Tag Archives: Derby County

2-1 To the Referee as Leeds Lose at Home to Derby – by Rob Atkinson

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TC: “This must stop”

It’s fair to say that, after Leeds United‘s controversial defeat at home to Derby County last night, United boss Thomas Christiansen was almost speechless with frustration and anger at some of the decisions made by match referee Simon Hooper. If anything, that’s an understatement. I’ve rarely seen a manager so upset and so clearly having to choose his words carefully. Even after his stint at the post-match press conference was done, Christiansen lingered, still speaking to the assembled reporters about two pivotal penalty decisions: “You saw the situations – didn’t you?” There was sympathy in the room, but also a sense that here was a man starting to be bowed down by the pressure that goes with the Elland Road hot seat.

On a night when former United manager Simon Grayson got the boot at Sunderland, his was a name being whispered in the West Stand corridors following a third successive home defeat for Leeds. Christiansen pronounced himself happy that an additional coach – Gianni Veo, touted as a “set piece coach” – is joining the Leeds backroom staff, though he didn’t claim to have been a party to that recruitment decision. It might be premature to say that the future is bleak for the Leeds manager, but it is at the very least uncertain; we can be sure that results need to pick up sharply in the very near future, starting at Brentford on Saturday in what Christiansen aptly describes as a “must-win game”.

Objectively, the performance of referee Hooper was poor; Derby’s penalty didn’t stand much scrutiny and, arguably, Leeds should have gone in at half time two up with a penalty of their own to add to Pierre-Michel Lasogga‘s 8th minute opener. In the event, both decisions went against United, a situation most Leeds fans will be wearily familiar with especially if they’ve been watching the Whites over the past five decades. I actually put this to Christiansen as he left the press conference – he just sighed and replied “This must stop”.

Given that one man may not be able to alter the course of so much history, though, it’s down to the players and the coaching staff to make Leeds a threatening team once again, miserly in defence and productive in attack. That’s what we got in the early part of the season, and it did seem that Leeds were back at it against Bristol – but since then, they’ve gone back into their shell when hosting Sheffield United and Derby. Poor refereeing decisions notwithstanding, Leeds must shoulder their portion of blame for the results that have befallen them.

After the Brentford match on Saturday, there’s yet another international break – the chance, perhaps, for new coach Gianni Veo to make his mark on at least United’s dead ball situations. How good it would be to follow up on a promising away showing at Bristol, with another winning performance and three points at Griffin Park. Not only good, indeed, but potentially vital, at least for Thomas Christiansen. And you can be sure nobody appreciates that more than he does. 

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Leeds CAN Secure Automatic Promotion as Rivals Falter – by Rob Atkinson

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Garry Monk – the man with the plan

We’ve had false dawns aplenty before at Elland Road. Many a time, a false dawn has appeared to be the only possible light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. But this time, things do feel different. There’s a momentum steadily gathering, a feeling that Leeds United are developing slowly into an unstoppable force. History tells us that, often in the past, the leaders of the chasing pack benefit from a sudden uncertainty and crumbling of long-time front-runners. That scenario is developing right now at the head of the Championship – and Leeds United, to our delighted surprise, is the form horse.

One of the characteristics of a successful team is that it can grind out a result when playing badly. Leeds demonstrated that strength against Blackburn Rovers last night at Ewood Park, in a game that could easily have slipped away, but which was decided by a late and thumping header from the talismanic Pontus Jansson.

Another sign of a team going places is the quality of being able to bounce back from the occasional lapse. That’s something that this Leeds United team has been able to do on several occasions this season, going on to compile unbeaten runs after reverses that would have sapped morale in other years under other managers.

Garry Monk has had his less than brilliant moments since taking charge of United, but overall has seemed determined, self-assured and unflappable. He survived early difficulties, avoiding the ever-poised axe in the hands of maverick owner Massimo Cellino. Indeed, one of the main achievements of his first season in the Leeds hot-seat has been to marginalise Cellino, quieting talk in the media of the owner picking the team and generally remaining his own man. Other factors may have helped push Cellino into the shadows, but it’s still the mark of a strong man to succeed at Leeds where so many others have failed.

On the whole, and despite the odd, inevitable blip, Leeds United are very well placed now for the last, crucial stage of the League campaign. Free of cup commitments, with the squad enhanced by quality additions and vital players returning from injury, the platform is there for a decisive surge between now and May. Much will depend on the durability or otherwise of the teams ahead – Brighton, Newcastle and, to a lesser extent, Reading. Huddersfield and the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and even Barnsley, present a threat from behind. But Leeds have the resolve and the personnel to emerge from the pack and take advantage of any crack-ups from the top two. And there are definite signs of such frailty and vulnerability in both Brighton and Newcastle.

The top two seem concerned about each other, when they should perhaps be looking fearfully over their shoulders at the play-off pack. Usually, somebody comes with a late run, exploiting a loss of bottle above them to reach the tape ahead of the pace-setters. It’s a situation that could well work in favour of Leeds United.

This weekend is the first of many pivotal League rounds to come. Huddersfield and Brighton meet tonight, in a game where any result will have some advantage for Leeds. And United have that extra twenty-four hours recovery time before having to travel to Huddersfield on Sunday. It will be very interesting to see how the Championship top six looks on Sunday evening.

But whatever happens over the next few days, there are golden opportunities for Leeds to assert themselves over the remainder of the season – and both Newcastle and Brighton will be feeling the heat. That’s a situation a canny manager like Monk can and should exploit; this blog believes that he is willing and able to do just that.

Leeds United for automatic promotion this season? You’d better believe it.

Swansea Beat Man United to Crown A Weekend Mirabilis for Leeds   –   by Rob Atkinson

Chris Wood milks the adulation of the fans

Truly it is said that, for a sports fan’s very best of times, it’s not quite enough that your favourites should win. It’s necessary also for a team you despise to lose, preferably after taking the lead and crowing prematurely. It adds the aromatic spice of Schadenfreude to the jubilant celebration feast of success. When everything falls into place like this, pleasure and triumph for the good guys, pain and suffering for the baddies, it arrives like Manna from Heaven or soft, gentle rain in a parched drought. Those joyous moments don’t come along often enough, sadly – but this last two day’s melange of high points is one to remember for a long time.

By any reckoning, such a very rewarding weekend is like a great big, gaudy parcel crammed with delectable goodies, wrapped in paper of pure gold and tied with ribbons of yellow, white and blue. What a transcendentally wonderful 48 hours it has been, first and foremost in football, with Leeds United beating our former tormentors Derby County in their own backyard. The victory was thoroughly well-deserved and sealed by a truly tonking strike from Chris Wood, who is looking more and more like the real deal. United seem set to follow up their breakthrough win with some quality additions to a talented young squad. The future finally looks bright for the Whites – at least for the moment. 

Wood's wonderstrike

Wood’s wonder strike

That victory at Derby was a significant result and something in which to take significant pride and pleasure. But in the grand scheme of this weekend, especially for a fan of both football and rugby league, United’s success was in the nature of a curtain-raiser to the top of the bill, an appetiser before the main course. Leeds Rhinos, indisputably the class act of Super League, had reached Wembley to defend the Challenge Cup they won last year against Castleford Tigers. The opposition this year would come from Hull Kingston Rovers, and the outcome was to be of history-making proportions.

Hull KR undeniably froze on their big day, while Leeds Rhinos were at their imperious best. The game was men against boys; Rovers barely threatened the Rhinos try-line, with Leeds surging through their ranks at will as the Final wore on, racking up 50 points without reply. Tom Briscoe scored a record five tries, including one superb 90 yard finish, in a man of the match display. Leeds Rhinos were supreme and irresistible; Hull KR utterly obliterated. 

By this time, your Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything correspondent was feeling pretty good about his sporting Saturday. There was even the merest hint of that Schadenfreude piquancy, with card-carrying Leeds-haters like BarnsleyHuddersfield and Sheffield Wendies all comically tasting the dry ashes of defeat. The only way the day could have been improved would have been a defeat from a winning position for man u, my much-despised, Pride of Devon, favourite targets. But man u didn’t play till Sunday…

And, lo and behold, it came to pass. Sunday provided the warm afterglow to follow Saturday’s twin climaxes of joy and celebration. It was like Boxing Day used to be when I was a kid; a buffer against the downer that sometimes follows an emotional high – one more fiesta day, parties, further celebrations, even more lovely presents.

The Panther celebrates his winner against man u

My very favourite Pride of Devon defeats are the ones where they’ve ridden their luck and then taken an undeserved lead. You can see the arrogance set in; they start to swagger and believe the media fairy stories about how wonderful they are. And then, every now and again, the opposition bites back and smites the Over-rated Ones hip and thigh. Defeat is snatched by the media darlings from the very jaws of victory. So it happened today, to utterly overflow my cup of pleasure.

With a deadly one-two any champion boxer would be proud of, Swansea City recovered from the blow of going behind and promptly smashed man u left and right, to leave them bleeding and bewildered on the canvas. And then, as always happens with this shabby lot, the arrogance was replaced by truculence; the Pride of Devon starting to moan even more at the ref. They snarled and they kicked, they looked for dodgy penalties, they brought on a beanpole forward and abandoned any pretence at beautiful football. And they lost. Joy unconfined, they lost!

So it’s been another highly enjoyable day to complete a miraculous weekend that’s had just about everything. In the mix, a first win for the Whites, a brilliant clinching goal, yet more silverware for the Rhinos as they continue to carry all before them, a bracing start to Sunday at Whitley Bridge car boot sale and, of course, that sadistic pleasure at the discomfiture and defeat of the hated rabble from the Theatre of Hollow Myths. Still to come: a celebratory Chinese takeaway with wine and a good movie in the very best company I could wish for. And, Lordy Lord, it’s a bank holiday tomorrow. 

I’m a very happy man right now, as you’ve possibly gathered – but, naturally, this too shall pass. For the moment I shall just enjoy it, and look forward to Deadline Day – and then the peace and opportunity for calm reflection that comes with an international break. 

See you at the next turn of the cards. This has been a better one than most!

MOT. 



Derby County Keeper Still Rooted to Spot Hours After Leeds Winner   –   by Rob Atkinson

Chris Wood celebrates his stunning winner at Derby

Derby County goalkeeper Scott Carson is reported to be “still frozen to the spot”, over six hours after Chris Wood‘s late winner for Leeds United flashed inside his left-hand post this lunchtime. Local reporters are telling us that Carson, formerly on the books at Elland Road, was left helpless by the accuracy and ferocity of Wood’s thunderous strike. The keeper has not moved since, with all efforts to lure him from his goal-line proving futile.

A correspondent for the Derby Telegraph said “The latest is that Scott is still just standing there, legs braced as if about to dive for the ball, eyes fixed on the position where Wood struck his shot. He’s absolutely rigid and can’t be moved. He seems to be alive and even conscious. It’s like some catatonic state. The goalpost is still shaking, too.”

The new Leeds striker Wood, who has now scored three goals in his last three games, was modestly unassuming about his wonder strike. “Yeah, I caught it well and it’s went in off the beans on toast, as Merse likes to say. I killed it dead from Cooky’s pass, and it just sat up and asked to be hit. So, y’know, I hit it. The keeper’d no chance, he never moved.”

When we put it to Wood that Carson had in fact still not moved, the Leeds hero nodded understandingly. “Well, I caught the ball a hell of a lick and it probably shocked him, like. We never noticed he was still just stood there in the last few minutes and then stoppage time, we were all trying to keep the ball. Later, when we were about to get on the team bus back to Leeds, someone said the lad was still out there. It did seem a bit weird at the time, but I honestly thought he’d be in and changed and home by now.”

A Derby County spokesman confirmed in the last few minutes that Carson is still frozen in the position he was left immobilised in when the ball zipped past him. “Scott’s still out there and we haven’t been able to shift him,” he stated. “Luckily we’ve got a two week international break now, so we’re hoping he’ll move sometime in the next fortnight. Or at least say something, or blink maybe. It’s a bit unnerving, really.”

United Head Coach Uwe Rösler preferred to focus on his team’s “fantastic performance”, rather than discuss a statuesque goalkeeper. “The lads were brilliant,” he enthused. “We scored two fine goals and we controlled the game apart from a twenty minute spell after the interval when we let them back in it. I am so pleased for Tom Adeyemi, who now has his first goal for us. And yes I am sorry their keeper has had this reaction, but it is really not my concern.”

Derby County are nineteenth.

It’s Cup Final Day for Derby County AND Leeds This Saturday – by Rob Atkinson

A typically calm moment from Derby v Leeds back in the day

A typically calm moment from Derby v Leeds back in the day

Norman stops Frannie’s lip by putting a hole in it

There’s never been a shortage of feeling in matches between Derby County and Leeds United – not since the days when it was Clough versus Revie, anyway. In the years that the two Middlesbrough lads locked horns at either Elland Road or the quagmire that was the Baseball Ground, those feelings tended to run deep, and often spilled over into epic violence, with both sets of players going at it with relish. The pictures above are fairly typical of a Rams v United clash in those far-off, halcyon days – certainly the players of each club felt a deep and mutual rivalry, and to say that the matches were keenly contested is to show a talent for understatement.

Off the field, the situation was somewhat less mutual. Derby County hated Leeds, alright – no doubt about that. But Leeds fans of that era were well aware of their beloved team’s pre-eminence over most if not all others – so the attitude towards lesser clubs (i.e. just about everybody) tended to be one of lordly indifference. The few exceptions to this rule included manchester united and, to a lesser but still vitriolic degree, Chelsea. These two were accepted as deserving of hatred, despite their obvious inferiority on the field. But the rest, busy Leeds-haters though they might be, tended to get ignored. Naturally, this did not make the Whites any more popular around the country. Spurned haters are just as hotly resentful as spurned lovers, if not more so.

Derby were a case in point back in the 70s, and it’s a situation that persists to this day. They do have a neighbourly loathing for Nottingham Forest, made the more bitter because the comically-nicknamed Tricky Trees got second and better use out of County’s discarded Clough/Taylor axis. Geographical proximity and the Cloughie factor make this mutual antipathy as real as most. But Derby hate Leeds with an almost equal passion – and, frustratingly beyond measure for their fans, it’s entirely unrequited – which really does get under the skin of your average Ram.

The history between the two clubs over the past couple of decades has been a tale of two long periods of dominance, one for each side.  First Leeds had a spell when they found they could toy with Derby as a cat does a half-dead mouse, exacting the maximum in malicious pleasure by torturing them, before dispatching them mercilessly. This was a period of acute suffering for a Leeds-hating County fan. One season, we knocked them out of both cups on their own ground, with the FA Cup win being from two goals down. On another occasion, we gave them a three goal start at Elland Road, before storming back to win 4-3 with Lee Bowyer notching a last-gasp winner before an ecstatic Kop. Later that season, we went to the incongruously named Pride Park and leathered the home side 5-0. It was not a good time to be a Derby County fan.

Then, things turned round for Derby; in a period that coincided with United’s dramatic fall from grace after “living the dream”, Leeds simply could not buy a win against the Rams. Defeat followed defeat – though at a time when most teams were beating us with monotonous regularity, the sting of each loss was not noticeably worse than those against most other teams. For Derby, though, it was like a renaissance – they were beating Leeds, for the first time in years – and they did not particularly care that this was not a Leeds of any special vintage or calibre.

The fallow period against the Rams, though, appears to be coming to an end. Firstly, we managed to avoid defeat in a late-season encounter at Elland Road. Then, last season, each team enjoyed a comfortable 2-0 win at home; honours even. Tomorrow’s first Derby-Leeds clash this season will, as usual, be Cup Final day for every Ram. They will be aching to beat us, yearning for the three points as a child yearns for Christmas. It will be very much business as usual for Derby fans, and Leeds United will have to be wary of the intense desire and expectations of the home fans, factors that can certainly inspire a side.

But tomorrow is also Cup Final day for Leeds – and not in any ersatz or theoretical sense as experienced by County followers. Leeds, being a centre of sport unrivaled anywhere else in the country, boasts widely-renowned teams in three sports, with Yorkshire CCC at the summit of the County Championship in cricket, Leeds United showing signs of revival as their glorious history positively demands – and in Rugby League, Leeds Rhinos has long been the team to beat. Tomorrow, they take the field at Wembley in the Challenge Cup Final, with the unfancied Hull Kingston Rovers in opposition. This is not a sentiment that every Leeds United fan will share, but – this being my blog to do with as I wish – I will be hoping and praying that my beloved Rhinos can confirm what the form guide suggests will happen, and bring the Challenge Cup home to Headingley.

Saturday is about two Cup Finals and two Leeds teams. My fingers are crossed that Derby’s prayers go unanswered and that they are left thwarted again, as in the good old days. But, should United stumble to a first defeat of the season, I’ll still manage to keep a smile on my face – as long as Sir Kev‘s warriors do the business at Wembley and achieve the first part of a Rhinos treble.

All Leeds, aren’t we?

New Striker for Leeds United; Cani, Pavoletti or Even Zamora? – by Rob Atkinson

Leonardo Pavoletti - another Italian Job for Leeds?

Sassuolo’s Leonardo Pavoletti – another Italian Job for Leeds?

With loan deals for Sol Bamba and Granddi Ngoyi done and dusted – both with a view to permanence at the end of the season – attention will now turn to the identity of United’s proposed new striker. It’s a minor shake-up for the squad as a whole with the two lads in from the Italian league and Noel Hunt  and Steven Warnock already having departed for Ipswich and Derby respectively. Ngoyi inherits Hunt’s number ten jersey and Bamba will take the number 3 left available by Warnock, despite the fact that there’s an imminent vacancy at the traditional centre-back’s number five, with Jason Pearce seemingly on the verge of joining Wigan Athletic – allegedly for an actual transfer fee, too – which is nice.

Whilst many out here in fanland appear to be of the opinion that a left-winger is needed as a priority, the club’s view seems to be that existing squad members can be trusted to provide better service from out wide on either wing, with the deployment of more effective team shapes now that the late, unlamented diamond is no longer forever. The question remains: who will be the main beneficiary of this anticipated more generous service? Will there be a new lease of life for Mirco Antenucci, who was in such sparkling good form earlier in the season? Will it be Billy Sharp‘s belated chance to shine, now that the threat of being banished to Ipswich has receded? Either or both of these happy events could come to pass, but it does seem more likely than not that more competition is to be introduced in the attacking department of the team.

The two most likely candidates seem to be the Albanian beanpole/battering ram Edgar Cani from Catania, or – more attractively, perhaps – Sassuolo forward Leonardo Pavoletti. It may even be that Leeds are particularly focused on Pavoletti, a target so nearly signed in the summer, with rumoured interest in Cani no more than a smoke-screen. It now appears that Cagliari’s attempts to sign Pavoletti are stalling – could he yet end up at Leeds?

The wild card in the mix is the QPR man Bobby Zamora who, at the age of 34, might just be looking for a final run of first team action before his batteries finally run flat. Zamora’s name has been mentioned on that notoriously less than reliable “source” Twitter; I mention his name here only for completeness.

Of the three striking possibilities, this blog would be happiest with the signing of Pavoletti – a striker who seems to have something about him and who would add something different to the options already at the club.

With the January window due to shut next Monday, the next few days should provide the answers we seek – either that, or it’ll be “don’t worry, the emergency window will be open soon….” We must hope for a happier outcome than that.

Happy New Year to All Leeds Fans; the Best Fans in the World – by Rob Atkinson

Spontaneous reaction from an awestruck Derby fan

Spontaneous reaction from an awestruck Derby fan

Amid the doom and gloom of 2014, let’s all remember that we still have one massive asset – the incredible support that Leeds United is struggling vainly to deserve. The support is the lifeblood of any club, and we have simply the best around. This is not just the biased ravings of a Leeds lunatic with white-tinted spectacles on. It’s the view of other fans too, even some of those who hate us the most. The picture accompanying this paragraph is of an awestruck reaction from a Derby County fan after last night’s debacle (I don’t endorse ALL the text of this, by the way). And below, I reproduce without embellishment the views of a Cardiff fan who attended a United away game at Blackburn, which make for edifying reading, to say the very least. It’s quite long, not totally approving of ALL the antics of United’s travelling army – and many of you will have seen it before anyway. But it’s useful to remind ourselves of the high esteem in which this club’s support is held in certain parts of what might be deemed enemy territory:

I used to hate Leeds United.

I’d gleefully join in with ‘We all hate Leeds scum’ chants and sing about how they weren’t famous anymore. If there was no derby game that season it would be the first fixture I looked for and would anticipate it like a cup game.

Then I grew up a bit. I went to Leeds University for three years and saw how passionate the city is about their local team. In most cities without a team in the top flight you are just as likely to see people in Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea shirts than whoever the local team may be, but it couldn’t be further from the truth in Leeds. If you’re from Leeds, you support Leeds United – end of story. I can’t imagine what the punishment is for someone from Leeds supporting Manchester United, but I imagine it involves some kind of public stoning before being beheaded by Lucas Radebe.

As I developed a more reasoned outlook on football I began to wonder why just so many teams hate Leeds United with such a passion. Their location means they have a higher number of geographical rivals than most, but this doesn’t explain why football grounds around the UK reverberate to the tune of ‘We all hate Leeds scum’ from supporters of clubs that Leeds couldn’t care less about. From what I understand from my experience of Leeds fans (and feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong), they hate Manchester United, Galatasaray and Chelsea, dislike Sheffield Wednesday and couldn’t really care less about anybody else. So why do they anger the footballing public so much?

The answer for the older generation is presumably the fact they used to be good. Really good. During the 60’s and 70’s they won several domestic trophies and deserved to win the European Cup, denied only by some ‘interesting’ referee decisions in favour of Bayern Munich. However, the last time Leeds won a trophy was 1992 and they were relegated from the Premier League in 2004, even dropping as low as the third tier for a short time. So if jealousy isn’t the reason for the widespread Leeds hatred, what is? I joined 7000 or so Leeds fans at Blackburn Rovers to see if they deserved the title of ‘Dirty Leeds’.

As soon as I arrived in Blackburn you could tell that this was more than an away day, this was more like an invasion. The streets of Blackburn were absolutely filled with Leeds fans, with a large section of them heading to the Postal Order pub. This was the place to be for the next hour, as the visitors from Yorkshire produced a fantastic atmosphere inside the local Wetherspoons, better than most teams can create inside a stadium. The only people inside the pub not having a great time were the overworked bar staff and the couple who had chosen spectacularly poorly when picking a venue for their first date. Safe to say they didn’t stay very long, and date number two doesn’t seem particularly likely.

Two large tables turned into a stage, with the Leeds fans taking it in turns to play the part of conductor. “On the table for the lads” would be chanted at the individual of choice, who would then climb up onto the table and start a song, or be booed mercilessly if they refused. One particular visitor whose size would probably most politely be described as ‘Extra Extra Large’ was encouraged onto the table a number of times, refusing each time until he was bought two pints. After downing them both in one go, he took a run up, sped towards the table with determination, leapt through the air like a salmon and…made it about six inches off the ground, crashing into the table and falling on the floor. They didn’t ask him again after that.

While the away support did have plenty of humour, there was also a touching side to a number of their chants, paying tribute to Richard Ismail, known as ‘Moody’ to Leeds fans. Moody was a lifelong Leeds fan who recently passed away after spending over a year in hospital following an assault in Sheffield. “We’re all Moody aren’t we” was chanted throughout the afternoon, with the same phrase written on a flag displayed proudly at Ewood Park.

As the visitors got drunker and drunker, the chanting got wilder and wilder. Starting at “Number one is Michael Brown”, they made it all the way to “and 100, is Michael Brown” before insisting that they all dreamed of a team of Michael Browns. I’ve seen him play, and one Michael Brown is bad enough, never mind an army of them. It was at this point that things got a little out of hand, as the Leeds fans chanted “Let’s pretend we scored a goal”, counted down from ten and then went absolutely mental. Beer flew through the air, tables were overturned and pint glasses were smashed. The pub decided that it was probably time to close and the bell for time at the bar was rung at about 1:45pm. As fans filed out towards the ground or a different bar, it looked like a bomb had gone off. In fairness, many Leeds fans apologised for the damage and helped to turn the tables back over before they left.

Normally in my reports I would spend a great deal of time writing about the game itself, but honestly, it was just awful. Not so long ago Leeds and Blackburn had wonderful sides which would have made this fixture a joy to watch, but these days have gone due to the curse of the modern-day football club owner. The Venky’s have run Blackburn into the ground, while a combination of Peter Ridsdale and Ken Bates have done their best to kill off Leeds United.

Leeds had one chance of note, a beautiful flick from Ross McCormack setting up Danny Pugh who looked certain to score – only denied by a wonderful save by Blackburn’s Kean (not that one). Blackburn had a few more opportunities, forcing Paddy Kenny into making some good saves, but in all honesty it was a game worthy of being 0 – 0, and that would have been generous. The winner came just before half time, Tommy Spurr sweeping the ball into the net from a corner after some lacklustre defending.

The real story of the day was the Leeds fans. More than a third of those in attendance were from the away side, and they were also responsible for 95% of the noise. A small pocket of Blackburn fans to the right of the away end did their best to create an atmosphere, but attempting to take on 7000 Leeds supporters in an atmosphere contest is like attempting to storm a US military base with a plastic spoon, you’re not going to get anywhere. There were effectively four away ends, with the Yorkshire side bringing so many fans that they had taken up the entire stand, usually segregated to contain both home and away fans.

They sung and supported the team for 90 minutes, and didn’t do anything worthy of the ‘Dirty Leeds’ label as far as I could see. I was starting to realise that the reason so many people hate Leeds is because they aren’t Leeds. Leeds United are a reminder of how good English football used to be and the atmosphere which made the country the envy of Europe. These days are long gone, surpassed by Germany, Poland, the Balkans and many more, but the passion of Leeds United remains. When you watch a Leeds game, you don’t feel as though you are in the stale and sanitised world of English football. It almost feels as though a Leeds United away end belongs in a museum, a reminder to fans within England that watching football is something to be enjoyed, rather than endured.

Now, these Leeds fan are by no means perfect, the destruction of the pub was uncalled for and some of the chants about Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones were tasteless at best, but arguably no worse than the kind of thing you’d hear at countless other grounds around the country on a Saturday afternoon.

I think far too many people fall into the trap of hating Leeds because that is what they are told they should do. Leeds fans have continued to show fantastic loyalty to their club, despite the fact they have suffered an even more spectacular fall from grace than Miley Cyrus. I have no doubts that the Leeds team of the past was well worthy of hatred, and in the old days of hooliganism being rife across England the damage done by their fans to various cities and towns is well-known. However these days are long gone, and hating Leeds United is now a fashion statement for most, rather than anything tangible.

One incident long after the game had finished demonstrated the commendable attitude that Leeds fans have to supporting their team, despite the fact that they are, more often than not, terrible at the actual football side of things. I was amongst 300 or so Leeds fans waiting at Mill Hill station, waiting for a connection back to Blackburn Central to head home. First of all a train arrived on the opposite side of the station, heading towards Preston. Several of the more drunk Leeds fans got on this service anyway, despite the fact it was heading in completely the wrong direction. Those who remained on the platform began doing the conga up and down the outside of the train, singing “do do do, you’re getting on the wrong train!” This was followed by a reworking of their earlier chant, as they bellowed “Let’s pretend our trains arrived”, counting down from ten and leaping around the platform like they’d just won the European Cup.

The author then challenges his Cardiff-supporting fellow fans to state why they hate Leeds, if not for the spurious reasons he’s cited in his piece. Again, I don’t agree with every last syllable – but to me, it’s remarkable how a fan of another team so completely “gets” what supporting Leeds United is all about. Take that quote from midway through: “I was starting to realise that the reason so many people hate Leeds is because they aren’t Leeds. Leeds United are a reminder of how good English football used to be and the atmosphere which made the country the envy of Europe.” Doesn’t that sum up perfectly the Leeds effect on the game as a whole? Could it be better put? I couldn’t do it.

These two snippets of enemy intelligence are, if you think about it, independent verification of what we all know to be true, deep down. We are United and we are the best. And it’s us, the fans, who truly are United. We’re the lifeblood of the club, the essence of Yorkshire’s Number One. That’s something to be genuinely proud of, when so much about the club is shamefully inadequate.

So – a very Happy New Year to the best supporters in the world. Maybe 2015 will after all bring us a little closer to what we all desire with every fibre of our being: better times for our beloved club. Whatever happens, we’ll still be here, we’ll still be the best. We always knew that – but it’s good to know that others know it too.

Keep it loud and proud in 2015 and beyond. Keep singing and shouting and being The Best.

We Are Leeds.

White Saturday Follows Black Friday as Leeds Slam the Rams – by Rob Atkinson

Antenucci at the double: United's bearded wonder celebrates

Antenucci at the double: United’s bearded wonder celebrates

Leeds United 2, Derby County 0

There had been a definite feeling of optimism – the kind of optimism where you’re not really sure what it’s based on – ahead of this clash between Leeds United and league leaders Derby County. Whether it was a sort of pre-Yuletide glass-half-full ebullience, or merely good old Yorkshire blinkered pig-headedness, the vibe in the ether had been remarkably positive. There were a lot of “funny feelings” that Leeds could – would – win. And sure enough, by the final whistle, the joke was very much on the Rams, our one-time rabbits but more recently an irritating nemesis. Leeds had won decisively, 2-0, with current pin-up boy Mirco Antenucci scoring either side of half time to give us our first success over the sheep since 2005.

The game started with the visitors as the more measured side, as befitting their lofty status. Derby had that ever so slightly arrogant air about them, redolent of aristocrats pitched against peasants in a village cricket match. Their early play suggested a blithe expectation of victory – but they failed to capitalise on this brief superiority and, when the young midfield guns of Leeds started to blaze in and around “Schteve” McClaren’s bewildered officer class, the writing was very much on the wall. In the end, for all their occasionally threatening encroachment into the United defensive third, Derby were sunk without a trace and subsided with barely a whimper, never mind any truly threatening signs of defiance. No shots on target over the whole piece is a damning indictment of supposed promotion favourites and ultimately the White tide simply swept poor County away.

Antenucci the Adored

Antenucci the Adored

Antenucci’s two goals were deft finishes of contrasting types, one tucked neatly away from a quality low cross from Mowatt, the other a precise finish after the luxury of a touch on the ball to set up the strike, following more good work, firstly from Mowatt. He prepared the way for a fine pass from Warnock to the Bearded Wonder, who languidly scored the clincher. Two goals and a clean sheet might appear to have been ample reward for Redders’ improving unit but, in truth, United could and should have had more. Still, after a nine year famine against these opponents, enough was as good as a feast, with subsequent near-misses providing the lightest of desserts for discerning Leeds palates.

We’re often told that we’re “not famous any more”; we’ve even been known to throatily echo that sentiment as the Elland Road Kop indulges in a little post-modern irony. But defeat at the hands of Leeds really does hurt Derby; in a rivalry going back even before the feuding of Hunter and Lee, we’ve always been a desperately desirable scalp for the ovine followers of the Rams – right up there with Forest in that respect. So a long overdue victory against them is all the sweeter for the pain etched so deeply across County faces, souls, and indeed the entire #DCFC Twitter feed. Schadenfreude has a flavour all of its own and, like revenge, is a dish best served cold. It’s been cooling away nicely for nine years and it tasted just right yesterday.

So what now for Leeds? As the Redfearn touch continues to mould the youth, talent, Latin flair, vigour and experience of this squad into an ever more cohesive unit, there are grounds for guarded optimism. We’re not there yet, not by a long chalk. There are still worrying deficiencies, vulnerabilities that might have been exploited by a team with more stomach for battle than this somewhat effete Derby side. But the Leeds work in progress is starting to show signs that progress is indeed being made. Those signs were there also in rather unlucky defeat at Blackburn last week; seven days on, they were stronger and still more promising. One pundit in the Leeds blogosphere dared to speak the word relegation yesterday morning; he may now conclude that he was being needlessly, almost treacherously, pessimistic. Defeats are hard enough to swallow, surely there’s no call for defeatist talk.

Make no mistake, Leeds beat a fine side yesterday and beat them well. Derby will play worse and win in the face of less gutsily determined opposition. Leeds for their part will have to strive to maintain at least the standards they set on Saturday afternoon; in fact, they will need to raise the bar still further if any real upward momentum is to be generated. If a young side of such rich potential can do this, then they will expect to win more than they’ll lose – a verdict that the defeated Mr McClaren might well now be prepared to endorse.

Three Down, But Leeds Won 4-3: Derby Beaten 17 Years Ago Today – by Rob Atkinson

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Gorgeous George

For many football fans, the words George, Graham and dour go together like fish, chips and vinegar. Yet I look back very fondly on Stroller George’s too-brief reign at Elland Road, not least for the reason that it did a lot to put right the problems surrounding the latter part of the Howard Wilkinson era. Wilko’s dismissal in the early part of the previous campaign had brought a dapper Mr. Graham through the West Stand doors with a promise to steady the ship and to “sort things out at the back.”

What followed was an exercise in football austerity, tight in defence, almost completely impotent up front, yet surviving quite comfortably despite the paucity of attacking product. He even managed a 1-0 Cup win at his first love Arsenal’s Highbury fortress, but for the rest of the season it was very meagre fare indeed. “We’ll score again, don’t know where, don’t know when” was the fans’ refrain as the league programme died of boredom. But if we thought it would be more of the same next time around – and quite frankly, we did – we were to be happily surprised.

Season 1997-98 saw a turnaround in the composition of the first-team squad, Carlton Palmer and Brian Deane departing, one south, one north, both relatively unlamented. The in-comings included David Hopkin, who would provide a traditionally ginger influence in midfield; Bruno Ribeiro, a tin-type of a mid-sixties era John Giles; Alf-Inge Haaland, who became a cult hero for his abuse of Royston Keane, and is still fondly remembered for it today; and the exotically-named, unexpectedly lethal Jerrel Floyd Hasselbaink.

All in all they seemed to promise much in terms of increased effectiveness of the side as a unit, and it was the two lesser-known signings from the Portuguese League who made the most initial impact. Hasselbaink in particular got off to a flyer, scoring against Arsenal at home on his debut, and displaying a turn of pace and a rocket shot that inspired cautious optimism even among the cynical Leeds fans, who had starved for such thrills the previous year. By the time the Derby game came around the self-branded “Jimmy” was not quite a first team fixture but whenever he was involved, there was that air of threat about him. And so it would prove on this day.

Leeds had in fact produced a couple of decent home wins on their last two Elland Road outings, beating Man U 1-0 and cruising to a 4-1 win against Newcastle, both in front of near-40000 crowds. Derby was a slightly less attractive prospect, but there were still 33572 in the ground as the teams came out that November afternoon. Derby, to be honest, were not expected to prove too much of a problem. Most teams have their “rabbit side” – opposition who always seemed quite straightforward to deal with – and Derby had been this type of easy meat for Leeds for some little time now, a situation sadly reversed these days. So the atmosphere was one of anticipation if not exactly complacency; there was this definite air of expectation that the recent home success would continue.

It was with bemusement turning to anger and outrage then, that Leeds fans beheld the scene which had unfolded by the 33rd minute. Without ever looking massively inferior on the field, United had contrived to trail 0-3, uncharacteristic goalkeeping howlers from Nigel Martyn gifting Derby striker Dean Sturridge the chances to score twice, and then the concession of a stonewall penalty which was gleefully converted by Aljosa Asanovic – all at the fanatical Gelderd End of the ground. As the penalty hit the back of the net, and the Derby players celebrated, there was a loud explosion from the Kop as someone let off an extremely noisy “banger” firework which had somehow survived Bonfire Night three days before. At the time, this concussive detonation seemed the only response a speechless home support could muster, but the crowd noise and vehemence of encouragement were to reach more positive levels before the break.

It was the kind of situation that required a determined fight back immediately; failing that, Derby could well have gone on to assume complete control and finish up winning with embarrassing ease. Embarrassing for us, anyway – at this point the away fans were enjoying life and looking forward to more goals. Leeds got the message loud and clear; the Kop roared support as they pressed forward, and the belief seemed to be there that there was still plenty of time to retrieve something from this disastrous situation.

The first dent was made in Derby’s lead only four minutes after their third goal, Ribeiro gathering possession around thirty yards out and hammering a left foot shot into the penalty area. It was a powerful effort, but probably destined to be harmless – until Rodney Wallace got the merest of touches to it, diverting the ball past Mart Poom in the Derby goal. 1-3 now and better was to come by half-time.

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Harry, Harry Kewell

Young Harry Kewell was being hailed as the latest Wunderkind around this time; he’d been the quicksilver inspiration of the previous year’s FA Youth Cup-winning team, and was precociously, extravagantly gifted as he had already demonstrated at first team level.  This was obviously some years before he disgraced himself, first by holding the club to ransom over his transfer to Liverpool and then – infinitely worse – by signing for that scumbag Turkish outfit Galatasaray. His contribution to this match, however, was embellished by a clinical finish to draw Leeds to within one goal of Derby before the interval. The ball came over from the right to find Kewell in space beyond the far post but at such an acute angle that there was hardly any of the goal to aim at. No matter; Kewell met the ball as sweetly as I’ve ever seen anyone connect with a left-foot volley, the ball flying with tremendous pace and power past a startled Poom and into the far corner of the net. We were back to 2-3, and it was so nearly all square right at the end of the half when a snap shot from Haaland was just scrambled off the line. The situation at half-time was bizarre; the away team was leading but it was the home team feeling upbeat and with the momentum behind them as the game restarted.

Leeds were attacking the Kop now, and the second half swiftly set itself into a pattern of relentless pressure on the away defence, the addition of half-time substitute Lee Bowyer adding extra energy to the midfield thrusts forward. Derby defended well, desperately at times, yet effectively – and managed somehow to weather a 30 minute storm to bring themselves within sight of holding out for an unlikely victory. But then it was time for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to enter the fray.

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Jimmy, Jimmy

With 15 minutes to go, it was a timely substitution by George Graham, who took Hopkin off, and moved Kewell to play behind a front two of Hasselbaink and Wallace. Suddenly Derby had different problems to deal with, and it was to prove, finally, just too much for them. With under ten minutes to go, defender Christian Dailly, challenged in the air by David Wetherall, was pressured into a blatant handball, and the whistle sounded for the second penalty of the afternoon. Hasselbaink immediately stepped up to the plate, leaving no one in any doubt that he was up to the job of equalising from the spot. I remember hardly daring to look from my vantage point on the Kop, but Jimmy was coolness personified as he placed the ball before calmly walking up and rolling it with precision into the right hand corner as Poom started to go the other way. 3-3, and to be frank, I’d have settled for that with grateful thanks when we were three behind, but now team and crowd were after Derby’s blood in harness, and both could scent victory.

In the greatest traditions of the very best comeback wins, the decisive moment was saved until time was all but up. It was to be a combination of the two substitutes that finally undid Derby, Hasselbaink getting hold of the ball on the right and, going rapidly through the gears, scorching past a helpless defender into the box before pulling the ball back from the dead ball line. Jimmy could not have picked a better pass, the ball arriving just at the edge of the penalty area, where the onrushing Bowyer met it beautifully first-time with his left foot, sending his shot hurtling past the Derby ‘keeper high into the left-hand side of the net for a sensational winner. It was the cue for the Leeds fans behind the goal on the Kop, and indeed all around the stadium, to go deliriously potty as the players celebrated in an ecstatic knot just below them, and the lonely figure of Mart Poom, surely the man with the biggest lower lip in football, gazed skywards in bewilderment that such a seemingly impregnable lead could have yielded only defeat.

My last memory of this game is of the anthemic Chumbawamba hit “Tubthumping” blasting over the PA system, and the jubilant fans almost bouncing towards the exits, hands clapping above their heads and the raucous refrain “We get knocked down, but we get up again, you’re never gonna keep us down” being sung over and over as the stadium slowly emptied. There can’t be many feelings to compare with victory snatched from the jaws of such a poor start and the despair that accompanies going three behind at home. The buzz of this one took a long time to fade into what is still a pleasurable glow, and it’s a memory I cherish whenever I hear that anarchic Tubthumping sound. After the match, Jimmy was interviewed for the TV highlights, and demonstrated his mastery of English as he tried to sum up a surreal afternoon, commenting sagely: “The ball is round, and sometimes it goes in unexpected ways.” Indeed.

Leeds went on to rub salt into the Derby County wounds, easily winning the reverse fixture at their inaptly-named Pride Park, 5-0. And in the aftermath of this 4-3 comeback, there were two further victories from a losing position, beating West Ham 3-1 after trailing 1-0, and then in the pouring rain at Barnsley, running out 3-2 winners from two down. For a short while, Leeds United were the Comeback Kings, and it was probably the real purple patch of George Graham’s time at Elland Road, which was to end amid controversy early the following season. But it is for games like this that I fondly remember George and, despite some of the successes of the David O’Leary years, I still wish he’d stayed longer and seen the job through.

Stroller – thanks for the memories.

 

Derby Aiming for Eleventh Straight Leeds Win…and Still Their Fans Whinge – by Rob Atkinson

Franny windmills as Norman lands the perfect right cross – fat lip

If the form book has its way this lunchtime, Leeds United’s season will peter out with a whimper, not a bang – as Derby County, on a seemingly unstoppable roll against us, head to Elland Road in search of their eleventh consecutive victory over the Whites of LS11.  Chuck in an almost-forgotten League Cup dismissal at the hands of the Rams in 2009, and defeat for Leeds today would make it a dirty dozen straight wins for Derby, our one-time rabbits – a team we just couldn’t help beating in the eighties and nineties.  It’s a reversal of fortune that would dismay anyone with Leeds sympathies and – particularly given the one-way street that is the rivalry between the two clubs – you’d expect Derby fans to be over the proverbial moon.

One-way street?  Well, let’s face it – it’s a fact that they regard us with a deep and abiding loathing, whilst we treat them with a casual and disrespectful lack of attention most of the time, unless we’re actually about to play them.  This state of affairs isn’t that unusual – Leeds have a similar situation with a few clubs, the likes of Bradford, Barnsley and Hull for instance – they passionately hate us, we ignore them.  It’s humiliating for the seething fans who have this unrequited hate – as you can easily divine from reading some of the frustrated scribblings of Rams supporters out there in the internet world.  One has even gone so far as to take up his quill and describe his feelings of hatred and bitterness in a piece of embarrassingly bad doggerel which he is pleased to call verse.  It’s true. Can there be anything more cringe-worthy and humiliating than that?

The poet concerned goes by the nom de plume of “I. Saw” (poets often have pen names, in order to protect their artistic integrity – but I can reveal that this latter-day Bard’s real name is “R. Sole”) and he’s described as a RamZone reporter – presumably this is his day job when he’s not illuminating the literary world with his lyrical verse.  His Leeds United Meisterwerk, artistically entitled Ode to the Dirty, was actually written a few years back – but the guy’s fellow Rams are so pleased with it that they like to take it out, dust it off and republish it, suitably updated, whenever their latest United Cup Final is imminent.  Indeed, it’s refreshing to see that the Derby fraternity have formed such an attachment to this piece of work, undeterred by considerations of originality, repetitiveness – or by the fact that it’s crap.

I won’t bore you with too many details as to the content of this epic whinge – it’s accessible via the link above if you really feel you need to read the whole thing – suffice to say it describes how the author first developed a hatred of Leeds because of the Whites’ habit of trouncing his favourites every time we played them.  He goes on to bleat piteously about injustices and bad luck, before acknowledging that things have looked up for County lately and stating in petulant tones that this, however, will never be enough to make up for what went before.  Technically as well as emotionally, it’s the work of a sulky 9 year old – the extraordinary thing is that the Derby fans seem so inexplicably proud of what is a hymn to excruciating humiliation.

The moral appears to be that, however long Derby’s current stranglehold over Leeds United may last, it won’t be enough to erase traumatic memories for their fragile and hyper-sensitive support.  Perhaps the best thing that could possibly happen is a rare win for the Whites, to jolt the Rams fans out of obsessive mode and focus them on their forthcoming play-off campaign. Because it would be a shame if they didn’t go up, wouldn’t it?

It’s unlikely, but not impossible that Leeds United will beat Derby today. But if they do, look out for a tortured follow-up from the less-than-talented pen of the Derby Bard – perhaps something of an elegy, mourning the end of their run of success.  Because you get the feeling that the grief of such a defeat would not be assuaged, even by promotion.  That’s a little easier to understand when you look at what happened to Derby the last time they played at top level.  They had a car-crash of a season, were relegated before the last of the Christmas trimmings came down and set all sorts of new records for being disastrously, calamitously bad.  So there may not be much for them to look forward to if they DO go up, and the “Bard” can be expected to wax dolorous again when they come tumbling back down. Poetic justice, you might call it.

On the whole, though, I wish them success.  After all, I Saw’s poetry is the kind of artistic effort that can make your eyes bleed and your soul cry out for something with more cultural merit, like Crossroads or Blankety Blank – so we really don’t want any more of that.  I’m not sure if this little critique will find its way back to the enthusiastic amateur, but if it should, then I have a message for him.  Please – talk to someone, before it’s too late. Don’t ever attempt poetry again, as it may be seen by people less kind and understanding than I am.  And for heaven’s sake, get some treatment for this Leeds United problem you have, before it reduces you to even lowlier feats of self-humiliation.  That’s no way to go through life, surely – being a Rams fan and living with that ever-present inferiority complex is punishment enough.

Oh, and – good luck in the play-offs.