Tag Archives: Reading FC

Leeds CAN Secure Automatic Promotion as Rivals Falter – by Rob Atkinson

img_7580

Garry Monk – the man with the plan

We’ve had false dawns aplenty before at Elland Road. Many a time, a false dawn has appeared to be the only possible light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. But this time, things do feel different. There’s a momentum steadily gathering, a feeling that Leeds United are developing slowly into an unstoppable force. History tells us that, often in the past, the leaders of the chasing pack benefit from a sudden uncertainty and crumbling of long-time front-runners. That scenario is developing right now at the head of the Championship – and Leeds United, to our delighted surprise, is the form horse.

One of the characteristics of a successful team is that it can grind out a result when playing badly. Leeds demonstrated that strength against Blackburn Rovers last night at Ewood Park, in a game that could easily have slipped away, but which was decided by a late and thumping header from the talismanic Pontus Jansson.

Another sign of a team going places is the quality of being able to bounce back from the occasional lapse. That’s something that this Leeds United team has been able to do on several occasions this season, going on to compile unbeaten runs after reverses that would have sapped morale in other years under other managers.

Garry Monk has had his less than brilliant moments since taking charge of United, but overall has seemed determined, self-assured and unflappable. He survived early difficulties, avoiding the ever-poised axe in the hands of maverick owner Massimo Cellino. Indeed, one of the main achievements of his first season in the Leeds hot-seat has been to marginalise Cellino, quieting talk in the media of the owner picking the team and generally remaining his own man. Other factors may have helped push Cellino into the shadows, but it’s still the mark of a strong man to succeed at Leeds where so many others have failed.

On the whole, and despite the odd, inevitable blip, Leeds United are very well placed now for the last, crucial stage of the League campaign. Free of cup commitments, with the squad enhanced by quality additions and vital players returning from injury, the platform is there for a decisive surge between now and May. Much will depend on the durability or otherwise of the teams ahead – Brighton, Newcastle and, to a lesser extent, Reading. Huddersfield and the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and even Barnsley, present a threat from behind. But Leeds have the resolve and the personnel to emerge from the pack and take advantage of any crack-ups from the top two. And there are definite signs of such frailty and vulnerability in both Brighton and Newcastle.

The top two seem concerned about each other, when they should perhaps be looking fearfully over their shoulders at the play-off pack. Usually, somebody comes with a late run, exploiting a loss of bottle above them to reach the tape ahead of the pace-setters. It’s a situation that could well work in favour of Leeds United.

This weekend is the first of many pivotal League rounds to come. Huddersfield and Brighton meet tonight, in a game where any result will have some advantage for Leeds. And United have that extra twenty-four hours recovery time before having to travel to Huddersfield on Sunday. It will be very interesting to see how the Championship top six looks on Sunday evening.

But whatever happens over the next few days, there are golden opportunities for Leeds to assert themselves over the remainder of the season – and both Newcastle and Brighton will be feeling the heat. That’s a situation a canny manager like Monk can and should exploit; this blog believes that he is willing and able to do just that.

Leeds United for automatic promotion this season? You’d better believe it.

Advertisements

Leeds Away Clean Sheet and Balotelli Goal: Fraud Squad Alerted – by Rob Atkinson

Reading 0, Leeds United 2

In a sensational evening’s football, Leeds United have risen to the dizzy heights of 17th in the Championship, with the former TwitterWhites Luke Murphy Hate Squad suddenly unanimous in their passionate desire to bear his babies.

On a night when Mario Balotelli actually scored a goal, QPR actually won away and – miracle of miracles – Leeds United absolutely kept a clean sheet away from home, the bookies have confirmed that they escaped bankruptcy only on account of one man’s acca falling at the last hurdle. The un-named punter, from Pontefract in West Yorkshire, was on course for an eight-figure payout – but lost out ultimately, when a huge meteor failed to strike and demolish Old Trafford.

Given the unlikely events that did happen, it is thought that the Serious Fraud Office were on full alert. A spokesman confirmed “If Steve Morison had scored – the only event quoted at longer odds than the meteor thing – we’d definitely have had some questions. As it is, we’ll just put it down to the biggest shock since Giggs won a Sports Personality award – without actually having one.”

The Leeds win, sealed by a late header from Sam Byram, along with another spawny away victory for Millwall, nicely sets up Saturday’s Elland Road encounter between the two sides. That game is already arousing the usual high level of anticipation, particularly on the Millwall side – where the fixture against the Yorkshire giants is acknowledged as the lovable cockneys’ Cup Final. Interest is such that the away team are expected to be backed by up to a dozen loyal followers, who are expected to show unstinting support by quivering in a corner of the West Stand and keeping really quiet.

Other results on Tuesday evening went Leeds’ way, with Charlton, Rotherham and Fulham all losing, allowing the Whites to overhaul them. United now find themselves in nosebleed territory, with the chance to consolidate a gap between themselves and the bottom three, if they can take the three points on offer against Miwwwaww at Elland Road. It’s a challenge that our heroes dare not shirk, with far more difficult fixtures to come afterwards.

For now, though, Leeds fans everywhere can relax slightly, having seen a job well done at Reading. Two goals and that precious defensive shut-out, have left everything in the garden looking, if not exactly rosy, then a blooming sight healthier than it did in the aftermath of Brentford and Mr Salisbury’s disgraceful refereeing performance.

It’s been a good day for your Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything correspondent, with Leeds winning and the lesser Yorkshire clubs comically losing – and a few days break in a fashionable West Coast resort now beckons. Then, it’ll be business as usual on Friday, ahead of Saturday and that notoriously nawty bunch of Lahndan scamps.

Bring it on.

Cellino Totally Justified in Angry Outburst at Limp Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - anger

Cellino – anger

So Massimo Cellino has broken cover in the wake of the spineless United display against a deeply ordinary Bolton Wanderers side at the weekend. He’s raged, primarily at the players, calling them “chickens”.  They didn’t fight, he said.  They are guilty and without pride; they should be ashamed of themselves.  Can any of us honestly argue with the wisdom and accuracy of that little lot?  Wouldn’t we all be queuing up to kick a few arses, as Signor Cellino has expressed the earnest desire to do, if only we had the chance? And why, pray, do we feel this way?  It’s because we’ve invested hard-earned cash in supporting our team, that’s why – only to see overpaid non-triers throw that loyalty and commitment back in our bitterly-disappointed faces.  Imagine, then, how Cellino feels, several million down already, hauling the club out of deep and rank ordure – and being messed about by a dilatory governing body into the bargain.  No wonder he’s a little miffed.

Some have said that Cellino has overstepped the mark in being quite so vocal, not yet being the confirmed owner and all.  For a couple of reasons, I strongly disagree with that viewpoint.  Firstly – as referred to above – the man has paid – paid handsomely – for his right to express a vehement point of view. He who pays the piper calls the tune or, in this case, kicks the arse, if that’s his reaction of choice.  Nobody, surely, can deny the man who has funded this club over the last few weeks when, due to inept management and a craven refusal to dig deep on the part of GFH et al, we might otherwise have been well on the way to the wall by now.

Cellino will know just how much he’s stumped up in wages, with absolutely no guarantee that his purchase of the club will end up being sanctioned. He will know exactly how much X has “earned” and how much Y is being paid for his headless chicken act.  It must drive him mad to have actually seen those players fannying about on a professional football field and succumbing without so much as a peep of protest to a team they should be taking to the cleaners – especially at home.  The money the Italian has shelled out gives him an absolute right, in my view, to express himself as strongly as he sees fit.  Good on him for condemning the guilty parties in strong and unequivocal terms.  It’s not before time.

Which brings me on to reason number two that Cellino was right to act as he did, confirmed owner or not.  A bit of anger and invective has been needed from within the club for far too long now.  It’s all been much too friendly and cosy as far as we can tell from the regular soundbites, and there are people on the payroll taking blatant advantage of that easy-going atmosphere.  They will have been aware, perhaps, of some discontent out here in the real world, but they appear to be living and working in a little pink bubble where all is sweetness and light and, oh so polite – so why should they care if a storm is raging outside of that bubble?  Somebody needs to shake the place up a bit. I think we all know who that somebody should be – but if that’s not happening, then – by all means Massimo, old son, you stand up for all of us out here. Vent your spleen, rattle a few cages, have a go.  Maybe if they see the guy holding the purse-strings getting slightly aerated, they might sit up and take notice – due to a footballer’s well-known respect and concern for the bottom line.

There have been far too many humiliating results lately, far too many score-lines that speak all too clearly of extremely well-paid young men who simply don’t care – not anywhere near as much as they should, given the honour that is theirs to wear that white shirt.  That’s the ultimate in not good enough, and it’s high time someone let loose a few slings and arrows at those guilty parties and read the riot act here and there.  For all of these reasons, I’m glad to hear that Cellino has climbed down off the fence where most of the rest of the Leeds United personnel appear to be roosting, and has made his acerbic views known, in no uncertain terms.

We’re likely to be able to gauge what kind of effect this Latin bollocking has had when Leeds meet McDermott’s old club, Reading, on Tuesday.  I hope the players feel upset, angry and humiliated to have been spoken of in such very frank and derisive terms.  No professional likes having his or her professionalism called into question.  In the macho world of football, nobody will relish being called a chicken, or having shame called down upon their heads.  The players should be hurt, they should be annoyed; above all they should be possessed by a bloody-minded determination to show exactly what they’re made of.  They should be ready to go out and sweat blood in a do or die attempt to prove Cellino wrong and to put in an effort to prove they do have the bottle to play for, as McDermott puts it, a “big badge”.  And, lest we forget, a demanding crowd.

Ironically, such an effort would only go to confirm that the Italian was actually 100% right to say what he said about the abject and spineless display the players gave in the Bolton game.  It would draw comparison with the second half against Huddersfield when, as one of them put it, “we did it for Brian”. Well, chaps – you’ve done bugger-all for him since.  But take three points off Reading on Tuesday, and a lot would be forgiven, if not forgotten.  Such is the way of football and human nature.

What Cellino has achieved with his outburst – beyond any reasonable doubt – is to focus the most intense scrutiny on how the players in those Leeds United shirts acquit themselves on Tuesday evening in the Reading game. Under those eleven “big badges” – are there eleven big enough hearts to take on board the Massimo Cellino message and to come up with the right response? We shall see soon enough.

Matt Mills £1m Leeds Target?

Mills:  Leeds-bound?

Mills: Leeds-bound?

The Swindon-born former Reading and Leicester defender has not been an outstanding success at Bolton Wanderers, his last start for them being against Huddersfield on December 8, when he injured a thigh and has managed only one substitute appearance since.  His time at Leicester City was hardly wonderful either, and Mills was a loan target for former United boss Neil Warnock early in his Elland Road tenure.  That failed to happen, and a rumoured £2m fee saw the defender link up with Bolton – but it seems likely his time there is now up, with an offer in the region of £1m being thought sufficient to secure his services.

The player himself – according to the familiar “sources close to…” – is keen on the chance to renew his working relationship with his old Reading boss Brian McDermott.  Central defence is on the list of positions needing to be strengthened at Elland Road, and it may just be that the Old Pals’ Act could secure a reliable performer for United. This optimistic assessment is certainly not based on recent form, but there have been many instances down the years of players in the doldrums being reinvigorated by a reunion with a former mentor.  McDermott’s success at the Madejski throws up a few names, some still at Reading, some that have since moved on – that could be identified as players who would relish another crack of the whip under an old boss at a club like Leeds – enough of a pull in its own right.

Mills has certainly waxed lyrical about his past service under McDermott and assistant Nigel Gibbs. “My first few months at Reading didn’t pan out as the move I expected and wanted, but that all changed when Brian got the job and Gibbo became assistant manager.” the ex-Royal has been quoted as saying. “They gave me a new lease of life, and the opportunity and coaching they gave me has honestly made me the player I am now.”  As fulsome tributes go, this is very much in “come and get me plea” territory, and it has been suggested that Mills is willing to reject overtures from elsewhere in favour of a switch to LS11.

My own view is that, at only 26, Mills has many miles left on the clock, and the class he has undoubtedly displayed in the past will not have deserted him permanently.  A happy player is more likely to be a top-performing player, and the fruitful coaching relationship between Brian, Gibbo and Matt at their former club seems to suggest that its a scenario which could unfold again, to the satisfaction of all parties.

Whether the powers that be are prepared to stump up £1million is of course another matter, and wages are always an issue as well.  But there is some pedigree here, and the chance to build on some good history too.  So I feel there may just be some legs in this rumour, and it’s a move I would love to see happen.  “Lees and Mills” could well be the central defensive partnership on everybody’s lips in the Championship next season.

Leeds United’s Roller-Coaster Ride to Mediocrity Must End Soon

Image

The Lifeblood of LUFC

At a time when, once again, there’s a bit of cautious optimism drifting around Elland Road it’s worth reflecting that we’ve been here before, several times in fact since the club returned to what should be its absolute minimum status as a second tier club. In those three seasons, we’ve ridden the traditional roller-coaster; great Cup performances against nominally superior foes at one end of the scale, awful, abysmal defeats against teams we should be easily out-matching at the other. The roller-coaster is a suitable analogy – you go up and down and there are thrills along the way, but ultimately you get nowhere, ending up back where you were and feeling slightly sick.

Is there any real difference this time? Well, maybe. The man we now have in charge is young(ish), undeniably hungry after what seemed an unfortunate dismissal at Reading, and able to point to a Championship record at his former club which is little short of remarkable. Brian McDermott operated on a tight budget at the Madejski Stadium, being forced to sell several of his better players (for a fat profit to the club), and bring through adequate replacements for a fraction of the sum coming in. Yet he oversaw a surge in the league last season from 18 points back to actually pip Southampton for the title, and that doesn’t happen by chance.

So there is possibly cause for optimism for our prospects next season – IF the owners get it right. McDermott has pointed out that he doesn’t want to hear talk of the club backing him – the club should be backing themselves, investing in their own future. He is simply right. His is a message of realism and genuine hope, something we should all appreciate after the confusing messages sent out by Neil Warnock over the past year or so. McDermott has been there and done it, as had Warnock before him. But Warnock’s appointment smacked of desperation and papering over the cracks that were widening as last summer’s takeover saga stretched out to a ridiculous length. McDermott has come in looking a better fit for the club, a round peg in a round hole. It looks very much, just now, as if Leeds United and Brian McDermott need each other almost equally.

Let’s face it, though. Leeds United isn’t going to feel quite right again until we’re back where most of us still feel we rightfully belong: in the top flight, and what is more – pushing towards the top end. Over the past 50 years, that has been the general profile of the club and even after going on for a decade at a lower status, it still looks wrong for that name – Leeds United – to figure outside of the elite. The last real high time we had was promotion from the third level, an escape from a truly shameful period in our history. Thanks, Simon Grayson, you did the job for us. The next peak should be elevation to the Premier League, and we will hope we can thank McDermott for that in the not-too-distant future. But what lies ahead afterwards?

The Premier League is now a big-money cartel, as it really goes without saying. Should we be in a position where promotion to that level appears likely, it will be time – well in advance of the actual confirmation of higher status – to think about exactly what direction Leeds United should be aspiring to. We simply cannot go into this with our eyes shut or blinkers on. Some clubs may be able to go up and budget for immediate relegation, rubbing their hands at the prospect of parachute money. Not Leeds, I would suggest. The weight of history hangs too heavy about our shoulders, the expectations of the fans and their collective pride – a throatily raw and raucous thing – should not encourage or even permit such a negative and unambitious mindset. We have to get there first, but once we do – we have to GO for it, because We Are Leeds. It’s as simple as that. We Are Leeds.

If the people at the top of the club really don’t recognise the import of those three words, then they are certainly not the right people. Mediocrity served Leeds United well for decades, and nothing more was expected of them, not even by died-in-the-wool supporters. Don Revie changed all that, changed it for good; so 24 years after his death, the legacy of the Don still dictates the expectations surrounding the club. However hard it may be to compete these days, in the vastly different game we have now compared to the one that we knew then, that will remain the case because of the worldwide name of Leeds United, and the pride of their followers around the globe, motivated not by glory or trophies, but by the fact that We Are Leeds.

With support like that, with pressure like that, mediocrity is never an option. Once we’re there, we have to go in to win.

Leeds: Promising Transfer Rumours as McDermott Ponders Options

ImageSome of the suggested targets of new United manager Brian McDermott will likely have Leeds fans sitting up and taking notice – as well as licking their lips in anticipation. It has been frustrating to see lesser clubs picking up gems in the market, while our own beloved Leeds have sat by and under-achieved. Now we understand that Brian is possibly of a mind to raid his old club Reading for Adam le Fondre, a man much linked with Elland Road when he was at Rotherham. From what I’ve seen of le Fondre this season he’s done well at Premier League level in a team that has always struggled – surely the sign of a man who would prosper in our league, with his instinctive fox-in-the-box movement and awareness. And what’s more, the talk is that, despite possible interest from middle-ranked top flight clubs, Adam would relish a move to Leeds and a reunion with the manager who gave him such a big chance in the big time.

Another striker often tipped to come to Leeds in the past is Billy Sharp, and this is one I’ve always thought would eventually end up on the strength sooner or later. Sharp is currently on loan at Forest, but his parent club Southampton will probably see a big turnover in the summer, and Billy could be making a permanent move away somewhere. Why not to Elland Road? It will, of course, all depend on the finances.

A less obviously popular signing could be Ian Harte, of whom we might think we know much to put us off. Looking at Hartey’s well-known plus points – he would certainly still present a threat around the opposition penalty area with that quality hammer of a left foot. It was often said though that – for a left back – he could be exposed by pace and that defending wasn’t his strong point. I think though that, for a lot of Harte’s time in his Elland Road career, he suffered from playing behind Harry Kewell, a notoriously lazy git when it came to tracking back and one who, when the going got tough, would frequently limp off. This was particularly noticeable in his Liverpool days, and the less said about his subsequent career, the better.

So maybe Hartey could still do a job at Leeds, operating behind a more industrious wide-left player? I’d be inclined to back McDerrmott’s judgement on that one, whatever it might be. Speaking of which, the question of who we keep is at least as important as that of who we sign. Please, Brian – let us hang onto Super Sam Byram.

There’s going to be many more names thrown up by various media as possible signings between now and the start of next season than the three mentioned above. Who we’ll end up with is anyone’s guess and there remains the worrying possibility that it could be yet another big let-down. But Brian seems to want to import some quality, and you get the feeling he’ll have made his wishes known where it counts. Let’s hope so, and let’s hope that the summer that’s a-coming in proves to be rather more exciting and inspiring than some of the fallow transfer windows of recent years.

There’s Only Two Brian McDermotts

In 1996, Arsenal confirmed the appointment as their new manager of one Monsieur Arsène Wenger. I took a distant but distinct interest as I did with any news story concerning Arsenal, a club I have always thoroughly admired. And I must confess; at first I thought it was a wind-up, some weak attempt at a joke. An Arsenal manager called Arsène? Were our major clubs recruiting managers on the basis of weirdly appropriate names now? How ridiculous. You couldn’t make it up.

History shows of course that Arsenal FC was being deadly serious and decidedly astute. They were appointing a man who would become their longest-serving and most successful manager, a man widely credited with revolutionising the whole of English football, a cerebral man with a scientific approach to the art of beautiful football. But others reacted initially as I had. Former Arsenal captain Tony Adams has said

“At first, I thought: What does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher. He’s not going to be as good as George [Graham]. Does he even speak English properly?”

This seemed to reflect most people’s level of incredulity at what appeared an odd decision. Who, indeed, was Wenger? What had he done? He was certainly no Johan Cruyff, a global “name” who had been touted by many for the Highbury hot-seat. Rarely though can such a seemingly strange appointment have turned out so well. Despite the more recent lack of actual silverware, look at Arsenal now. Look at the football they play. It’s enough to make a Leeds fan drool – I know I do.

Image

Dioufy meets McDermotty

Fast forward to 2013 and there has been another “you couldn’t make it up” appointment – the strangeness being of a somewhat different nature, but nonetheless bizarre for that. Leeds United have recruited one Brian McDermott, recently sacked by Reading FC. This appointment has come with just five games to go of a season that was always supposed to be about promotion to the top league, but has latterly taken a nightmare downturn towards a struggle to avoid relegation back to the third tier. United of course share the city of Leeds with Rugby League superstars Leeds Rhinos – Coach: another Brian McDermott. Furthermore, the Rhinos have an outstanding winger called Ryan Hall, a world-class exponent of the game and prolific try-scorer; a major contributor to his club’s dominance of the Super League. And – lo and behold – we find that Leeds United also have a winger called Ryan Hall, a man of more modest accomplishments but much promise; one who produced a game-changing, match-winning performance at Huddersfield which gave Leeds United fans a lot of hope for his future.

Two clubs in two different sports sharing one city; both managed by a Brian McDermott, both with wingers named Ryan Hall. That’s stretching credibility quite a long way; has anything like it happened before? Could weirdness of that degree have a happy ending comparable to the way the weird Wenger story turned out?

Well, maybe it could. Once you get past the long-odds coincidence which certainly rivals the strangeness of Arsenal’s Arsène, you begin to look at the merits of the appointment. It’s an move being welcomed quite whole-heartedly by long-suffering Leeds fans, who had been certain for a while that former manager Neil Warnock’s approach was going to produce nothing but dire football, inexplicable substitution decisions and a heavy reliance on his old favourites from previous incarnations of his managerial career. He was going to build on his excellent record of promotions gained; he was going to top off that record by returning his biggest-ever club to the Premier League. But it all went horribly wrong, and Neil has clearly been yearning for his Cornwall home, hearth and tractor for months now. He’s seemed tired and dispirited, forced to defend the inadequate efforts of a palpably rudderless team, reduced to cliché after cliché as he attempted to deflect criticism of the performances of a squad he’d recently described as “Leeds’ best in years.”

McDermott though appears to be a horse of a different colour. A younger, hungry man, a still slightly angry man who you’d guess feels wronged by his dismissal from Premier League Reading, a club he’d served undeniably well and against whom he now seems destined to compete in the Championship next season. That’s if Leeds stay in that league – which is by no means certain as yet. With five games to go, McDermott quite possibly needs at least four more points to secure Championship football for next season and give him the chance to plan in the longer term. He has said already that he’s been given “assurances of support”, and we can but hope that these don’t turn out to be yet more of the same forked-tongue promises we’ve heard for a good many seasons now. McDermott though has the air of a man who is happy and confident as he picks up what many in the game see as a poisoned chalice. Leeds United has the reputation of a managers’ graveyard going back many years now and – surely – nobody entering via the revolving doors that have seen so many unceremonious exits can be at all optimistic they won’t share the same fate. Nevertheless, Brian McDermott has made all the right confident and determined noises, he has his right-hand man with him and he says he can’t wait to get stuck in. This is what we want to hear.

At some point, for heaven’s sake, Leeds United’s owners have to get it right. We’ve had a decade or more of stumbling, shambling descent into the pits of despair, followed by an almost equally stumbling and shambling partial recovery. As yet another era starts – and at Leeds we seem to have two or three new eras per season – the patience of the always potentially truculent masses cannot be relied upon for much longer. Leeds could so easily go the wrong way in just the next few weeks, and that would make for a terrifyingly long journey back at a time when – as in wider society – the rich are getting ever rich while the rest scrap for crumbs. Those who seek happy omens might look at how Arsenal’s strange appointment of Arsène turned out, or they may look across the city and look at the Brian McDermott who is in charge of the current Super League Champions. The omens are there, and in hard times they’re the straws we might reasonably clutch at.

We could go the wrong way – but we simply can’t afford to. It has to be safety first, followed as soon as possible by definite progress on and off the field. New investment is clearly sought, and appears to be a must-have without which the club will, at very best, continue to tread water.

This is not an option if the club is to have any real success in the foreseeable future, so the owners must deliver support to their new man. And Brian McDermott just has to be the right man; he has to get it very right very soon, establishing a pattern of success comparable with his fine work at Reading and leading us back to the top before the club is cut irretrievably adrift of the powers in the game.

That’s the scale of his task. That’s the urgency of the situation we now face. Good luck, Brian.