield. What a signing he would be, if he could be persuaded to give Elland Road another try. And what a bold statement by the club’s new powers that be. As rumours go, this one is just so sexy you want to buy it dinner and then take it home to have your wicked way with it. Unlike some rumours, you might even find you still respect it in the morning. 

Could it happen? Well, almost anything could happen in the wake of our beloved Whites being freed from ownership that has ranked highly on the lunacy scale. If new chiefs wanted to come in and say to the United support: “Here you are. It’ll all be OK now” – then this would be one way of doing it. Manager Garry Monk would probably be quite pleased as well, adding an experienced head to his young group. 

This blog feels that some sort of transfer coup next month is more likely than not. A statement of intent needs to be made and a statement signing is an excellent way of making it. Snodgrass alone would not address all of the issues facing Monk and his squad – a backup striker is needed, for a start, and other areas call for attention. But Snodgrass, who embellished Leeds before, could do so again – he could be the X-Factor in a genuine promotion push as well as putting bright lights around a new owner’s name.

If Leeds United are to have a fresh start in 2017, then the recapture of Rob Snodgrass would be the ideal way to get it off the ground. 

Potency and Penetration Issues When Leeds United Haven’t Got Wood   –   by Rob Atkinson

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Cometh the hour, cometh the Kyle

Leeds United 1, Brentford 0

All’s well that ends well, as some Stratford bloke once said – and the throaty roar of joy mixed with heartfelt relief that lifted the roof off Elland Road in the 90th minute on Saturday was ample proof of the Bard’s ageless wisdom. Kyle Bartley‘s late, late header secured a hard-fought victory over troublesome Brentford that had looked for so long like being a frustrating stalemate, and the atmosphere at the end was worthy of far greater triumphs.

It was a victory wrought out of adversity, though – the cracks are beginning to show in a threadbare squad and the few precious days between now and a Boxing Day date at Preston are welcome indeed. Apart from Bartley’s golden last-gasp winner, one of the better bits of news after the Brentford game was that Chris Wood, much-maligned in various quarters but much-missed against the Bees, has a chance of being involved at Deepdale. The fact is, whatever his detractors might say, Wood is vital to this Leeds United team. Without him, the attack lacks something important. Wood is able to hold the ball up, securing a beachhead for any attack to be reinforced by runners from midfield. His unselfish work appears to pass a section of the support by; the welcome fact that he’s received less criticism this year is probably down to his admirable goal return. But Wood is more than just a goalscorer and, without him, Leeds offered much less in the attacking third and looked more laboured all over the park.

Manager Garry Monk looked as much relaxed as relieved after the match, and he has the air of a man whose plans are in place and who knows they will probably be carried through. The wind of change has been blowing around Elland Road for a while now, and January may well be a very exciting and productive time for the club. One priority publicly acknowledged is the acquisition of another striker – in placing so much reliance on Wood, United simply have too many eggs in one basket. Despite the efforts of Souleymane Doukara lately, and partly due to the relative ineffectiveness of Marcus Antonsson, Leeds are light up front. This will have to be addressed if the promotion challenge is to be maintained and Monk has been quite explicit in confirming his intentions.

For now, though, as the manager says, it’s about fighting for each batch of three points and doing what we can. Ahead of the Liverpool EFL Cup tie, I said I’d be happy with an honourable exit from that competition, plus between 6 and 7 points from the following three tricky-looking fixtures against Villa, Brighton and Reading. Well, we went out with richly-deserved accolades and got six out of nine points, topped up nicely by the three from Brentford, so this is a happy blog. If we can secure four points from away matches at Preston and Villa, then that happiness will grow into something more like ecstasy. And then, lo and behold, it’ll be January and – hopefully – game on.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! MOT.