Tag Archives: Blackburn Rovers

Last Gasp Bullet Header from Jansson Sees Leeds Win at Blackburn – by Rob Atkinson

jansson-and-co

Jansson & Co – victorious at Blackburn

The Leeds United team tasked with laying the grisly ghost of FA Cup humiliation at Sutton last Sunday contained only one survivor of that sorry afternoon. And, fittingly, it was that one man, Stuart Dallas, who finally made the breakthrough after 74 minutes last night at Blackburn Rovers, as United made a belated start on making up to their fans for such an awful lapse. Latching onto a sumptuous cross-field ball from Liam Bridcutt, the Ulsterman took one touch on his chest before firing in left-footed from the left of the penalty area into the far right-hand corner of Rovers’ net.

What had gone before was a lot of huffing and puffing, with quality at a premium but no little effort. League strugglers Blackburn were earnest but incompetent, while high-flying Leeds threatened more but failed to deliver. A major feature of the match was the sight of the home team’s attacks being repelled time after time by United’s returning colossus Pontus Jansson. As it turned out, in making so many aerial clearances, Jansson was just warming up his forehead to deliver a late coup de grâce in typically emphatic and ebullient fashion.

It was a goal-laden final quarter of an hour to finish a match that had been mostly dour and scrappy. Once Leeds had taken the lead, you fancied them to hang on and see the evening out. Ten minutes after the Dallas opener, though, Leeds keeper Rob Green managed somehow to let a scrappy bobbling low shot slip past him at the foot of his left hand post, and it looked as though the hosts would salvage an unlikely point. In previous seasons, we might even have worried that such a late pegging-back of a hard-earned lead would result in United chucking even a draw away and ending up beaten. But this Leeds side is made of sterner stuff – and they showed the character and persistence to come storming back and seal a late, late victory.

The winner, when it came, had a familiar look about it. United have been quite lethal from corners lately, with the diminutive Spanish trickster Pablo Hernandez seemingly able to place his corner kicks precisely where he wants to. On this occasion, he floated the ball with quality and accuracy into exactly the right cubic foot of Ewood Park airspace, where the hurtling Jansson met it resoundingly to send his header flashing into the back of the net, before the massed ranks of the joyous, exultant travelling White Army. In almost the same last-gasp moment, miles away up on Tyneside, Newcastle conceded a comical own-goal equaliser to QPR, completing an instantaneous four-point swing in Leeds’ favour. As last minute bonuses go, even Carlsberg would be hard-pressed to do better.

So Leeds, after such a calamitous Cup capitulation (which may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise) march on in the league. Next stop is local rivals Huddersfield on Sunday, and Town themselves face a home clash with fellow contenders Brighton on Thursday evening, in a match Leeds fans will fervently be hoping that both teams can lose. For the moment, some measure of forgiveness can be extended to our heroes in white (who actually turned out at Blackburn in a decidedly natty yellow/blue/yellow ensemble). Such an ignominious exit from the FA Cup will take longer to forget than completely to forgive, yet any fan with yellow blue and white running through his or her veins will know that cups are merely tin-pot, compared to the holy grail nature of promotion.

The least welcome statistic of the evening was another yellow card for the redoubtable Jansson, but that sort of thing goes with the territory of his robust and committed approach to keeping the opposition at bay. As long as he can continue doing just that, with the occasional fringe benefit in the shape of decisive goals from crafty corners, then everybody who loves Leeds United will allow him some latitude in matters disciplinary.

Because, make no mistake, the iconic Jansson is set fair to become the biggest Leeds United hero since Gordon Strachan – and he may well soon emulate the diminutive Scot by leading the Whites back up where they belong.

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Leeds United Boosted by Hat-Trick of Victories and a New Hero   –   by Rob Atkinson

Chris Wood, much-maligned goal machine


The phenomenon of three wins on the bounce for Leeds United is not simply a welcome change for long-suffering Whites fans – it’s more like something approaching a state of nirvana. Free from the worries and stresses accompanying defeat after defeat, the average Elland Road regular can relax for once, spared the jibes of a hostile media and annoyingly gloating fans of lesser clubs. Three straight wins – it’s as near to bliss as we’re likely to get right now.

Of course, it can’t be denied that this minor miracle has been achieved without the pulling-up of too many trees. Our victory at Cardiff dumped the Bluebirds unceremoniously at the foot of the table, and the other two victories – one in the league, one in the EFL Cup, were narrow affairs against another club struggling in the Championship’s basement, Blackburn Rovers. So it might not be much to write home about, although I’m clearly intending to get a blog out of it. Still – three wins is three wins, and it might just turn out to be a platform for better things to come. A victory against Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Tractor Boys on Saturday, and we really would be on a roll.

The most notable factor in the trio of triumphs over the past week or so may well be the emergence of Swedish international centre back Pontus Jansson as the next Whites folk hero. Jansson’s performance at Cardiff was simply sublime; I’ve not seen a better defensive debut in many a moon. He’s the sort of colossus who you feel would head away anything fired at him, up to and including an intercontinental ballistic missile. And when he wasn’t wielding that impressive head, he was sliding into last ditch tackles or nipping in to make handy interceptions from frustrated Cardiff attackers. Wherever the ball entered our danger zone, there was Pontus to deal with it. The man was a revelation, a magnet for the ball, a man among men and one to hang on to if at all possible. Whoever the resident defenders are at Torino, his parent club, they must be a bit good to allow for the release of Jansson on a season’s loan. The Italians’ loss will, hopefully, be Leeds United’s gain.

Among other high points from the last few games was that Pablo Hernandez “worldy” strike to clinch the points at Cardiff. If he can start to put in more of a full shift, the ex-Swansea playmaker should be a real asset for United as the season goes on. And it’s good, also, to see Chris Wood scoring regularly. His winner against Blackburn in the EFL Cup was not a thing of beauty but, like Wood himself, it got the job done. And the boy takes a good, decisive penalty, putting them away hard and true with admirable cool as he did to open the scoring against our former nemesis Cardiff. Wood may have his detractors, but he’s undeniably effective.

Last, but not least, it’s lovely to see United make progress in a Cup. Norwich City are next up in a game at Elland Road that could see Leeds make a rare Quarter Final, and then – who knows? Maybe a big fish at home, like Manchester City, if they can overcome their own local minnows.

Now, that WOULD be bliss!

Leeds United 0, The Idiots In Charge 3   – by Rob Atkinson

You can't count on the love, Massimo, my friend

You can’t count on the love, Massimo, my friend

Nil Three at home, then. Not good but, in the context of what is now a dead rubber of a season, not disastrous either. Not on the face of it, anyway.

It’s when you set out to look at the factors behind this defeat that the blood pressure starts to elevate towards danger levels. For once, I’m not here to blame the officials – though they undoubtedly played their incompetent and over-zealous part. I’m not even here, as I frequently have been, to lambast the Football League. My concerns are a little closer to home at present.

Looked at a day or so in advance, this was a game that Leeds United should have been looking to win, in order to maintain their recent goodish run, with a view to taking some momentum and supporter goodwill into summer – whatever that may hold in store for us (apart from another Ashes mauling at the hands of the Aussies). It was a winnable game because, let’s face it, Blackburn always should be, to start off with. And then there was the matter of their forthcoming FA Cup replay against Liverpool. A team with that in the offing, and Wembley awaiting the winners, could perhaps be expected to be a little distracted and therefore, you’d have thought, ripe for the taking advantage of.

Chris and Kev never forgottenAnd, really, any game at home or away should have been winnable on this weekend of tragic memory. It’s 15 years on Sunday since we lost two of our number, brutally murdered in Istanbul.

RIP Chris and Kev – never forgotten, and we’ll never forgive either.

For those 15 years, we’ve expected nothing less than total commitment from any Leeds team facing a fixture around this time. It’s about respect, which should act so as to enhance the standard level of professionalism and commitment we always look for. Any team facing Leeds on or about April the 5th should expect and be given a very hard time. It’s only right.

The ingredients were therefore in place for what should have been a Leeds performance to be reckoned with. But professional football is a game of fine margins, and any extraneous influence can act so as to reduce the chances of any team’s success on a given day. This week just gone, with quite appalling timing, the Leeds United powers that be have chosen to drop bombshells right into the middle of weekend preparations. A respected Assistant Coach, hardly in the job five minutes, has been suspended and told he has no future at Leeds; the Head Coach has apparently been told not to select the leading scorer due to unwelcome incentive provisions in his contract (so why did they agree them in the first place?) – and now that same Head Coach is having doubts about whether or not he can really carry on in charge. It’s difficult, he says – with admirable understatement.

So, whether or not the ref and his assistants are open to criticism, whether or not Blackburn Rovers performed above expectations, whether or not our team were below what we might have expected with the anniversary of Taksim Square imminent – the fact is that the people in charge at Leeds United, the chief among whom should not be influencing matters at all, currently – being banned – these people supposedly in control and acting in the club’s best interests have comported themselves like a bull in a china shop, smashing their way through the delicate business of preparing for a game without any regard for team or management morale. Those are not the actions of responsible owners. Those are the actions of clueless idiots.

Having stayed loyal for longer than was, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, either wise or reasonable – especially in the face of some bizarre decisions over the course of a bizarre season – this blog has had to perform an uncomfortable volte face. The events of this week have not, of themselves, caused any sudden, out of the blue 180 degree about-turn. Rather, they have been the last straw, the one that finally broke the camel’s back.

I can no longer stick up for Massimo Cellino and his cohorts. It’s all just become too ridiculous and humiliating. We’ve got a Hartlepool fan – a Hartlepool fan, for Christ’s sake – referring to us as a crisis club on Soccer Saturday. And it’s hard to do more than feebly protest that Jeff Stelling should move out of his glass house before throwing any stones. But he’s right. We are a crisis club – safety from relegation notwithstanding. How could we be seen as anything else? The leaders of the club are set fair to make us untouchable by any respected football professional in the game. If Redders were to walk – who would want to move into such a hands-tied, hamstrung job? Not anybody that, in an ideal world, I’d care to nominate.

Today, we lost a football match and had a lad sent off. It’s happened before, it will happen again. At the moment, those bare facts represent the very least of our worries. We’re now at the stage where more and more people, some of whom might be expected to have an apoplectic fit at the sacrilegious idea of a re-branded Elland Road, are now openly welcoming the prospect of new owners who might well do just that. That’s how desperate we have become; that’s the barometer of the urgent desire for change – yet again.

I should have realised the way things were going when I published a spoof article for April Fools’ Day, claiming that a Russian oil mogul was buying Cellino out. It got over 25,000 views, so it must have half-convinced some people. And, in the spirit of All Fools’ Day, I got some good-natured abuse for such an outrageous lie. But what I also got was a lot – a lot – of wistful responses, saying if only it were true, etc. That’s not the sign of a happy support – and it was a big enough sample to make me to think it’s a fair indicator of the current mood. Right now, if Red Bull were to march in and paint the whole stadium some god-awful shade of the devil’s colour – you get the feeling that a lot would simply sigh and say, get on with it, then – see where we go. That’s a shocking state of affairs.

For now, we simply have to blunder on, and hope that this season peters away without too much more in the way of humiliation. The Blackburn game doesn’t matter, of itself. Nor, to be honest, does a tough-looking fixture at Wolves on Bank Holiday Monday. It’s the factors behind the Blackburn result, and behind whatever might happen to us at Molineux, that are of real concern at the moment. I think it’s right and fair to lay the blame for this 0-3 defeat squarely at the door of the owners, whatever else might have gone wrong. And I feel the same way about the Wolves game. If we do well, I’ll praise the lads and the manager. If we get – as I fear – a proper seeing-to, I’ll be blaming the suits.

After a long struggle to stay loyal, and with the way I feel with all that has happened this week – and with Jeff Stelling’s non-ironic words buzzing in my head – that’s just the way it is now for this once but no longer pro-Cellino blog.

How Premier League CEO Scudamore Blew the Gaff on Man Utd Bias – by Rob Atkinson

Pet lip:  Premier League CEO Scudamore misses those Man U days of success

Pet lip: Premier League CEO Scudamore misses those Man U days of success

As a Leeds United fanatic, a card-carrying cynic and someone with no faith in the football authorities these days to run a fair and disinterested league competition, I have written many times on this blog about my belief that the Man U domination of the game in this country after 1993 (the FA Premier League début season) was deeply suspicious. The last season or so’s steep decline, with a squad not at first markedly different to the one that romped home in Taggart’s final season, begs the question: what’s really different? It has appeared ever since The Demented One left that the change of stewardship is behind this relative failure. But was Alex Ferguson the sole factor in the unprecedented success enjoyed by the Pride of Devon over the last two decades?

These days, following a series of revealing comments over the past year or so from people who should know whereof they speak, it appears that at least a couple of other factors have been at play throughout that twenty year period. I have said over and over again in Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, that the Fergie years have been trophy-laden for three well-defined reasons, none of them all that adjacent to the quality of their playing squad. They may be summed up as: Ferguson, match officials and the rulers of the game itself. These three influences conspired over two decades to exaggerate the success of Man U out of all proportion to the abilities of their playing and coaching staff in that period, many of whom have gone on to enjoy sustained mediocrity elsewhere. Add into the mix the drip, drip, drip effect of blind, unquestioning media adulation, spearheaded by Murdoch’s Sky empire and endorsed by lapdog attitudes from the terrestrial broadcasters who know which side the commercial bread is buttered, and you have what is technically known as a “Scum-friendly environment”.

This may to the unwary sound like just another conspiracy theory.  But you only have to look at the unprecedented before and after picture of Man U’s record pre-Murdoch as compared to their success under Uncle Rupert. After all, we’re talking an almost total domination of the Premier League era here, by a club that – for the 26 years immediately preceding the league reorganisation – couldn’t buy a title. Seven times Champions in their whole history prior to 1993, and then thirteen Premier League titles in the first twenty years after Rupert Murdoch bought the game.

That’s such a sharp delineation between failure and success – it’s not coincidental that the demarcation line is the inception of the Premier League, the changing of football in this country from a sport to a brand – and the new understanding that the game was now about markets and money to a much greater extent than it had ever been before. Man U were the new brand leader, and they had better succeed – or the Premier League product might not fulfil its immense potential for dominating the world in terms of TV audiences, syndication and merchandising. And that would never do. So the game leant the way of the Man U scum – as we at Leeds United fondly refer to them – and the pressure applied by Ferguson to match officials was allowed to take effect. Professional sport is a matter of extremely fine margins; a slight bias over a long period will skew outcomes to a massive degree – and that’s exactly what has happened.

Naturally, none of this has ever been acknowledged. It’s been of paramount importance, after all, that the Premier League should at least retain the appearance of being a fair competition, on the proverbial level playing field. But now – Ferguson has gone, Man U are failing, the referees are not by any means as intimidated, opposing teams are not scared any more; not, as they used to be, beaten before they took the field. And now people are speaking out, very revealingly – and in some cases that is clearly intentional, in other cases less so. Ex-referee Graham Poll is one who has made his views known quite deliberately; he has spoken out about the feelings of a ref in the Fergie years, how the priority was to get off the field without having made any close calls against Man U – and, ideally, with them having won the game. What is the cumulative effect of that kind of insidious pressure over twenty years? Self-evidently, it’s significant; look at the trophy records, the penalty for and against statistics, the time added on if Man U weren’t winning – and so on and so forth.

Poll has also written about the unprecedented scenes when three penalties were given against Man U in a home game against old rivals Liverpool. Even though things have changed in terms of the favourable decisions enjoyed by Man U, these were the first penalties awarded against Man U as the home team since December 2011 – well over two years without conceding a home league penalty. Poll’s observations on that make for interesting reading for anyone who, as I do, strongly suspects that Man U had it easy from match officials in the Fergie years.

And then, to put the tin lid on it, we had Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore sounding off, in earnestly worried tones, about how the Premier League “brand” is being adversely affected by the difficulties Man U were having last season (happily, it’s carried on in pretty much the same vein this time around). It’s difficult to believe that he was quite aware of the import of what he was saying – this was a tacit admission, after all, that the supposedly disinterested rulers of the game actually have a vested interest – as I’ve been saying long and loud – in the regular success of Man U. “It’s a double-edged sword,” said Scudamore, at the time. “When your most popular club isn’t doing as well, that costs you interest and audience in some places.” The hapless Peter doesn’t identify the other edge of that sword, but he’s clearly perturbed by the prospect of a future with Man U as the also-rans they’ve been this last two campaigns.

Speaking in greater depth about the ethos of the Premier League, as well as its duty to fans around the world, Scudamore went on: “There are lots of fans around the world who wish Manchester United were winning it again. But you have to balance that off against, generally, we’re in the business of putting on a competition and competition means people can compete.” The wistful tone of that last sentence was massively telling. Other clubs will insist on competing, particularly now that Ferguson is history. How very inconvenient and bad for business. What a deuced bore.

The FA Premier League mandarins at a high level clearly see even competition, where any old Tom, Dick or Manuel (or even Jose) can win the League, as their cross to bear, something that will inhibit their ability to market their “brand” around a global audience in thrall to Man U. But they have made a rod for their own back in allowing the creation of that trophy-winning monster, under the inimical sway of a tyrant from Govan, to become so all-consuming in the first place. Now they’re reaping what they have sown – in pumping up the bubble of unrealistic success for one favoured club, they have left themselves without a Plan B for when that bubble bursts – as bubbles inevitably will.

For real football people – the fans out here, the people who have always gone along to the match, with little if any thought of global markets and syndication deals – this new reality of genuine competition has come as a breath of fresh air. There’s a new top four out there, of varied make-up which usually excludes Man U, and they’ve all played wonderful football and succeeded on their own merits.

We’ve also seen less of the media-beloved “mind games” which are so tiresome to the fan in the street. We’ve not missed that old curmudgeon, railing at authority whenever he gets any less than his own way and intimidating anybody who gets in his way. Football seems fresh and new again; Man U were seventh last time – which is probably about where they should have finished the season before. The first twenty years of the Premier League can be seen as a statistical blip, the product of a tyrant dominating and bullying the people charged with the responsibility to see that the game is run fairly. The evidence is there; listen to Poll, listen to what Scudamore is actually saying. Look at the results and standings this season and last.

We’re so very sorry, Mr Scudamore, if your product and your brand are suffering from the failure of “your most popular club”. Perhaps you should take the view that popularity is there to be earned by whichever club can succeed on merit? That it’s not something to be inculcated by the favourable treatment of one chosen club, amounting to institutional bias over twenty long years. Perhaps you can learn that – and then all we will have to regret is the two decades when, aided by Ferguson and a terrified cadre of referees and officials, you – blatantly and with malice aforethought – sold the game down the river.

Leeds United To Make Winning Start to 2014? – by Rob Atkinson

Image

Happy New Year

For the second year in a row, Leeds have rounded off twelve months of little real achievement on the pitch by sliding to defeat – last year it was a 2-0 drubbing at Hull City, this time around a slightly tighter affair at the City Ground saw us edged out by Nottingham Forest, courtesy of a late screamer from Matt Derbyshire after we’d fashioned what seemed like a point-saver from Ross McCormack.

It would be slightly rude of our heroes, then, not to avail themselves of the chance presented by a home fixture against Blackburn to get the New Year off to a positive and optimistic start. Three points against mid-table dwellers Rovers would very neatly sum up the mood in which United and most of its fans are starting 2014. A takeover is due to be ratified “imminently”. Signings are in the air, possibly costing actual money. Recent stand-out performer Marius Zaliukas has been handed an improved contract, something to gladden the heart of any White who has marvelled at his sterling work at the core of our defence. Things are looking pretty good with the likelihood of them getting even better – so surely Leeds can reflect this and send a 30,000 plus crowd home happy today by routing the Rovers?

The other side of that coin, of course, is that victory for Blackburn would haul them within a point of United, making both teams part of the pack chasing the play-off spots as opposed to being in there and consolidating. But, enough of that. This preview shall be informed by the prevalent air of optimism; no more defeatist talk.

Such a bullish mood must survive some slightly worrying team news as goalkeeper Paddy Kenny and attacking hero and demigod Ross McCormack both face late checks on injuries picked up in Nottingham. Kenny suffered a heavy blow on the ankle early in the piece, and had to delegate goal-kicking duties to Super Marius. McCormack was feeling a tight hamstring late on, and his importance to the team simply cannot be over-stressed.

More positively, teenager Alex Mowatt may be able to resume his midfield duties after being rested since coming off with a back problem during the Barnsley match. An injection may have helped the youngster overcome this discomfort, and his creativity and poise would be welcome after two matches in which United have struggled to create a great deal.

Blackburn will be without suspended Jason Lowe, while Corry Evans (ankle) and Todd Kane (thigh) are injury absentees. Rovers may welcome back David Dunn and Josh King as they seek to complete a double over United.

Having predicted defeat at Forest, I will be hoping to continue some rare good form as a pundit, because I’m calling this one as a 2-0 home win. The clean sheet would be a bonus, but really any kind of victory would do as we seek to get the new year – and the second half of the season – off to the best possible start. I’ll tip McCormack and Smith to do the damage and send Leeds off into Cup football with a 100% record in the league for 2014. Happy New Year!