Tag Archives: match preview

Millwall Seek Away Win Hat-Trick in Elland Road Six Pointer – by Rob Atkinson

3-0 .... in OUR cup final??

3-0 …. in OUR cup final??

Had it not been for Millwall’s last two performances away from home, when they have recorded successive 1-0 wins at Notts Forest and at Birmingham, Leeds United might by now be breathing easy – and thinking more of the Championship top half than that worryingly close relegation battle.

The truth of the matter is, it’s only Millwall of the bottom three clubs that are close enough really to worry the Whites, and that’s only because of those six points extorted out of their last two road trips. If they were to complete a hat-trick of away wins in LS11, it would be more than unacceptably embarrassing – it would put our whole season right back into the melting pot, just when we need to be stretching away from the unseemly brawl at the bottom.

Looking at the current league table, there are pesky little Millwall, neck and neck with Brighton as they compete for the honour of not being that third relegated club. As it stands, Blackpool look dead, while Wigan are on the floor and seem to be breathing their last. Those two are a full ten and eight points respectively behind our friends from Bermondsey.

If Millwall had done the decent thing, and had rolled over at Forest and Brum, they would now be making up a neat little relegation trio with the two Lancastrian dead men walking – all of them clustered cosily together on the gallows, all nicely two points apart from each other; and the nearest to us would be a distant eleven points away. Then again, if my auntie had balls she’d be my uncle, wouldn’t she – but Birmingham had been doing so well until lately, and Forest have just slapped Wigan 3-0. Surely, it was not unreasonable to expect Millwall to lose those two. But no, they ignorantly got two unlikely wins, so what should be a comfortable gulf between us is instead a dicey-looking 5 points – though we do have four other clubs between us, as insulation if you like.

All of this means one thing: Leeds must beat Millwall at Elland Road on Saturday. For once, it is nearly as much our cup final as it is for those envious docklands pariahs with their scummy, inbred fans. Not that the away support will be anything to worry about – a few dozen cold and shivering die-hards are expected to negotiate the security curtain in order to attend. That’s all plucky Millwall bring these days. Not that they’re scared, of course.

So the away support won’t add much to the atmosphere, and it’ll be down to the White army to back their heroes or have the game played in a sterile vacuum. Either way, no slip-ups can be tolerated. The last home performance, as well as the showing of that appalling ref, must be forgotten. We have to draw on the positives of the Reading game (and Huddersfield – yes, we’re on an away hat-trick too) and we have to win. Simple as that. Easier said than done, of course. Millwall will fight like the dockland rats they are.

But the prize for Leeds is enticing – an eight point cushion from that dreaded trapdoor. If we were to lose – horror of horrors – it could be down to as little as two points, and that’s when bums start to squeak. Besides which – I don’t want my email inbox clogged with triumphal if illiterate outpourings from my fans down Millwall way. It’d be irksome in the extreme.

One change at least will be enforced on Leeds as Tommaso Bianchi awaits an operation to repair a cruciate ligament injury. It’s never particularly edifying, trawling through the musings of some of the Leeds United Twatterati, but much of the output in the wake of Reading was horrifyingly unimpressive, as several morons so far forgot themselves as to actually celebrate a United player’s serious injury. That’s simply unacceptable; some people need to take a serious look at themselves.

In another area of the team, Redders is backing “unlucky” Steve Morison to end his goal drought and, really, the law of averages if nothing else would seem to be in favour of the coach having a point. The striker’s hard work and application, the way he has led the line, means that his value to the team can be measured other than in terms of goal output (thankfully). But he’s also struck the woodwork on a couple of occasions and has been denied by some decent goalkeeping too. So there has been a bit of bad luck dogging him – and there’d be no better time to bag a couple than against one of his old employers on Saturday.

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything was feeling quite confident after a spot-on prediction for the Huddersfield game. That breezy smugness evaporated after we caught a cold against Brentford, when a 3-1 victory had been politely requested. We kept schtum for Reading, and got our reward. But this is a must win game, so I’m going to direct the jury to find for the home team, to the optimistic tune of 3-0. That would do very nicely indeed, and would also – I suspect – keep my email inbox troglodyte-free for the foreseeable future.

The nil part of the prediction is inspired by the massively reassuring presence of a certain Sol Bamba in the back line. That’s asking for trouble, I know. As for the three goals predicted for Leeds – well, you never know. Luke Murphy seems to have developed a knack for scoring and creating during his recent renaissance. We do have some potential going forward, again partly due to the increased sense of security at the back. So, a solid display against Millwall, plenty of endeavour and hard work, and maybe the odd flash of inspiration too.

And if Mr. Morison could come up with a brace or a hat-trick then, let’s face it, we’d all be extremely happy. Apart, perhaps, from those who’d been looking forward to another good old whinge on Twitter. And who gives a toss what they think?

Can Resurgent Leeds Draw High-Flying Bees’ Sting? – by Rob Atkinson

Old friend turned temporary foe - the Bees' ex-White, Jonathan Douglas

Old friend turned temporary foe – the Bees’ ex-White, Jonathan Douglas

Brentford, one of the real surprise packages of this Championship season, will roll up to Elland Road on Saturday – having already furnished ample proof that they are not phased by an illustrious reputation. Last September, Leeds United ventured to the Bees’ Griffin Park, with only one solitary third tier meeting between the pair at this venue since 1953. Leeds had lost 2-1 in that long-ago Coronation year – and they fared no 61 years later, brusquely dismissed 2-0. United’s record against last season’s Championship newcomers from the third tier has been uniformly awful, a 100% record of defeat. Can they do better than that, this weekend?

In point of fact, it is Brentford’s unexpectedly good performance in a higher sphere this season that might just give rise to some hope of Leeds prevailing on Saturday. Despite some unpalatable defeats against opponents they would have hoped to send packing, Leeds have managed to buck the losing trend against better-placed outfits, with wins against all of the current top three, including a memorable ‘double’ over a fine Bournemouth side. There are signs, too, that the Whites – unbeaten in the league in 2015 – are slowly but surely getting their act together, maybe just in time to avoid more than a passing flirtation with the relegation dogfight. Brentford will be a stern test of this mini-revival, a team that Leeds coach Neil Redfearn respects as fighters with pace, energy and quality out wide.

It hasn’t exactly been “Fortress Elland Road” this season, but most of United’s better performances have come at home, success on the road being much harder to come by. With some awkward trips in the offing, at places like Reading, Brighton and Middlesbrough, Leeds will know they have to capitalise on home fixtures and take maximum points if possible from Brentford and then Millwall, in order to consolidate the gap between United and the bottom three.

An intriguing selection issue will surround new signing Edgar Cani, a player ideally fitted to the sort of lone striker/target man role filled lately by Steve Morison. Star man at Huddersfield Sol Bamba will surely continue to anchor the defence, and Billy Sharp‘s late heroics might see him pushing for selction if the team formation permits. There would have to be some compelling reason, though, to change the victorious line-up from last weekend’s derby win.

For Brentford, this match may be slightly too soon to expect a return from injury for midfield general and part-time right-back Alan McCormack, but Leeds are likely to meet an old friend in the visitors’ engine room – in the shape of Jonathan Douglas, who has been a terrific performer and frequently captain for the Griffin Park outfit this campaign.

One topical oddity is that both coaches were nominated for the January “Manager of the Month” award. It was tempting to hope that Brentford’s Mark Warburton might win the accolade, and the managerial curse that goes with it, ahead of a subsequent defeat at Elland Road. Doubtless the Brentford fans were hoping for the alternate scenario, with Redders copping for the prize and the hoodoo – in the event, it was Boro’s Aitor Karanka who, unsurprisingly, got the shout, on the back of an unbeaten league record in January as well as dismissing Manchester City from the FA Cup in the Champions’ own back yard.

With an accurate prediction for the Huddersfield match under its belt, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything will stick its neck out once again, and bravely forecast a 3-1 success for Leeds tomorrow. That’s based upon little more than a hunch, liberally spiced with some wishful thinking. But it’s been one of those seasons where league positions have often been made nonsense of by results on the park – and this weekend could just turn out to be another of those funny old games.

So, lump on the Bees to get stung – and Leeds to edge that bit closer to mid-table security. And, if I’m wrong, you will see my confessional penance right here, on Monday.

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!

Leeds Look to Bounce Back Against Troubled Wigan – by Rob Atkinson

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John Stiles: scored the only time Leeds beat Wigan Athletic

Next up for Leeds after the disappointment at Blackburn is a team we’ve met in the league before – but we’ve never beaten them, we’ve never actually managed a draw – we’ve never, shameful though it might seem, even managed to score a league goal against these giants of the game. Then again, we’ve only played them twice in league games.

It is of course the mighty Wigan Athletic we’re talking about, denizens of a town best-known for pies and rugby league, in that order – with the football club still the poor relation of those three preoccupations. Still, the Latics are not to be sniffed at these days – they come to Elland Road as FA Cup holders, still campaigning on the continent in the rarefied atmosphere of European football and of course they’re one of those big boys lately of the Blessed and Stardusty Premier League, with playing staff and parachute payments to match. So we’d better not under-estimate them then, right? Right.

Wigan have actually been a little disappointing so far this season, given high expectations of a swift and trouble-free return to the top-flight. The early optimism seemed justified when they travelled to Barnsley on the opening day and stuffed them 4-0. The Championship settled back and prepared to watch the Cup-holders disappear over the horizon at the top of the league, but it hasn’t worked out like that. Results since then have been patchy with bright spells and Wigan will need to buck up their ideas soon if they’re not to endure a long and frosty winter. The bleak situation culminated this week with the dismissal of manager Owen Coyle, so yet again Leeds are to face a team bereft of a permanent manager, and looking to prove a point or two perhaps.

Leeds have historically fared best against the Latics in Cup competitions, winning at the old and decrepit Springfield Park in the FA Cup 6th Round of 1987 and then achieving two creditable draws against notionally superior opposition in the 2006 competition, Wigan going through on penalties after the Elland Road replay. But all was misery in the league for United in our only season of level-par competition with the Lancastrians, the Pie-munchers running out 2-0 winners in LS11, and dismissing us 3-0 in the return. The aim will have to be the old Wilko battle plan for every campaign – let’s get our first goal, first point, first win – ideally all of them in the same game. Such will be the objective on Wednesday night when a crowd swelled by some freebie tickets should provide plenty of vocal backing – nothing gets a Yorkshireman (or woman) so ready and raring to go as summat for nowt.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Leeds may well have just a little too much for their trans-pennine foes in this latest meeting. Late injury/recovery news will have a big say in how matters turn out – but barring any unforeseen calamity (fingers crossed Rossco is fit) – I can see Leeds winning by the odd goal in three. And who knows – as that seasonal magic begins to gather about us all, maybe Luke Varney will grab a goal as he did at Bolton, to win another Roses battle. Stranger things have happened.