Tag Archives: play-offs

Lasogga and Saiz the key to Leeds United promotion push

With Leeds sitting just outside of the top half of the Championship, it’ll take a big push to get the fans dreaming of promotion to the Premier League.

Nine teams are vying for the four slots in the end of season lottery, although Aston Villa and Derby would appear to have two sewn up. That leaves two from seven; Leeds United being one of those seven.

Paul Heckingbottom might have his work cut out in achieving Leeds fans’ dreams, but being unbeaten in the last three matches is a great basis for a late surge. The recent 1-0 win against Brentford was a huge morale boost, given the Bees are close rivals in the play off hunt.

Despite defender Liam Cooper scoring the only goal of the game, it was the partnership of Samu Saiz and Pierre-Michel Lasogga that really got fans pulses racing. In that combination lies Leeds’ best hope of putting together some end of season form and maybe, just maybe stealing sixth spot from under rivals’ noses.

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Pierre-Michel Lasogga By Amy.Leonie – Eigenes Foto; aufgenommen beim Training von Hertha BSC Berlin, CC BY 3.0,

Lasogga is on loan from Hamburger SV and currently has ten goals to his name. It’s not been a great season by his own high standards; spells injured and on the bench have disrupted his momentum. What could he have achieved though if he’d stayed fit and in Thomas Christiansen’s plans?

Lasogga had five goals from seven matches going into March, a run of form that will be crucial to any lingering hopes of promotion.

If him hitting form wasn’t enough, Samu Saiz is also back in the starting line up after a horrible start to 2018. His dismissal in the FA Cup defeat against Newport might have been controversial, but Christiansen cites it as one of the reasons he was dismissed. The Spaniard might be unpredictable, but on his game he’s unplayable. Saiz has five goals and five assists this season, the second highest number of assists in the squad after Pablo Hernandez, having played six matches fewer.

The odds are not in Leeds’ favour, they’re a long way down the list for promotion, priced as 50/1 for a long-awaited return to the top table, well behind next best bets Brentford and Preston on 14s and 20s respectively.

It might still be worth looking at the bet £10 get £30 888sport betting offer, though, as Lasogga can be found at a generous price to finish as the league’s highest scorer. He’s seven behind in the charts at the moment, but with Saiz providing the bullets he might be a long-shot to storm up the table.

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Pablo Hernandez By Juan Fernández – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0,

It is looking increasingly like another year in the second tier for Leeds United, something fans will lament with one breath and praise in the other. After the torrid Cellino years, any sort of stability should be welcomed and, although Paul Heckingbottom isn’t a manager to set pulses races, one or two of his stars are. Lasogga is due back at Hamburger SV in May, but Saiz remains contracted to the club beyond this season. The former will likely not be back next season, so replacing him will be incredibly important, but Samu Saiz should be retained because, in him, Leeds have a player that can change a game in a instant.

Who knows, with a little bit of luck and hard work, it might just happen as early as this season. Miracles do happen every day in football and Leeds United are undoubtedly due one soon

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Lasogga and Ekuban Would Give Leeds New Attacking Dimension – by Rob Atkinson

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Caleb Ekuban – ideal strike partner for Pierre-Michel Lasogga?

If I can be a little upbeat, without offending the Leonard Cohen drones and clones that infest the LUFC Twitter hashtag, I have to say I saw more positives in one slightly unlucky defeat at Sheffield United than I have in perhaps half a dozen victories we’ve eked out this turbulent season. There just seemed to be that little bit extra about some of the players, a bit of desire and composure, especially in the second half, that has been lacking since the earliest part of this Championship campaign. It wasn’t enough, after a disastrous start at Bramall Lane, to get any tangible reward from the clash of the two Uniteds – but, in the final analysis, Leeds were maybe a couple of highly debatable decisions away from getting Paul Heckingbottom‘s tenure as Head Coach off to the best possible start.

Still, that’s history now, and we’re left seeking to take what encouragement we can from an improved display, albeit in defeat, from Leeds United. One noticeable element fairly late on was the introduction of Caleb Ekuban, who was lively and threatening up front as he worked away, making his runs and contesting every ball. One thing this blogger would love to see over the rest of the season is a good run of games where Leeds play with a front two. It would take a better tactician than me to suggest the ideal formation behind a twin strike-force, but I do feel that Pierre-Michel Lasogga, despite his fairly impressive goal-scoring record, has not been used to the team’s best advantage when asked to fulfil a lone striker role. It doesn’t seem to me that this solitary workhorse thing  is his forte, and yet, on the occasions when he’s had some support in attack – usually in a crisis, such as 0-2 down to Millwall at Elland Road – Lasogga has suddenly looked full of menace. Ekuban, such a willing worker, appears to be the ideal foil for the big German, probably more so than the misfiring Kemar Roofe – and it’s surely only a matter of time before he, too, chips in with the goals. It would be well deserved; Ekuban’s current drought is not for the want of effort in his rare appearances between injuries so far.

Any input from the team shape experts out there would be genuinely welcome. 3-5-2? A diamond in midfield with Samu Saiz (when available) at the front of it, operating just behind Pierre and Caleb? It was a very wise man who once said that attack is the best form of defence, and I’m sure I’m not alone in my desire to see United go fully onto the offensive, making opponents too busy trying to stem our attacking tide, even to consider mounting a threat of their own. Yep, that would be nice.

So, what do others think? Do we have the personnel to play two up front? What’s the best balance for the team in that situation? Let’s have a heated debate. The play-offs pressure is largely off, now – unless the team suddenly gets its act together and moves up towards the top six. And, I’d venture to suggest, if that were to happen, it’d most likely be as a result of just such an attacking change of policy as I’ve suggested here.

Am I simply deluded? Do let me know.

Pointless Appealing: Leeds Must Accept O’Kane Red and Move On with Business – by Rob Atkinson

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Eunan O’Kane – bang to rights for sheer stupidity

One of the less controversial aspects of the defeat at Portman Road, where Leeds failed to make the most of an unremarkable Ipswich Town side pretty much there for the taking, was the straight red dismissal of Eunan O’Kane for violent conduct. The video evidence is incontrovertible; O’Kane, despite the inevitable protests, is bang to rights and was positively begging to be sent off; the referee, only yards from the incident, was always going to oblige.

What leaves a nastier than usual taste in the mouth is that this particular piece of lunacy, which went some way towards ensuring that his team-mates, employers and supporters would end up empty-handed, came hard on the heels of what now seems a rather sanctimonious tweet expressing disappointment over the equally stupid transgression of Samu Saiz a week earlier at Newport. People in glass houses shouldn’t thrown stones, we might reflect. To his credit, O’Kane himself left the field without protest; the expostulations have come from other quarters. Meanwhile, the whole sorry affair threatens to deflect us all from the more important issues arising out of this and other recent failures.

The uncomfortable fact is that, in the last three league games, Leeds United have failed to score one single solitary goal, That’s over 270 minutes of huffing and puffing to no effect, during which time they have contrived to lose to Birmingham, who were swatted aside 3-0 by Derby yesterday, and gain one point from a Nottingham Forest side who set out to stifle Leeds and comfortably managed it. Leaving aside the inglorious FA Cup episode at Newport, Leeds are suffering in the league, which is far, far more important. The loss of Saiz for six games deprives us of much of the limited cutting edge we’ve had and, without quality reinforcements during this window, the fear is that the season could be fizzling out rather early.

What appears to be happening, in line with the predictions of many much earlier in the campaign, is that the lack of depth in United’s squad is being exposed by a smattering of injuries and suspensions. These are occupational hazards of an attritional league programme, and will happen to any but the most fortunate of clubs – but the difference at the top end of the table will be the deeper resources of those who have invested sensibly in quality, providing competent back-up for most positions. United’s over-reliance on young, raw possibles, like Jay Roy Grot for instance, is ample proof that their recruitment at first team level has been – so far, at any rate – inadequate for the rigours of a Championship season.

One transfer move that has been completed, and for a player seemingly ready to step into the first team picture, too, is that of Yosuke Ideguchi, a highly-rated midfielder whose signing is seen as something of a coup for the Elland Road club. How strange it is then that, after a work permit was unexpectedly forthcoming, Ideguchi’s loan to Spanish side Cultural Leonesa has still gone ahead. One thing Leeds United really needs, to allow them maybe the luxury of playing two up top, is a combative box-to-box midfielder which might permit such a change of shape. On the bright side, the welcome signing of Laurens de Bock will provide options across the defensive line, with the versatility of Gaetano Berardi possibly allowing him to be more effective when freed from his unaccustomed left-back berth.

And it really is important to look on the bright side, after what has been a dismal January so far, especially on the field of play. The next two weeks, and this is no exaggeration, will define the rest of our season. The word from the club is that they are working hard to bring in players, with a striker high on the shopping list. As Leeds fans, we should perhaps avoid being distracted by pointless and futile appeals over daft red cards – and hope that the powers that be down LS11 way can see the urgency of the situation in and around the first team squad. The play-offs are still somehow a tantalising possibility, offering at least the chance of an exciting climax to the campaign. It’s down to the club now as to whether or not they have the ambition to seize the day and give us all a second half of this season to relish.

Really, after the start to 2018 Leeds United have provided, that’s the very least we deserve.

Grayson Haunted by Ghost of Wasted Leeds Transfer Windows Past – by Rob Atkinson

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Simon says: get the chequebook out if you want more promotion fizz

Simon Grayson is a man and a manager who knows a thing or two about getting clubs promoted from difficult leagues. As a lifelong Leeds fan and ex-United boss, he knows quite a bit about the Whites, too. One of the promotions on his CV came during his tenure as Leeds manager, and he was well-placed to achieve a second successive elevation after guiding his United team to second in the Championship halfway through that first season back up to that level. His verdict on that season is that investment needed to maintain a promotion challenge was not forthcoming, and thus Leeds fell away.

Looking back, few would argue with that assessment. So, when Sky Sports pundit Grayson stated, immediately after Leeds United‘s disappointing goalless draw with Nottingham Forest, that United are “a few players short” of kicking on, you really have to listen to such hard-won wisdom. It would seem he’s worried that history will repeat itself, that the failure to strengthen which eventually cost him the Leeds job may yet imperil current boss Thomas Christiansen.

Christiansen himself, when asked in the aftermath of defeat at Birmingham about team strengthening in the window just opened, merely stated “That is not a question for me”. It wasn’t the most ringing endorsement of January window boardroom caution (or complacency), and you suspect that, given his own way, Thomas would happily go shopping. His refusal to commit even to an opinion raises suspicions that the Elland Road chequebook may not see much of the light of day in the month to come.

Grayson, though, is under no obligation to keep his thoughts to himself, and he speaks from a position of expertise when he identifies deficiencies in the Leeds squad, up front most especially. To make up for that lack of cutting edge would cost serious money, but the old saw about speculating to accumulate rings as true at Leeds as it does anywhere else. The other side of that coin is that a failure to invest represents false economy, if the outcome is to miss out – yet again – on the crock of gold at the end of the promotion rainbow. That, in a nutshell, is the lesson of 2011.

Leeds are solvent enough to have their chances of the play-offs at least in their own hands. The money is there, beyond reasonable doubt, from the sales of Wood and Taylor to Burnley. Ironically, it’s a reliable striker and a specialist left-back we’re particularly short of right now, so there might even be a moral obligation, as well as a fiscal case, for investment to invigorate the squad for the rest of the season.

In my opinion, Christiansen’s refusal to comment on incoming transfers, beyond remarking that he will be talking to the board, speaks volumes. And what it might be saying is: give me the tools, and I’ll finish the job. His performance so far this season, given those two high-profile departures to Turf Moor, has been respectable to say the least – and he has unearthed a couple of diamonds in his summertime recruitment, aided, no doubt, by Victor Orta. Now, the opportunity is there to build on that fairly successful summer , as well as to make up for unavoidable losses in the outgoings market.

Watch this space. Leeds fans will be watching too, with a very close eye on what the club will or won’t do this month, and a characteristic readiness to draw conclusions about just how ambitious and hungry for promotion Leeds United really are.

No Apologies, but This Latest Leeds Utd Failure Might Be MY Fault – by Rob Atkinson

MayBoJo

Get the Tories OUT

A quarter of a century ago, a general election loomed as Leeds United‘s league campaign headed towards an exciting, nail-biting climax. The exact same set of circumstances applies today and, now as then, United’s fate will be sealed a week early.

Although the situation today is identical, the outcome for Leeds at least is the polar opposite. Back in 1992, I told myself long before the end of the football season that I’d take a Tory election victory (it didn’t look likely at the time), if Leeds could only hold out and pip the scum to the last League Championship Title, frustrating the rest of football and the assembled media into the bargain. Some might say it was a bargain I made myself, with the devil himself. In truth, my joy at seeing Leeds become champions was only slightly tempered by John Major’s beating of the useless Neil Kinnock – but I was quite young and my priorities were perhaps not what they should have been.

I must admit, I had the same chat with myself just a couple of weeks back, when Theresa May showed exactly how trustworthy she is by calling a snap election – after having repeatedly sworn that she wouldn’t call a snap election. And now, the stakes are higher, for everybody, because now we have a government that is not only set on out-Thatchering Thatcher, it’s also committed to an austerity programme that hits only the poor and vulnerable, and has demonstrably failed to tackle the national debt (which has actually doubled since 2010). And it seems likely also that this incompetent and evil government was elected fraudulently in the first place. 

So the bargain I struck with myself when I heard there’d be an election after all, on June 8th, was a different one to that I agreed with whatever higher power in 1992. Now, my priorities are shaped by the bitter experience of what devastating damage can be wreaked by a Party without any conscience or compassion, driven by greed and an ideological hatred of socialist institutions like the welfare state and NHS. Nothing is so important as to matter more than getting rid of this shower, if at all possible, and despite the apparently gloomy (Tory-commissioned) opinion polls. I had no hesitation in telling my inner United fanatic that I would happily see Leeds condemned to at least another season of second tier football, if we could only have the truly socialist government that this country so desperately needs.

Whereas I unconsciously traded an unlikely John Major election success for The Last Champions triumph in ’92, now I’m begging for providence, fate, call it what you will, to allow a good and decent man in Jeremy Corbyn to replace May’s Ministry of fools, charlatans and liars as the ruling force in this country. Football is nothing beside that, and I’ll be happy to see Leeds United bottle it to fulfill my side of the bargain – just as long as the right result comes about on June the 8th.

I don’t know how superstitious you all are out there, though I’m uncomfortably aware that a sizeable proportion of Leeds fans are far and away to the right of me – so this confession is hardly likely to prove popular. I’m willing to engage in reasoned debate but, as ever, I’ll bin the mindless abuse. Still, on this occasion, unlike many of the times I’ve taken a stand on football matters, I’m stone cold certain that I’m correct.

Hopefully, Leeds United bottling this season’s chance at promotion will reap a reward in the shape of a brighter future for the whole country under Corbyn. If not, I have only the fates to blame – unless I choose to rail at people for being daft and crass enough to vote for a party hell-bent on destroying the NHS and killing thousands more hapless sick and disabled people through neglect and starvation. You see what I mean about high stakes.

I love Leeds United; I have done for well over forty years. But I will gladly see them fail if there’s anything in this mirror-image outcome as compared with 1992. It’s that important. For Leeds, there will be other years. For so many whose very existence is threatened by a continuation of this evil government, there can be no such guarantees – unless the polls are wrong, as they were a quarter of a century ago.

Leeds have done their bit, by failing, in their own inimitable style – despite a second-half rally against Norwich. As ever, it was too little, too late. Great, I didn’t really see them succeeding under Massimo Cellino – another liar and fraud – anyway. Now, all we need to square the circle, paying back the debt of conscience I owe from 1992, is a Labour victory in a few weeks time. I hope the more enlightened among you will join me in hoping for that, and in accepting it’s far more important than any dicey and probably heart-breaking football play-off place. Fight for what’s right and vote Labour. And let’s all have a fresh start from now onward.

Let June be the end of May.

Monk Wanted Investment in January, Cellino Said NO. Failure, the Leeds Utd Way – by Rob Atkinson

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Monk: he told us what was needed – Cellino ignored it

I’m pretty sure I’ll still be hearing some of the more deluded Whites fans telling me how Massimo Cellino has saved Leeds United. Yorkshire folk can be pretty stubborn, but sticking by Cellino after the collapse of United’s play-off challenge – seemingly nailed on only a week or so ago – that takes more than mere stubbornness.

The fact of the matter is, and despite any recent conciliatory words designed to disguise that fact, our manager Garry Monk knew in January that investment was needed to cement the promotion challenge. His statements in the press at the time were loaded and significant – words to the effect of “The club knows what is needed, and I’m sure they will act accordingly”. But former sole owner Cellino had different ideas. Despite the arrival of Andrea Radrizzani, a co-owner in equal partnership, el Loco‘s advice was not to invest money at this vital time. So the manager was casually undermined, and Leeds were sticking by the old tried and tested – but unsuccessful – formula.

That formula may be summed up as follows, to paraphrase a pissed-off but insightful LUFC tweeter as United struggled at Burton: Inadequate investment in the summer followed by a lot of ambitious talk and then a failure to invest in January, with an over-reliance on loans. Rinse and repeat.

It’s not been a recipe for success for Leeds for the last several seasons since the club first bottled a chance to go back to the top level in their first Championship season of 2010/11. It’s highly unlikely now to prove a recipe for success this season either. And for the unaccountable decision to stick to this same hopeless, hapless policy, we have only Mr. Cellino to thank. Things must change at Elland Road, or we’re going to become permanent second-tier plodders at best.

The first thing to change must be the removal of any Cellino influence at the club. This is a must – though, as I said earlier, some will fail to see it, much as Lord Nelson failed to see enemy ships through his blind eye. Secondly, there must be investment in the summer on a par with the big hitters in next season’s Championship, where I’m afraid we will still be plying our trade. Defeat at Burton pretty much confirms that. And the failure to make the play-offs may be a blessing in disguise. That mini competition is likely to turn into a “Who ends up getting thrashed by a rampant Fulham” affair.

There will be those again who will insist on hailing this ‘nearly but not quite’ season as a relative success, following years of unabashed mediocrity under various useless owners. Again, I disagree, and I turn to another despondent tweeter in Adam Turnbull, who sums up why the campaign is a failure in a few well-chosen and famous words, first uttered, after a fashion, by John Cleese in Clockwise: “It’s not the despair, I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand. MOT”

MOT indeed. But to what? Next season has to provide the right answer to such a vexed question – and that will require decisive change at the top – and for Leeds United to start acting like a big club again. In a week that marks the silver jubilee of the last United team to ascend to the top of the game – the Last Champions, no less – our allegedly big club has confirmed its failure to compete adequately at the top end of its league, and for the umpteenth time. That’s as pitiful as it’s shameful.

For now, our play-off chances are gone for a Burton – and we need to focus on a brighter future.

Cellino’s Guilt: The Reason for Leeds’ Late Stumble Can Be Found in the Accounts – by Rob Atkinson

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Cellino – we still need him gone

The basic reason that Leeds United, from a position of apparent strength within the play-off zone, tonight find themselves outside those play-offs, can be summed up in six simple words. The squad is not good enough. Elements of a successful force can be found within that squad. Certain players would be a shoe-in for just about any other side in the Championship. That’s as far as it goes on the positive side. 

But the whole is lacking; there are massive gaps in the first eleven picture and the shadow squad lacks any real strength in depth. There is little by way of a creative, guileful alternative to Pablo Hernandez, little by way of attacking support for the reliably prolific Chris Wood, little consistency out wide despite forays into the loan market – and the centre-half berths may yet be our undoing, in or out of the play-offs. That our major shining star other than Wood lately has been over-worked keeper Rob Green, tells its own depressing tale. Set against various other squads in the league, including those of clubs currently below us, our “group” is just not adequate. It’s not fit for purpose, if that purpose really was promotion. It can’t be. Other clubs have invested as proper clubs at this level ought. We haven’t.

And it’s no mere assertion that the squad is not good enough; it is simply a glaring fact. If we do scrape into the play-offs, there is not one potential opponent I’d be confident of us seeing off over two legs. It would perhaps be best if we stayed outside – do we really need more end of season knockout heartbreak? The fact is that we’ve tried to fulfill the former outright owner’s foolhardy pledge to make the play-offs on the cheap – and it’s beginning to look very much as though we’re doomed to fail.

You don’t have to look too far into the finances, and you don’t have to be an accountant, to see the reasons behind the inadequacy of the squad and the pending failure of our season-long quest for the play-offs. Ironically, the most telling fact to be gleaned from the recently released financial information is that Leeds United has devoted the lowest amount, as a proportion of turnover, on player-related expenditure – in the whole league. That was hailed in certain quarters as a model of prudence and good business; another point of view might well include the words “you have to speculate to accumulate”. 

While money has been frittered away on ego projects and the expensive pursuit of satisfaction in the courts, not enough has been invested, for a club of Leeds United’s size, to propel it to a higher level via achievements on the field. Clubs with smaller budgets, smaller crowds but seemingly bigger ambitions have out-played us on the field and out-performed us over the season. The abilities of Garry Monk and his staff, together with the few diamonds we do possess on the playing strength, have enabled the squad as a whole to over-achieve notably through much of the campaign. But you can’t fool all the people all the time, and United are now getting found out. 

One man is to blame for the way this season is likely to collapse, and that man is Massimo Cellino. It is devoutly to be hoped that this summer will see the end of his Elland Road tenure, with a fresh start possible and ambitions to match the fantastic support. At this particular juncture, following the brittle euphoria of nicking a point at Newcastle after being soundly thrashed for the majority of that game, and in the immediate aftermath of an appalling and depressing defeat at home to Wolves, this blogger would take a guarantee of a new beginning, under new 100% ownership, in next season’s Championship.

Personally, I don’t need the play-offs. They’ve been nothing but heartache in the past, and the kind of luck and breaks you need to go up via that route just doesn’t visit LS11. I’d be all for re-grouping, getting rid of the deadwood at the top of the tree, and having a real go at winning this league next season. Let’s get back to the Promised Land in a fit state to stay there, and in time for this great club’s Centenary. By that time, Cellino should be nothing more than a distant, unpleasant memory. We have the leader we need in the dugout, we just need him to be backed properly now. That will not happen while Cellino hangs around.

Those are the facts, as I see them. I’d be very surprised to be proved wrong about the prospects for the remainder of this season and, sadly, I don’t think I will be.

FA Has Strategy to Keep Leeds’ Pontus Jansson OUT of Play-Offs?   –   by Rob Atkinson

 

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Pontus Jansson – a marked man?

Speculation is rife ahead of Leeds United‘s home clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers that – as well as the obvious necessity to take 3 points from the game – United have prioritised the disciplinary dilemma over their inspirational defender Pontus Jansson

Jansson will face a 3 match ban with his next caution, and the feeling around Elland Road is that it might be no bad thing if that caution happened today. This would rule Jansson out of the last three games of the regular season, but he’d be back for the play offs – should United qualify. 

With Liam Cooper only part-way through a long suspension for a similar offence to the one the Pride of Devon’s Marcos Rojo got clean away with, United’s defensive resources would be stretched thin if Jansson were to be suspended. But there are good back-up options at full-back, and Luke Ayling can play central defence if needed. So, for Pontus to get a ban after the Wolves game would be risky – but it’d be a calculated risk. Or, so some are saying. But are they reckoning without the beady eye of the football authorities? 

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything has managed to get the point of view of an anonymous FA official – we shall refer to him as Mr. Lee D. Shater (because that’s the git’s name). Mr. Shater was intrigued at the idea of “getting the suspension out of the way”. He laughed, mirthlessly, adjusted his Sheffield Wendies club tie, toyed with his Huddersfield Town kennel-club membership card, and remarked, “You people need to be aware that we’re on the lookout for this kind of thing. If Jansson serves a ban, and is back for the play-offs, our people will be after him from the first whistle. If he so much as raises an eyebrow at an opponent, he’ll be off – and it’ll be goodbye Wembley and Sayonara Premier League, you Yorkshire suckers”. 

When asked if this rather blatant admission did not in fact constitute undue prejudice against Leeds United, Mr. Shater replied, “No more than usual. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. You want Jansson available, we’d rather he wasn’t. Stop whinging and suck it up, you grimy Leeds oiks”. 

Watch this space. 

Reading Join Huddersfield in Leeds United’s Little Black Book – by Rob Atkinson

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Big Jack of Leeds United – neither forgot nor forgave

A few decades back, a couple of rival footballers were daft enough to upset Leeds United‘s beanpole, World Cup-winning centre-half Jack Charlton. Perhaps they over-estimated the man’s capacity for forgiveness, but that would have been a terrible mistake. Although somebody once rightly said of the Charlton brothers, that Bobby was twice the player but Jack was ten times the bloke, our legendary number five knew how to nurse a grudge, alright. He had this to say of those unwise enough to rile him:

“I have a little black book with two players in it, and if I get a chance to do them, I will. I will make them suffer before I pack this game in. If I can kick them four yards over the touch line, I will.”

Chilling stuff, you might agree and, really, very Leeds United at that time. This was a team that bore grudges and looked after themselves and each other – famously, the attitude was “If you cut one of us, we all bleed”. With the subtext to that being “…and we’ll all be lining up to pay you back, so watch it”. But Jack rarely needed back-up.

Some might say that, although the great United team is a far-off memory now, and although Big Jack himself has long since retired into a mellow north country affability, the cold, hard core of steel persists around Elland Road. As a club, and reflected also in their redoubtable fans, Leeds United excels still in bearing a grudge; it neither forgives nor forgets. Big Jack’s little black book is still a thing in LS11, and there have been a couple of new entries made this season.

Given the nature of football, such accounts frequently have to remain unsettled for a considerable period of time, what with rival teams usually meeting but twice a year. But these days, it’s a little bit different and – intriguingly for those who keep an eye on slow-burning feuds – the two clubs who have most offended White sensibilities this season are both likely play-off opponents in the near future.

It’s fairly well-documented that Huddersfield Town, those perennial Yorkshire bridesmaids, have got themselves a little over-excited at times in this campaign. It’s perhaps understandable – after all, they’ve contrived two narrow victories against the club that, more than any other, is responsible for their long-standing inferiority complex. What’s more, they’re looking well-placed to finish higher in the league than those hated rivals, for the first time since 1961.

Still, understandable or not, Huddersfield have transgressed the unwritten law about not pissing Leeds United off. So they’re in the modern day little black book – and they’ve been joined over the past week or so by fellow tiny upstarts Reading FC, who have had so much to say for themselves in the run-up to Saturday’s match at the Madejski Stadium. The phenomenon of small clubs gobbing off in the press about bigger outfits fallen upon hard times is one that has gained some currency in recent years. As the ultimate sleeping giant, Leeds United has had to suffer slings and arrows from some fairly surprising directions, given the large size and glittering status of our more accustomed rivals. But lately we cop it in the neck from the likes of Bradford, Barnsley, Millwall and so on. And now Reading. Saucy little gits of clubs, all, that revel in the golden chance to show disrespect to their betters. It’s distasteful, but we’ve just had to grimace and bear it. And yet that doesn’t mean that we forget, nor indeed should we forgive. And, by God, we don’t; we bear a grudge and vow to have our own back. That’s what little black books are for.

Call it motivation, psyching-up, or the naked desire for revenge – the outcome is likely to be the same. If, as expected, Leeds United figures in the end-of-season lottery we know as the play-offs, then our beloved club could well be playing with the dice loaded marginally in our favour. At home, Elland Road will be a wall of sound, an arena of passion and hostility fit to blow away those used to a more placid atmosphere. Away, the travelling army will invade and conquer; enemy territory will ring to the noise of locals being out-shouted and sung into silence. At Wembley, if such is our destiny, the stadium will look like a rhapsody in white, yellow and blue, with a massive majority of raucous Yorkshire voices demanding victory and a return to our rightful level. On the park, the shirts will be occupied by snarling warriors, snapping into tackles, giving no quarter, harrying the enemy to exhaustion. Such will be the case, whoever we happen to meet.

But, if and when we meet Huddersfield, and/or Reading – as we almost inevitably will – then that extra-keen edge may well be evident in the attitude of both team and fans. United in all senses of the word, the boys on the park and the fans in the stands will remember past offences and will be eager for payback. Promotion via the play-offs is its own incentive; many say there is no better way to go up, and no worse way to stay down. But that little extra few percent in performance and support, added into the mix by foes ill-advised enough to find their way into Leeds’ little black book – that extra few percent might just make all the difference.

Huddersfield, Reading – it’ll be good to see you again. We’ll be waiting, with long memories, but short on patience and the milk of human kindness. We’ll go about it hard but fair, just like Big Jack – but with an intensity and passion you might find hard to deal with. You’ve had your moments this season, at our expense too, and you’ve earned your places in the book. Beware, payback time approaches. It’s time to settle up.

Reading Hoping to Repeat Their Dominant Defeat at Leeds Utd? – by Rob Atkinson

Monk laugh

Garry Monk, reacting with good humour to the suggestion that Reading and Leeds are “rivals”

Reading FC seem intent on showing that they talk a good game ahead of Saturday evening’s return clash against Leeds United at the Madejski Stadium. Royals manager Jaap Stam as well as striker Yann Kermorgant have both had their say in the run up to this fixture, and the general message from the Berks. area is that they’re none too impressed with what many are saying is the finest Leeds team for at least a decade.

It’s always interesting to hear what opposition players have to say about your team as they’re preparing for 90 minutes combat, but Kermorgant’s view is especially intriguing – given that his experience at Elland Road, during the Royals’ 0-2 defeat in December, consisted largely of an hour sat on the Reading bench, during which time he watched his team-mates dominate possession by playing a side-to-side passing game mainly inside their own defensive third. Leeds, a goal to the good after 19 minutes courtesy of Chris Wood, then faced a final twenty minutes when their opponents finally discovered a route across the halfway line, but – despite Kermorgant’s introduction after 62 minutes, they failed to pierce the United defence. Souleymane Doukara then settled matters with an injury time penalty, as if to emphasise that Leeds do have other goalscorers apart from the prolific Wood.

Reading’s tactics that night were more than a little baffling, though manager Stam was well pleased with his side’s display. Perhaps he and the Reading team, together with their fans, would be happy with a similar showing on Saturday. I know I would, and I suspect United manager Garry Monk might be fairly content as well. If both the display and the result are replicated, Reading can crow about two masterclass displays of possession football, with consummate lateral passing and all the offensive threat of a sickly lamb – and Leeds can retire back to their northern fortress, tight-lipped and grim of face, with six points and a seasonal double in the bag.

I’m not qualified to talk about the psychology of pre-match posturing, but I do feel that perhaps Mijnheer Stam, aided and abetted by the boy Kermorgant, has contributed a great deal towards Mr. Monk’s motivational team-talk. Let us hope so, and let us hope and trust that our boys will be heading out onto the park determined to shove certain words down certain throats. It may be, of course, that Reading will get an actual result this time, instead of just boring everybody half-way to sleep and letting the opposition do the business of scoring goals. If so, all credit due to them – you have to be grown-up about these things. Still, given this daft little war of words, sparked off by the losers of that Elland Road match in December – I can’t help hoping that we stuff them again, big time.

The subtext to all of this is an apparent desire on the part of Stam’s players, fans, the Reading FC club itself, to be perceived as having some sort of peer rivalry with our own favourite Yorkshire giants. And, really, that’s almost too ridiculous for words. Are we honestly expected to accept that Dirty Leeds, that northern powerhouse, should be viewed in terms of an actual rivalry with – I don’t know, what’s an appropriate prefix for Reading? Plucky? Upstarts? Little? Plucky little upstarts just about sums it up. However you describe them, it’s a laughable idea, as our Garry demonstrates above. 

Still, it’s got the Twitterati section of their fan-base all a-froth with excitement, and they’ll be hoping and praying for a home win, prior to bigging it up on social media. Those are the kind of aspirations you have, I guess, when you’re a Reading fan. We all know that the idea of a “rivalry” between our respective clubs is marginally more ridiculous than one between Sheffield Wednesday and, say, Barcelona. And we’ll just have to bear that in mind, whatever the result on Saturday, and whatever the provocation on Twitter and elsewhere.

Let’s just look forward to Saturday’s result possibly shutting up a few virtual loudmouths, good and proper. Wishing good luck and a fair ref to Garry and the lads; the White Army expects – now, do your duty.