Tag Archives: relegation battle

Sam Byram Presented With Bewildering Choice of Relegation Battles – by Rob Atkinson

Byram - spoilt for choice?

Byram – spoilt for choice?

For a young man still learning his trade after graduating from one of football’s finest academy setups at Leeds United, hot prospect Sam Byram now looks to have a tempting choice in front of him; he could be fighting relegation with either Sunderland or West Ham United this coming season.

Of course it might also be that Byram will prefer to continue his development at Elland Road, where great changes are afoot with a new head coach promising fast, aggressive, attacking football. This is surely just the kind of menu to have a pacy young wing-back, effective all the way up and down the right flank, licking his lips and champing at the bit – if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors. But the lure of the Premier League has seen United shorn of many a promising young talent before; our Sam would be in illustrious company if he decided his future would be best spent elsewhere.

This blog’s opinion, for what it is worth, is that any deal for Byram should be sanctioned only if the benefits to the club are absolutely irresistible. From that point of view, the rumours suggesting that Sunderland might be prepared to offer their richly-talented forward Connor Wickham and a cash adjustment not unadjacent to £6 million would have any discerning Leeds fan urging the club to snatch the Mackems’ hands off. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything has given its opinion on a couple of previous occasions that a nominal right-back (albeit with attacking ability) as sumptuously talented as Byram is a distinct luxury in the Championship. A player like Wickham and a cool six mill besides would provide a wealth of options in terms of building a team that could challenge at the top end of this league. If Sunderland are that keen to capture Byram, then it’d be extremely tempting to roll out the welcome carpet when they come a-calling – and make sure they get the worse of any bargain. This is something that Massimo Cellino notably has form for, with last season’s brutal mugging of Fulham over Ross McCormack being the obvious example of seeing coming a club with more cash than sense.

From Byram’s point of view, though, it’s hard to accept that he couldn’t do better than clubs likely to be scrapping away at the foot of the Premier League. Names of much greater pedigree than Sunderland or the Hammers have also been whispered as possible destinations – Liverpool, maybe, or even Manchester City. Again, Cellino would be expected to drive a hard bargain, if Byram were to be winkled out of our clutches – and at least we’d have the admittedly dubious satisfaction of seeing yet another Leeds old boy strutting his stuff at the top end of the top league.

It’s always difficult, contemplating the loss of a home-grown star – thankfully, there is no sign of the supply drying up, and this is likely to have to provide one of our club’s main income streams until that glorious time rolls around when we, too, dine at the top table in the swanky restaurant that is the Premier League. Things will be different then – or so we must hope. Leeds would be looking to storm the top flight for the third successive time, following promotion in the early sixties and late eighties and the subsequent swaggering domination of the game enjoyed by those two great sides.

Whether it’s feasible to expect a hat-trick of such achievements must be open to the gravest doubt, given the radically different landscape of football now as opposed to then. But it’s in the nature of Leeds to gatecrash cosy, elitist parties and make their presence felt. Those previous two promotion outfits have surely written that into the club’s DNA – and now, as then, we have the same promising knack of producing our own, sparkling talent.

Perhaps Sam Byram will be leaving this summer – or perhaps he will pen a new deal and stay. Either way, whatever happens has to be for the good of the club, and in the longer term at that – no short-sighted squinting at the immediate future should get in the way of a focus on lofty ambitions beyond the next season or two. This blog hopes that the lad will stay, but is philosophically accepting of the possibility that he might well be seduced away.

And, whatever his destination, surely Leeds fans will wish him all the best – especially if any deal done helps United lay the foundation for a brighter future. That, much more than the future of any individual player, is what matters above all to anyone with the interests of Leeds United at heart. 

Thank Goodness for Millwall as Leeds United Stumble Again – by Rob Atkinson

Millwall fans react with typical sportsmanship to Rotherham's late winner

Millwall fans react with typical sportsmanship to Rotherham’s late winner

It’s never good to be reflecting on the loss of a two goal lead. It’s even worse when you’re denied the euphoria of that lead in the first place, due to a glum premonition that Leeds United were flattering to deceive and that it would be all downhill from here. That was the situation at Elland Road yesterday; when I should have been overjoyed at Rudy Austin‘s terrific strike putting daylight between the Whites and a more than decent Watford outfit, instead I had this horrible feeling that it was all about to go pear-shaped – that we were going to be stung by a second swarm of annoying insects in our own backyard over the space of a few weeks – and I said so to my neighbour, predicting the eventual 2-3 defeat. She did not appreciate my pessimism one little bit.

Sadly, my glass-half-full prediction came to pass, much to my horror and much to the disgust of my fellow fan, who still isn’t talking to me. But I’m not going to take the blame, nor am I about to accept the title of Jonah. The bare fact is that two-nil leads should be built upon, used as a basis for grinding the opposition into the floor, giving your own followers a rare day off from biting their nails down to the elbows through fear and tension. They should not be a signal for relaxing, backing off, becoming complacent and offering hope to what should be a doomed enemy. That’s basic professionalism, surely. And Leeds have form for this kind of capitulation; for snatching defeat from the very jaws of victory. It’s nowhere near good enough: as fans, we not only have a right to be upset and disappointed – it’s positively our duty. After twenty minutes on Saturday, I should have been thinking that Leeds were going to answer my prayers for a fine victory in tribute to my late Dad who passed away this week. The fact that I was right instead to be so pessimistic obviously gives me no pleasure at all, especially in those sad circumstances.

However, all is not gloom and doom. If we had won yesterday, then the value of the victory would have been for and of itself, rather than with any slim hopes of pushing for play-offs and the unlikely like. The midweek 0-2 defeat at Brighton should have choked off any unwise, sudden optimism on that score – and yesterday’s surrender to the Hornets, in the wake of that abject pecking from the Seagulls, confirmed that we certainly won’t be departing this league in the upward direction. But it looks increasingly certain that we’re safe also from any plummet through the trapdoor below. For that, we can thank our good friends from Bermondsey, Millwall FC, whose team and fans were both on familiar form at Rotherham yesterday; the former cravenly sinking to yet another defeat, the latter launching one of their mob frenzy attacks on those who simply wished to watch or police a game of football.

You can’t say anything too nasty about Millwall, as some of their fans are delicate little flowers who take offence easily and tend to run crying and complaining if some Big Bad Blog should be too overtly critical. The curious dichotomy of fans who indulge in what some might term deeply uncivilised behaviour, side by side with those who cry foul should anyone raise a peep of protest, will not be lost on connoisseurs of bitter irony. Riotous scenes at Rotherham’s weirdly-named New York Stadium were tiresomely familiar to anyone who has followed the touring habits of the Millwall faithful. Those images of violence will not attract any sympathy for manager Ian Holloway‘s previously-expressed view that his club’s fans had cleaned up their act and should be free of the travel restrictions that saw their following at Leeds the other week reduced to one man and his dog. On this evidence, the movements of the Millwall away following must continue to be subject to the most stringent controls, as they are clearly incapable of conducting themselves as adults and should not be trusted to do so.

On the pitch, things worked out very well for Rotherham (and indeed Leeds) – and ominously badly for the Lions. They too chucked away a lead – only one goal in their case, but the outcome was the same. In what was a genuine relegation six-pointer, Rotherham – who could have found themselves ahead of their opponents only on goal difference – now have the luxury of a six point gulf between them and Millwall, who are in real danger of being cut adrift of safety along with Blackpool and Wigan, who also both keep losing, and who look ever more certainly doomed.

For Leeds, the Millwall defeat was shiny bright good news, as it preserves a healthy ten point margin over the bottom three. With the rate at which the clubs at the lower end pick up their meagre ration of points, and with just twelve games to go, it seems highly unlikely that United will now be dragged into the dogfight (fingers crossed, touch wood). It looks as though we’re safe – and our unlikely saviours are indeed those cheeky, chirpy, loveable cockneys from down Bermondsey way who, by their noble self-sacrifice, will see the Whites survive while they themselves take the big drop.

Leeds, then, face what appears to be a dead rubber of a remainder to the season. They should be able to pick up the few victories still needed to confirm Championship status for next time around, and they can afford to view the scramble for safety lower down from a lofty and impervious position – and with a certain amount of malicious glee. None of that detracts from the bleak dose of reality that Watford served us yesterday, nor does it assuage the pain and frustration of defeat from a winning position – but in a dog-eat-dog league, there are compensations in the greater pain of others.

Well done to Watford for showing the character to come back from the dead yesterday – and well done to Rotherham for a similar feat. Shame on the Millwall fans who have besmirched their club’s name for the umpteenth time – and let’s hope that Leeds learned a few lessons this weekend ahead of the visit of Whites fan Mick McCarthy and his high-flying Ipswich Town side on Wednesday. If the Whites can get a result in that game, the day after Middlesbrough have (fingers crossed again) put another nail in the Millwall coffin, then perhaps we can all relax a little more, and look forward to the summer – and some very necessary regrouping.

Super Leeds 1, Dire Millwall 0 as United Edge to Safety – by Rob Atkinson

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Massed ranks of Miwwwaww fans cunningly disguised as blue seats for safety

Leeds emerged from lowly murk into the sunshine of the top half of the Championship table, without needing to be anywhere near their best, courtesy of this narrow win over a very poor Millwall side. The Londoners remain stuck in the last relegation spot which is hopefully to be their destiny – and it is only this final place on the trapdoor which seems likely to be disputed over the rest of the season. Blackpool and Wigan, both recently Premier League clubs, look certain to drop into the third tier, largely unlamented. Until lately, Leeds had appeared candidates to be embroiled in the fight over that last, doom-laden slot – but now we have eight lovely, precious points of clear daylight between the Whites and those who are about to die.

A tight and nervous game, seemingly played on the high-wire between two teams horribly aware of the lack of any safety net, was settled by Alex Mowatt‘s first-half free-kick, which sailed beyond the reach of the helpless Forde in the Millwall goal. The Leeds midfielder’s left-footed strike appeared to be aided by a slight deflection on its way into the net – and that was the way the cookie was destined to crumble, on an afternoon when the toothless Lions raised little above a weary growl as they were ultimately tamed.

Leeds’ penalty appeal embargo evidently continues, with referees now under Football League orders to book any United player fouled in the opposition box – for “cheek”, presumably. You have to laugh – it’s the hysterical alternative to crying – but this really is getting beyond a joke now. Fortunately for Leeds, a sudden ability to preserve a clean sheet has ensured six precious points since last week’s Brentford/Salisbury scandal. The Championship table makes much more comfortable reading now than we could have dared believe last Saturday evening.

So Leeds can at last afford themselves the luxury of looking up towards the distant play-off zone, rather than casting fearful, hunted glances over their shoulders at the unseemly dogfight in and around the area above the bottom three. Blackpool and Wigan are surely gone; it may be that Brighton, Rotherham and Fulham are in most danger from any late-season Millwall revival.

On today’s evidence, such an event seems less than likely – and, if we do end up losing two Lancastrian clubs and one grotty Bermondsey eyesore, then the celebrations in and around Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything Towers will be long, loud and gleeful. It’s a welcome relief, for the moment, from any nagging relegation worries for Leeds. And – fingers crossed – it may well be a fond Championship farewell come May for those not-so-lovable cockney troglodytes from the New Den.

Free-falling Leeds Hammer Nails in Millwall and Barnsley Coffins – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds lose yet again

Leeds lose yet again

Leeds’ shambolic collection of bottlers predictably meandered to yet another defeat at Elland Road as Charlton picked up a rare three points on the road.  No surprises there, merely a hint of something to raise the eyebrows as United kept it down to one, making a welcome change from the lavish generosity of their defence over the past few games.  It’s not even that upsetting when Leeds lose any more – it just adds to the cumulative weariness of a season long ruined by dishonest and self-seeking men off and on the field of play.  The magnificent Leeds supporters have carried off all the laurels due at Elland Road this campaign.  They have been there through thin and thinner; the highlights have been few, the disappointments and betrayals many – and yet still they turned up, those amazing members of the White Army, raucous and indomitable everywhere Leeds have played, startling fans on away grounds into an awed and respectful silence.

The Charlton game will not have added appreciably to those fans’ suffering. Their preoccupation is with off the field matters, as it has been for some time. It’s become more and more obvious that the one man out there honest enough to see how things are, and outspoken enough to lay it on the line as to what needs doing, is the man currently waiting to see if he will be allowed to set about saving a famous old club.  Massimo Cellino has ranted his way into the hearts and minds of United’s fans, fans who notoriously love a nutter with passion in his heart.  The decision as to his ownership of the Club will be made known in the next few days; on that decision, it is not fanciful to say, rests the whole future of a club that has been massively let down over the past few years – by just about anyone you care to name, aside from a select few players and staff.  And, of course, those phenomenal fans.

The real losers coming out of this latest defeat to Charlton are, in fact, two clubs whose fans normally wish Leeds United no good at all, but who will have been on their knees praying for an unlikely Whites win.  If there’s a crumb of comfort out there, I’m in the mood to seize on it – and the fact that Barnsley and Millwall would have been hoping for three points for Leeds does provide more than a hint of satisfaction.  A glance at the league table makes this quite clear.  We were looking at a group of death in the bottom four of the Championship, but it was noticeable that Charlton had a good few games in hand due to their Cup exploits.  The win at Leeds has seen them open up a three point gap over Barnsley, despite the Tykes’ recent good form, and a comfortable FIVE points over a hapless Millwall side.  And the Addicks still have a game in hand over Barnsley and two over Millwall.  So Leeds’ abject failure against Charlton has done a power of no-good to two clubs whose fans’ attitude towards United leaves them deserving no favours from our part of West Yorkshire.  I have to admit, that leaves me with a slightly malicious smile on my face.  The fact that the normally-reliable Ross McCormack missed a late, late penalty to ensure the full three-point hammer-blow to the Tykes and the Bermondsey Scum, just added a slightly piquant touch.  ‘Ave it, I thought.

As far as this blog is concerned, the priorities for the rest of this wretched season are few and simple.  First, we need to have Cellino approved; this immediately changes the whole picture at Elland Road and provides a foundation upon which to build.  The alternative, quite frankly, doesn’t bear thinking about.   Secondly – let’s not have this latest defeat go to waste.  Let Charlton Athletic use their three easy-gained points at our expense as a springboard to survival, and let’s see Barnsley and that odious, horrible club Millwall consigned to the lower leagues where they belong.  And thirdly, on a totally unrelated plane, let Bayern Munich finish the job against Man U next week, before losing in their turn in the next round.  These are relatively simple and realistic wishes; let them be granted. After this horrible, horrible season, I deserve no less – and I would hope a good proportion of my fellow Leeds fans would also draw some comfort in the fate of others, whilst celebrating a new era for ourselves, under our passionate, committed and insane Italian lunatic.

If that little lot comes true, then perhaps we can look forward to better times next season.  A Championship that would be all the more fragrant and lovable without the likes of Millwall and Barnsley.  A club under strong leadership, with money available to fund the big-club aspirations a big club should rightly have.  That will do for me, as a starting point.  If we can take the first step towards realising such a scenario in this fateful, historic week – then things will look, suddenly, not so bad.