Tag Archives: play-offs

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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.