Tag Archives: Lee Clark

Are Buoyant Leeds United Facing a Blackpool Banana Skin? – by Rob Atkinson

The Mighty Tangerines celebrate one of their three throw-ins this season

The Mighty Tangerines celebrate one of their three throw-ins this season

With the kind of run Leeds United have been on lately – and, it must be said, the not exactly dominant or decisive way in which those positive results have been gained – a trip to Blackpool might just hold more in the way of a dirty great banana-skin than the long-advertised “fresh air and fun” for our Warriors in White.

That is not to say that Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything expects or would willingly accept anything less than a breezy win against the division’s whipping boys. It’s just that – well, we’ve all been here before; Leeds have this endearing habit of nicking results against the odds, or even disposing of league high-flyers as we’ve done home and away with AFC Bournemouth and Middlesbrough Ironopolis. And then, drat them all to hell and back, they go and let you down against opposition they should be rolling over and stomping into the earth. They’re a contrary mob, our Leeds – coupon-busters more often than most, and not always in a good way.

Even so, it’s difficult to see how United might contrive to lose this one, or even be held to a draw. It’s got victory written all over it; I’ve seen social media conversations devoted entirely to the knotty issue of whether we’ll prevail by five clear goals, or only four. They rightly say that pride goeth before a fall, but that’s not just pride we’re talking about there. It’s dangerously close to hubris or, as we say in the Broad Acres, proper beggin’ for a smack in t’gob. Should such a smack arrive, as would hardly be a surprise to those hard-bitten cynics among us who are students of the many and varied ways in which Leeds United can manage to lose a game, then perhaps those youthful and over-confident denizens of the internet might just consider keeping their injured gobs shut in the future.

All of that verges dangerously on the needlessly pessimistic; perhaps subconsciously this blog is attempting to ward off a negative result at Blackpool by attempting some reverse psychology with the Fates who decide this sort of thing. In reality, Blackpool are where they are – all but actually relegated, well before Easter – because they’re an ill-run club with an inadequate playing staff who have struggled against just about everybody this campaign. The Tangerines are so far behind in the Championship that the likes of Watford and Bournemouth have both lapped them at least once – and the relegation fight has long been a question of Blackpool and two others.

Leeds appear to have learned how to win ugly; Blackpool don’t seem to know one end of a football from the other. On paper, it should be boys against men – with our gallant troops ending up being castigated in the Lancashire Press for unseemly bullying and an unsporting lack of mercy. Would that it might be so. Without wishing to sound spoiled, the experience of seeing our lads hand out a good sound thrashing without once being troubled would be balm to the nerves. Wednesday’s 3-0 win at Fulham was anything but comfortable once you looked beyond the scoreline. What we need now is to go that extra mile and absolutely batter someone.

As if Blackpool’s problems aren’t already severe enough, their sketchy squad is weakened still further by several likely absentees for this weekend. Lugubrious Geordie manager Lee Clark, looking to end a run of six straight defeats, will probably miss Tom Barkhuizen for the game. The 21 year old picked up a foot injury in the loss to Charlton Athletic, and Clark explained, “Tom took a nasty whack on the top of his foot, so he’ll probably not be available for us. He hasn’t trained at all since Charlton.” Jamie O’Hara and Niall Maher are also ruled out for the game and Tony McMahon is suspended. “We are what we are tomorrow,” concluded Clark, glumly.

For Leeds, there is some chance of a first view at this level of January loan signing Granndi Ngoyi, with Rudy Austin also a possible returnee. Steve Morison is pushing for a recall against opposition that even he will fancy scoring against, and youngster Kalvin Phillips will continue to press for a Whites début at some stage. Some Blackpool fans are reportedly boycotting the match in protest at the running of the club, favouring a North West Counties Premier Division encounter instead of more probable Championship pain. It’s to be hoped that their pessimism is justified and that this blog’s wishes of royally tonking someone might be granted on Saturday by the seaside.

And yet that horrible banana-skin vision persists, so I’m not even going to stick my neck out far enough for a score prediction. Braver souls than I are cordially invited to give their own confident result forecasts below…

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Brilliant, United!! Leeds Utd 4, Birmingham City 0 – by Rob Atkinson

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Cometh the hour, cometh the Beast.  As Leeds United vaulted out of the doldrums with a display of all-round excellence against Birmingham City today, it was action-man skipper Rudy Austin who was their drive and inspiration.  You can pick any cliché you like to describe the excellence of Austin’s bionic performance.  He gave 110%.  He covered every blade of grass.  He was a powerhouse in midfield, a last-ditch impassable obstacle in defence – he even found time to score the goal that provided United with a precious breathing space they’ve enjoyed all too rarely in recent times.

All that said, this was no one-man show.  From back to front, from top to bottom, Leeds were bang up for it today and would have beaten far better teams than Birmingham City, who were simply blown away by the hunger, commitment and endeavour of the Whites’ frankly voracious performance.  From the kick off, United set a tempo far too punishing for the hapless away team, and the Blues had to withstand ferocious pressure in a first fifteen minutes of siege football.  That they emerged without conceding from that opening quarter-hour was mainly about some casual finishing, but Blues had defended grimly and must have been hoping for some respite if the storm would just blow itself out.  Then City keeper Darren Randolph came out to make a neat interception but tried to be that bit too clever and had the ball nicked off him by the ubiquitous Austin.  A first time pass to Ross McCormack who looked up and, seeing an empty goal 25 yards away, calmly propelled the ball into it.

Leeds had earned that breakthrough and they now set about consolidating it. Birmingham had to redouble their defensive efforts as well as trying to make the odd foray upfield, but by and large they were swimming against a flood tide as white shirts poured forward and Leeds players won most first and second balls all over the park.  The inevitable second came after the half-hour.  McCormack found time and space wide left, and advanced on the defence before putting a quality ball into the City box where Austin, at the end of a lung-bursting 70 yard run forward, was found in splendid isolation on the edge of the six yard box to plant a neat header past the helpless Randolph.  The first half’s coup de grâce was administered by the towering Matt Smith who had headed a diagonal pass into the path of McCormack.  The striker’s shot from a narrow angle was saved, but Smith was on hand to identify the space at the near post and neatly wrong-foot Randolph to finish efficiently.

A 3-0 half-time lead was beyond the wildest dreams of the long-suffering Leeds faithful, who must have spent the interval torn between celebrating, pinching themselves and praying for a continuation of what had been a masterful performance from United, even allowing for the frailties of the opposition.  City came out with the intention of playing for pride and perhaps at least winning the second half.  The introduction of recent Leeds nemesis Nikola Zigic might have caused a few collies to wobble and Birmingham did show a greater presence in the game in the second half, pushing United back and causing the odd flurry in defence, one goal-line clearance from Tom Lees being particularly memorable with Paddy Kenny beaten by a lob.  But Leeds’ nerve held, their confidence remained high and they defended adequately when they had to while managing to attack dangerously at every opportunity.

The hard work and persistence of Austin with the subtler promptings of young Alex Mowatt, allied to Smith’s aerial presence and McCormack’s intelligent space-seeking runs, always promised a fourth goal to set the seal on a highly encouraging afternoon. That fourth goal, when it came, was a thing of beautiful simplicity.  Smith was the scorer on 74 minutes, having had an emphatic finish ruled out for a narrow offside decision two minutes earlier.  Now though, Mowatt received possession on the left in a tight enough situation to deny him the chance to do anything but feed in a first-time cross. This he did, and the quality of the ball to the far post was such that Smith’s second goal of the afternoon was served up to him cooked to perfection on a silver plate with all the trimmings.  It was a sumptuous cross and Smith snapped up the chance gratefully, powering an unstoppable header into the net at the Kop End.

This was a performance of verve and style from United, the shape and make-up of the team proving just right for the task of dispatching a Birmingham side who are capable of much, but who were simply not allowed to perform on the day and were, in the end, sent packing, well beaten and thoroughly demoralised.  City manager Clark bemoaned the crass defending that contributed to at least two of the four goals, but in truth he will be relieved that his team escaped a far more savage beating. In the first half particularly it had been men against boys and it’s no exaggeration to say that United could have run out winners by seven goals or even more.  As match-days go, it was the kind of occasion Leeds fans have been denied for far too long.  This was a banquet of a performance after too long on starvation rations, and every man played his part to the full, though nobody could deny the marvellous Austin his man of the match accolade.

All credit to Brian McDermott and his players who have evidently made good use of the fortnight’s international break to get a few things thrashed out.  The desire and hunger of this display was wonderful to see and it sets a standard that McDermott will wish to see as a default level of performance from now on.  Whether the squad is strong enough for the long haul is severely open to doubt and there are still wrongs to be righted there.  But United’s big win has shown that, on their day and with their main men available, they are capable of handing out no end of a hiding.  More of the same next week against Huddersfield would do very nicely indeed.

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.