Tag Archives: Barnsley

Lasogga and Ekuban Would Give Leeds New Attacking Dimension – by Rob Atkinson

Ekuban Lasogga

Caleb Ekuban – ideal strike partner for Pierre-Michel Lasogga?

If I can be a little upbeat, without offending the Leonard Cohen drones and clones that infest the LUFC Twitter hashtag, I have to say I saw more positives in one slightly unlucky defeat at Sheffield United than I have in perhaps half a dozen victories we’ve eked out this turbulent season. There just seemed to be that little bit extra about some of the players, a bit of desire and composure, especially in the second half, that has been lacking since the earliest part of this Championship campaign. It wasn’t enough, after a disastrous start at Bramall Lane, to get any tangible reward from the clash of the two Uniteds – but, in the final analysis, Leeds were maybe a couple of highly debatable decisions away from getting Paul Heckingbottom‘s tenure as Head Coach off to the best possible start.

Still, that’s history now, and we’re left seeking to take what encouragement we can from an improved display, albeit in defeat, from Leeds United. One noticeable element fairly late on was the introduction of Caleb Ekuban, who was lively and threatening up front as he worked away, making his runs and contesting every ball. One thing this blogger would love to see over the rest of the season is a good run of games where Leeds play with a front two. It would take a better tactician than me to suggest the ideal formation behind a twin strike-force, but I do feel that Pierre-Michel Lasogga, despite his fairly impressive goal-scoring record, has not been used to the team’s best advantage when asked to fulfil a lone striker role. It doesn’t seem to me that this solitary workhorse thing  is his forte, and yet, on the occasions when he’s had some support in attack – usually in a crisis, such as 0-2 down to Millwall at Elland Road – Lasogga has suddenly looked full of menace. Ekuban, such a willing worker, appears to be the ideal foil for the big German, probably more so than the misfiring Kemar Roofe – and it’s surely only a matter of time before he, too, chips in with the goals. It would be well deserved; Ekuban’s current drought is not for the want of effort in his rare appearances between injuries so far.

Any input from the team shape experts out there would be genuinely welcome. 3-5-2? A diamond in midfield with Samu Saiz (when available) at the front of it, operating just behind Pierre and Caleb? It was a very wise man who once said that attack is the best form of defence, and I’m sure I’m not alone in my desire to see United go fully onto the offensive, making opponents too busy trying to stem our attacking tide, even to consider mounting a threat of their own. Yep, that would be nice.

So, what do others think? Do we have the personnel to play two up front? What’s the best balance for the team in that situation? Let’s have a heated debate. The play-offs pressure is largely off, now – unless the team suddenly gets its act together and moves up towards the top six. And, I’d venture to suggest, if that were to happen, it’d most likely be as a result of just such an attacking change of policy as I’ve suggested here.

Am I simply deluded? Do let me know.

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Routine Win for Leeds Utd, Cup Final Heartbreak for Barnsley –   by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United 2, Barnsley 1

Routine for Leeds United these days appears to be outplaying determined but inferior opposition, getting into a winning position – and then having a late attack of the collywobbles which threatens to chuck a deserved victory straight down the sanitary facilities. Like that, this win over derby-day foes Barnsley was routine, right enough. It’s just that, lately, the Whites seem able to avoid the khazi part of the equation and grind out a positive result after all. So many times in the past, Leeds at 2-0 up would have been pegged back to 2-1 and had immediate conniptions. Now things are that bit different; now we have Pontus Jansson.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything is quite the fan of our borrowed Swedish colossus. Alongside Kyle Bartley, who took time off from defensive duties to grab the opener against Toby and his Tykes, Jansson is forming an on-loan central defensive partnership for United that is starting to look as good as anything in this league. Surely the most important piece of pending transfer business for Leeds in January is to secure these two on permanent deals. We all know it makes sense.

I’ve said before that increased reliability from a more solid back line would pay its dividend in terms of greater freedom and confidence in midfield and up front. It’s starting to pan out that way, with the team more often able to take the lead and then consolidate with a second goal, as at Cardiff recently. The man who delivered the coup de grâce that day was at it again against the South Yorkshiremen, Pablo Hernandez finding the bottom corner after an assist from Eunan O’Kane. At 2-0, Leeds were dominating the visitors, forcing errors all over the pitch and revelling in this unfamiliar feeling of confidence. And although Barnsley did break through with a worrying amount of time still left, forcing poor Charlie Taylor into an own goal, the Whites held out – and that’s a sign of durability and determination for which we can all be gratefully thankful.

So, three points for Leeds against opponents who have been troublesome in the past both home and away. Barnsley share with just about all the smaller Yorkshire clubs – and a good few further abroad – that “we all hate Leeds” chip on their collective shoulder. It’s served them well in the past, imbuing their play with a Cup Final intensity that has often seen a bewildered Leeds crumble. On this occasion, though, it was just too big an ask in the end – and the South Yorkshire Reds had to trail home empty handed, the banquet and the open-top bus cancelled, the souvenir t-shirts and DVDs on hold, till next time at the soonest.

The latest international break is well-timed too, and three points is the ideal way to go into a time for regrouping, planning and recovering from injuries. And, on a day when we marked the sad loss of the late, great Don Revie‘s son Duncan, a win was a fitting tribute to Leeds United’s first family at a time of such sadness. 

RIP Duncan Revie

New Play About the Bradford City Fire: “The 56”; a Leeds Utd Fan’s Review – by Rob Atkinson

The three-strong cast of The 56

The three-strong cast of The 56

When the Bradford Fire Disaster happened, I was in the middle of what I feared at the time would be the story of the weekend, as Leeds United fans fought a pitched battle with their Birmingham City counterparts at St. Andrews on Saturday the 11th of May, 1985. A young fan died at Birmingham that day, killed when a wall collapsed amid disgraceful scenes. It seemed certain that the events of the day would create the usual lurid banner headlines. Some fans on both sides would be happy and excited about this; others, less so.

For my own part, I was utterly gutted that we’d lost by a goal to nil, sickened at the thought of yet more bad press for my club – and completely unaware that a lad had lost his life. On the way back to Yorkshire, it became clear that, in the light of the devastating events in Bradford, nobody would be talking about our game and its riot after all. It was a dreadful Saturday in what, with Heysel still to come, would be remembered as a tragically awful season.

On Friday last, three decades older and that much more hard-bitten and cynical, I attended a new drama staged in Barnsley, based on interviews with survivors of that day at Valley Parade almost thirty years ago. It recalled in detail some extremely sad memories and brought back some long-buried feelings arising out of that weekend so many years before. The review I have written of the play, which is entitled simply The 56, is reproduced below.

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This review was originally published on The Public Reviews on 14th March 2015.

With the focus once again very much on the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster as the inquests re-openre-visiting all of those mistakes and examples of scandalously covered-up incompetence – here, on the stark and minimalist stage of the Civic in Barnsley, was an almost unbearably vivid reminder of another football tragedy in Yorkshire, with another shattering death toll.

Four years before the Sheffield calamity, and 40 miles or so up the road in Bradford, an inferno destroyed the old wooden-construction main stand at Valley Parade, home of new Third Division Champions Bradford City. Disaster struck without warning as the Bantams took on Lincoln City in what should have been a joyous celebration of promotion and the league title. On the day though, the story was more of heroism and unbelievable bravery amid terrifying chaos as fire broke out and fan tried to help fan despite intense heat, choking smoke and the speed with which the blaze spread, engulfing the stand and trapping the unfortunates who tragically fled in the wrong direction. It was one of those occasions too horrible to recall and yet too salutary ever to be forgotten. A line in the verbatim text of this hard-hitting piece says it all: 

“It was like a JFK moment, a Princess Diana moment. You’ll never forget where you were when you heard.”

The verbatim testimony nature of The 56 is at the core of what this work is all about. What is heard is no skilfully-crafted dramatic script – it is the actual accounts of survivors, those who were frantically involved on the day in escape and rescue. This lends a raw and visceral feel to the whole thing; the audience is aware at all times that these are real people giving their real and painful memories of events that really happened, and which affect them to this day. The way that the three actors handle this medium is admirable in the extreme. That quality of hearing words as they are formed in the mind of the witnesses is massively persuasive. The whole spectrum is there, from fond reminiscence of the innocently celebratory way that day started, through incredulous shock as events unfolded, so disastrously quickly, to grief, pain, even despair and a little bitterness – but with the pride of a city and a county which united in grief and loss to “just get on with it” as the long process of recovery began. It’s remorselessly impactful and almost uncomfortably inclusive.

The actors do all that could possibly be expected of them in terms of conveying the feelings and reactions of those survivors interviewed. As a piece of theatre, the effect is both harrowing and intensely evocative, with the increasingly convincing feeling of hearing about that awful day at first hand. The pace varies according to the mood of the moment; at times each character is lovingly sharing memories of the lead-up to that day and their love affair with a family football club, in relaxed and humorous monologue. But at other times, the dialogue comes at the audience pell-mell, the witnesses talking over each other as the confusion and bewilderment of developing tragedy is tellingly reproduced. And then it’s back to turn and turn about as each witness talks about the effect on their lives since that time, of the horrific memories they carry with them; mental scars are revealed as well as lasting shock and disbelief. But there is also the pride of getting on with life, of recovery – as club, stadium and city rose again in as literally Phoenix-like a manner as could be imagined.

It’s an appropriately minimalist production; the set is simple yet effective– a mute reminder of the wooden construction at the root of the disaster;the darkness of the backdrop conveys its own mood and message. The audience’s attention is drawn to the mesmeric interpretations of the cast who perform to pin-drop silence and a feeling of collectively held breath. As the testimony comes to a conclusion, the awful death toll – including, let us not forget, two fans of the other side that day, Lincoln City – is read out at funereal pace; a fitting tribute at the last to those who are no longer with us to give their own accounts. The audience reaction at the end is sombre but appreciative of what has been so consummately achieved.

In recognition of the thought-provoking nature of the evening, there was a Q&A session shortly after the end of the play itself. This gave a welcome insight into the creative process, with the actors and the director able and willing to enlarge upon what had motivated them and how they had approached the material so as to convey the testimony effectively, yet with immense respect.

This is a challenging piece, certainly not entertainment in the precise sense of the word. It sets out to remind, to enlighten and to pay tribute both to the dead and to those without whom that death toll would inevitably have been much higher. It tells of how individuals, a football club, a city and a county were struck by disaster, of how they conducted themselves so courageously on the day and of how they gradually recovered in the years to follow. In this, it is totally successful and – for those who wish to know more about what actually happened in Bradford on May 11th 1985, and how, and why – it’s a theatrical experience not to be missed.

The play was reviewed at the Civic, Barnsley on March 13th having previously been staged at the Edinburgh Fringe and in Bradford itself; it is scheduled to tour various other venues until May 23 (Click here for dates and theatres). A collection is taken at each performance to raise money for the BCFC Burns Unit Appeal; donations to this most worthy cause may be made online here.

 

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

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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. 

Free-falling Leeds Hammer Nails in Millwall and Barnsley Coffins – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds lose yet again

Leeds lose yet again

Leeds’ shambolic collection of bottlers predictably meandered to yet another defeat at Elland Road as Charlton picked up a rare three points on the road.  No surprises there, merely a hint of something to raise the eyebrows as United kept it down to one, making a welcome change from the lavish generosity of their defence over the past few games.  It’s not even that upsetting when Leeds lose any more – it just adds to the cumulative weariness of a season long ruined by dishonest and self-seeking men off and on the field of play.  The magnificent Leeds supporters have carried off all the laurels due at Elland Road this campaign.  They have been there through thin and thinner; the highlights have been few, the disappointments and betrayals many – and yet still they turned up, those amazing members of the White Army, raucous and indomitable everywhere Leeds have played, startling fans on away grounds into an awed and respectful silence.

The Charlton game will not have added appreciably to those fans’ suffering. Their preoccupation is with off the field matters, as it has been for some time. It’s become more and more obvious that the one man out there honest enough to see how things are, and outspoken enough to lay it on the line as to what needs doing, is the man currently waiting to see if he will be allowed to set about saving a famous old club.  Massimo Cellino has ranted his way into the hearts and minds of United’s fans, fans who notoriously love a nutter with passion in his heart.  The decision as to his ownership of the Club will be made known in the next few days; on that decision, it is not fanciful to say, rests the whole future of a club that has been massively let down over the past few years – by just about anyone you care to name, aside from a select few players and staff.  And, of course, those phenomenal fans.

The real losers coming out of this latest defeat to Charlton are, in fact, two clubs whose fans normally wish Leeds United no good at all, but who will have been on their knees praying for an unlikely Whites win.  If there’s a crumb of comfort out there, I’m in the mood to seize on it – and the fact that Barnsley and Millwall would have been hoping for three points for Leeds does provide more than a hint of satisfaction.  A glance at the league table makes this quite clear.  We were looking at a group of death in the bottom four of the Championship, but it was noticeable that Charlton had a good few games in hand due to their Cup exploits.  The win at Leeds has seen them open up a three point gap over Barnsley, despite the Tykes’ recent good form, and a comfortable FIVE points over a hapless Millwall side.  And the Addicks still have a game in hand over Barnsley and two over Millwall.  So Leeds’ abject failure against Charlton has done a power of no-good to two clubs whose fans’ attitude towards United leaves them deserving no favours from our part of West Yorkshire.  I have to admit, that leaves me with a slightly malicious smile on my face.  The fact that the normally-reliable Ross McCormack missed a late, late penalty to ensure the full three-point hammer-blow to the Tykes and the Bermondsey Scum, just added a slightly piquant touch.  ‘Ave it, I thought.

As far as this blog is concerned, the priorities for the rest of this wretched season are few and simple.  First, we need to have Cellino approved; this immediately changes the whole picture at Elland Road and provides a foundation upon which to build.  The alternative, quite frankly, doesn’t bear thinking about.   Secondly – let’s not have this latest defeat go to waste.  Let Charlton Athletic use their three easy-gained points at our expense as a springboard to survival, and let’s see Barnsley and that odious, horrible club Millwall consigned to the lower leagues where they belong.  And thirdly, on a totally unrelated plane, let Bayern Munich finish the job against Man U next week, before losing in their turn in the next round.  These are relatively simple and realistic wishes; let them be granted. After this horrible, horrible season, I deserve no less – and I would hope a good proportion of my fellow Leeds fans would also draw some comfort in the fate of others, whilst celebrating a new era for ourselves, under our passionate, committed and insane Italian lunatic.

If that little lot comes true, then perhaps we can look forward to better times next season.  A Championship that would be all the more fragrant and lovable without the likes of Millwall and Barnsley.  A club under strong leadership, with money available to fund the big-club aspirations a big club should rightly have.  That will do for me, as a starting point.  If we can take the first step towards realising such a scenario in this fateful, historic week – then things will look, suddenly, not so bad.