Tag Archives: playoffs

Derby Well Aware of How to Beat Leeds: Concede a Penalty, Go Down to Ten Men – by Rob Atkinson

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Genius Lampard, wondering how early to concede that penalty and go down to ten men

There are no flies on Derby County supercoach Frank Lampard. All season long, he’s been pointing out that anything Marcelo Bielsa can do, he can do at least as well, or even better. When Bielsa gave his Powerpoint presentation in the wake of Spygate, Lampard was swift to assure anyone who would listen that “we do that too”. And when Leeds United‘s coach earned plaudits for sportsmanship after insisting that Aston Villa be permitted to score an equaliser at Elland Road, Fearless Frank was there again, insisting that his team also stood back to let the opposition score, and pointing to the evidence of two league games against Leeds this season when they have politely conceded six goals in achieving zero points.

And now, it appears that the Lampard genius has identified the fatal weakness in the Elland Road psyche, whereby the Whites are quite incapable of avoiding defeat when the opposition concede a penalty and are reduced to ten men. Both Wigan and Ipswich have employed this crafty route to victory against Leeds, ridding themselves of their habitual uselessness to baffle the Whites into defeat. It’s a ploy that a man of Lampard’s ability will not have failed to note; stand by for a wild Richard Keogh swipe to bring down Kemar Roofe in the box as he bears down on goal early in the first leg at Pride Park. Red card, penalty – and it’ll be “job done”, as a certain former Rams manager might say.

I jest, of course. The thing is, though – in this crazy season, where the unlikely and the unimaginable have become the norm – something as daft as that could well happen. The only difference might be that it wouldn’t happen in Leeds’ favour. The Whites enter the playoffs at such a low ebb, you can’t help seeing your glass as half-empty, if not drained to the dregs.

Then again, they do say that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. It’s been a pretty dark, bleak month to finish off a dismal second half of the season, so the rosy glow of a new dawn for Leeds United might just be about to light up that far horizon, beyond which lies the Promised Land of the Premier League. You just never know.

Marching On Together!

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Is There Still One More Twist in Leeds United’s Auto Promotion Bid? – by Rob Atkinson

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Don’t forget – Jesus once wore the shirt

David Prutton, now a Sky Sports pundit but nicknamed “Jesus” by Leeds fans once upon a time, due to his startling resemblance to the alleged Son of God, might therefore be wryly amused by the fact that United’s automatic promotion hopes appeared to die on Good Friday. As yet, and with a barren Easter Monday visit to Brentford answering no prayers originating in and around LS11, there seems to be nary a sign of any resurrection for what was probably a misplaced optimism that we might find a straightforward path out of the EFL wilderness. Barring a miracle on a par with the loaves and fishes gig, it’s likely that Leeds United will, after all, have to settle for a play-offs lottery that has served them so ill on so many occasions in the past.

But, soft. Perhaps the time for despair is not yet nigh. Any neutral observer looking at the twists and turns taken by this season’s Championship promotion race will note that it’s been a consistently inconsistent affair, predictable only in its inscrutable unpredictability. You couldn’t have made it up, such observers would say, possibly gasping and throwing their hands in the air to signify outraged disbelief. If you were writing a script, they might add, you wouldn’t have dared include so many plot twists, for fear of being dismissed as some lunatic sensationalist with a bevy of bats in the belfry. Why, then, should we assume that all is done and dusted with two games yet to be played for each interested party? Why on earth would we now presume to predict an outcome that has from day one been so capriciously impossible to foresee?

Out of such perverse logic might appear the odd straw for fans of Leeds United eagerly to clutch with a fierce defiance born of pure desperation. Could Ipswich get a point at Bramall Lane while a depleted Leeds triumph over the division’s form team Aston Villa, leaving things on a last day knife-edge? Of course not. But then again, you might have argued as dismissively about ten man Wigan’s chances of overcoming a one goal deficit to beat the Championship’s best home ground team in Leeds. And you’d surely have bet against a QPR side that had lost seven on the bounce somehow defying the match stats to see our heroes off 1-0 the other week. All of which proves the truth of the old saw about not counting chickens before they’ve hatched.

Of course, in public, I’m maintaining a front of stoical resignation and predicting yet more play-off disappointment for my beloved Whites. My perceived sanity and any remaining shreds of credibility probably depend upon this outward display of common sense. But this little blog is my private fantasy land – and here, all things are possible until the actual point at which it can be shown they haven’t actually happened. So, just between you and me, gentle reader, I will cling on to my faint but still flickering hopes that a miracle could yet occur, and that we might yet see our favourites ascend to the Promised Land as of right, instead of having to trust to that fickle and Leeds-hating jade Lady Luck. You never know, it could still just happen.

Hell fire, friends – we might yet even win the Championship. The kind of roller-coaster script this year’s League has apparently followed might actually demand a properly daft denouement like that. Keep the faith.

Marching On Together 

Please, Leeds, PLEASE – Not the Play-offs – by Rob Atkinson

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If anyone thinks I might be losing my nerve here, losing a bit of faith and belief – then let me tell them, they couldn’t be more right. At the time of writing, with Leeds United having somehow contrived to seize defeat from the jaws of victory against the ten men of Wigan Athletic at Elland Road last Friday – Good Friday? Don’t make me laugh – I am having a severe attack of the football-related collywobbles. Fatalistic is what I’m feeling. My experience of being a Leeds fan, together with my knowledge of the Whites’ appalling play-offs record down the years, leads me to believe that it’s automatic promotion, or bust. Currently, I have a nasty feeling that we might have blown it.

Obviously it’s tight at the top. Right now, before the Easter Monday games are played, Leeds are out of the top two only on goal difference, and both United and the Blunts still have nine points to play for. All of which means that anything could still happen, and there may well be another twist or two still to come. Really, we have to hope that this is the case – as the alternative to going up as of right is to submit ourselves to the lottery of the play-offs. And then, the logic goes: lottery implies a large element of chance and luck. Leeds United do not get much luck, not of the good sort, anyway. Ergo, if it’s the play-offs for Leeds… we’re screwed.

You don’t exactly have to be a student of Elland Road history to see the truth of this. Right back to the very first year of the play-offs, we lost out in the most tragic and unfortunate of circumstances to Charlton Athletic, having thought we were on our way up after a John Sheridan free kick put us ahead in a replay at neutral St. Andrews. Let’s draw a veil over what happened next. After that first, ill-starred attempt, we’ve had a few more stabs at the promotion lottery, with consistently negative outcomes. The semi-finals have usually been OK, but once we get to that showpiece play-off final, it just all turns to angst and despair. Really, it’s almost preferable to finish right out of the picture and kid on we were never that bothered about going up – not that we have such an option this time around. The play-offs, for Leeds United, have always been about misery and disappointment. Does anybody really believe it would be any different this time around?

Of course, what I’m trying to do here is apply a little reverse psychology, hoping that Fate will listen and be influenced enough to either send us up automatically, or make sure that we buck our previous play-off trend and have ourselves a glory, glory day at Wembley. It’s pretty much all I can think of just now, and at least I’m having a go. As ever, I’ll welcome your comments, the more optimistic the better. Now is the time to be clutching at straws – we can save the post mortems for such time as the worst has happened.

Marching On Together.

Leeds Fans Knew the Script as Barnsley Outclass Millwall at Wembley – by Rob Atkinson

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Millwall thugs break security to attack jubilant Barnsley supporters

Today’s League One Playoff Final was a script already written; certainly many a Leeds United fan, knowing what we know of the protagonists, could accurately have predicted how events would unfold. 

Predictably, Barnsley would beat Millwall comfortably at Wembley, to secure promotion to the Championship. Predictably, Millwall’s vicious minority would have a mass tantrum afterwards, charging at celebrating Yorkshire fans to spoil yet another occasion involving football’s sickest club, the shame of London. And, predictably, self-righteous Millwall fans would argue that it’s OK for them to do that and that we have no right to criticise, “because Leeds fans have been violent and have sung nasty songs“. It was all massively predictable, well in advance.

And so it came to pass, certainly in the first two particulars. Barnsley swept into a second-minute lead and never really looked back. Even being pegged back to 2-1, after Hamill‘s classy second, presented the Tykes with no real alarms or jitters. Millwall huffed and puffed, but were hopelessly outclassed. Barnsley’s promotion-clinching third after the interval flattered them not one iota. It could so easily have been more.

Then the Millwall fans showed their true colours after the game was done, trying to get at the red-shirted, jubilant Barnsley fans and generally making fools of themselves, as is their wont. One Tweet told of a disabled Barnsley supporter being tipped out of a wheelchair and kicked down some steps. Reportedly also, two Barnsley fans received stab wounds. Who knows if all of that is gospel true? But the point is, you can easily believe it of the degraded bunch of savages that forms part of Millwall’s less than massive support. Now, all that remains is for the Millwall fans who read this, and other accounts, to bleat their standard excuse: don’t point the finger at us! You do it too! And so we have, in the past, as have other sets of idiot fans. Not these days, though, never as often and not as brutally. Let’s face it, we’re not perfect, but we’re not Millwall. Thank heavens.

And surely, the Football League must now address the problem of Millwall and its classless, cowardly, disgraceful followers. This is a club with form for its fans fighting among themselves at Wembley in the past. The same thugs showed themselves up in the semi-final second leg of this play-off competition, with late pitch invasions to end Bradford‘s hopes of mounting a last-gasp comeback. It happens time and time again in a disgusting Millwall history that goes back in a similar vein for decades. It will keep on happening unless this nuisance club are cracked down on – and cracked down on hard. Whatever the problems that may, from time to time, have assailed other clubs – my beloved Leeds prominent among them – Millwall FC stands alone for the frequency and severity of their transgressions. It’s time for swift and decisive action to be taken. 

It probably won’t happen, though. Millwall are a Football League blind spot, just as Galatasaray are for UEFA. Truly is it said that there’s none so blind as those who won’t see, and the football authorities seem determined to look at Millwall’s transgressions through the darkest of blackout spectacles. The media are no better; they seem to have adopted the Beasts of Bermondsey as their token small club ripe for patronising. Meanwhile, opposition fans continue to live in fear of cowardly, mob-handed attacks. Except at Elland Road, of course, where the Millwall tough lads, no angels they, fear to tread. They usually bring about a dozen, who sit in a terrified silence, meekly accept defeat, and slink off home like the craven curs they are.

Congratulations to Barnsley, who – having been bottom of League One before Christmas, will now adorn the Championship with their classy brand of football. They have also obligingly ensured that happy division will stay relatively clean and civilised by condemning the scabby and feral Lions to prowl around at a suitably lower level. The second tier picture is complete now, and it looks an enticing prospect. On today’s evidence, Barnsley FC will not look out of place.

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Barnsley celebrate a well-deserved promotion

Leeds Still Yorkshire’s No. 1 as Hull Outclass Sheffield Wednesday   –   by Rob Atkinson

That Sheffield Wednesday Wembley feeling

In the end, it was a 1-0 landslide at Wembley as Humberside’s finest totally eclipsed a bedraggled set of Owls in the first of this season’s playoff showpieces. But for the admirable Westwood in the Sheffield Wednesday goal, the scoreline could have been an embarrassing rout. Hull City would not have been flattered by a 5-0 scoreline, utterly out-playing the South Yorkshire pretenders. 

The Sky commentators made much of the travelling throng of Wendies who packed out their end of Wembley and made themselves heard until all hope was gone. But how well do we at Leeds United know that promotions are won on the turf at the national stadium, not in the stands. The crowd contest when we played Donny in that League One playoff was even more lopsidedly unequal, with Whites fans massively dominating the spectacle. But it was Rovers who got the goal – and a similar scenario played itself out today.

So it’s well done to Hull City and Rob Snodgrass, and the very best of hard cheese to the Wendies, who also had their very own ex-White in the team. Tom Lees was the man who gave the ball away to give Hull the decisive goal, and what a strike it was. Congratulations, Agent Lees. You made it look like an accident. 

Leeds United, then, even in their current chaotic incarnation, remain top dogs in Yorkshire. Local derby hostilities will resume next time around, despite all the confident rhetoric from certain big mouths down Sheffield way. Those mouths can munch away on some humble pie while Yorkshire’s finest at Elland Road try to get their act together.

See you next season, Wendies. So glad you’re still with us. 

Same Old Story For Thug Club Millwall and Its Thug Fans   –   by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United fans above those of most other clubs can give you chapter and verse on the less than savoury nature of Millwall Football Club and some of its Neanderthal adherents. Whites supporters have had to sit there in that prefab, Meccano style stadium, watching as large parts of a crowd, swollen beyond its traditional paltry numbers by the presence of Leeds, have taken the opportunity to revel in murders in foreign parts many years ago. It’s something Millwall fans just won’t let go of, and that tells you all you need to know about the worst and least human fans in football. 

Tonight, Millwall fans were at it again, in the second leg of their playoff semi against Bradford. With minutes remaining, and Bradford pushing forward in dire need of two quick goals, proceedings were disrupted by two small-scale incursions into the field of play. Needless to say, this had a drastic effect upon Bradford’s ability to exert the necessary pressure. At one point, with the ball on the way out for a City throw, one of the local bright boys ran on to the pitch and booted it towards Bradford’s goal. So play had to start with a drop-ball instead of the swift throw Bradford needed.

As the ball was played back to the City keeper, the ref ran close by and clearly advised the Bradford man that the game was up, and to prepare for a quick getaway. The Millwall fans were preparing for a mass invasion, and the ref was chiefly preoccupied with the need to herd the players as near to the tunnel as possible before blowing the last whistle and unleashing an uncivilised horde from the touchlines.

Such has often been the case at Millwall, Old Den or New. It seemed clear in this instance that any late hopes Bradford had of making a last-gasp comeback, together with any hopes the ref had of playing the allotted span without interference, were dashed by the threat the crowd posed to order and safety. It’s not good enough, but it’s situation normal down Bermondsey way. Similar disorder has happened time and time again, while the craven suits at the Football League do nothing. This blog hopes and trusts that Bradford City will complain – not that it’s likely to do them any good. 

So, the upshot is that Millwall and its IQ-minus minority have intimidated their way to the brink of a return to the Championship. Unless Barnsley can intervene at Wembley – where Millwall’s unpleasant mob tends to fight amongst itself rather than facing equal numbers of opposition fans – it looks like we can expect to see them at Elland Road sometime next season. Not that many, though. Timid travellers, they tend to muster only a couple of dozen for the trip to LS11. 

Good luck to Barnsley at Wembley. On a football basis, they should blow Millwall away. We can but hope that they are sent back to their dingy borough, chastened and well-beaten. If not – well, it looks as if we’ll just have to put up with them for one more season.

Leeds In Playoff Zone After Edging Out Boro – by Rob Atkinson

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Skipper Jason Pearce soars above the defence to score Leeds’ winner

A captain’s contribution saw Leeds United recover from the disappointment of conceding an equaliser to ten-man Middlesbrough to emerge winners in a tense but entertaining clash before over 30,000 at Elland Road, Jason Pearce thumping home a great header at the Gelderd End after 57 minutes.  This third consecutive league victory – a feat not achieved in over a year – also sees United lodged just inside the playoff zone, a position they will be hoping to maintain or improve on over the remaining thirty games of the season.

Leeds had taken the lead after 35 minutes of the first half with a close-range header from in-form Ross McCormack, a summer transfer target for Boro.  It was a deserved lead, and it might have been more before half time.  A long ball deceived the Middlesbrough defence and, with McCormack and Blackstock looking to have the time to decide which of them was to score the second, Boro keeper Jason Steele raced outside his area to demolish Dexter, concede a free-kick – and end his own involvement in the game.  The red card was indisputable, and the ten men of Middlesbrough would, it seemed, face a long and difficult second half trying to keep the score down.

In the event, Middlesbrough initially put up a rather better show with ten men than they had with a full complement, winning more possession in Leeds territory and posing a much greater threat.  The danger signals were obvious, and it was unwelcome but no real surprise when the visitors leveled after 52 minutes, Carayol scoring after good work from Adomah.  It’s a test of a home team’s mettle to be pegged back against a team with “only ten men” as the Boro fans could suddenly be heard singing.  Heads can go down, frustration can set in.  But Leeds responded well, with Austin charging forward and showing good determination against a team who, having got back onto equal terms, clearly fancied packing the area behind the ball and, even though a man short, making life difficult for the Whites.

Happily, it didn’t take long for United to reassert themselves, with Pearce’s header a cue for Elland Road to erupt with mingled joy and relief.  Even then, it wasn’t easy for the home side, Boro attacking and battling for possession all over the park and, while they created little of note, the pressure was on and Leeds could never relax.  It could have been a different story – a more comfortable story – if United had taken a couple more of the quite presentable chances they had created – but in the end the odd goal in three was sufficient to guarantee Leeds the three point haul – and that is very much what it is all about, especially given some of the cheap points thrown away earlier in the season.

Leeds now find themselves inside the playoff zone instead of looking enviously upwards. It should be all about consolidation from here; knowing Leeds though, nothing is ever simple.  But Leeds United is a much happier place now than it was quite a short time ago, and the supporters have shown that they will respond to effort and commitment.  30,000 plus today tells its own story, and the atmosphere generated by the greater numbers is a genuine influence in a tight and competitive game.  If Leeds maintain their challenge, these fans will continue to get behind them with powerful support that unnerves opponents and inspires those in a white shirt. On the field, off the field and between the two areas it is, after all, a matter of teamwork and pulling together.