Tag Archives: Leicester City

EXCLUSIVE: Police Fears of Betting Fix Allayed by Spurs Result – by Rob Atkinson

Police alert!

Police alert!

Police in Manchester, as well as detectives in London’s Metropolitan Police, were all geared up for a full-scale investigation into a possible betting sting earlier today, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands. Concerns were raised as news came in of some “incredibly unlikely” scores in the 4th Round FA Cup games around the country, as well as in certain league games.

The matches under the spotlight were Chelsea versus non-league Bratfud City, Manchester City at home to smog-bound Middlesbrough Ironopolis and the Southampton v Crystal Pulis game at the St Mary’s Stadium. All three encounters ended in highly unlikely away wins, and alarm bells were ringing. Asked whether nefarious activity by a Far East betting syndicate was suspected, a Police spokesman confirmed “That was very much the case. We were looking at a branch of BetFred in Scarborough.”

The police were on high alert towards the end of the afternoon fixtures. “We were looking for a pattern and starting to see one,” said DCI Ivor Truncheon of the Yard. “One more dodgy scoreline, and the boys and I were going to swoop.”

The game that might have tipped the balance from what could just have been an unlikely sequence of results, into a full-scale betting scandal, took place at White Hart Lane. “At one point, Tottenham Hotspuds were actually winning,” we were told. “Yes, things were getting that bizarre. But then Leicester got the digit out, imposed their superiority – and in the end, they won. Thankfully, that was enough to convince us that everything was legit. But if Spuds had actually won – along with all those other frankly ridiculous results – well, you can well imagine that we’d have had to take it all very seriously indeed.”

Asked whether the Watford v Blackpool game (where the away team led 2-0 at the interval, only to lose 7-2) came under any scrutiny, our police source was dismissive. “Nah, that’s just Blackpool being crap, isn’t it. We understand the FL might look at the slope at Vicarage Road, but that’s not a criminal matter.”

The FA Cup is 143.


What a Weekend! The Thrashing of Huddersfield from the Leeds United SkyBet Box – by Rob Atkinson

View from the Top

View from the Top

Now that the dust has settled on my “Weekend Mirabilis” of a few days back – now that the successive hangovers have lifted and the blood pressure has reverted to its former levels of merely mildly unhealthy – now, at last, I can take the time to reflect on what was 48 hours of almost unadulterated pleasure and exultation, something very rare in the life of any Leeds United fan.

The bare bones of this orgy of enjoyment are that Leeds United thrashed Huddersfield Town 3-0 on the Saturday and then, having departed on a well-earned seaside break after returning from Elland Road, I was able to watch the once-mighty man u, the Pride of Devon themselves, comically throw away a two-goal lead not once but twice, as they salvaged a 3-5 defeat from the jaws of victory at Leicester.  Not at all a bad weekend, you’d have to agree. But that, gentle reader, is not even the half of it.

A few days prior to Huddersfield’s Humbling, with my mind on matters no higher than nettle clearance in the lower field at Atkinson Towers, I received an email out of the blue from a gentleman named Ross Watson, representing SkyBet, who were running a promotion of their Transfer Fund at Elland Road for the United v Town match. The Transfer Fund offers the chance for registered Leeds fans to win £5,000 for themselves as well as a transfer jackpot of £250,000 for Leeds United, with every £1 bet earning a token which then goes into a draw. It’s one of those “you’ve got to be in it to win it” things; the more bets made by a fan of any Football League club, the more chance there is of that club – and some lucky fan – benefiting as above. It’s easy to register, and there is the dual attraction of a flutter on your team, together with the additional chance of winning big and helping your club – even, potentially, with a losing bet.

As if that’s not enough to recommend SkyBet, they’ve also had the immense good taste to read and enjoy this blog; hence the email from Ross who was very kindly inviting me along to the Leeds v Huddersfield game to watch the match from a corporate box in the East Stand (less than fondly known as the “Delph Shelf” by Leeds fans, all too well aware of where the money came from to fit it out in such resplendent style). Furthermore, there was a three-course meal and complimentary bar, the genial company of Sky’s “Mr Deadline Day”, Jim White, the enticing possibility of meeting fellow bloggers and various celebs – and I could bring a guest.  So Mrs Rob got a day out, too.

My experience is that, when a thing appears too good to be true, it’s normally because it’s not true. My first reaction, then, was a slightly less than gracious “what’s the catch” – but I am here to record for posterity that there was no catch and that the occasion delivered beyond my wildest dreams.

Considering that I’ve always had an innate suspicion of the corporate box experience – blame my proletarian roots for that – and that I’ve always been instinctively hostile to the kind of people I imagined I’d meet in such bastions of privilege, the day was a revelation from the start. It hasn’t cured me of yearning for the return of the terraces, but it has introduced me to a more comfortable way of watching football, one more appropriate to my age, perhaps, if not my wallet. Not having to spend a bean all day certainly did appeal to the parsimonious Yorkshireman in me – and let’s face it, the result didn’t exactly harm my prospects of enjoying the experience.

But all that aside, my afternoon in East Stand Box 34 blew me away at least as much because of the sheer kindness of everybody, the smooth efficiency of the match-day staff, the absence of any snobbery (which I’d at least half-expected) and the novel feeling of being well looked-after – at a football match! For someone with a good few decades as a supporter behind him, and vivid memories of bricks at Millwall, police horses at Bradford and needing an oxygen tent at Sheffield – it was an eye-opener, alright.

From the very beginning, as we entered somewhat diffidently through the imposing East Stand portal, people simply couldn’t have been kinder or more friendly and considerate. A svelte blonde lady noted our names, issued our tickets and saw that we were conducted to level 4 by lift and then delivered to our plushly-appointed box. We were among the first to arrive, but gradually the room, dominated by a promising-looking dining table, filled up. I met Keith Ingham, frequent contributor to We All Love Leeds and his son Ryan, who has an article/parable in the current issue of The Square Ball; there was a heady mix of competition winners and dedicated bloggers present as the drinks kept on coming, sparking off a warm and friendly atmosphere while we anticipated what was to come.

All the way through the afternoon, I was struck by the lack of any awkwardness, the relaxed and convivial atmosphere, where I had thought there might be a certain stuffed-shirt flavour to proceedings. Nothing of the sort – just smiley happy people everywhere as liquid hospitality was absorbed along with the gathering atmosphere of a crowd approaching 30,000. We weren’t insulated from that inspiring sound either, the crowd noise was a welcome accompaniment to the friendly chat in the box. And then dinner was served; sorry Mr Keane, not a prawn sandwich in sight. It was Yorkshire Pud to start for me, as befits. A “Duo of Chicken” was the #LLUUE main course of choice and then a welcome slab of trifle. A few bottles of wine rounded things off along with coffee and mints. It was what Lord Snooty in the Beano used to call a toothsome tuck-in, and as far from anything I’d ever experienced at Elland Road before as it is possible to get. All we needed now was for the match to go well for our heroes in White…

Well, the rest, as you know, is history. The three peaks of the actual football part of the afternoon left me reassured as to exactly how the other half support. Again, I’d wondered if the atmosphere would be diluted, if the joy of seeing the ball hit the back of the opposition’s net would, in some way, be lessened by such rarefied surroundings. Not a bit of it. The seats were ridiculously comfortable; all the easier to jump out of them as first Austin, then Antenucci and finally Doukara hit the heights for Leeds. Once the action was under way, we felt as much a part of the crowd as I’d ever known; alright, there was no swaying and rib-crushing as with those dear old seventies Kop days and evenings, but equally there was no sense of detachment, no feeling of being divorced from the action. It was as enjoyable a match-watching experience as I can remember, aided of course by the decisive margin of victory and the fact that the away fans were hating every minute of it. But there was so much more to the whole afternoon than just the match.

At half time, I went into the main concourse – and immediately met Terry Yorath, one of the Revie glory boys and as approachable and friendly as you could wish. And, as if to confirm the other-wordliness of it all, there too was Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise, sporting a Huddersfield Town badge on this occasion, in place of his more usual Starfleet one. For once, he was the alien in this situation. I wandered by, shields up, phaser on stun. Huddersfield were being assimilated; resistance was futile.

After the match, there was no hurry to leave. I had the chat I’d promised myself with Jim White, gently upbraiding him on his efforts to stir up interest in Ross McContract on the last deadline day but one, the night that Big Mass got barricaded inside Elland Road. It all seems so long ago now, with Ross44 gone and unlamented – and Mr White was all polished affability, flashing a smile that matched his hair for megawatt brilliance. “Aye, 11 million you got for him in the end? Extraordinary!” Indeed.

After the free bar, the good company, the sumptuous meal, the fantastic Leeds United performance and the chance to mingle and chat with some of the great and the good – the best was still to come. We were all gathered in a happy knot in the box, finishing off drinks, chatting and celebrating – when one of our number pointed out that Massimo Cellino himself was just a few boxes down from us, holding court for the Sky reporters. Emboldened by the occasion (and by the red wine), a few of us negotiated the metal barriers between boxes – and there we were, shaking hands with il Presidente, asking for and being granted selfies with the Sheriff, smiling and laughing with the one and only driver of the Leeds United bus. For a Leeds fan who has suffered along with thousands of others for the greater part of this century as well as a goodly chunk of the last one, it was like a dream – something I could scarcely have envisaged when I was digging up nettles just a few short days before.

Regrets? I have a few. Well, just one really. It was a shame that my good friend Andy Gregory, owner of the excellent We All Love Leeds blog, couldn’t make it along, due to holiday commitments. I know he’d have loved every minute of it, too. Characteristically, he made sure that his loss was someone else’s gain and Keith and Ryan, both contributors to the great body of Leeds United reportage, deservedly reaped the benefit. By Saturday evening, heading for the Mysterious East (Filey), I honestly thought that the weekend had given me all it possibly could – I was just looking forward to a few days’ relaxation to treasure my memories and “chillax”, as the young people say. But then came Leicester City to make my Sunday a cause for celebration too, and precipitate a second consecutive hangover. Corporate box or no corporate box, it’s tough at the top.

Thanks, in no particular order, to Leeds United, Leicester City, Huddersfield Town, man u, SkyBet, Massimo Cellino, Jim White and his lovely partner Katie, Ross Watson, the guy called Dave whose surname I didn’t catch, Keith & Ryan Ingham and the rest of the Box 34 fraternity, my wife who got me the Cellino signed programme and the SkyBet Football League pin badge, Terry Yorath and the kind and hard-working catering staff in the Elland Road East Stand.  You’ve all made an old fan very happy – and that makes a very refreshing change.

25 Years Today Since Gordon Strachan Signed for Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

"Have you ever seen a better goal?  Have you ever seen one better timed??" John Helm, YTV

Amazingly, for those of us who remember the breaking of the news so well, it’s a quarter of a century today since Leeds United made the historic signing of Gordon Strachan from a minor club over the Pennines.  Over the next seven seasons as the Whites skipper, there were many, many memorable occasions for United’s second-most famous ginger Scottish captain.  Not least among these, of course, was hoisting the last ever Football League Championship Trophy, as well as scoring the first goal in the Stuttgart play-off at the Nou Camp in 1992.

But, as I’ve done before, I thought I’d look back to the famous Leicester City game in 1990 and what was probably Strachan’s defining moment as the man who did more than just about anyone to reinvent Leeds as a post-Revie force in English football.  It had been a long time coming since Don’s Glory Boys dispersed to pastures new and a Golden Era faded into the dim haze of memory.  We had been eight years in the second division doldrums and had almost forgotten what it was like to be a top team.  But – finally! – it looked as though the nightmare was ending as Sergeant Wilko and Captain Strachan were set to lead United back to the Promised Land at long last.  A home fixture against Leicester City was the penultimate hurdle to overcome, and expectations were soaring at Elland Road.

Twelve days before the Leicester game, United had appeared to strike a decisive blow, battering closest rivals Sheffield United 4-0 at Elland Road. But any hope that promotion could be clinched early was dashed over the next two fixtures, a draw at Brighton where the lead was squandered to sacrifice two points, and then a home defeat to a relegation-threatened Barnsley who even then had the ability to put one over on us with an inferior team.  So the nerves were jangling for this home date with the Foxes.

Leicester breezed into town with no pressure on them at all as they bobbed about serenely in mid-table, but Leeds just had to win. A victory could possibly clinch promotion; anything else and we would be relying on others to give us that final leg-up – not an attractive prospect. The atmosphere at Elland Road that day was something to behold as 32,597 packed the stands and terraces, the Kop a seething mass of bodies, a solid wall of sound. If the weight of support counted for anything, then it seemed Leicester might just as well turn around and go home – but to their eternal credit they fought the good fight and played their part in a memorable afternoon.

It all started well. Leeds pressed hard, this had been their preferred approach all season long. No opponent was allowed the luxury of untroubled possession as Leeds snapped at ankles and harried the enemy, hungry for the ball and well able to use it productively. At their best, United had proved a match for any team in the Division; as ever though it was the off days that had let us down. On this particular occasion, attacking the Kop End in the first half, the forward momentum seemed irresistible. Before long, the overlapping Mel Sterland fastened on to a ball at the right corner of the penalty area and fired low and hard into the net to open the scoring. The overwhelming relief was as evident as the unconfined joy around the packed stadium; surely now United would go on to consolidate their advantage and seal the promotion we’d wanted for so long.

It was not to be. Despite further pressure, Leeds failed to make another breakthrough before half-time and Leicester – relaxed and pressure-free – were looking more and more ominously like potential party-poopers. These fears solidified in the second half as the away side pressed an increasingly nervous Leeds back, and eventually – inevitably – they drew level. The blow when it came was struck by a rumoured transfer target for Leeds, promising young Scot Gary McAllister. He proved that he packed some punch by belting a fine strike past veteran Mervyn Day to shock the Kop rigid and momentarily silence Elland Road. Worse was so nearly to follow as McAllister almost did it again, another superb shot coming within an ace of giving Leicester the lead, something which would doubtless have produced the unedifying spectacle of grown men crying in their thousands. It may well be that McAllister sealed his move to Leeds with this performance and those two efforts, but I could have seen him far enough from LS11 that day. Leeds were rocking, looking at each other, scratching heads and clenching fists in the time-honoured “come on, let’s bloody sort this out” gesture. Slowly, by sheer force of will, the lads in White regained the initiative and it looked at least as though the danger of further damage was receding. The football was still nerve-shredding stuff, all urgency and little fluency, a desperate battle to eke out the extra two points that would make promotion so much more likely.

Time was ebbing away fast now, as Leeds hurled themselves time and again into the defensive barrier of red Leicester away shirts. Panic was setting in, the biggest enemy of constructive football. It was looking like a draw, which would not be enough. Then, a throw halfway inside the Leicester half in front of the West Stand, under the eyes of a bleakly worried Wilko. Sterland gathered himself and hurled a massively long throw deep into the away penalty area, only for it to be headed out from around the near post. McAllister attempted to complete the clearance with an overhead effort to get rid, but the ball hit Gordon Strachan to bounce back into the box. And there was Gary Speed to lay that ball back instantly to the still-lurking Strachan who simply lashed it, left-footed, into the net. The ball had gone in like a bullet; Strachan – too tired to control it and try to work a yard of space to dink one of those cute little far-post crosses as he might normally – settled instead for catching the ball right on the sweet spot and it arrowed home to a positive explosion of noise from all around Elland Road – the sudden release of what had been unbearable tension produced a massive roar to buffet the ear drums of innocent bystanders miles away.

It was one of those occasions when several things seem to happen at once. The crowd behind the goal at the South Stand end seemed to boil with passion and relief, a maelstrom of delighted celebration which was echoed across the whole stadium. Strachan himself ran to the byline, face contorted, weary limbs pumping in triumphant exultation as he took the plaudits of the faithful. A lone copper is visible on the TV footage between Strach and the cavorting hordes, a grin on his face as he moves to quell any ambitious pitch-invaders. In the commentary box, John Helm unwittingly propelled himself into immortality, not for the last time that afternoon. “Have you ever seen a better goal?” he demanded. “And have you ever seen one better timed?” It was a good question, and right then, right there, I doubt you’d have found a Leeds fan to answer “yes” to either part of it. The rest was a blur; Leeds held out, and we had won – and seemingly gained promotion. Rumours were flying around that Newcastle had failed to win, sending us up. But John Helm was at it again, more iconic words: “Is that confirmed…?” When the confirmation arrived, it was of a late Toon win; we still had it all to do at Bournemouth the following week. But Strachan’s late cracker had kept us in a race that we were ultimately destined to win.

My final memory of that day is of walking down off the Kop and onto the pitch as the masses there were starting to disperse. We crossed the sacred turf from goal-line to goal-line, eventually exiting the ground into Elland Road at the south-west corner, where the Jumbotron big screen now stands. I can still remember the heady scent of stud-holed mud and trodden turf, my head was still buzzing as I walked over the spot where wee Gordon had made that perfect half-volley contact to send us all into delirium. It had been an atmosphere the like of which I have rarely seen before or since, only the mayhem at Bramall Lane when Gayle scored that own-goal title-clincher coming anywhere near, or maybe that ankle-busting semi-riot of a celebration when Dave Batty broke his long goal drought against Man City in 1991.

For the sheer relief of it however – the absolute nerve-shredding, tension-breaking release of it – this was definitely THE one. Without Strachan’s sublime strike, we could well have missed out on automatic promotion, and we all know only too well that there’s a law against us succeeding in the play-offs. Gordon’s Golden Goal had kept the dream alive and made possible all that followed up to the League Championship triumph two years later. Make no mistake – it was THAT important. Thank you, wee man – 25 years on, Leeds United have yet to make another signing so vital and important in the history of a great club. Chances are, they never will.

Wounded Leeds to be Mauled by Foxes? – by Rob Atkinson

Ross the Boss

Ross the Boss

The Foxes are on the prowl in Leeds this weekend, looking for easy prey, slavering and snapping at the tell-tale scent of blood which betrays the presence of a wounded and defenceless beast – or at least of some hapless chickens come home to roost. The potential victim of choice is Leeds United, mortally savaged last weekend when a soft underbelly was ruthlessly exposed as they rolled over and surrendered at Hillsborough. Slinking away to lick their wounds, Leeds have spent the week since trying to marshall spent energies for a last-ditch defence of their territory, readying themselves for an attack from the top pack out there. Sadly, it promises to be an unequal battle.

But now we’ll leave behind us this already over-stretched “battle of nature” metaphor, before it gets too gory and messy for the requirements of good taste. We all know we’re up against it this weekend, and that if things go anywhere near as spectacularly wrong as they did in darkest Sheffield last week, it could be bloody carnage in LS11. And yet there is hope springing from out of the mists of time, and the one thing above all that any beleaguered team or manager needs is a little hope.

That historical glimmer of light shining wanly through the gloom takes us back to the last time we let in half a dozen at Wednesday. On that pre-Christmas 1995 occasion, having capitulated 6-2, Leeds were required to bounce back swiftly as Man U rolled into town seeking to take advantage of our reduced state. Well, we won 3-1 (see here) on that memorable Christmas Eve, with tomorrow’s opposition keeper’s dad in goal and with our strike-force serving us well, so who’s to say we can’t spring a comparable shock just over 18 years later? Alright, common-sense and the formbook are two that spring to mind, but let’s not abandon ALL hope – not just yet.

Whatever recent form or historical precedent might tell us, there’s little doubt that Leeds United are the underdogs this weekend – and perhaps, after failing against nominal inferiors last time out, this is just what they need. There is also the small matter of a change of leadership on the field – or, as some would bitterly point out, the introduction of some leadership, a quality notable by its absence in the last two craven performances.

Ross McCormack has long been identifiable as a man who carries the club in his heart and wears that heart on his sleeve. Striker or no, there can be no better candidate among the current crop for a captain’s role – and there may even be a bonus in the shape of a return to form for Rudy Austin, freed to concentrate simply on playing. If Austin could produce a performance comparable to his single-handed subduing of Birmingham City a while back, then all bets are off. Rudy was almost unplayable that day, as the rest of the team benefited from his industry and commitment. So the change of skipper could be a double-edged and beneficial sword – and we may look also for the galvanising effect of a “clear the air” meeting in the wake of humiliation.

A change of formation could also be on the cards, now that we have two wingers to (we hope) create havoc down both flanks. The downside to that is the loss of battering-ram Matt Smith, who is suspended after an appeal against his red card last week was, unsurprisingly to anyone who has followed United’s run-ins with authority, summarily dismissed. So Smith is out, and there is a vacancy in attack alongside Captain Ross if we ARE to go 4-4-2. Whispers are abroad that the mystery transfer target Brian McDermott was having a chat with today might just be a certain Argentinean who left us to become Becchio the Benchwarmer of Carrow Road – and that would certainly solve a problem or two, though it’s a little late in the day now for new blood to be available for the Leicester test.

There is, on the other hand, new blood in the Leicester City ranks – though that new blood is of the distinctly old variety as veteran Kevin Phillips arrives from Crystal Palace to threaten Leeds’ wobbly defence. It is this factor that worries me above all; Phillips is the kind of man who you suspect will make an instant impact, even if it’s off the bench. Elland Road before the TV cameras is a scenario made in heaven for the lethal finisher, and you wouldn’t bet against him harming our heroes at some point. Recent form is as good for Leicester as it is bad for Leeds, with the Foxes having slain the Rams last week, City beating Derby by a convincing four goals to one.

So, there are many reasons to worry about this home fixture – though we should bear in mind that we already have a point in the bag from Leicester in an early-season stalemate that we could even have won near the end. You suspect that all of a Whites persuasion would be happy to see another point tomorrow; it’s an outcome some optimistic urge in me is tempted to forecast. But taking everything into account, with a determined Son of Schmeichel in goal for the Foxes and prepared to throw himself at everything to avenge his dad’s defeat in that Christmas Eve win over Man U; with the X-Factor of Finisher Phillips in the mix and with all of the trauma currently surrounding Leeds United – I will reluctantly go for a routine away win as the Whites battle hard but are undone by a frankly better squad.

0-2 for me, a goal at some point for Old Man Kevin, fresh from the Palace – and some honour in defeat to be garnered from what I confidently expect to be a much-improved performance. Now come on, Leeds – you proved me wrong with last week’s result prediction. Get those sleeves rolled up, fight for the shirts and prove me wrong again!

Looks Like Today is Leeds United Takeover Day – by Rob Atkinson


TOMA complete?

The protracted second takeover in a year of Leeds United looks as if it will be made official today, according to a story carried by Reuters.

According to the news agency, Bahrain-based investment firm Gulf Finance House (GFH) has agreed a partial sale of its stake in English football club Leeds United   The firm said in a statement on Wednesday that the sale was agreed with British investors, whose details the firm did not specify in a bourse statement. The investment firm did not provide details on the stake value or the size of the stake sold.

No confirmation was made of the necessary Football League approval, though it would be highly unusual for the above announcement to be made if that were not now a foregone conclusion, and further developments on this front might well be expected later today.

Leeds United meet Championship leaders Leicester City on Saturday, fresh from a dismal run of results after several poor performances.  The club has been linked heavily with Reading’s want-away striker Adam le Fondre this week, as well as free transfer prospect Luke Moore, formerly of Swansea and Aston Villa.

Despite securing the loan signings of Cameron Stewart and Jimmy Kebe last week, Leeds suffered an embarrassing 6-0 defeat to local rivals Sheffield Wednesday in a televised game on Saturday.  The TV cameras will again be present for the Leicester City clash.

It remains to be seen whether any completed takeover will loosen the Elland Road purse-strings for more team strengthening.  Boss Brian McDermott had ruled our further incomings ahead of the Foxes match, but that has not stopped intense speculation surrounding Moore and le Fondre.  It may well be that other names will now be put forward, but McDermott likes to have business completed before making any comment.

Leeds United stand 11th in the Championship, only a few points outside of the play-off zone.

Matt Mills £1m Leeds Target?

Mills:  Leeds-bound?

Mills: Leeds-bound?

The Swindon-born former Reading and Leicester defender has not been an outstanding success at Bolton Wanderers, his last start for them being against Huddersfield on December 8, when he injured a thigh and has managed only one substitute appearance since.  His time at Leicester City was hardly wonderful either, and Mills was a loan target for former United boss Neil Warnock early in his Elland Road tenure.  That failed to happen, and a rumoured £2m fee saw the defender link up with Bolton – but it seems likely his time there is now up, with an offer in the region of £1m being thought sufficient to secure his services.

The player himself – according to the familiar “sources close to…” – is keen on the chance to renew his working relationship with his old Reading boss Brian McDermott.  Central defence is on the list of positions needing to be strengthened at Elland Road, and it may just be that the Old Pals’ Act could secure a reliable performer for United. This optimistic assessment is certainly not based on recent form, but there have been many instances down the years of players in the doldrums being reinvigorated by a reunion with a former mentor.  McDermott’s success at the Madejski throws up a few names, some still at Reading, some that have since moved on – that could be identified as players who would relish another crack of the whip under an old boss at a club like Leeds – enough of a pull in its own right.

Mills has certainly waxed lyrical about his past service under McDermott and assistant Nigel Gibbs. “My first few months at Reading didn’t pan out as the move I expected and wanted, but that all changed when Brian got the job and Gibbo became assistant manager.” the ex-Royal has been quoted as saying. “They gave me a new lease of life, and the opportunity and coaching they gave me has honestly made me the player I am now.”  As fulsome tributes go, this is very much in “come and get me plea” territory, and it has been suggested that Mills is willing to reject overtures from elsewhere in favour of a switch to LS11.

My own view is that, at only 26, Mills has many miles left on the clock, and the class he has undoubtedly displayed in the past will not have deserted him permanently.  A happy player is more likely to be a top-performing player, and the fruitful coaching relationship between Brian, Gibbo and Matt at their former club seems to suggest that its a scenario which could unfold again, to the satisfaction of all parties.

Whether the powers that be are prepared to stump up £1million is of course another matter, and wages are always an issue as well.  But there is some pedigree here, and the chance to build on some good history too.  So I feel there may just be some legs in this rumour, and it’s a move I would love to see happen.  “Lees and Mills” could well be the central defensive partnership on everybody’s lips in the Championship next season.

Play-Off Karma Drama as Watford Sink Leicester to Book Wembley Berth

Happy Gianfranco Zola

Happy Gianfranco Zola

Given the incredible outcome of this game, it would be tempting to dismiss the first 94 of the 97 minutes as irrelevant. That would of course be the greatest injustice to a fine game which had already yielded three wonderful goals; first a brilliant finish from Matej Vydra as the ball dropped from behind him over his left shoulder for a terrific left-foot volley past the helpless Schmeichel. Then the reliable Nugent found space at the far post to rise and guide a great header just out of Almunia’s reach to level the match and put Leicester back ahead, 2-1 on aggregate. Half time, and it was “as you were” with City retaining the lead they’d gained in the first leg at the King Power Stadium.

As the second half progressed, Watford were hammering away and Leicester – although pressed back constantly – seemed to be coping relatively well. Home manager Gianfranco Zola knew he had to change things, and he acted to replace Lloyd Doyley with Fernando Forestieri. Within a matter of minutes, Watford produced a quite excellent team goal, Vydra playing an immaculate one-two with Troy Deeney to score his second from just inside the area. So, we were all square again, and the nearer the match edged to full-time, the more it looked as if an extra 30 minutes were inevitable.

The full ninety had already ticked by and the match was well into six minutes injury time when Anthony Knockaert made his fateful move down the Watford left flank. Showing trickery and strength, he shrugged off a foul challenge outside the box, but then as he progressed into the area, a much lighter touch felled him. As if in slow motion, referee Michael Oliver assessed the situation, failed to call it for the dive it was and pointed to the spot. Watford players were anguished and amazed, Zola on the touchline was clearly stunned, showing with every line of his being that he could see a whole season’s work going up in smoke right at the death. Knockaert placed the ball on the spot as Leicester’s travelling hordes prepared to celebrate Wembley, the penalty was hit low and down the middle but not with great force – and there was Almunia’s trailing foot to stop the ball. Still, Knockaert was closing in on the rebound, surely poised to hammer the ball into the net and finish the matter, but Almunia did it again, rising to his knees to flail an arm at the loose ball, deflecting it to a defender who gratefully belted it out of the area.

And now Lady Luck performed one of those graceful pirouettes for which she is rightly famed. As the Leicester players were still coming to terms with their failure to seal the tie, Watford showed no such distraction, playing the ball out to the right and flooding support into Leicester’s own penalty area. The ultimate end-to-end finale was playing out now, as the ball was crossed from near the right hand corner flag, beyond the far post where sub Jonathan Hogg beat Schmeichel in the air to head down precisely for the onrushing Deeney, who slammed the ball gleefully, unanswerably, into the Leicester net. 3-1 on the day, when it could so easily have been 2-2. 3-2 to Watford on aggregate, when that score had looked like being reversed in City’s favour. The Leicester players stood waiting for the restart as the pitch was cleared of jubilant Hornets fans, transfixed and disbelieving at the turn of events which had seen certain victory turn to catastrophic defeat. A few more seconds, and it was over.

Ironically, of course, if Knockaert had stayed honest and stayed on his feet instead of going down so easily, the game would probably have gone into extra time, and who knows what might then have happened. On such twists of fate are whole seasons decided, and karma had come to Knockaert in its cruellest form, landing the most clinical of knockout blows. He ended up in tears, wandering around the pitch after the whistle, uncomprehending as his desolate team-mates tried in vain to comfort him. Over the two games of this tie, it’s fair to say that Watford deserved to progress, so for once justice was done, and seen by millions to be done in the most dramatic and entertaining manner. But spare a thought for the hapless Anthony Knockaert, hero (albeit with feet of clay) to villain in the space of a few seconds as his world turned upside down. That’s life – and Leicester will continue their life in the Championship next season. Watford, meanwhile, march on con brio – full of confidence. They will now be optimistic of completing their Italian Job and winning promotion at Wembley.