Tag Archives: Champions

Leeds United Can Blast Through Nine Game Mini-Season to Championship Glory – by Rob Atkinson

Bamford

Don’t you know, pump it up etc.

In the light of UEFA‘s statement today, whereby the European Championships have been postponed for a year with the express intent of allowing domestic league programmes to be completed after the COVID-19 delay, there now opens up a window of opportunity for clubs challenging for league success to achieve that goal. UEFA appears to be aiming for a completion of league programmes by the end of June – which may still be slightly optimistic – but at least some prospect of getting the thing done now seems realistic.

It all gets much more interesting and even more encouraging for Leeds United fans when you consider the nature of the club’s league performance in two seasons under Marcelo Bielsa. On both occasions, the team has leapt out of the traps fresh and vigorous, sweeping aside most opposition and roaring straight to the top of the table. Relatively less effective periods have come later in the long and gruelling campaigns – what is sometimes known as Bielsa Burnout due to the notoriously demanding training sessions he requires of his team. The current hiatus in competitive matches due to this pesky virus (and please don’t think I’m making light of it, but this is above all else a football blog and I do believe Corona is covered adequately elsewhere) is giving the Leeds players, and their counterparts at rival clubs, of course, some time to recharge the batteries and regain some of that early season oomph. Meanwhile, the players who were not at peak fitness can make progress towards that happy state of affairs, and even the likes of Adam Forshaw, who underwent surgery that was expected to end his campaign, might now harbour slim hopes of being actively involved.

So, even though all of the Championship rival clubs are in the same boat in terms of an unexpected late season delay, the outcome for Leeds United may be disproportionately favourable, given their recent history of fast starts under Bielsa. With what is, in effect, a nine game mini-season ahead of them, fully rested and with an extra pre-season under their belts, and with squad members previously not up to scratch now hitting the required standards, things should be looking very good for Leeds. Add in the fact that they would be starting this 27 point mini-season with a seven point cushion over Fulham in third place, with all their rivals having a much more difficult (on paper) set of fixtures, and it’s difficult to see much if any cause for pessimism.

For once, it may well be that Leeds United will harvest triumph out of the ashes of a national disaster, and this humble blogger is confident that – come the end of this season, whenever that might be – there will be yellow, blue and white ribbons on that famous old Football League Trophy (yeah, the one we should have been allowed to keep for good in 1992). It’s going to happen, ladies and gentlemen – so, however bleak you may feel right now, be of good cheer. United are going back to the Big Time.

Marching On Together

So, Do We Want Leeds United Promoted by Default … or Not?? – by Rob Atkinson

leeds-fans

Leeds United, big club, great fans. Massive player in any league

On the face of it, any question with the question “do we want Leeds United promoted” in it would always come under the heading of “bleedin’ silly/obvious”. But circumstances alter cases and we are not living in normal times. So, weird as it would normally appear, we’ve seen genuine Leeds United fans genuinely confused and uncertain about what seems to be a genuine possibility that United, along with West Brom, may be invited to join a slightly inflated Premier League next season, with the caveat that they’d have to finish five or six places clear of the bottom in order to stay up – as there could be four or five relegated to redress the imbalance caused by no relegation at the end of this possibly truncated season.

Phew. If that’s all clear to you, we now move on to the even knottier issue of whether or not we’d want promotion this way. Certainly, it’s far from ideal  There’d be no carousing on the pitch after an ecstatic final whistle, no tension, no anticipation, probably not even the civic pride of an open-top bus parade from City Square to the Town Hall and onwards to Elland Road. Instead, it would be the meekest, mildest and probably least satisfactory promotion ever – but at least we’d be up.

The other alternatives are scarcely more attractive. Voiding the season simply doesn’t bear thinking about, so I won’t discuss it. Resuming the season in the foreseeable future seems unlikely, unless some way can be found to play behind closed doors without causing riots outside locked stadia. But at least that would permit the possibility of an earned and undisputed promotion (unless we screw up again). Ending the league now, with the positions as they are, would perhaps taint any promotion thus earned. Yes, we’re seven clear of third – but even Liverpool, twenty-five points clear at the top of the Premier League, need two more wins as it stands, for mathematical certainty. Would we really want our many critics to have the open goal of “Yeah, you went up – but it was shoddy”. As Spurs legend Danny Blanchflower famously said, “The game is about glory”. There’s a school of thought that demands any promotion should be glorious, and therefore shrinks away from any antiglorious creative accounting or artifice, whatever the circumstances.

I’m looking for input here, tell me what you think. I must confess that, if we were simply invited up alongside WBA, it would leave a slightly hollow feeling where my yellow, blue and white heart should be. Not that it’d stop me hailing us as Champions. But would any of us stick so closely to noble principles that we’d look a gift horse in the mouth and say, no – I’d rather we stayed down and earned it next year? Not forgetting, of course that – given another year in the Championship – we’d probably be saying goodbye to Marcelo Bielsa (God) and Kalvin Phillips, the Yorkshire Pirlo himself.

I must admit, I slightly lean towards going up any which way, and arguing about it later, with our Premier League status confirmed. But there’s a nagging doubt still, over how I’d actually feel.

Let me know what you think, please. Feel free to add in your own feelings, doubts, arguments. And please don’t think I’m neglecting the seriousness of this COVID-19 crisis. But that’s all over the media – and here in this protective bubble is where we talk about Leeds United, while the world outside goes crazy.

Marching on Together

EFL to Promote Leeds as Champions “On the Balance of Probabilities” – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United – ready to beat the bug

With the suspension of all domestic professional football until at least April 3rd, fans of clubs who occupy highly promising league positions are understandably worried about their favourites’ prospects of success being snatched from them by a nasty little bug – but enough of Shaun Harvey.

Leeds United, of course – along with the likes of Liverpool in the league above and Coventry in the third tier – are among the clubs for whom the future, so apparently bright a bare few days back, now seems uncertain to say the least. Seven points clear of that dreaded third place, United looked nailed-on for promotion – with the Championship title dangling as a temptingly achievable bonus. One pandemic later, and we’re all stressing about still being in this league next season (whenever that might be) sans Bielsa, sans the Yorkshire Pirlo, bereft of hope and considering legal action.

But don’t despair. The seeds of our salvation were sown a few weeks back with the decision handed down from on high that Kiko Casilla, although deemed not to be a racist, would nevertheless be banned for some racist abuse that nobody can be sure actually happened. With a cool £60,000 fine thrown in, along with a date with the FA Re-education and Indoctrination Guild (FRIG) it’s a pretty hefty penalty for something unproven. But the authorities decided they were vindicated by the lower standard of proof applicable in non-criminal cases, and happily threw the book at Kiko, concluding that he dunnit, on balance of probabilities.

This was felt by some at the time to be scandalous as well as draconian, but now it’s a precedent that may well assist Leeds United, as well as the likes of Liverpool and Coventry. All three clubs are so well placed that the half-baked balance of probabilities test would have to find them overwhelmingly likely to clinch promotion. Some bookies have Leeds with a 98% chance of going up, which satisfies even the more stringent “beyond reasonable doubt” test. As for Liverpool, it’s far more likely that Boris Johnson will be hit by a meteorite than that the Reds will fail to become Champions of England for the first time since 1990 – when Leeds United coincidentally last won promotion to the top flight as second tier Champs.

So there you have it. The authorities are hamstrung by their own legal machinations, hoist by their own petard. Even if they want to seize upon this virus crisis to deny Leeds promotion (and I bet they do) – they will find that they can’t. Probably.

Marching on Together

Think Leeds Will Blow It? Wake Up and Smell the Costa Coffee – by Rob Atkinson

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

ChapmanHarrison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There Still One More Twist in Leeds United’s Auto Promotion Bid? – by Rob Atkinson

Jesus

Don’t forget – Jesus once wore the shirt

David Prutton, now a Sky Sports pundit but nicknamed “Jesus” by Leeds fans once upon a time, due to his startling resemblance to the alleged Son of God, might therefore be wryly amused by the fact that United’s automatic promotion hopes appeared to die on Good Friday. As yet, and with a barren Easter Monday visit to Brentford answering no prayers originating in and around LS11, there seems to be nary a sign of any resurrection for what was probably a misplaced optimism that we might find a straightforward path out of the EFL wilderness. Barring a miracle on a par with the loaves and fishes gig, it’s likely that Leeds United will, after all, have to settle for a play-offs lottery that has served them so ill on so many occasions in the past.

But, soft. Perhaps the time for despair is not yet nigh. Any neutral observer looking at the twists and turns taken by this season’s Championship promotion race will note that it’s been a consistently inconsistent affair, predictable only in its inscrutable unpredictability. You couldn’t have made it up, such observers would say, possibly gasping and throwing their hands in the air to signify outraged disbelief. If you were writing a script, they might add, you wouldn’t have dared include so many plot twists, for fear of being dismissed as some lunatic sensationalist with a bevy of bats in the belfry. Why, then, should we assume that all is done and dusted with two games yet to be played for each interested party? Why on earth would we now presume to predict an outcome that has from day one been so capriciously impossible to foresee?

Out of such perverse logic might appear the odd straw for fans of Leeds United eagerly to clutch with a fierce defiance born of pure desperation. Could Ipswich get a point at Bramall Lane while a depleted Leeds triumph over the division’s form team Aston Villa, leaving things on a last day knife-edge? Of course not. But then again, you might have argued as dismissively about ten man Wigan’s chances of overcoming a one goal deficit to beat the Championship’s best home ground team in Leeds. And you’d surely have bet against a QPR side that had lost seven on the bounce somehow defying the match stats to see our heroes off 1-0 the other week. All of which proves the truth of the old saw about not counting chickens before they’ve hatched.

Of course, in public, I’m maintaining a front of stoical resignation and predicting yet more play-off disappointment for my beloved Whites. My perceived sanity and any remaining shreds of credibility probably depend upon this outward display of common sense. But this little blog is my private fantasy land – and here, all things are possible until the actual point at which it can be shown they haven’t actually happened. So, just between you and me, gentle reader, I will cling on to my faint but still flickering hopes that a miracle could yet occur, and that we might yet see our favourites ascend to the Promised Land as of right, instead of having to trust to that fickle and Leeds-hating jade Lady Luck. You never know, it could still just happen.

Hell fire, friends – we might yet even win the Championship. The kind of roller-coaster script this year’s League has apparently followed might actually demand a properly daft denouement like that. Keep the faith.

Marching On Together 

DIARY OF A CHAMPIONSHIP FAN – PART TWO: WHEN LEXIT MEANS LEXIT – by Patrick Hogan

Families, communities, a whole nation divided over LEXIT

It’s April 2019 and it’s been going on too long now. The people have spoken and yet have had to suffer interminable setbacks; delays, long drawn out negotiations, broken promises, missed deadlines, and things are still not resolved. In your darkest moments you imagine it going on forever. The issue has divided the nation. And yet still you’re living in this impasse. 

It’s time for Leeds to leave the EFL! LEXIT IS LONG OVERDUE!

There was the time you’d outlined in bitter tones to your bitter other half that though LUFC were big other lesser teams had been acquired and funded by billionaires who virtually bought them entrance to the hallowed portals of the Premiership. Look at Wolves in the 2017-18 season you’d said. Loans to buy of top international players through the workings of an agent on the board! And then the skewed distribution of TV money. Relegated teams coming down with huge parachute payments. An outrage that unlevelled the playing field in all sorts of ways. 

‘Well other teams seem to manage to get promotion,’ she’d come back with. 

And for the reasons you’d outlined you’d answered. And what had been her rejoinder? ‘There is no magic money tree! You reap what you sow!’ 

‘And we’d sown Bates had we?’ you’d replied.

‘Who? You live according to your means,’ she’d added. 

You‘d been feeling quite proud of that little snippet of repartee about Bates that hadn’t earned you any points till only later in the pub in your retelling of the spat to friends. The clarity of the scene lived in your mind. It wasn’t when you’d told her that she’d sounded like Theresa May but when you’d added with deliberate vitriol that she was starting to look like her that your missus had packed her bags and left again.

You’ve been a fan of Championship football for years although not through choice. And you’ve praised its qualities of honesty, speed, intensity, and so on that you’d outlined to disinterested pseudo Arsenal, Spurs (add a team) fans who’d never been to any of the grounds of the teams they purported to follow whilst they’ve waxed lyrically about their ‘support’ at work or at the pub watching Sky Sports. The Championship was beneath them. Unless of course they’d picked one of the ‘wrong’ teams like West Ham, WBA, (insert suitable name again) and were then doomed to explore the delights of ‘yo-yo-ness’; until they realised their mistake quickly and bought a Liverpool shirt, etc. backing it up with a flaky reason for their sudden change of allegiance.

But it isn’t as easy as that for you. You loyalties lie in whatever sphere your club happens to find itself. This brings you to another sad memory about the currently departed missus. You’d told her often enough that Leeds would get out of that division – and then it had happened. But not how you wanted. It had been almost unthinkable but only one year on from a play-off final Leeds were in League One! And a brief glance at a map showed you that Swansea and Yeovil were a long way away. And oh she had laughed. And without a word you’d walked out and not come back for three days while you licked your wounds and studied a road atlas looking for places like Cheltenham only to find she’d gone. 

Well she’s not laughing now. Or she might be but not at home. Your bet is she’ll come back contrite when your forecasted Lexit proves to be right. And when she does she’ll find you looking at next season’s fixture list and wondering how much places like Old Trafford, Goodison, and Anfield have changed since you were last there. And also Highbury – scrub that. Arsenal were now at a ground you’d never been to. Add to that list White Hart Lane. And no longer would you have to trek to the old Boleyn ground, a loss you’re prepared to bear stoically if Lexit finally happens.

The truth is though you’ve extolled the virtues of the Championship for years; how it’s more exciting, and harder for overpaid non-performers dropping from the Premiership who just want the bright lights of places like London, and the TV coverage you’re tired of being a Championship fan. Or rather you’re tired of Leeds being a Championship team. And if Leeds are now geared up to be a Premiership team again, you, who has served his penance for past owners’ misdemeanours, feel you’re more than ready to be a Premiership fan again. Admittedly Bournemouth, Brighton and Southampton are further than the likes of Reading, Stoke and Derby but you’ll take that. And in leaving wish all Championship fans luck in the future – obviously not those in places like Bermondsey and Sheffield.

And the delicious irony is that the EFL will have to struggle along without its prize asset and cash cow once Leeds have left despite their best efforts to keep you in their league. At this moment you feel there’s light at the end of a long tunnel even if that glorious light is slightly overshadowed by the spectre of Shaun Harvey following you to the Premiership and getting a top job. You will not let him be the black dog Cerberus chasing you in your dreams. And surely after Lexit there’ll be better referees and kick-off times, less biased commentary and punditry, and the ability to attract top talent – in short, all the things that Lexiteers have promised you.

But back to the mythical magic money tree for a moment. The one you’d yearned for so long and that other teams had seemed to conjure up to get promotion. The amazing thing was that so far the missing missus had been proved right. Fifteen players loaned out; and the few incoming loans and couple of money signings not having played a major part in the process this season. If Lexit is achieved it will be by organisation, dedication, planning and commitment. All the qualities you’ve brought to bear in your support. 

And the club will have played its part too of course.

So there you are. Still waiting and praying for Lexit but this time with genuine hope of an early deliverance. You long to say to the EFL (and Shaun Harvey in particular) ‘In the name of God go!’

Yes, the LUFC fraternity (and of course sisterhood) have spoken with one voice and their combined wish is this: ‘Lexit means Lexit! And it has to happen soon!’

And with that thought constantly in mind you retire to the pub with fellow minded fans to feel the consolation and solidarity of their emotions as they empathise with what you’re going through. And for a short while you can relax as one of them retells your favourite Man U joke. You may know it word for word but there is a comfort in repetition and usually a new pair of ears to take in its poignancy – 

‘The wife decided to wear a Manchester United top for a week to see the public reaction. On The 1st morning she was spat on, swore at, punched in the face twice, kicked up the arse and received 3 death threats……..Don’t know how she’ll get on when she leaves the house.’

Stumbling Blocks Hardly Unknown on Leeds United’s Historic Success Trail – by Rob Atkinson

All White Champions

Champions 1973/74 – despite a late blip

There can be no denying that Leeds United were more than a little unfortunate to emerge from Saturday’s Yorkshire derby clash with Sheffield United empty-handed. Given ordinary luck, with just a break or two going the way of the Whites, it could have been a very different story; even a draw would have seen Leeds two points clear of third place. But little went right on the day and that, sadly, is a feeling that every Leeds fan down the years knows all too well. 

As it is, we had to take an undeserved defeat on the chin, with the woodwork, injuries and just about every factor you could name ranged against us. United are now a point off the automatic promotion places, when they could have been five points clear of third. Loud and woeful has been the wailing, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth among the United faithful, as the fates seem determined to conspire against Yorkshire’s Number One club.

But wait just a minute. Calm yourselves, fellow Leeds devotees, and be of good cheer. It’s all happened before, you see, at about this time of year too – and it’s rarely been fatal to our chances of success. When you look at our most recent landmark seasons, right back to when I was nobbut a lad, you’ll see that a late stumble or two, with United there or thereabouts and the tension mounting, is much more the rule than the exception.

Going as far back as 1974, when Don Revie‘s Super Leeds were stumbling somewhat along the title path, having at one stage been nine points clear, Burnley visited Elland Road and departed with two points from a 4-1 victory. It was hailed as nearest challengers Liverpool‘s great chance to overhaul United, but Leeds ended up as Champions and by a decisive margin.

Then, in 1990, Barnsley were the visitors on a night when nothing went right for Leeds. Centre back Chris Fairclough was absent for 13 first half minutes having seven stitches in a head wound. He rejoined the fray in time to plant a brave and bloody header into the Barnsley net, giving Leeds a well-deserved interval lead, to the massive relief of a huge Elland Road crowd. Surely, nothing could go wrong now?

In truth, we battered Barnsley throughout the ninety minutes but, in a sickening second half turnaround, two subs for the Tykes scored in quick succession, gifting the Reds an extremely unlikely win. Again, doom and gloom stalked the streets of Leeds – but United still went up as champions.

And then, two years on, Leeds were engaged in an almighty battle with Them from There for the last ever Football League Championship. The media were all agog for the Devonians to win the league – how fitting it would be, they purred. When Leeds lost heavily away, twice in a short space of time, it looked as though the script was written, with Leeds cast as fall guys. A 1-4 defeat at QPR had been followed in short order by a 0-4 reverse at Manchester City, and the Leeds-hating nation celebrated. But it was the Whites who held their nerve and mustered their resources to clinch the title of Last Champions by four points, while Manchester’s second club amusingly choked on the dry ashes of defeat.

So nil desperandum, all you devoted Whites out there. We’ve tripped up, recovered and gone on to win many a time before, in accordance with this great club’s motto of “Keep Fighting” – and there’s no reason we can’t do it again. Have faith in Marcelo Bielsa‘s boys, who really do have that fighting spirit that typified Super Leeds of old, and simply trust that all will come right in the end. Believe.

Marching On Together

You Can Be Angry, You Can Be Critical, and Yet STILL Be a Loyal Leeds Fan – by Rob Atkinson

leeds-fans

Leeds fans United behind team and club


In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s irritating (not disastrous) defeat at QPR, I wrote in anger about what I thought of Leeds United‘s performance – saying that, although we didn’t get the breaks, we also lacked bottle and class. I’d still stand by that, but possibly with the slight amendment that we seemed to lack bottle and class because we failed to show bottle and class. It’s a small but important difference.

In my heart of hearts, I know that this Leeds United squad is not short of courage or quality – they’ve demonstrated on many occasions this season, though not so much lately, that they possess both attributes. The comeback win at Aston Villa, hunting down a lone Wigan attacker like a pack of hungry wolves, late levellers in adverse circumstances as at Middlesbrough. Many such moments. I know all this and I’m proud of it. But I’m sure that no group of professional footballers would expect the fans to take this as read. It’s their job to go out and prove that they have the guts and the skill, game after game, over and over again, all season long. That determination to prove they’ve got the bottle and the class was missing at QPR. And it was right, even in post-defeat anger and hurt, to point that out.

I say this, because there are different schools of thought among Leeds fans, both in physical groups, in the pub post-game, perhaps, and online. Some feel they have a right to say what they like, however harsh, having paid their money – even to the extent of dismissing this or that player as “useless” or “should never wear the shirt again”. You see those tweets collected to make articles that purport to be the feelings of the fans as a whole but, in reality, it’s more representative of an extreme group of hypercritical malcontents.

Others hold the view that any criticism is A Bad Thing, and that we should all be totally positive as a condition of support, unwilling to hear or tolerate a bad word about anything to do with Leeds. Again, this is quite extreme, though in the opposite way – and it’s probably almost as unhelpful as the rabid critics referred to above. For me, there has to be the possibility of feeding back to the club when you honestly feel that standards are dropping. Some fans are knowledgeable, some are not – and some appear to feel they know better than the pros, be they on the playing staff or responsible for coaching and team selection.

But I firmly believe that the vast majority of fans know and love the game well enough, and have enough of a passion for their club, to be able to steer a useful middle path between the extremes, and vociferously support their club, defending them against attacks from outside, while reserving judgement when on-field performance dips.

I’m confident enough in my own regard for “my” club that I feel able to launch into them occasionally, without being thought of as negative or hostile. I wouldn’t be writing about Leeds United in the first place if I didn’t feel the highs and lows with as much pleasure and pain even as the players who trot out to the crowd’s applause. Like thousands of others, I was supporting United many years before any of those lads in the yellow shirts at QPR were born. So I wouldn’t like to think that anyone – players, staff, fellow fans or anybody else – would read what I wrote just after the final whistle last night, and think that I’m not a true fan, or that I’m disloyal or habitually negative. I’m not – anyone who knows me will know that I’m virtually defined by my abiding love for Leeds United.

It’s always a difficult situation after a disappointing defeat, especially in these circumstances, with the carrot dangling of going back top, and taking on a tired team who’d just reeled off seven straight defeats. But that’s no reason to hold back, so I said what I thought needed saying – and yes, I said it feeling bitterly angry. But that’s not to say I’m not a loyal and committed supporter – I went into print precisely because I am loyal and committed and because, loving the club and believing in the players and management, I have great expectations.

For what it’s worth, I believe that the players will be angrier and more disappointed in themselves than even the most gutted fan, and I think they will use that to bounce back at Elland Road on Friday against West Brom. I hope and believe that will happen.

But, if it doesn’t, and if we all have another bitter pill to swallow – then please don’t doubt my loyalty and commitment when, choking on that pill, I write another angry and critical piece. Because I really would be doing it for what I honestly see as the very best of reasons – to show that I care deeply. As we all do.

MOT

Leeds United Must Beware Ending Up With an Earful of Rotherham Cider – by Rob Atkinson

Marcelo Bielsa – wily

In the great Broadway show Guys and Dolls, a young gambler sets out on his career with the following advice from his father: “One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you’re going to wind up with an ear full of cider.’

There is much wisdom to be found in classic scripts such as those produced from the tales of Damon Runyon, upon whose writings Guys and Dolls was based. Runyon’s name has even passed into the language as a byword for witty, pithy dialogue which is pleasing to the ear, has street wisdom undertones and is reminiscent of the shady world of the Broadway hood. If something is described as “Runyonesque”, you can be sure it will be clever, plausible and not lightly to be ignored or treated with anything but close attention and respect.

So when Rotherham United manager Paul Warne waxes lyrical about tomorrow’s opponents Leeds United, whilst simultaneously bemoaning his own club’s injury and sickness lists, the wise devotee of Elland Road, be they player, fan or even globally-renowned coach, will instantly be on the alert. Mr. Warne sounds full of respect for his opponents and equally full of world-weariness at the paucity of his own resources, but he is to be treated with caution, even as Runyon’s card sharp or – more classically – Greeks bearing gifts. The Rotherham boss has spoken sweetly about the Leeds United style of play, hinting at similarities with Manchester City. He has spoken dolefully of the Millers’ injuries and of a minor plague of illness affecting his squad. Already, I can almost feel the Strongbow trickling past my auricle and on towards my eardrum.

Fortunately, wily Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa will be well-prepared for such unctuous softening-up – and for him, it will just be a matter of making sure his team, named once again on Thursday to give opposition spies an even break, are similarly prepared. Leeds certainly can and should win this game, but going into it in a complacent frame of mind is a sure way of ending up pointless and leaking cider from both ears. Still, as Runyon also memorably said, “The race may not always be to the swift nor the victory to the strong, but that’s how you bet.”

Bielsa, for his part, has merely commented that both teams have their own way of playing, and that they will both go ahead and perform according to those differing plans. It’s worthy of note that the Millers have been far stronger at home than away this season, but also that they fell on their own turf to Brentford last week by four goals to two. All of which, plus Leeds’ own patchy recent form, makes this one difficult to call.

Still, in Bielsa we trust. His cards are on the table at least in part, with the starting eleven for Leeds named yesterday, though the make up of his substitute’s bench is as yet unknown. Perhaps it is from there that a jack of spades may yet emerge to squirt cider into Rotherham’s unsuspecting ears, turning the mind-game tables on that nice Mr Warne. In the topsy turvy world of Runyonland, otherwise known as the English Championship, anything is possible.