Tag Archives: play-offs

Monk Nails Wagner for Lacking Class as Huddersfield Edge Out Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

monk

Wagner – a technical breach

When the prizes are handed out at the end of this Championship campaign, it may well be that this feisty – for want of a better word – encounter between Huddersfield and Leeds United will be the one to look back on and say “that’s when the season turned”. Not so much for the result – because I fully expect United to finish above Town despite the Terriers’ success today. The significant factors to come out of this game will be the effort and emotion that Town poured into edging the contest – and the bonding effect on Leeds United of the little contretemps that followed a fortuitous winner for the home side.

I feel that United will now kick on. Burning with irritation at their opponents’ classless triumphalism and a perceived lack of respect, the Leeds players and coaching team will find a new level of togetherness. The scenes towards the end of this derby showed a “cut one of us and we all bleed” attitude that has always served Leeds teams well. The players reacted like tigers when Town coach David Wagner topped off his ill-advised pitch invasion by encroaching on the Leeds technical area. Garry Monk stood his ground, and his players piled in. Great stuff. Its something to draw on for the rest of the season, and I fully expect that to happen. I’d give a lot to be a fly on the wall at Thorp Arch when the players reconvene this week. Feisty will be the least of it.

As for Town, they could well become victims of what I have in the past termed “post-Cup Final Syndrome”. It affected supposed big boys Newcastle in the aftermath of their Elland Road win, and one glance at Huddersfield’s next six fixtures shows that there is potential for the kind of falling-away that I’ve often noticed in smaller teams after managing to win against Leeds. If this sounds arrogant, then I’m sorry. It’s borne out by verifiable facts, so there you go.

scum

Classless, sick dog-botherers

The lack of class embodied by the Town coach was sadly not confined to the touchline. In the stands as well, Terriers fans, hyped beyond all taste and reason, flourished a Turkish flag in a deliberately gloating gesture designed to rankle with Leeds fans still haunted by the murders in Istanbul 17 years ago. On the taste scale it was way down towards the Millwall and man united end of things. You expect more of fellow Yorkshire clubs, but clearly Huddersfield, as we’ve long known deep down, is a taste-free zone. The media make nothing of this sort of thing, but it’s among the worst aspects of our game today – and one can only feel sympathy for the bereaved families when they see yet another example of idiots taking some sort of sick, perverted pleasure in the deaths of innocent football fans.

The upshot of this afternoon will turn out to be one result that doesn’t change much, and two off-field factors that could affect things greatly. Watch for Huddersfield to fade away and see how Leeds now pick up. There’s a long way to go, and much can yet happen. 

And should these two clubs chance to meet again in the play-offs, do you think that Leeds will now lack for incentive and motivation? Not a chance. Be afraid, Town. Be very afraid.

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Leeds’ Promotion Push Bolstered by £17m Worth of New Talent   –   by Rob Atkinson

Modou Barrow (left) and Alfonso Pedraza (right)

The Leeds United powers that be have thankfully shown a pleasing amount of last-minute transfer market acumen with the deadline day acquisition of two pacy, talented wide players whose effect will potentially be to enhance the attacking unit’s potency all the way across the forward line. 

With the “try before you buy” loan signings of Alfonso Pedraza from Villareal, with an option to buy in summer for £8.5m, and Modou Barrow (purchase option £9m rising to £11m) from manager Garry Monk‘s former club Swansea City, Leeds have not only added options out wide, they have made the whole offensive situation that much more fluid. Both new signings are able to play out wide or more centrally, but their addition to the squad frees up the likes of Roofe, Doukara and even Dallas, none of whom are natural touchline-huggers, to operate further infield in support of lone spearhead Chris Wood. The advantages of this increased flexibility could be considerable, both game-to-game and within games, to stir things up as may be necessary. And suddenly having two proper wingers could even reap a bonus in terms of increased effectiveness for the misfiring Marcus Antonsson, a good striker who has starved for lack of service on his rare appearances for the first team. 

The Leeds United Twitter timeline was a toxic place to be, though, up until the signing of Barrow, with much wailing, cursing, rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth. Even after the arrival of the Swansea man, there remained some truculence and discontent. But many more were quite happy in the end, with a window that had added two quality arrivals to a highly effective if hitherto slightly patchy squad. Among those satisfied, we can presumably count Monk himself, who had appeared somewhat tense and distrait as the transfer clock ticked down. He wanted two signings and that’s what he eventually got. We can surely assume that he has the plan to make best use of the squad now in place. 

So, attention now turns to Ewood Park on Wednesday, and the urgent necessity of dealing with Blackburn Rovers. The standard approach of concentrating on each three points up for grabs as they coma along will continue to serve Leeds well, and the club will be acutely conscious of the need to restore face after the embarrassment of Sutton United

Neither new signing is available for Wednesday’s encounter, but both will be up for consideration at Huddersfield on Sunday. Six points is a lot to ask from these two tricky fixtures, but the form of our play-off and promotion rivals makes it almost a necessity to secure a maximum return if at all possible. But, according to the Monk Mantra, it’s still one game at a time and steady as she goes. 

The rest of the season beckons, with no Cup distractions. The opportunity is there for Leeds United, suitably bolstered by increased pace and width, to write another glorious page of their illustrious history. A promotion charge is a clear and present possibility, one glance at the table confirms that. In the race for the top-flight, fortune will surely favour the brave. Bring it on. 

Timely Reality Check for Leeds as Newcastle Cruise to Win   –   by Rob Atkinson

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Leeds United 0, Newcastle United 2

We saw this game coming from a long way off, thanks to the international break that followed the last-gasp win at Norwich. From that high point, it seemed reasonable to look forward to scaling even greater peaks. A win over the Geordies would have seen Leeds United at a dizzy fourth in the league, well into nosebleed territory. As it is, a defeat means we remain seventh; probably a realistic benchmark for this Leeds side’s place in the Championship scheme of things.

So, after a good run, we’ve had our reality check and been put in our place – yet Leeds were by no means disgraced and, for large parts of the game, they gave pretty nearly as good as they got. In the important areas of the pitch, though, Newcastle were superior – and they plainly knew it. The confidence with which they approached the game, the relative ease with which they kept Leeds at arm’s length – all of this told us that here was a side well aware they weren’t top without reason. For all that, it took a goalkeeping howler and one moment of top flight class to make the difference on the field show in the scoreline. Leeds had their moments at the other end, but there can be no doubt that Newcastle fully merited this victory. 

Leeds will take plenty from this moving forward. There were lessons for youngsters like Vieira and Phillips as well as some of the older heads in the team. The glaring truth of the matter is that Newcastle had a sub on the bench who, at £30m, cost several times the price of the entire Whites squad. As a work in progress, Leeds are several laps behind a Newcastle outfit that must still be hanging its head in shame to be in this league at all. Benitez arrived too late to save the club from its own mistakes last season, but arguably the wrong north-eastern club got relegated. Now, under proper management and a revamped squad, the Geordies are a Premier League force in all but name.

A week to regroup now, and Leeds must be ready for a trip to Rotherham, armed with a determination to embark on another run of success. They will be without the talismanic Pontus Jansson, whose intemperate outburst to the ref tipped him over the suspension threshold. That’s a pity, but nevertheless, United have to get their act together for a battle against the lowly Millers, who will be keen to rub salt in this week’s wounds.

It was a chastening experience today, but no real surprise. Newcastle are the real deal, and they showed it – not in any shimmering brilliance, apart from that one decisive moment, but in their confident approach and efficient game management. But Leeds did OK in defeat; they will play worse this season and win – indeed, they already have. There’s still a long way to go, and United can still look ahead confidently. After all, you don’t meet a team like Newcastle every week.

Goalden Boy Billy Sharp: Bound for Leeds United at Last? – by Rob Atkinson

...and you'd do for Leeds, mate

…and you’d do for Leeds, mate

The article that follows first saw light of day last September, when it seemed possible that Billy Sharp might be a loan-window option for Leeds. Sadly, it didn’t happen – but as the text shows, I was all for it at the time. Now, the Sharp to Leeds rumours are back, and stronger than ever. Could Leeds United finally get their man – the right man to provide the goals we’ll surely need in the season ahead?

Never one to get carried away by mere Twitter rumours, I am nevertheless fairly happy not to say excited at the loan window prospect – however remote – of Leeds United signing Southampton’s Billy Sharp, who spent most of last season on loan at Forest, but who certainly deserves a bigger move than that.

This is one that’s been mentioned in the past, and it’s always seemed like a good fit for all parties concerned, yet it’s never quite happened.  At first glance, Billy does seem an unlikely striker signing for United – he’s only 27 for a start, and we have historically looked to the superannuated end of the market – though things have improved in this respect under Brian McDermott.  And he scores goals.  My, does he score goals.  At Championship level, he’s a pretty reliable provider of that most valuable and sought-after commodity.  Billy Sharp just loves to hit the back of the net.

Any player – and most especially any striker – joining Leeds United needs to have one quality over and above the obviously desirable playing skills, fitness and application.  He needs to be strong-minded, a good character who’s resilient enough to step up to the demands of playing for a very demanding and sometimes unforgiving crowd.  This is a test that’s been failed by some pretty decent-looking performers over the years.  Elland Road has been something of a graveyard for strikers who have arrived with big reputations, but have failed to deliver and have ended up slinking off, beaten and broken men, into anonymous obscurity – or even worse, in the tragic case of Billy Paynter, into the first team at Doncaster Rovers.

Billy Sharp though seems to be a man of different mettle.  It’s impossible to comprehend a more tragic and shattering blow for a parent than the death of a baby.  Sharp, and his girlfriend Jade, suffered this awful calamity in November 2011 and the striker could readily have been excused if he’d felt unable to play professional football in the immediate aftermath of such a shattering bereavement.  Yet a mere two days after the death of his baby son Luey, Sharp played against Middlesborough and scored a brilliant volley, raising his Doncaster shirt to reveal the message “That’s For You, Son” (Pictured above). Thankfully, a more than usually understanding referee decided not to book the emotional Sharp, when normally a yellow card would have been applicable. Such a very courageous and professional response to tragedy speaks of a very strong character indeed, and this would seem to be the type of man that many a club would seek to have among their playing staff, not only for footballing reasons, but for the example of courage in adversity that will be set by such amazing resilience and fortitude.

I don’t know if Sharp will end up in a Leeds United shirt, but I’d love it if he did. He’s demonstrably what people used to call “The Right Stuff”, and his goal-scoring credentials are fully in order too.  I could see him being a massive part of any play-off push this season, and really it’s good to be linked with any player of this character and calibre. Twitter rumours towards the end of last season said he’s “in talks and a deal looks likely”. Well, we know that these stories float about and are often without foundation, but they seem to be surfacing again – and it’s definitely a case of fingers crossed for this one.  It might just be a match made in heaven, and the kind of signing which could see us challenging for a long-overdue return to the top table of English football.

The sticking-point could be wages – Sharp is rumoured to be on £15000 a week at Southampton, and it’s likely that the Saints would be reluctant to subsidise any of this. Often though, doing a deal is all about reaching an agreeable compromise even when one party is initially unwilling to play ball.

So, almost a year on, the Billy Sharp story still refuses to go away. The equation seems simple enough; Leeds need a hit-man, Sharp wants to return to Yorkshire, he’s the right age, the price looks right – could it finally all come together??

Fingers crossed here.

Orient’s Dream Goes West as Rotherham Head for Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

Championship's newest stadium

The Championship’s newest stadium

What a cruel, almost barbaric way to have your season ended by shattering failure.  For, whichever way you dress it up, failure is what it most surely is, once you’ve come all this way, through 46 gruelling league games and two bitterly competitive play-off semi-finals – only to fall at the very last hurdle, thwarted by the lottery of a penalty shoot-out.  Commiserations then to Leyton Orient, who have seen their Holy Grail snatched pitilessly from their grasp.

Meanwhile, it’s a case of “To the victors, the spoils” – and, as the TV commentator instinctively identified, Rotherham will be happily anticipating their trip to Elland Road next season above all their other fixtures.  We should welcome them to the Championship too, even though it means that our burden of chip-on-the-shoulder smaller Yorkshire rivals has been cut by only one, instead of two – as had seemed likely when Barnsley and Donny took the big fall. It’s up to the “new” Leeds United to cope with such inconveniences, as the team of the past few seasons has signally failed to do; basically, if we can’t take points from the likes of Rotherham (and the Wendies, and the Udders) – then we won’t deserve to do well.

All that is for next season, however.  Meanwhile it’s appropriate to congratulate Rotherham United – and their likeable manager – on a great display at Wembley and, of course, one of THE great Wembley goals of all time.  The Millers’ old Millmoor has been consigned to history, and I for one won’t miss that away end or the perilous alley behind it.  Their new stadium looks a fantastic place and, doubtless, the away end there will be packed out when it’s time for the Leeds United travelling army to visit the New York.

Well done Rotherham – see you next season.  Unlucky, Orient – and the best of good fortune in getting it right next time around.

Derby Back at Elland Road Next Season After QPR Sucker Punch – by Rob Atkinson

Derby 0, QPR 1    HA!!!

Derby 0, QPR 1 HA!!!

When it happened, it was as unexpected as it was funny.  Unexpected, because Derby had utterly dominated the play-off final at Wembley – even before QPR had Gary O’Neil sent off for a professional foul.  And funny, because – well, because it was Derby, one of those daft little Midlands teams that gets all excited and wets itself every time it has a result against our beloved Whites.  Derby had been on a long run of success against Leeds, and their fans grew cockier and more annoying with each one.  Now, they were sat in their devastated rows at Wembley as Bobby Zamora pounced in the last minute to snatch their dream away.  Some were open-mouthed with horror, some were angry, some were crying.  One kid was actually having a tantrum directly into his mother’s bosom.  It was richly comic and I enjoyed it very much.

So much for Derby – we’ll see them again next season when we’ll have two more chances to break a barren spell that’s gone on far too long against what used to be the ultimate rabbit team for Leeds United.  For QPR, today’s somewhat fortunate result might just have saved their profligate skins, as dire fiscal consequences were threatened over their breaching of FFP limits.  Even in the Premier League with all those Murdoch millions being flung in their direction, it may well be that the suits will be after them – with a view to clipping their financial wings to such an extent as to see them return quickly whence they came.  We’ll have to wait and see on that one.

For Leeds United though, this play-off result means more than mere malicious amusement.  It signifies that next season’s League line-up is almost complete; only one Championship spot remains to be filled.  We’ve now said goodbye to Leicester, Burnley, QPR, Barnsley (arf), Doncaster (arf) and Yeovil.  We will be hosting Cardiff (snigger), Norwich (snigger), Fulham, Wolves, Brentford and one of either Rotherham or Leyton Orient. Personally, I hope it’s Rotherham to complete the picture – for all I’ve had to say about smaller Yorkshire teams and their Cup Final chips on the shoulder.  Having said good riddance to two such daft little clubs, it’d be churlish not to welcome one, just to redress the balance a little.

Some may feel that parts of this article are unfeeling and a little callous – taking pleasure in the discomfiture of others.  And they’d be right – but I will temper the effect a little by saying I hold no ill-will against any professionals who tried, failed and are now suffering at Wembley Stadium, or on their miserable way home.  I respect their efforts – and I felt for Keogh of Derby who was unlucky enough to have made the error that led to Zamora’s excellently-taken goal.  Still – that’s football, but it’s not for a fan to glory in the pain of professionals (unless they play for or manage Man U).

My satisfaction is in the woe of rival fans who have, in their turn, taken immense satisfaction from the suffering of Leeds fans in our various crises. It’s the nature of football support, tit for tat.  I make no apology for delighting in the sorrow of fans of Derby, Norwich, Doncaster, Cardiff – or any other clubs’ fans where they have had the cause and opportunity to crow at the troubles of my beloved Leeds United.  As I’ve said before, it’s OK to hate rival fans. Positively healthy, in fact. You reap what you sow and – tragic though it all might appear to the more soft-hearted among us – tough.

Roll on next season then, when it all starts all over again – and this time next year we’ll either be celebrating or gritting our teeth – and doubtless we’ll be laughing at the fate of a few old rivals.  It’s such a great game, football.

What Leeds Fans Should be Demanding for NEXT Season – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United - top flight in all but name

Leeds United – top flight in all but name

While all the wrangling over “fit and proper” tests is going on, while we’re all earnestly debating the future in-post of the current Leeds United manager (be it long or short) – while we’re all tearing our hair and rending our clothes at the media pantomime our club has become, enabling even Sun readers to essay a disdainful look down the nose at us – what should we really, actually be thinking about?  What burning issue deserves our closest attention?  What crucial conundrum should we be looking to resolve for ourselves which, once settled and decided, will colour our approach to all of the other, allied issues??

The answer, surely has to be (and the title of this article has probably already given you a clue to this) – what do we actually want for next season?  Where do we want to be, how do we want our campaign to go?  Assuming that by then the club is on an even keel – and I know that’s a fair old dangerous assumption – what would be the best way of celebrating this, of marking our return to sanity and being a football club again, instead of a three-ring circus?  I have a theory.

To me, there are two main possibilities.  For both of them, let’s assume that the Cellino takeover is complete, that Elland Road is Leeds United property again, and that there is some financial & managerial stability at the club with clear signs of a competitive transfer and wages budget.  I know that’s all a bit of a difficult proposition to swallow, but bear with me here.  Right then – one real possibility is that this current season has fizzled out into a mid-table anti-climax, as has been our usual recent experience.  It’s summer and we have the World Cup to suffer through, with some Test Cricket as a subsidiary diversion, and holidays and other lovely things that come with slightly warmer weather.  One of those lovely things could be a close-season of heavy recruitment involving quality players at Championship level, preparing our squad for a serious assault on this division next time around.  Nice.

The other feasible possibility is that, aided perhaps by some Cellino-financed muscle in the loan window, we’ve put together a run in the remainder of this season, and blagged ourselves a late play-off spot.  Riding the crest of a wave, we cruise into the Wembley final and a 4-0 thrashing of – ooh, let’s say Nottingham Forest, just for the karmic pay-back from 2008 – to finally make it back to the Premier League after all these years.  Also nice.

Incidentally, there is the faint third possibility, i.e. that we completely implode after a Football League refusal to sanction our Shady Italian. In this scenario, Shaun Harvey wakes up with a horse’s head next to him, Brian McDermott resigns and Michael Brown takes over as head coach, leading us to ten consecutive defeats and relegation to League One with the fire-sale of any remaining half-decent players we have.  Not nice at all, and hopefully not all that likely either.  Let’s just ignore that one, then.

So of the two scenarios that could play out – failure again this season but an all-out assault on the Championship Title next year, or struggling to glory via the lottery of the play-offs – which would we actually prefer?  Many will be seduced by the vision of being back in the big-time as early as next August.  Those people might also be hoping for an unlikely England World Cup victory, possibly with Jamie Milner scoring the decisive winner against Germany in the Final.  Optimism is an attractive trait – but the pay-off can be cruel.

Promotion this year would most likely see a season of grim struggle next time around, unless we were prepared and able to invest much more heavily than would be wise, or even legal under Financial Fair Play.  A season-long relegation battle might be the stuff of dreams for some clubs – but Leeds United aren’t a Norwich or a Cardiff.  Last time we went up to the top-flight, twenty-four years ago, we swaggered in for a year-long look around, during which we battered a fair percentage of the established opposition, before winning the bloody thing second year up.  The sheer cheek of it took everyone’s breath away. Now that’s the way to do it, if you’re a Leeds United.  But it’s so unlikely as to be next to impossible, that we could go up and stomp around like that next season.  Quite frankly, if all the effort of securing promotion is going to see us in a dog-eat-dog relegation fight with the dregs of the Premier League, I’d just as soon not bother, thanks.

On the other hand, if we are in a position to rebuild this summer for a Blitzkrieg approach to the second tier in 2014-15, then that could well lead to us blasting our way through the division and hurtling into the Premier League rather than scraping our way there by the fingernails.  Promotion achieved thus carries its own momentum – you’re building for the top flight on more solid foundations, as compared to our current footings of sand.  And the fun! Imagine a season next year to compare to the promotion campaign of 1989-90.  Those old enough to have witnessed it will know exactly what I mean.  After a slow start, we conducted ourselves like a Panzer tank for much of the league programme, the skill, commitment and aggression of our football blowing most opposition into tiny smithereens.  We had a rough patch, and it was a bit close for comfort in the end – but, still.  What a season that was.  Something along those lines, possibly an improvement in some aspects – that would do me, and I suspect many others too.  It’s certainly preferable to a Premier League season of grim, defensive, survival football.  So, tempting as the notion is of play-offs this season, with the incentive of rubbing somebody else’s nose in it as we’ve had our noses rubbed in it on showpiece occasions past – it really won’t do.  We’re useless at play-offs anyway, so if we made it, there’d probably only be misery for us.

So my conclusion is: let’s not waste our time with fast-fading hopes of promotion this year.  Let’s abandon such thoughts, unless the team suddenly gels, goes on a run and absolutely forces us to contemplate success.  On current form, let’s be realistic – that’s unlikely to happen.  Let’s instead wait this season out, hope and pray that the various suits in the club and at the League sort themselves out and get their act together, and let’s hope that this summer sees an exciting reconstruction programme ahead of an all-out attack on the summit of the Championship next time around.  Because, to me, when Leeds United arrive back in the top-flight, they should do so as Champions – not as winners of some tagged-on mini-tournament.  Let’s do it in style, as we did in 1964 and in 1990, taking such power and momentum along with us that we immediately became competitive in the higher sphere.  Let’s have our rivals wary of us. I remember a fanzine article in the summer of ’90, a Liverpool fanzine I think it was.  The title was “Bloody hell – they’re back!”, and it was all about Leeds United and how we’d probably seize the top-flight by the nuts and shake it up good and proper.  And we really did.

That’s what I really want for Leeds United.  I want us to do it in proper Leeds style, I want us to burst into that elite group like a torpedo, creating chaos everywhere.  I want them all to hate and fear us again – I definitely don’t want to read fans of other clubs saying, “Ah – look at once-mighty Leeds – finally managed to get back up and now see how they struggle”.  No, thank you.  Let’s do it the right way, the Leeds way.  Let’s make Vinnie and Howard and wee Gordon and Batts and the rest of them proud.  Let’s see Big Jack and Eddie Gray smiling at a revival of the Revie spirit, with “Keep Fighting” on the dressing-room wall and with our departed heroes approving, from wherever they are now.  Let’s March On Together – not limp apologetically into an exclusive club that doesn’t really want us.  Let’s get in there, and fuck ’em up.  To me, another year is a time well worth waiting – to make sure that we get where we want to be – by doing things the way we want to do them.

The Leeds United Way

The Leeds United Way

Leeds Humbled in Cup: The “Soccer Saturday” Experience – by Rob Atkinson

Merse at the back, looking “fick”

So, it was FA Cup time again – a competition where we’ve actually done OK these past few years, as a bit of light relief from generally mediocre league form. This year, the Cup Magic was to be non-existent, the Cup run very short and not so sweet. Out we went, humbled by League Two Rochdale, of whom it must be said: they deserved it. 5-0 would hardly have flattered them. Leeds played like a side who felt they had only to turn up to win; the thing is, they didn’t really even turn up.

But are we downhearted? Well, yes – some of us are. But not me. I’ve grown out of disappointment at cup exits. They’ve happened every year, twice a year – sometimes more in really good seasons when we’ve qualified to be beaten by some continental team – for all of the forty-odd years that I’ve actually cared. You become immune – and that helps, especially when our league status argues that we’re never going to have a chance of winning the bloody thing anyway. Let’s worry about cups when, on form, we should beat pretty well anybody. When those days return, the cups will look a lot more likely and a lot more attractive.

Today, without a match ticket and with no live TV coverage, I gave myself over to the tender mercies of the Sky Sports “Soccer Saturday” team.  It was an enlightening experience, confirming for me that, yes, we played terribly and that, yes, they still hate us.  We’re still the Damned United.  At one point, Jeff Stelling told us that he’d been told to stop referring to us as “the Mighty Leeds”.  He didn’t say by whom – I had it narrowed down to Phil Thompson (still bitter over some ribald jibes at his Manilowesque nose from the Gelderd End back in the day) and Paul Merson who, as the token Fick Cockney, simply doesn’t know any better.

Stelling got more excited as the afternoon went on, returning frequently to Spotland for reassurances that Leeds weren’t threatening to get back into the game (we weren’t, either).  His references to our glorious Cup history, for the purpose of contrasting today’s dismal display, seemed a little forced as we’ve only won it once – 42 years ago.  But Jeff wanted this to be the Marquee Giant-Killing, and he bigged it up accordingly.

It’s not as if there weren’t other shocks.  Villa lost at home to third division Sheffield United, much to the joy of their Cup-hating manager Paul Lambert.  Donny lost to little Stevenage – and the excitement of this game was enough to bring on earache, as the reporter at the Keepmoat was one John Gwynne.  He has one of those “rich north country” voices which sound like a goose farting through a foghorn, and many were the updates he loudly bawled, with scant regard for the sensitivities of the more delicate viewer.

Soccer Saturday sets its stall out to entertain as well as inform – which is presumably why they employ clowns like Merson (How’s it going Merse?  Still free-nil, Jeff.)  One of their comedy themes lately has been the appalling record of Hyde in the Skrill Premier League.  They’ve gained only three points all season and have a goal difference of minus 51.  Today, they lost 4-0 at Gateshead – one of their better results of this campaign.  But on this FA Cup day, the chance was missed to mention that Hyde are record breakers themselves, having once lost 26-0 to Preston in the 1887-88 competition.  Surely, they could have got a bon mot or two out of that?  But no, sadly they were too ill-informed – unless I missed it in listening out for a Leeds recovery.

Back at Spotland, it was becoming ever more obvious that our beloved United were merely going through the motions and that the mighty Rochdale were having it easy.  A richly-deserved second goal arrived, and we were well and truly Out – much to the malicious satisfaction of the United-Damning hacks in the Sky studio.  The Leeds fans packed behind the goal at Rochdale’s ground took it all in good part.  “We’re shit, and we’re sick of it,” they bellowed, displaying a keen sense of observation as well as a powerful collective ability to convey angst.  Sad to report, they gave Brian McDermott a pretty frosty reception at the end of the game.  It is to be hoped that the resolve of that gentleman was stiffened, rather than shattered.  My money is on him; he’s a never-give-up type.  He’ll have to be.

Worse things happen at sea – or, indeed, at Histon.  Rochdale have done well at home this season and in Keith Hill they have a manager who’s used to slaying the Whites with a nominally inferior team – he did it all the time at Barnsley.  His side played football today that put to shame the more direct approach of Leeds, but there is a lesson to be learned and it’s to be hoped the players learn it.  No league points were lost today, as Brian McDermott, looking for scraps of consolation, ruefully remarked.  And of course it seems likely that big changes are afoot.  For all the hysterical reaction over this defeat, you’d think that people out there actually thought we might have gone on to win the Cup.  Truly, that was never going to happen.  So, what have we lost, after all?  Only the chance to be beaten in the next round or two, possibly by someone against whom we’d simply hate to lose.  What should we do, then?  Why, we should draw a line under it sharpish, and move on.

This season is not going to be a season of on-field achievement – I will confidently predict that here and now.  The progress made this season will be mainly off the field, as a hideously-neglected scouting network comes online, and investment makes possible the instigation of a more progressive transfer policy.  Plans are afoot for Elland Road too, to brush up some of the tired old fabric of the place.  It’s long overdue – and I know people will say “Get the team sorted first”.  But there’s no reason why both areas can’t be addressed at the same time, if the right levels of investment are – as rumoured – shortly to be available.

The baseline requirement for this season, football-wise, is not to go down.  Making the play-offs would be a massive bonus; actually going up, little short of a miracle.  We’re currently just too far behind the teams that have invested properly for this level – they will likely pull away as the months go by.  Going up next season, on the other hand, is a reasonable ambition; there are three transfer windows to do the necessary work.  I would happily settle for that as the immediate aim – if next season is to be the Big Push, then there’s a lot of excitement in store.

Who knows?  Perhaps in a year or two, we really will be “Mighty Leeds” again, and maybe Jeff Stelling will even be allowed to admit it.  Won’t that be a glorious day?  And as for Paul Merson – well, he can bladdy-well stick his hard-of-finking objections where the sun don’t shine, squire.

Radebe’s Confirmed Leeds Utd Bid Shows Immaculate Timing – by Rob Atkinson

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The Chief – sign him up

Lucas Radebe’s confirmation that he is indeed involved with a consortium looking to buy into Leeds United could hardly have been better timed.  There are frequently distant rumblings around the club to the effect that some or other interested party will be making a move to invest imminently – usually though, such rumours disperse like mist in the morning as soon as any hard details – or wads of cash – are required.

Radebe, though, is a different matter.  A genuine Leeds hero, with undeniable credentials in terms of his affection for the club and also his determination to act in its best interests. Whispers circulating last week which hinted at the Chief’s potential involvement brought an overwhelmingly positive response from the Leeds support.  It was made entirely clear via multiple media portals that Lucas would be welcomed back with open arms.  If Leeds United were a republic, Radebe would be not so much elected as anointed President – he’s that popular.  It’s amazing what a reputation for turning down a move to Man U in favour of staying at Elland Road can do for a Leeds Legend’s credibility.  Poor Alan Smith, a victim of the obverse side of that particular coin, would smile ruefully and agree.

The confirmation via Radebe’s own website that he’s actively interested in getting involved at board level has come at a time when the team are starting to look something like – ideally placed on the shoulders of the play-off pack and with every chance of consolidating that position by the turn of the year.  And then the next transfer window opens.  Leeds fans will be aware that these are traditionally times when Leeds make vague promises which then turn into excuses, all building up to a climax of bleak disappointment on deadline day itself.  But since the name “Radebe” has been whispered abroad, there has been a definite statement from the club; Brian McDermott will have funds in January.  Obviously, that positive position could still dwindle away as per the usual Leeds United policy of soft sawder – and yet with the fans’ hero looming in the background, it’s entirely possible that GFH will feel under pressure to deliver this time around.

The fact is also that they’ve been acknowledging the imminence of some significant investment for a while now.  The possibilities have been vague up to now – mentions of Red Bull and the like.  But the possibility of Radebe coming on board will now be at the top of most Leeds fans’ wish lists, and that’s a factor that GFH will ignore or dismiss at their peril.

Leeds United are doing OK.  But January is the last chance to make a real statement of intent that might affect this current season – and the fans will be looking for as much as possible in the way of positive developments, on or off the field.  Radebe in the boardroom mix and a couple of quality January additions on the park would make for a very Happy New Year for the demanding supporters at Elland Road.

Leeds Must Bounce Back After “Gutted” McDermott’s Unhappy Reading Test – by Rob Atkinson

Adam le Fondre - Leeds Target, Leeds Nemesis

Adam le Fondre – Leeds Target, Leeds Nemesis

To paraphrase a more illustrious member of the Atkinson clan – Rowan of that ilk – if winning a game of football in the last minute of stoppage time is finger-lickin’ good, then losing in a like manner is just ass-wipin’ bad.  And it could so easily have ended in a Leeds win at Reading last night; nobody could have disputed the fairness of a narrow away victory as United had looked marginally the likelier of two willing teams on a night of ebb and flow.  As the final minute or so ticked away, it had appeared that the impressively raucous band of away fans would be heading home jubilant.

Heading home, in fact, is precisely what Jason Pearce should have done with what looked like the last clear-cut chance of the game.  It was a good chance, a very clear-cut chance of the “my Gran would have buried that” variety – and Pearce should have gobbled it up.  But sadly, he missed, Then, predictably, Lady Luck performed a clumsy and unattractive pirouette, and within two shakes of a donkey’s tail Steven Warnock had managed to get himself a second yellow card.  He trailed off miserably, the resultant free-kick was pumped into the Leeds area and there was Adam le Fondre, rumoured target for United all summer long, to glance the ball past Paddy Kenny.  1-0 and finis, the whole game turning on the slings and arrows of that outrageous last minute.  Ho hum.

It’s encouraging to report that the hysterical reaction we had come to expect in the wake of just about any Leeds United defeat has been much less apparent under McDermott’s Elland Road regime than it has been in the year or so before.  And quite rightly so; Brian is quietly evolving a Leeds United metamorphosis the effect of which runs deep and transcends the statistical impact of mere results.  It’s hard to think of any man more deserving of an extended honeymoon period – without actually getting married – than the unassuming and softly-spoken United chief.  Most of what he has touched so far has turned to gold and the feeling is that, as he becomes ever more firmly entrenched, he will increase his influence over transfer policy at the club so as to secure the recruits he is all too well aware he still needs.  Brian will go about his business with justified self-belief – and apparently with the enthusiasm and loyalty of his playing staff – whatever the mood of the support may happen to be in the light of results good or bad.  And yet it’s still important that he has the confidence, belief and full backing of the fans.  If that’s not the case then a slight pressure can start to build which is felt not necessarily in the manager’s office but perhaps more tellingly in the boardroom.  The longer we can all pull together, the better for the good of the club as a whole and for the manager’s chances of reviving his sleeping giant.

So it’s important that Leeds do bounce back from this latest setback and – if possible – put together a few results to edge back towards the play-off zone.  This would keep the pot of supporter positivity and optimism bubbling away nicely as well as regaining the momentum of a season that had been jogging along nicely.  Optimism and positivity are still very much on the agenda of the knowledgeable fan who knows his or her stuff.  The only two defeats have been narrow affairs, against teams that were in the top-flight last year – and both results could so easily have been different.  Rudy Austin’s piledriver would have earned a point against QPR and Pearce’s horrible miss should instead have secured a tasty victory for Brian at former club Reading.  Admittedly, “what-ifs” butter no parsnips, but they DO serve to show that the team is not getting played off the park, even by the pedigree end of the division.  At this stage of the season that’s no idle claim, and we can still be optimistic and feel that the future looks bright.

Saturday’s game at home to Burnley is a chance to re-launch the good ship Leeds on its voyage towards what we all hope and think could be a place in the end of season play-offs.  Three points are eminently achievable against the Lancastrians, despite their own decent form and comfortable win over Birmingham on Tuesday.  It will be interesting also to see if Noel Hunt can maintain his steady improvement; a goal from him could be just the kick-start he needs not only for his own sake, but also for the team as a whole. Elland Road on Saturday could just be his stage and, if that proves to be the case, the charge towards the top could be back on again.