Tag Archives: Premier League

Lacked the Breaks, Lacked the Bottle, Lacked the Class; Simply Dreadful, Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

“Poundland Messi” Luke Freeman settles the match at QPR

As regular readers will know, I had some qualms about the match at QPR. Leeds United needed the win to go back top, Rangers had lost seven on the spin. For students of Sod’s Law, it was a disaster waiting to happen. I even wrote a pessimistic piece, observing that many a team on a poor run then go full-on Barça when they face Leeds; well, it wasn’t quite like that at Loftus Road, although Rangers matchwinner Luke Freeman did a pretty good impersonation of a Poundland Messi.

In truth, the writing was on the wall early on, when the referee missed what looked like a clear handball by Rangers inside their area. “Play on, lads”, chirruped the ref, as the advertising hoarding behind the goal displayed “Rebuilding lives after lost sight”. Even so, Leeds carried more threat than QPR before the break, with Patrick Bamford just failing at the far post to convert a low cross from Pablo Hernandez. After the break though, the rot set in with a vengeance.

United possibly lacked the breaks all night, but the longer the match went on, the clearer it was that there were deficiencies also in the bottle and class departments. Rangers, meanwhile, toiled away manfully. And they got their attacking break when Tyler Roberts carelessly lost possession on United’s left flank. The ball moved forward, a cross went into the Leeds box, and the ball was past Kiko Casilla into the net. 1-0, and you just knew it was going to be one of those nights.

Leeds had perhaps one genuinely classy move, a flowing progress upfield which deserved to be crowned with an equaliser. But Rangers cleared the ball at the last ditch, as they managed to do whenever required, all night long.

On a truly awful night for Leeds, Izzy Brown‘s long-awaited debut as a sub was probably destined to be a shocking anti-climax, and so it proved. Brown’s first contribution to proceedings was to block a likely-looking shot from one of his own team-mates – and then shortly afterwards, he picked up a deserved yellow. And Brown probably should have seen yellow again just minutes later – but by that time, the ref possibly felt rather sorry for us.

As bad days at the office go, this was akin to the whole company going into liquidation and then burning down. The best we can hope is that we’ve just witnessed the season bottoming out; that from here on in, the only way is up. But with West Brom lying in wait on Friday, even that has to be open to doubt.

Maybe the United players will take a little anger and frustration away from this game alongside, yes, a chunk of shame and regret. It’s to be hoped anyone in a Leeds shirt tonight is angry, particularly with themselves. Anger is possibly the only thing about the display against Rangers that can be taken forward and used on Friday night against West Brom.

Elland Road will be packed and bouncing then, with the crowd roaring their heroes on. And the players must respond and they must deliver. Because it’s still all to play for – and those Leeds United players owe all of their fans a massively improved performance and a much better result. Big time.

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One Great Three Point Performance at QPR, and Leeds are Back on Track – by Rob Atkinson

Cometh the hour, cometh the lads

If Leeds United can just see Tuesday’s fixture at Queens Park Rangers as an opportunity to be seized, rather than an obstacle to be wary of, then they could and should go into next weekend on top of the pile and conscious of having their fate in their own hands.

Even a draw would see Leeds leapfrog Sheffield United into the automatic promotion places, a mere point behind Norwich City. Both the Blades and the Canaries have put together fine, consistent runs and their exalted league positions are no fluke. On the other hand, just as Leeds are surely due to click into gear and give somebody a proper leathering, so must it be high time for a wheel or two to come off at Carrow Road and/or Bramall Lane.

As I wrote earlier, Leeds will need to be on their mettle against a bit of a wounded beast in Rangers. The Hoops have lost seven on the trot, and a lot will depend on how the game starts as to whether QPR are encouraged or demoralised. If Leeds can start fast and dominate possession from the off, as they’re quite capable of doing, then Rangers heads might drop – although that sounds like wishful thinking and probably is.

The fact remains that Leeds United have a clear run at top spot tomorrow, a chance to lay down a marker as the season gets to its business end. It will be Rangers’ third game in eight days, whereas Leeds had ten days off prior to Saturday’s defeat of Bolton at Elland Road. These are all good, positive vibes and normally they’d reduce me to a quivering mass of pessimism – but there’s nothing normal about this Championship League

Besides, after my earlier article pointing out that Leeds will need to avoid complacency despite Rangers’ bad run, some of the responses have lifted my mood towards cautious optimism. There’s some wise old heads among the readers of this blog, and many of them seem quite upbeat about United’s West London appointment – so who am I to pour cold water on such positivity?

A win is needed. A big win would be nice, but any win will do. In the spirit of optimism and possibility, I take Leeds to prevail by one or two goals. Now please, just for once, let me be right.

Bolton Coach Who Mocked Leeds Boss Bielsa Gets Just Deserts – by Rob Atkinson

Specialist in playground mickey-taking, Bolton’s Lee Butler

It should probably be a convention in football, rather than just common sense, to do your best to refrain from taking the mick out of the opposing team boss – especially if there’s a snooping TV camera in the vicinity. The trouble with getting caught doing this, even though it might be good for a giggle at the time if you’re sufficiently immature, is that you end up looking a prat to hundreds of thousands of unsympathetic types like opposing fans. And you look even more of a prat if your team loses the game as well as coming off second best in a touchline bench fracas.

Such was the fate that befell the Bolton Wanderers goalkeeping coach Lee Butler at the Elland Road meeting of Leeds United and the Trotters on Saturday. The pre-match courtesies were under way and Leeds Boss Marcelo Bielsa, with characteristic Latin politeness, walked over to his Bolton counterpart for the traditional handshake.

Doubtless it’s a cultural thing, much like paying close attention to rival clubs’ preparation, but the Bielsa handshake is something above and beyond the restrained English version, as it incorporates a little bow into the gesture of offering the hand to shake. All very dignified and stately, you might think, and you’d surely be right. But apparently, in Bolton at least, it’s regarded as funny and something to mock. As Bielsa turned and headed for his upturned bucket, the silver-haired Mr Butler, resplendent in a red tracksuit that emphasised his less than athletic paunch, clearly mimicked and then mocked the Bielsa handshake, before having a good old laugh about it with one of his Wanderers chums, as can clearly be seen in this tweet from Leeds fan Gibbo.

Now, I’m sure that Marcelo himself, being above such schoolboy antics, would dismiss it as simply one more of those inexplicable English quirks, or more accurately, that classic contradiction in terms Lancastrian manners – and nothing to shake him out of his polite inscrutability. But I can testify, having seen the moment live, that it annoyed me and made me even more keen to see Bolton depart with nowt. Thankfully, after a bit of a struggle, the lads saw to it that this was so.

It wasn’t just me getting a bit offended though. Quite a few of the Leeds Twitter community were somewhat less than pleased too, and understandably so. Possibly certain members of the Leeds United staff, who perhaps are blessed with slightly less of the sang froid that Bielsa enjoys, might also have been annoyed, had they seen what Butler obviously hoped was a private moment. A bit daft then, really, to have it in front of the camera and 35,000 fans.

Later in the match, things kicked off in front of the West Stand dugouts; Gjanni Alioski, who was down injured, got some unasked for and unwelcome help from a Bolton player, and his Leeds team-mates took exception; Mateusz Klich saw fit to cool down an over-excited opponent by squirting water down his collar, Bolton coach Phil Parkinson unwisely squared up to Pontus Jansson and got sent off for his troubles – things were becoming very unfriendly on and off the pich. But it would be fair to say that the Trotters got the worst of it, as they did with the match itself, departing back over to the wrong side of the Pennines hurt and pointless.

Really, it served them right. You reap what you sow and, with that casual moment of pre-match disrespect, Lee Butler ensured that his club secured the moral low ground and got exactly what they deserved – nothing. I don’t know what the Football League would make of such a blatant display of rudeness and mockery – would they decide it’s a shining example of “acting in utmost good faith”?

You know what – I think they probably would.

Leeds’ Mateusz Klich to Face Ban for Trying to Dissolve Bolton Player – by Rob Atkinson

Evil Klich brazenly attempting to dissolve Bolton’s Joe Williams

The Football League has started looking into an incident at Elland Road in which a bottle containing some sort of liquid substance appeared to be squirted towards an opposing player by Leeds midfielder Mateusz Klich as United took on Bolton Wanderers.

League spokesman Mr. Lee D. Shater confirmed that an investigation was under way, adding “It’s been a dull few days since the Spygate scandal ended, and we’ve all been at a bit of a loose end, though it was fun shopping for Shaun’s leaving pressie with a recent windfall. But we need to get back into action. Also, there may even have been a rule broken this time, especially if it turns out that the bottle contained acid, or Novichok or maybe some kind of flesh-eating agent like in those Bond films off of the telly. You never know with these espionage types, so we’ll be taking this seriously. We got two hundred grand out of Leeds for not breaking any rules – really, the sky’s the limit here”.

When we advised Mr. Shater that the bottle in question has been confirmed as containing only water, the League man flinched slightly, but responded by pointing out a little-known regulation introduced by Shaun Harvey directly after today’s final whistle. “This is Regulation 3.4.H2O, which makes it a breach of good faith to use any potential solvent, including water, in an attempt to dissolve an opponent with malice aforethought. The term “dissolve” includes dissolving into tears, which we understand is what happened with Joe Williams, who got his poor neck wet. So, you know, QED. Maybe we can even get that nasty Klich banned”.

Shaun Harvey, 48, is a certifiable lunatic.

Leeds United Must Tough It Out Against the Whole World Now – by Rob Atkinson

Nothing ever comes easily for Leeds United, that’s the lesson of history. Every single success has been hard-won, they’ve all been grim fights to the death. This season is shaping up to be no different; United have endured the most horrible last week or so, ever since the final whistle at Elland Road signalled a scrappy victory over Swansea City. Their nearest rivals have gained ground, winning games against feeble resistance, while the Whites have been kicking their heels, powerless and frustrated. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the likes of Bolton and QPR, who have capitulated so easily to Norwich and West Brom, will miraculously rediscover their missing mojo when they face Bielsa’s notorious Spygate villains Leeds.

Of course, any club can find themselves going through a bad spell, while their rivals prosper. That’s the nature of a league programme, with its ups and downs – and, generally, things do even themselves out. But few clubs have to put up with the kind of background against which this roller-coaster ride for Leeds is taking place. The Spygate furore was the ultimate example of a towering mountain being fabricated out of an insignificant molehill, with the Football League seemingly quite prepared to make utter fools of themselves in the interests of dragging the whole distraction out as far and as long as possible, all in the interests of distracting Elland Road eyes from the main focus of promotion. Certain league clubs have been complicit in this, with Bristol City‘s tax-dodging owner Stephen Landsdown sanctimoniously calling for a points deduction – and this was in a case where no rules were broken, remember. Stupid hypocrite is surely not an over the top description for that character.

What we can now expect, as the season gets to its decisive sharp end is, I’m afraid, all too easy to predict, and may be summed up as: more of the same. If you look back over the lowlights of the campaign so far, the farcical sending off of Pontus Jansson for falling over at Stoke City, for instance, you can easily envisage what’s still in store. There have been daft penalties against us right from the season’s opening day, when the award for Stoke being typical of the no-contact incidents that provoke the League’s referees to blow for a penalty against Leeds. Meanwhile, we’ve had one penalty all season. We nearly had a second, but the award was negated for an offside call subsequently shown to have been at least a yard onside.

There’s more of this to come. The bulk of fifty-fifty calls will go against us, as ever. The League does not wish to lose its prize asset if it’s possible to avoid doing so. I sincerely doubt that we’ll get another penalty, although we will have credible, stonewall claims – as has happened all season. There will be soft penalties against us – as has happened all season. Where it’s possible to send off a Leeds player, even when the decision stretches credibility, then off he will go – as has happened all season. Meanwhile, opposition defenders will get away with red card offences like denying a goalscoring opportunity – sometimes, not even a yellow will be given. This, too, has happened all season.

So it’s going to be a case of carry on hammering Leeds, but more so. Everything that can be done to keep us down will be done. It will be blatant, and sometimes even the media lapdogs will express surprise. But it will be glossed over and it will carry on. This is what we’re up against. Really, the only people that can do anything about it are the ones so proudly and defiantly wearing the shirts and badges, as they battle on to deliver the prize that so many of us, all over the world, desire so intensely. We’ll have to man up, tough it out, keep fighting. Those are the qualities this club, in its modern, global phenomenon incarnation, was built on, over the last six decades since we emerged from obscurity into worldwide prominence. And those are the qualities that will see us though now, despite the forces of League, rival clubs and media ranged against us.

Marching On Together. Let’s do this.

EFL Confirms Standing on Public Footpath Worse Than Racism and Violence (If You’re Leeds) – by Rob Atkinson

Suárez bite – only half as bad as standing on a public footpath

There was a sense of relief yesterday that, apparently, Spygate had at last been put to bed. The general feeling was one of “Aaaaaand relax” – we could now get back to thinking about football and, more specifically, earning a path out of this increasingly ridiculous and corrupt Football League.

Today, though, people are looking at the sheer size of the fine Leeds United have had to accept as the price for concluding what had become a long-running farce. Two hundred thousand pounds. When you look at it, really consider it, that’s an obscenely disproportionate sanction. Some sort of context is afforded when you notice that Russia was fined £22,000 for the racist chanting of its bigoted supporters, and Luis Suárez copped a total of £106,000 for two separate incidents in which he deliberately bit opponents. There are, needless to say, plenty of other illustrative examples.

So, on this basis, being present on public land with footballers training on the other side of a mesh fence is seen as just under twice as heinous as sinking your teeth into two opposing footballers. And it’s almost ten times more outrageous to public morals and decency than the mass chanting of racist jibes. There’s something far wrong with that particular sense of perspective. It’s almost comical, but hardly anyone is laughing.

The bemused fan of Leeds United (and, for all we know, this applies equally to players, staff and directors too) is left scratching his or her head at the outlandish disparity between the penalty for what is basically a non-offence, and the much less potent sanctions applied in the case of far more disgusting, violent and bigoted behaviour. There is a sense that the slavering pack of press and opposing fans that were on Leeds United’s case had to be mollified somehow, and that most of this lynch mob wanted a points deduction for United. Faced with this, and armed only with a vague and flimsy “utmost good faith” principle, did the League feel constrained to lay it on thick, in order that those thirsting for Leeds’ blood should not be too disappointed? How much would they rather have applied a points deduction of, say, 15 points – to end up looking draconian instead of plain stupid?

Other questions arise. What of Swansea City, who basically hid behind the sofa on transfer deadline evening, refusing to answer calls as their player waited at Elland Road for his transfer to be confirmed? Is that “utmost good faith”? What of Liverpool, who cleared one penalty area of snow at half time, but not the other, in order to maximise their second half advantage? Where’s the good faith there?

Most tellingly of all, what if the club involved in Spygate had not been Leeds United, but some hand-to-mouth, impoverished League Two club without two ha’pennies to rub together? Would they have been hit to the tune of two hundred grand, ushering the receivers in through the stadium doors? Deep down, we know it wouldn’t happen – because this hypothetical League Two poorhouse club would not have the initials LUFC.

The Football League, in levying such a ridiculously high fine, has abandoned any pretensions to proportionality or a real life view. They’ve blatantly – to quote the excellent Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post – taken a hammer to crack a walnut. Some Leeds fans are now seeking to crowdfund a contribution to the vast sum Leeds will have to pay, but that’s not really the point. Because, although it may well be that Leeds United feel the pragmatic thing to do is take this penalty flush on the chin and move on, that doesn’t make it right. The Football League has, yet again, exposed itself to ridicule and derision, something that has implications for every club under its jurisdiction.

Whichever way you look at this bizarre conclusion to Spygate, it smacks more of appeasing the mob than it does of any maturely considered conclusion. And whatever word you might use to sum the whole mess up, it most certainly wouldn’t be justice.

Leeds United Contribute £200,000 to Shaun Harvey’s FL Leaving Do – by Rob Atkinson

Shaun Harvey – disappointed and calling it a day

At long last, the Football League investigation into the so-called Spygate affair has been concluded, and it can now be revealed that the delay in considering and pronouncing upon a relatively simple matter was caused by an almighty internal wrangle within the Football League.

It turns out that the matter was pretty much done and dusted some time ago, with the League reluctantly concluding that, as no specific rules had been broken, it was not possible to impose a points deduction. Instead, the League had to settle for dressing up the matter of a man standing on a public highway and looking through a wire fence as “a breach of good faith”, enabling action under regulation 3.4 – but even this has proved problematic.

A League spokesperson confirmed that the League was struggling to make even the “good faith” provisions stick due, he said, to a number of far more serious breaches during the time that Spygate had been current. “We’ve had blatant diving, clubs clearing one penalty area of snow but not the other, clubs reneging on transfer deals at the last minute, all sorts of stuff going on. But we had to do this to Leeds, because it was the only way we could get them. And that was a very cruel blow to Shaun Harvey, who had been determined to deal a fatal blow to that club’s promotion chances”.

It appears that Mr. Harvey has indeed taken the outcome of Spygate very hard indeed, as he had hoped it would be instrumental in keeping Leeds United down in the Championship. So depressed is he by the thwarting of his dearly held hopes, that he has now announced he’ll be stepping down at the end of the season. “Shaun is a broken man”, confirmed our source. “He feels that he just can’t go on, so he’s going to retire to a smallholding in Little Sodbury. We at the League feel that the least we can do is to give him a good send off, so we’re fining Leeds enough to send him off in style”.

When it was pointed out that two hundred grand was quite steep for a leaving do, we were told “We’re pulling out all the stops here, because Shaun really needs cheering up. So we’ve booked his favourite acts, Kylie, Jason and we’ve even arranged a personal appearance by Shaun’s hero Frank “Fwankie” Lampard. I imagine they’ll be commiserating together”.

Leeds United’s only comment was “We’ve fully cooperated with this whole fiasco from start to finish, and all we can say is that we’re satisfied with the outcome. It’s well worth a couple of hundred grand to get rid of that oily little sod Harvey.

Frank Lampard is a bitter, thwarted little man.

Fan Successfully Trolls Media With Fake Leeds Striker Injury Claim – by Rob Atkinson

Social media meltdown predictably ensued after a picture did the rounds showing Leeds United’s top scorer Kemar Roofe wearing a brace on his left leg. Various gullible news sources picked up on the story, speculating that Roofe could be out for the season, despite the fact that neither the club nor the more reliable journalists have made any comments or statements.

It does appear that the “injured Roofe” image may be an old one from his early season injury layoff – the rationale behind this, and the reason I feel I can confidently dismiss the “Kemar out for season” rumour is that another picture, see above, showing Roofe without the leg brace, and apparently dating from yesterday, would seem to confirm that all is well. The picture appeared on Roofe’s Instagram account yesterday so, unless Kemar has had a spectacularly disappointing 24 hours, we can happily ignore what is probably a piece of mischief by some bored kid.

So, hopefully, all is well – and the only downside is that various ill-informed and over-eager “news sources” have ended up with egg on their faces.

Which is actually quite funny…

Trauma and Relief as Kalvin Phillips Makes a Late Point for Leeds at Middlesbrough – by Rob Atkinson

Kalvin celebrating a late point-saver for Leeds at Middlesbrough

After Aston Villa’s late comeback against Sheffield United, Leeds United knew that a point at Middlesbrough would see them return, if only temporarily, to the Championship summit. And so it turned out, although the draw was only achieved at the last gasp of a lengthy stoppage period, which resulted from a traumatic scare over the health of teenage United star winger Jack Clarke.

Leeds had travelled north to Teesside bolstered by the fact that local rivals Sheffield United had failed to capitalise on their 3-0 lead at Villa Park and remained two points back in third place. With long term injury absentee Patrick Bamford starting his first league game for Leeds, and with the dependable Kalvin Phillips back in his defensive midfield role, Leeds were perhaps better equipped to meet the stern challenge of promotion rivals, as compared to their previous match at home to Norwich. They started brightly enough against a Middlesbrough side humbled at League Two Newport County in midweek. But the home side had the incentive of recovering from that humiliating Cup exit and, as the first half wore on, they began to trouble the Leeds defence.

Reaching the interval with the match goalless, Leeds must have been looking forward to taking greater control later on, with Pablo Hernandez replacing Jack Clarke in an effort to pierce the Boro defence. But only two minutes into the second half, Pablo was guilty of a bit of ball watching as Boro broke down the left wing, to put a dangerous ball across the edge of the Leeds box, where Lewis Wing found a smart finish to put the home side 1-0 up.

The remainder of the match was a troubled mixture of worry and frustration for Leeds, with young Jack Clarke taken ill on the Leeds bench and needing lengthy treatment with play held up. Clarke, 18, received first class treatment at the ground and was then taken to hospital for tests, with players on both sides clearly shaken that such a young player showed such alarming symptoms.

As play resumed, Boro did indeed tire after their exertions on a heavy pitch at Newport, and Leeds duly exerted some sort of control over proceedings. All of a sudden, the odds seemed much more in favour of United salvaging at least a point, or maybe even a crucial comeback victory. But the breaks still weren’t coming up front for all their attacking play, with some good chances created and missed, notably for Bamford and Kemar Roofe. Eventually, though, the pressure told and Boro were denied at the last gasp when Leeds United scored from a left wing corner. The ball found Liam Cooper, who headed powerfully goalwards where Phillips connected with the ball to dispatch the equaliser past Boro keeper Darren Randolph. The point-saving goal had come in the last of twelve added minutes, much to the joy and relief of the travelling United support who duly raised the roof of the Riverside Stadium.

A draw was probably a fair result, as each side had dominated half the game, though both would regret some missed opportunities to add to the scoring. All was well that ended well, with young Clarke evidently feeling better by the end of the day. And there was a classy touch from Boro manager Tony Pulis, who deflected questions about the lengthy stoppage time by saying  “The more important thing is making sure the boy, fingers crossed, hopefully the boy’s okay and he recovers because he’s a very, very talented young player. All our thoughts from Middlesbrough Football Club actually go to the lad Clarke.”

Leeds Suffering From Terrible Penalty Calls, Even When They’re Not Involved – by Rob Atkinson

A brief and testy update tonight, having sat through West Brom against Nottingham Forest, where the result to suit our particular requirements as Leeds United fans would have been a Forest victory.

It looked as though that was how it was going, too – and then referee Lee Mason took control, with two late and palpably awful penalty decisions, both going against Forest and, by extension, Leeds.

With the West Brom trailing 2-1, exactly as per our ideal scenario, the Baggies’ Dwight Gayle found a Forest limb to dive over just inside the area, and Mason obliged with the whistle for a spot kick. It was a blatant dive, and if there’s any justice (which we know there isn’t) – Gayle will get a retrospective ban IF the Football League ever emerge from their Spygate enclave and examine the incident.

So, it’s 2-2, which isn’t that bad. But Forest should still have won, when their attacker Lolley had his shirt almost pulled off as he made his way into the Albion penalty area. Lee Mason, though, failed to see the blindingly obvious, and Leeds missed out on the ideal result of a West Brom defeat.

Call me paranoid – of course I am, I’ve been a Leeds fan for 44 years – but it does seem to me that these incidents, even in games between third parties, hardly ever favour Leeds. And really, we could do with the odd penalty decision in other games going our way – because it’s now one penalty awarded to Leeds in around 70 games, which is pretty meagre fare.

Ho hum. Onwards and hopefully upwards. And at least the Pride of Devon lost, which is always, always nice.