Tag Archives: International break

Leeds United Must Beware Potential Baggies Banana Skin – by Rob Atkinson

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Marcelo Bielsa – taking nothing for granted

West Bromwich Albion, one of the pre-season Championship promotion favourites, have been distinctly off-colour lately, sinking to seventh in the table after defeat at Hull City became the latest example of points carelessly dropped by a talented squad that should be doing much better. This miserable run of form has put Leeds United‘s own recent blip into sharp perspective; despite injuries and a number of, shall we say, controversial decisions against them, the Whites have contrived to stay top of an extremely competitive league, and will head to The Hawthorns aiming to consolidate that position.

Yes, the misfiring Baggies have had their own injury worries, but manager Darren Moore will not be looking for any excuses ahead of a mouth-watering clash with Yorkshire’s finest. In point of fact, Moore should be able to welcome back a number of key players ahead of Saturday’s evening kick off, including the prolific (at this level) striker Dwight Gayle, who would certainly need a close eye keeping on him by a Leeds defence slightly unbalanced by the injury absences of Luke Ayling and Gaetano Berardi. Certainly, more problems can be expected from the Albion attack than the meagre threat posed by Wigan last weekend, and United will need to be wary of what is essentially a wounded and therefore dangerous animal in West Brom.

It’s a classic situation of a team bouncing back to the top of the league after a slightly difficult period, going to visit a team on the crest of a slump. So often, the confidence of the higher-placed outfit turns out to be misplaced as the home side is inspired by the challenge and comes sailing out of the doldrums to win. This is the potential banana skin waiting in the path of the Leeds juggernaut, and club, players and fans alike would do well to be extremely wary of the challenge that faces them on Saturday.

Of course, the world’s best coach isn’t likely to be all wide-eyed and unknowing, and will have his men adequately prepared. Even so, and having witnessed a win at Wigan that was a lot less convincing than it should have been, I have a slightly nervous feeling about this one. Really, a side settling well into the Bielsaball concept should be looking to deal with any and all resistance – but we know that, in the real world of dog eat dog Championship football, it frequently doesn’t work out quite so tidily clear-cut. If Leeds can add a clinical edge to their finishing, and retain the ability to dominate possession, create chances and cover back in numbers, then three points at West Brom is distinctly achievable.

Anything less than that level of performance, though, and we could well slip up on that banana skin. Fingers crossed that, with yet another international break looming, Leeds are ready to sign off this segment of the season with a performance that ticks all the necessary boxes. 

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McCormack Exposes Strachan’s Lack of Four-sight as Leeds Romp to Victory – by Rob Atkinson

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Ross McCormack – surplus Scot

Gordon Strachan has always been good value, whether plying his trade as Leeds United’s traditional diminutive ginger midfield maestro, or later as a manager with a penchant for the apposite quote, frequently a venom-tipped barb delivered with his own brand of waspish humour.  He’s not been somebody noted for getting things wrong all that often. There was a dressing-room tantrum in the early days at Elland Road, when it took Jim Beglin to calm him down – politely but firmly.  And there was the famous own-goal near the end of the Charity Shield match against Liverpool at Wembley in 1992 – but that didn’t matter as Leeds won in the end.  Other than those two minor blips, he’s normally got most things right.  But Leeds fans will have been queuing up to tell him that he dropped a right clanger this week.

Somehow, by some convolution of his venerable grey matter, Scotland manager Strach has managed to select for his next international squad NINE players from the Championship – and yet omit Ross McCormack.  I’d be very hard-pressed to name one Scottish player in the Championship better than Rossco, and yet wee Gordie somehow managed to find these nine.  It’s to be hoped they do well – they’ll have to if they’re going to prove their worth ahead of a man who has been excellent for Leeds United this season, a man who wears his heart and his commitment to the cause on his sleeve, a man, moreover, who has scored 6 goals in his last two outings whilst threatening to stage a one-man goal of the month competition.  Strachan did concede that McCormack had been “unlucky”, thereby adding to his considerable reputation for dry understatement.

At the time of this unlucky omission, Ross McCormack could point to just the two goals in his most recent game; now he’s trebled that output in one further game as if to emphasise just how bloody unlucky he really has been.  This approach of letting his boots do the talking instead of whinging in the press – and Ross can be quite vocal at times as his Twitter followers will confirm – is highly laudable of course, and something that Leeds fans will appreciate.  Those fans might rather, anyway, that Ross should be putting his feet up for a couple of weeks and doing the odd bit of training at Thorp Arch, instead of gadding about Europe with the Sweaties.  That way, the Leeds faithful will figure, he’ll be rested and ready to poke a few more goals in, a fortnight hence, against his persistent summer suitors Middlesbrough.  So even if we feel a bit bruised and crestfallen on McCormack’s behalf – there are compensations for Leeds supporters in what seems an inexplicable decision to deny the lad some more international experience.  Ross will be wondering what, exactly, he has to do in order to merit selection.

Some more of what he served up today certainly wouldn’t go amiss.  McCormack was hailed by both managers after Charlton versus Leeds as “the difference”.  On a disgraceful bog of a pitch reminiscent of some of the marshlands at Derby and elsewhere in the 70’s, Leeds managed to overcome a determined Charlton side, one that hadn’t conceded a solitary goal in over seven hours of football.  The home side had made the brighter start, but Leeds scored with their first real chance, as McCormack fastened onto Blackstock’s neat flick to dink the ball over Charlton’s onrushing keeper.  United then survived a penalty appeal and a shot against their woodwork before conceding the equaliser just before half-time to one of those “worldies” we see fly into our net all too often.  This time it was Cameron Stewart blasting a twenty-yard volley past a helpless Paddy Kenny, and Leeds were on the back foot for the remaining couple of minutes before the break, grateful in the end to go in level.

After the interval, the match swiftly swung back Leeds’ way.  A penalty was claimed and awarded when Danny Pugh – back after a long time in the doldrums and playing well – was tripped by Charlton’s Harriott, and McCormack leathered the spot-kick fiercely into the roof of the net.  Charlton were still full of fight and saw Kenny make one great save to deny the penalty villain Harriott, whilst squandering at least one other decent opening, before they finally levelled the match at 2-2 in the 70th minute.  Simon Church carved out the chance with a low cross, converted by Johnnie Jackson.  This is the sort of scenario that makes the Leeds faithful groan in collective pain and pessimism; normally, having been pegged back, we expect further disaster to ensue.  The three thousand plus United followers in the Jimmy Seed stand must therefore have been anticipating the worst, but glory be – the best was yet to come.

It came quickly, too.  Barely three minutes had elapsed since Charlton’s second equaliser when McCormack, again benefiting from an assist from loanee Blackstock, smashed home a close-range volley from a tight angle.  There hadn’t even been time to sink fully into the default Leeds state of pessimism and now all was joy and rapture again as the travelling faithful bellowed their appreciation. Surely, Leeds would hang on now.  And hang on they did, defending resolutely enough for the remaining seventeen minutes, at the end of which Rudy Austin was fouled just outside the area by Rhoys Wiggins. McCormack sized it up, took aim, and curled a beautiful free kick past Hamer to end the home side’s hopes.

It was the first time a United player had scored four in a game since Brian Deane made QPR suffer at Elland Road in the noughties. Heaven only knows when a Leeds player last grabbed four away from home.  That might be something for Strachan to contemplate, with his Elland Road connections, as he watches the highlights of this performance. Chances are, though, he’ll have a lot more to think about than that.

Can Leeds Banish the Blues? – by Rob Atkinson

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League football resumes this weekend after the latest international break and for Leeds it’s a chance to return to winning ways on Sunday lunchtime at home to Birmingham City, who are four points and five places worse off than our heroes.  United sit 14th, 7 points behind the play-off places and, perhaps more relevantly, 8 points clear of the bottom three.

Suggestions that this is a “must-win” game for Leeds have more or less merit, depending on your expectations for this season.  Anyone who feels that there is any reasonable chance of a tilt at promotion will know that nothing less than three points will do.  The rest of us, more likely resigned to a mediocre campaign with the occasional fearful glance over our shoulders at the relegation battle, have longer-term problems in mind.  The bigger picture, we would argue, is of more importance right now than individual results; the direction of the club is being questioned after bleak failures to augment the squad by the additions of much needed talent up front and on the wings.  Nevertheless, a win is always welcome and Elland Road certainly needs to brush up its reputation as a fortress.

The Birmingham game also sees the welcome return as a special guest of Lucas Radebe, The Chief himself, one of the true heroes for Leeds fans everywhere and a man with a proud and deserved global profile.  The recent tendency of the owners GFH to look back at a glorious past strikes quite a contrast with earlier in the season when it was all “Forget about the past, the future is bright”.  Clearly, circumstances alter cases.  This visit of The Chief may well be seen as another distraction from the complaints of those whose concerns are more urgently current – and yet Leeds United icons such as Radebe should always be assured of a warm welcome home.

Whatever gloom might surround Elland Road, Birmingham under their lugubriously Geordie manager Lee Clark, have had a poorer time of it so far.  Two wins in their last 9 league games and no goals in their last three is not the stuff to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition, even opposition such as Leeds who have been sadly easy meat for Blues in the last few season with seven out of the last eight meetings going their way.  Leeds’ own current form is dodgy enough for us to take little comfort from Brum’s woes, so the match will kick off with head-to-head history perhaps the best guide – not a pleasant thought for the Whites.

For Leeds, Sam Byram is pressing for a start, seemingly now recovered from his chronic hip problems.  Midfielder Luke Murphy and striker Luke Varney are two more who will be hoping for recalls, with the make-up of the team, as ever, dependent upon the shape and formation manager McDermott deems best-fitted to deal with our opponents.  Birmingham have had injury worries over midfielder Wade Elliott and left-back David Murphy, both of whom will be assessed prior to kick off.

Both teams have a lot to prove and amends to make to long-suffering fans.  Leeds were awful at Derby, losing 3-1 – a scoreline that flattered them if anything.  Birmingham arguably fared even worse, losing at home to a Bolton side who have keeled over to almost all other opposition this term – even Leeds.  This Elland Road clash is a battle of the demoralised, and much will depend on who can deal the better with their currently reduced condition.  Leeds have apparently had a Big Meeting to thrash things out, and it’s to be hoped that the air has been sufficiently cleared for them to overcome a team that have been problematic lately.

I will put my most optimistic head on and, based on absolutely nothing but blind faith and wishful thinking, go for a 2-0 win to Leeds – which would at least buy GFH a few more days of grace and allow them perhaps to mollify a grumpy fan base with some success in the loan market.

International Break is as Important for Leeds as it is for England – by Rob Atkinson

....or divided we fall

….or divided we shall most certainly fall

It’s no exaggeration to say that the next couple of weeks might very well make or break Leeds United’s season.  It’s as serious as that.  Not for any reasons of points or league placings, but to nip in the bud the deadly, creeping disease of apathy that can seize hold of a club’s supporter base and throttle all hope out of it.  Don’t get me wrong; the international break is clearly important for England too.  But all they have to do is win a couple of games at Wembley, with everything going for them and the cream of the country’s talent (such as it is) at their disposal.  Easy peasy.  Leeds United have no such simple task.  Leeds United must somehow conjure up a whole new philosophy, advance further down the road of securing significant investment and cheer up a moribund fan-base to the point where they can inspire the team again, instead of reducing it to nervy inefficiency.  No pressure, then.

Conflicting noises have come out of Elland Road this last week or so.  First we’re told that new players are on their way, but the existing squad should have won in the most hostile of Lions’ Dens.  Then there were glad tidings of “investment to take us to the next level”, but with the same breath we were told it was hard to secure such investment and that promotion was “a harsh target”.  Neither was the tantalising concept of “the next level” defined.  The next level of what?  Angry Birds?  Surely, they couldn’t have meant the next level up the league ladders, better known as the Premier League.  That is, after all, a harsh target. None of these pronouncements have come from the football side of the club, though you might be forgiven for thinking they had, what with learned opinions being offered about the capabilities of the existing squad vis-a-vis Millwall.  So confusion reigns, and the sickly stench of discouragement and resignation begins to drift among the fans in their expensive seats.  If promotion is a harsh target, they muse, aren’t these seat prices slightly harsh then?  What are we being invited to hope for, and at premium prices too?

Maybe, a mere two weeks hence, things will look better.  Perhaps, after we’ve sat and watched England cruise to qualification for Brazil 2014, we can turn our attentions back to Leeds United in a more positive frame of mind.  Will we have new faces to slot into our supporters’ team formations and post on Twitter? (Do I go traditional 4-4-2 or should I stick with the diamond? What about wing backs either side of a three in defence, eh? Hmmmm. Complicated, ain’t it.)  A couple of new faces could do a lot for morale out here, among all the armchair coaches and strategists, not to mention the galvanising effect on the team and its performances under the man who matters, Mr McDermott. And maybe there’ll be rumours of money coming into the club. There certainly should be, we’ve rarely been without them this past two years.  Rumours we have aplenty; pounds sterling, dollars or even shekels have been in somewhat shorter supply.  But you never know.  There’s no football for Leeds United for two long weeks. Surely something will happen in that time.  Perhaps even … something wonderful??

It’s to be hoped so.  The present mood out here is not positive, and the people responsible for those conflicting statements – and for what amounts to defeatist talk, dammit all – must hold their hands up for that.  If nothing else happens in the next fortnight while England’s millionaire playboys are poncing about at Wembley, it would at least be nice to see a more unified Leeds United emerge at the end of that time, singing the same song, or at least avoiding such excruciating discords.  A couple of high-class loans would do us all the power of good and maybe – just maybe – we could then go Marching On Together into the January market with a bit more hope than seems likely right now.  After all, we’re all Leeds, aren’t we?  Of course we bloody are. Fingers crossed it stays that way.