Tag Archives: FA Cup

Can Leeds United Finally Begin a New Elland Road Decade in Style? – by Rob Atkinson

Beckford End

How the last decade started – here’s to the Twenties and more Leeds United success

A new Elland Road decade begins for Leeds United when they host Sheffield Wednesday this afternoon and, as has become usual for the Whites, they are starting that ten year span at the top of their league. It’s the fourth time in a row that Leeds have ushered in such a milestone as league leaders, having been at the top of the old Second Division at the end of the eighties; of the Premier League as the nineties made way for a new millennium; of League One when we saw out the “Noughties” – and now top of the Championship on our entry into what we must hope will be a successful if not roaring Twenties.

So far, so positive – but there are always lessons to be learned from history and, although our league position at the start of each decade has been consistently dominant, it’s not always followed that Elland Road’s first game of a new era has been all that much to write home about. In 1990, we saw a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Oldham, having ended the eighties top of the league despite a 0-1 reverse at Barnsley. The club acted decisively to freshen things up, signing Lee Chapman from Nottingham Forest. Chapman played and scored in United’s next league game, a 2-1 win at Blackburn to get the promotion charge back on track.

At the end of the nineties, there was much fevered and hopeful speculation in the national press about Man Utd seeing in the new millennium at the top of English football and, predictably, the general feeling was that it would be “fitting” if the media favourites could make such a one-off mark. Sadly for all concerned bar gleeful fans of Leeds United, the Whites managed to gatecrash that historical party, taking the honours for themselves, despite a late December defeat at Arsenal. So Leeds will forever be known as the top club when the millennium ticked over, although Man Utd are doubtless confident of matching that achievement for the year 3000. Sadly, Leeds again started a new epoch with disappointment at Elland Road, losing their first home match of the 2000s 1-2 against Aston Villa.

We’ll all remember how the last decade started, with Leeds again on top of the league, albeit only the third tier on this occasion. United had been dominant in League One, and had concluded the “Noughties” with a 4-2 away win at Stockport County to go into their FA Cup date at Old Trafford against champions Man Utd in very good heart. And that positive mindset led to United showing zero respect for the overwhelming favourites, to knock them out of the Cup with Jermaine Beckford’s solitary goal being sufficient unto the day. Ever since then, United fans have celebrated January the third, and rightly so, with Old Trafford’s partisan home end being rechristened by Whites supporters as “The Beckford End” in tribute to that famous finish. But again, Leeds could not follow up with a suitable celebration at Elland Road, being held to a 1-1 draw by Wycombe Wanderers on January 9th.

And so here we are, at the top of our league for the fourth new decade on the trot, courtesy of that epic 5-4 win a Birmingham which was followed on New Year’s Day by a gritty 1-1 draw at chief rivals West Bromwich Albion. Maybe this time, Leeds United will make their first home game of the new Twenties a positive experience, a cause for celebration as we consolidate our hard-earned league position. Sheffield Wednesday will certainly have plenty to say about that – but here’s to a good game, another dominant performance from United – and three more vital promotion points.

Happy New Decade!

Leeds Gloriously Gunned Down at Arsenal (But Don’t Mention the VAR) – by Rob Atkinson

Lacazette

Lacazette – kicking out in a non-violent, VAR-approved manner

Last night’s FA Cup Third Round tie at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium was, for Leeds United, not only a taste of things to come, but also the very definition of glorious defeat. The wider context of what we hope will finally be our promotion season puts the once magical allure of the FA Cup sharply into perspective. Put bluntly, it’s a competition that a club challenging to reach the Premier League can well do without – something Leeds United can save for headier days, when, for a newly promoted side, it may once more provide a realistic chance for silverware. Meanwhile, it was the manner of United’s defeat, rather than the fact of it, wherein lay Monday night’s glory and the source of all the plaudits.

Make no mistake, this FA Cup exit – or more accurately, the nature of the performance given by United – will stand in the top rank of our club’s FA Cup showings going way back to the last century. It was a big stage, a famous opponent, and – importantly, as it turned out – Leeds United’s first encounter with the infamous Video Assistant Referee (VAR) of which so much has been said while we’ve been watching on from the sidelines. Many United fans have been worrying out loud about the effect of this technological innovation upon our club as and when it ascends into the elite group. On the evidence of the Arsenal tie, those worries may well be justified – but more of that later.

As for the game itself, and the first half in particular, there was cause for great pride and no small measure of frank disbelief. We know about the “big” Premier League clubs, the brand of football played, the phenomenally costly overseas recruits who adorn our game with their brilliance. This incarnation of Arsenal is not quite the vintage that North London experienced under Monsieur Wenger, but they’re still a formidable prospect for most visiting teams, as manchester united discovered to their cost only a few days before Leeds rolled into town. The red united had no answer to Arsenal’s intensity and attack, and many thought that the Whites would be crushed in similar fashion – but the reality was somewhat different, as Leeds tore into their hosts from the first whistle and gave them no respite for the whole of that whirlwind first half.

I have to confess, I had my worries about the possibility of getting thumped – I wanted out of the Cup, but not in a humiliating manner. But, as the game got going, I found myself sitting there, jaw agape, hardly able to believe the extent of United’s dominance. They launched attack after attack, first to every second ball, pushing Arsenal back, bombarding the Gunners’ goal with attempt after attempt and generally bossing proceedings. My social media comment at half time was “This can’t last – but we’ve absolutely murdered Arsenal in that first half”.

And it didn’t last. Arsenal woke up after the break, and – although they never dominated as Leeds had done – they got their goal, and they managed to keep us out. So, glorious defeat, and this Leeds fanatic was happy enough.

As for VAR – if we do end up playing top flight football next season, then I see trouble ahead. The Emirates experience included the unaccountable kid-gloves treatment of Arsenal man Granit Xhaka, who could have been sent off twice for two pairs of yellow card offences – and then VAR saw Alexandre Lacazette kick out at United’s Gaetano Berardi, but deemed it unworthy of action. If that’s a foretaste of what we can expect in the Premier League, then, despite our burning desire to be up there, you have to wonder if it’s not better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

Leeds United Reveal Plans for “Beckford Square” Development at Old Trafford – by Rob Atkinson

Jermaine the Legend scoring at the Beckford End

Following the success of the Bremner Square project at Elland Road, and with a further “Centenary Square” in the offing, there are now audacious plans for a similar development outside the Beckford End at Old Trafford, home of Manchester’s lesser football club.

It’s anticipated that there will be keen interest among Leeds fans in purchasing stones to be laid in the shadow of the Beckford End. The granite squares will feature the LUFC club crest, with a variety of inscriptions available, including the iconic “January the 3rd, remember the date“. It is even suggested that a statue will be commissioned as the central feature of Beckford Square, based on a famous picture of the United striker celebrating his legendary winner, with a disconsolate Gary Neville in the background.

A Leeds spokesperson commented: “We feel that, as we’re running out of space for commemorative squares at Elland Road, it’s time to look further afield and fully exploit the commercial potential of these tribute features because, as we all know, there are Leeds fans everywhere. Old Trafford is a big site with not a vast amount going on so, if this Beckford Square project goes as well as we expect, we may consider a further project in the area known locally, as well as in Torquay, Milton Keynes, Singapore and other such hotbeds of Man U support, as the Forecourt. This would provisionally be named “Last Champions Square“. We’re all quite excited by these innovative ideas”.

It is confidently predicted that, by the year 2050, most of the north of England will be paved in Leeds United commemorative granite stones, realising profits for the club well into the tens of billions of pounds. At this point a takeover bid for Paris Saint-Germain could well be on the cards, with PSG henceforth known as “le petit frère de Leeds United“.

More news as we get it, here at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. These are exciting times for our great club.

 

Gary Neville Has Successfully Forgotten 2010, Leeds and the Beckford End – by Rob Atkinson

Gary Neville, part owner of League newcomers Salford City FC, has reacted instantly to his team’s Carabao Cup first round home draw against Leeds United. Neville, third in his own family in the coaching stakes, tweeted “Welcome back into my life Leeds United, it’s been 15 years”. Clearly, the stress of club part ownership – or maybe his regular spats with fellow Sky pundit Jamie Carragher – has taken its toll on poor Gary’s grey matter and memory, as it was a mere nine years ago that third tier Leeds went to Old Trafford to face Champions Man U in the FA Cup third round. United made history by beating their old rivals 1-0 that day, with the home team including one G. Neville who could only look on as our Jermaine slotted home the winner in front of the Beckford End. Perhaps Gary has just been trying to forget…

It’s not the first gaffe that has come back to haunt Neville. He is on record as saying that no decent manager should ever lose 7-0. Naturally, he then proceeded to lose by precisely that score as rookie manager of Valencia, something that must have been hard to swallow even for one with as big a cakehole as our old friend Gary. Apparently, he was too speechless with shock to protest his subsequent, ignominious sacking.

Still, we’ll take his welcome back tweet as cordially intended if not factually accurate. The tables will be turned from that famous January 3rd cup shock in 2010, in that Leeds will be two leagues above their opponents, rather than two leagues below. It should be quite an occasion, anyway – maybe yet another live TV appearance for Leeds, and certainly an early highlight in the League career of Salford. Let’s hope that Gary Neville enjoys this one just as much as that other cup tie which he seems to have forgotten all about.

Welcome back into our lives, Mr. Neville. It’s been NINE years…

Leeds United Contribute £200,000 to Shaun Harvey’s FL Leaving Do – by Rob Atkinson

Shaun Harvey – disappointed and calling it a day

At long last, the Football League investigation into the so-called Spygate affair has been concluded, and it can now be revealed that the delay in considering and pronouncing upon a relatively simple matter was caused by an almighty internal wrangle within the Football League.

It turns out that the matter was pretty much done and dusted some time ago, with the League reluctantly concluding that, as no specific rules had been broken, it was not possible to impose a points deduction. Instead, the League had to settle for dressing up the matter of a man standing on a public highway and looking through a wire fence as “a breach of good faith”, enabling action under regulation 3.4 – but even this has proved problematic.

A League spokesperson confirmed that the League was struggling to make even the “good faith” provisions stick due, he said, to a number of far more serious breaches during the time that Spygate had been current. “We’ve had blatant diving, clubs clearing one penalty area of snow but not the other, clubs reneging on transfer deals at the last minute, all sorts of stuff going on. But we had to do this to Leeds, because it was the only way we could get them. And that was a very cruel blow to Shaun Harvey, who had been determined to deal a fatal blow to that club’s promotion chances”.

It appears that Mr. Harvey has indeed taken the outcome of Spygate very hard indeed, as he had hoped it would be instrumental in keeping Leeds United down in the Championship. So depressed is he by the thwarting of his dearly held hopes, that he has now announced he’ll be stepping down at the end of the season. “Shaun is a broken man”, confirmed our source. “He feels that he just can’t go on, so he’s going to retire to a smallholding in Little Sodbury. We at the League feel that the least we can do is to give him a good send off, so we’re fining Leeds enough to send him off in style”.

When it was pointed out that two hundred grand was quite steep for a leaving do, we were told “We’re pulling out all the stops here, because Shaun really needs cheering up. So we’ve booked his favourite acts, Kylie, Jason and we’ve even arranged a personal appearance by Shaun’s hero Frank “Fwankie” Lampard. I imagine they’ll be commiserating together”.

Leeds United’s only comment was “We’ve fully cooperated with this whole fiasco from start to finish, and all we can say is that we’re satisfied with the outcome. It’s well worth a couple of hundred grand to get rid of that oily little sod Harvey.

Frank Lampard is a bitter, thwarted little man.

Football League Too Busy Investigating Leeds to Look Into Millwall Knife Crime – by Rob Atkinson

A number of incidents thrown up by yesterday’s Millwall v Everton FA Cup tie would seem worthy of investigation by the relevant football authorities, but it would seem likely that the Football League are preoccupied with other matters. Notable among these is the question of whether a man in a tracksuit on public land failing to avert his eyes from the sight of footballers training in plain view should constitute an offence worthy of a points deduction for their biggest member club.

When Leeds Star Saiz Rediscovers His Mojo, He’ll Make Opponents Suffer – by Rob Atkinson

Samu Saiz – desperate to score for United

It’s becoming quite common knowledge that Samu Saiz, Leeds United’s mercurial, twinkle-toed Spanish playmaker, has not scored a league goal for upwards of far too long. It’s a barren run that seems to be affecting his confidence, however much he contributes to the team overall. You get the feeling he’s desperate to score, and this could be bringing an element of “trying too hard” into his game. But that overall contribution is still significant; take for example his brilliant ball into the box to fashion United’s goal at Blackburn.

Saiz has scored this season, though, and the goal I have in mind – against Bolton in the Carabao Cup – summed up the strengths of the man. He received the ball inside the opposition area, brought it under instant control, used his quick feet to find a yard of space, and finished neatly past a helpless Wanderers keeper.

That’s the real Saiz, the one we haven’t seen enough of since his ban for spitting at Newport last January. There are signs, though, that he has rediscovered his form and technical touch; add confidence to that, and you have a formidable player.

There does seem, however, to be an increasing groundswell of impatience and disapproval among the usual suspects that constitute the lower end of the Leeds Twitter following. It hardly needs saying that this sort of thing is exactly the opposite of what is needed. As I’ve said many times before, the supporters’ job is to support – their sketchily-informed criticism is not required. The club employs expensive talent for that.

Stick by Saiz, and just wait for his mojo and therefore his confidence to return. When those attributes are rediscovered, our Samu will lead opponents a merry dance, while providing us with the kind of spectacle and memories that should define and adorn a promotion-challenging season. Give the lad your trust and backing, and he’ll repay you tenfold. Maybe even starting with tonight, against Ipswich Town.

Just wait and see.

Too Many Leeds United “Fans” Forget That Saiz Matters – by Rob Atkinson

Samuel-Saiz-672176

Saiz leaves early after zero dribbles and one spit

Characteristically, Leeds United has contrived to make a drama out of a crisis, compounding the humiliation of an FA Cup Third Round exit at minnows Newport by adding the embarrassment of an on-pitch spitting scandal, as well as the six-match loss of star player Samu Sáiz. To make matters even worse, the intellectually-challenged end of the Whites’ support then took to Twitter with the express intention, so it seemed, of unleashing their long-repressed bigotry and incipient racism by attacking Sáiz in the worst kind of Daily Mail-reading Colonel Blimp-inspired terms. It made for very unedifying reading, even for Twitter after one of Leeds’ frequent bad days at the office.

There’s no getting around the fact that spitting at a sporting opponent is a disgusting matter, deserving of punishment and not to be tolerated – or even mitigated, if it comes to that. It initially seemed an odd affair to me, with some confusion and delay surrounding the red card in the immediate aftermath of Newport’s late winner. But Sáiz appears now to have admitted, acknowledged and apologised for his transgression, so that’s that. He’s bang to rights and indefensible, he’ll have to do his time, repent at leisure and make sure he sticks to his vow that this will never happen again.

Incidentally, and particularly for those who think I’m an uncritical Sáiz apologist, his conduct has worried me before, and I’ve gone into print hoping he’d see the error of his ways. This was over an early season tendency to wave imaginary cards when fouled, something that risked attracting the ref’s attention negatively, and a habit I’ve always hated. So I don’t see Samu as any sort of paragon of virtue; even so, some of the stick and abuse he’s received from alleged Leeds fans since the Case of the Newport Spit has been sickening in the extreme – decorum prohibits the reproduction of many of the remarks here. Suffice to say that there’s been a nasty, racist overtone in the murkier regions of the Leeds Twitter hashtag, many of the boneheads who like to comment there seeming to have forgotten what the little Spanish wizard has contributed to our faltering season so far.

It’s not big and it’s not clever, but then again, that just about sums up some of our Twitter knuckle-draggers. Sadly, the temptation to jump aboard a Brexiteer anti-“foreign signing” bandwagon appears to have been just too much to resist for many of these hard-of-thinking opportunists, with some of them engaged for hours on end in trying to outdo their IQ-minus cronies in a competition to see who could be the most offensively tasteless in their treatment of United’s best player this season.

The subtext emerging was of a groundswell of opposition, again mainly at the thicker end of United’s online adherents, to the idea of signing non-British players in the first place. Some Leeds fans, apparently, will not be happy until United’s first team consists of blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan stereotypes, goose-stepping their way towards the lower leagues with the Sieg Heils echoing from the stands – a harking back to the early and mid-eighties. But those days are gone; the continental and global lads are here to stay, they will continue to provide the best hopes of success – and the Twitter and other social media morons are welcome to crawl back under the stones from which they should never, in these more enlightened times, emerge.

It’s to be hoped that this will be a storm in a teacup, that United will safely negotiate the enforced and unfortunate absence of Sáiz – and that, when he returns, he will be given the warm welcome that his value to the team deserves. And that will probably be the case, because Leeds will surely move to cover for the lad’s loss, while the bulk of the United support are a silent yet match-day raucous majority, who will always be behind the men in the shirts, whether they hail from Selby or Spain.

Samu’s been a silly lad, but many, many young footballers are guilty of that; he’s not the first, he’ll not be the last, and it’s got absolutely bugger-all to do with his nationality. So, enough of all that nonsense. What we need now is to get stuck in as a United Leeds for the rest of the season, that’s boardroom, management, players and fans – and put this sorry incident behind us. The rest of the transfer window promises to be interesting or maybe even exciting, and meanwhile there’s a formidable array of opposition waiting to tackle a Samu-less Leeds. Let’s stick together, ignore the ten-a-penny haters – and show them all what we’re really capable of.

“Completely Lacking Spirit and Passion”: Leeds Owner Radrizzani Issues Stern Rebuke – by Rob Atkinson

In a complete departure from his usual urbanely diplomatic stance, Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani has taken to Twitter and bemoaned the “lowest moment for me since I joined” in what are, for him, harshly critical terms.

Normally, Radrizzani confines himself to what amounts to a supportive and broadly positive stance, preferring to exhort the fans to greater heights of support rather than issue any direct criticism. This tweet, though, utterly abandons any such diplomacy, and instead hits hard – striking right to the heart of any football professional‘s self-image. In accusing the players of lacking spirit and passion, he is levelling about the most serious charge imaginable. Let nobody doubt the anger and frustration behind such frank and revealing words.

It may be that Andrea has been rattled by the spitting storm that threatens to engulf the club, depriving Leeds of their best attacking player Samu Saíz for maybe up to six games – if the charge is proven. That would be enough to unsettle the most sanguine of club owners but, even so, Radrizzani’s words are pointed in the extreme. Tweeted to the entire Leeds United Universe, the criticism is scathing, devastating. Anybody on the Leeds United payroll will disregard this at their extreme peril.

It looks as though the owner is a long way short of happy. To an extent, the remedy is in Radrizzani’s own hands, with most of the January transfer window remaining available to him. It’s fair to surmise that, as the owner has seen fit to be so very publicly critical, and about areas of the game that form the basis of professional pride too, then much harsher words will be spoken in private behind the scenes at Elland Road. And what might come of that – well, it’s anyone’s guess. But the gloves are off now, the owner has broken cover and the game’s afoot.

There has, as yet, been no dreaded “vote of confidence”, for which small mercy Thomas Christiansen, our likeable Head Coach, may perhaps breathe a small sigh of relief. But a warning shot has definitely been fired across the bows of the Leeds staff, both playing and coaching. Once the top man identifies a deficiency in the Spirit and Passion Department, then something most definitely has to be done. The only one of the Holy Trinity of pro qualities not identified was “commitment” and, based on the Cup showing at Newport, that was most probably an oversight on Andrea’s part.

One way or another, the mood around the club has just been amply clarified in resoundingly emphatic terms; following momentous words like that, some sort of decisive action can usually be anticipated. It should be an interesting next few weeks down LS11 way.

Cardiff Revisited for Leeds as Whites Crash Out of Cup at Newport – by Rob Atkinson

South Wales

South Wales: Leeds United’s 21st Century FA Cup graveyard

An early lead in the FA Cup Third Round for Leeds United in an away tie in South Wales, live on TV. A sending off for our talismanic blond striker, then a late winner for opponents many places below us in the league ladder. A classic Cup shock, to the delight of the media and the nation as a whole. Yes – that was the fate of Leeds United 16 years and one day ago at Cardiff City. And today at Newport County, the same grisly circumstances played themselves out all over again as history eerily repeated itself to leave United stunned and “free to concentrate on the League”. For Alan Smith, read Samu Saíz. For Ninian Park, read Rodney Parade. The joyous celebrations in the media and around the nation remain identical.

On that previous occasion, United’s League position could not have been better – top of the Premier League pile with the Title in their sights. Today, the situation is of comparative poverty, with Leeds in and around the Championship play-off places after an inconsistent first half of the League campaign. Exiting the FA Cup is no tragedy, it’s happened once a year for the past 46 seasons. What we must hope is that the League slump, which followed United’s virtually identical Cup defeat 16 years ago, is not now replicated by Thomas Christiansen‘s troops. In that regard, it will clearly be seen that the sending-off of late and needless sub Saíz is far more potentially damaging to Leeds than an almost predictable Cup cock-up.

The really worrying thing was that, yet again, so many of the fringe players were found wanting when asked to step up and take their chances. We all know there’s a certain pressure that goes with the territory of playing for a club like Leeds, where expectations are always higher than attainments and the weight of history can be a heavy burden on young shoulders. But this fact has to inform player recruitment; it has to be a factor when targets are identified. Quality is essential, and will become ever more so as and when Leeds move upwards. But character and guts, with the ability to handle the goldfish-bowl environment and the glare of publicity – these are vital too, and it would seem that, in too many current squad members, those characteristics – epitomised today by lone warrior and scorer Gaetano Berardi – are sadly lacking.

Despite the uncanny similarity of the two South Wales FA Cup exits, 16 years apart, there’s no hiding the fact that the squad defeated at Cardiff was light years ahead of the current bunch in skill, character, attitude, desire – all the components of a successful football unit. That’s the gulf we have somehow to bridge over the next few years, if we’re to usher in our second century in a state befitting the history and global fame of this great club. On the evidence of the entire campaign so far – and in particular, based on the unpalatable offering we had to digest against Newport on Sunday lunchtime – there are light years still to travel, and this at a time when the clubs at the top of the game are streaking further away from the also-rans at an increasing speed.

By common consent, this squad – as a whole – is simply not good enough, and it will take more than boardroom platitudes to deal with that fact. The defeat at Cardiff was the start of a long and slippery slope for United. The best we can wish here and now is that the defeat at Newport might yet be part of the process whereby, slowly and painfully though it may be, Leeds United somehow contrive a return to something like their previous illustrious heights.