Tag Archives: Sky Sports News HQ

Agony for Leeds but Ecstasy for Sky’s Jeff Stelling as Fulham Snatch Late Draw – by Rob Atkinson

Stelling celebrates

“And there’s bad news for Leeds United, ring out the bells, rejoice!!”

We all know that Leeds United aren’t exactly the pin-up golden boys for various shallow media types and embittered ex-footballers turned pundits. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when every now and then some be-suited eejit just can’t help himself, and goes into an ecstasy of raucous celebration when some misfortune befalls the mighty Whites. It happened again, last night on Sky TV’s soccer special – Fulham scored a last-gasp equaliser against a dogged but tiring Leeds, and the world’s most famous monkey-hanger, Jeff Stelling, almost literally exploded with joy.

It was actually quite worrying on an empathetic level, once you got past the bleak realisation that two points were drifting away from Leeds at the very last minute. Poor Jeff looked to be on the point of apoplexy, his face swelling almost to bursting point and veins throbbing in his temples. His eyes were those of a man on the edge of Hartlepudlian hysteria – you’d have feared for the life of any simian in the vicinity had Mr. Stelling a convenient length of noosed hempen rope handy. From his demeanour, you might have thought that Hartlepool United had just clinched the Champions League by battering Bayern Munich – and all of this because Leeds conceding a late leveller completely robbed a so-called professional of any poise and impartiality. It’s a rum old world.

Of course, Sky Sports as an entity has form for this kind of thing. Seasoned watchers of their rolling scoreline programme on a Saturday afternoon or weekday evening will be aware of familiar signs allowing them some prior awareness of what’s going on in Leeds United games. It works like this: once you know who is watching the Whites in action, you listen for that voice. An exultant yelp in the background while Jeff is waffling on about Man U means the Whites have conceded; a despairing punctured gasp of dismay signals a Leeds goal. I’ve seen it happen any number of times.

Getting past my possibly paranoid take on Stelling & Co, it also has to be said that Leeds United were at least partially the authors of their own misfortune last night. Once again, as in times past, they allowed a situation to develop that bore more than a passing resemblance to the siege of the Alamo, in attempting to defend a one goal lead for nigh on ninety minutes. The occasional chance to put the game to bed was spurned, for the rest it was all about facing a huge majority of possession for Fulham, while retreating deeper and deeper into defence. As the finish line came into sight, Leeds were down to ten men after a fairly soft sending-off for Kalvin Phillips, who then took an inordinate amount of time to leave the field of play. And, naturally, it was in the extra minutes added on for that sluggish exit from the arena, when Fulham at last beat Rob Green with one of the worldy strikes we seem to concede far too often.

At the end of the day, Brian, it was a good point gained at a difficult venue against worthy opponents – though it did rather feel more like two dropped. But these things happen, and not just to Leeds. We all suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune from time to time, after all. It’s just that – when it does happen to Leeds – I’d rather not have my nose rubbed in it by some joke of a TV presenter who can’t maintain his thin veneer of professionalism due to an all-too-typical hatred of Leeds United. That really does grind my gears.

Even Stelling himself appeared to realise he might have gone too far, once the red mist cleared and his face reduced to a more normal size. “The Leeds fans won’t thank me for that,” he quavered accurately. Well, you got that right, didn’t you. Shriek with joy as a battling team sees two vital promotion points disappear, to the frustration of their legions of supporters everywhere? It’s more than just a little unprofessional, that – it’s unbelievable, Jeff.

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Leeds United 0, The Idiots In Charge 3   – by Rob Atkinson

You can't count on the love, Massimo, my friend

You can’t count on the love, Massimo, my friend

Nil Three at home, then. Not good but, in the context of what is now a dead rubber of a season, not disastrous either. Not on the face of it, anyway.

It’s when you set out to look at the factors behind this defeat that the blood pressure starts to elevate towards danger levels. For once, I’m not here to blame the officials – though they undoubtedly played their incompetent and over-zealous part. I’m not even here, as I frequently have been, to lambast the Football League. My concerns are a little closer to home at present.

Looked at a day or so in advance, this was a game that Leeds United should have been looking to win, in order to maintain their recent goodish run, with a view to taking some momentum and supporter goodwill into summer – whatever that may hold in store for us (apart from another Ashes mauling at the hands of the Aussies). It was a winnable game because, let’s face it, Blackburn always should be, to start off with. And then there was the matter of their forthcoming FA Cup replay against Liverpool. A team with that in the offing, and Wembley awaiting the winners, could perhaps be expected to be a little distracted and therefore, you’d have thought, ripe for the taking advantage of.

Chris and Kev never forgottenAnd, really, any game at home or away should have been winnable on this weekend of tragic memory. It’s 15 years on Sunday since we lost two of our number, brutally murdered in Istanbul.

RIP Chris and Kev – never forgotten, and we’ll never forgive either.

For those 15 years, we’ve expected nothing less than total commitment from any Leeds team facing a fixture around this time. It’s about respect, which should act so as to enhance the standard level of professionalism and commitment we always look for. Any team facing Leeds on or about April the 5th should expect and be given a very hard time. It’s only right.

The ingredients were therefore in place for what should have been a Leeds performance to be reckoned with. But professional football is a game of fine margins, and any extraneous influence can act so as to reduce the chances of any team’s success on a given day. This week just gone, with quite appalling timing, the Leeds United powers that be have chosen to drop bombshells right into the middle of weekend preparations. A respected Assistant Coach, hardly in the job five minutes, has been suspended and told he has no future at Leeds; the Head Coach has apparently been told not to select the leading scorer due to unwelcome incentive provisions in his contract (so why did they agree them in the first place?) – and now that same Head Coach is having doubts about whether or not he can really carry on in charge. It’s difficult, he says – with admirable understatement.

So, whether or not the ref and his assistants are open to criticism, whether or not Blackburn Rovers performed above expectations, whether or not our team were below what we might have expected with the anniversary of Taksim Square imminent – the fact is that the people in charge at Leeds United, the chief among whom should not be influencing matters at all, currently – being banned – these people supposedly in control and acting in the club’s best interests have comported themselves like a bull in a china shop, smashing their way through the delicate business of preparing for a game without any regard for team or management morale. Those are not the actions of responsible owners. Those are the actions of clueless idiots.

Having stayed loyal for longer than was, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, either wise or reasonable – especially in the face of some bizarre decisions over the course of a bizarre season – this blog has had to perform an uncomfortable volte face. The events of this week have not, of themselves, caused any sudden, out of the blue 180 degree about-turn. Rather, they have been the last straw, the one that finally broke the camel’s back.

I can no longer stick up for Massimo Cellino and his cohorts. It’s all just become too ridiculous and humiliating. We’ve got a Hartlepool fan – a Hartlepool fan, for Christ’s sake – referring to us as a crisis club on Soccer Saturday. And it’s hard to do more than feebly protest that Jeff Stelling should move out of his glass house before throwing any stones. But he’s right. We are a crisis club – safety from relegation notwithstanding. How could we be seen as anything else? The leaders of the club are set fair to make us untouchable by any respected football professional in the game. If Redders were to walk – who would want to move into such a hands-tied, hamstrung job? Not anybody that, in an ideal world, I’d care to nominate.

Today, we lost a football match and had a lad sent off. It’s happened before, it will happen again. At the moment, those bare facts represent the very least of our worries. We’re now at the stage where more and more people, some of whom might be expected to have an apoplectic fit at the sacrilegious idea of a re-branded Elland Road, are now openly welcoming the prospect of new owners who might well do just that. That’s how desperate we have become; that’s the barometer of the urgent desire for change – yet again.

I should have realised the way things were going when I published a spoof article for April Fools’ Day, claiming that a Russian oil mogul was buying Cellino out. It got over 25,000 views, so it must have half-convinced some people. And, in the spirit of All Fools’ Day, I got some good-natured abuse for such an outrageous lie. But what I also got was a lot – a lot – of wistful responses, saying if only it were true, etc. That’s not the sign of a happy support – and it was a big enough sample to make me to think it’s a fair indicator of the current mood. Right now, if Red Bull were to march in and paint the whole stadium some god-awful shade of the devil’s colour – you get the feeling that a lot would simply sigh and say, get on with it, then – see where we go. That’s a shocking state of affairs.

For now, we simply have to blunder on, and hope that this season peters away without too much more in the way of humiliation. The Blackburn game doesn’t matter, of itself. Nor, to be honest, does a tough-looking fixture at Wolves on Bank Holiday Monday. It’s the factors behind the Blackburn result, and behind whatever might happen to us at Molineux, that are of real concern at the moment. I think it’s right and fair to lay the blame for this 0-3 defeat squarely at the door of the owners, whatever else might have gone wrong. And I feel the same way about the Wolves game. If we do well, I’ll praise the lads and the manager. If we get – as I fear – a proper seeing-to, I’ll be blaming the suits.

After a long struggle to stay loyal, and with the way I feel with all that has happened this week – and with Jeff Stelling’s non-ironic words buzzing in my head – that’s just the way it is now for this once but no longer pro-Cellino blog.

Sky TV’s Jeremy Langdon “In Therapy” After Leeds Thrash Wasteful Fulham – by Rob Atkinson

A despondent Jeremy Langdon of Sky Sports - bless him.

A despondent Jeremy Langdon of Sky Sports – bless him.

The look on his face would have brought a tear to a glass eye; that deep and worsening misery, as things went from bad to worse for Fulham, was writ large in every line of his suffering face – his doleful expression enough to curdle milk. Who?? I hear you ask. Ross McCormack, maybe, or Matt Smith? Both would have hoped for a happier time of it against their erstwhile employers. Having striven with might and main to succeed and justify the transfer fees Leeds had extorted out of the Cottagers, the striking pair fired a succession of blanks between them, Mr. McContract eventually limping off with a suspected knee injury. Doubtless he’ll have been reflecting that this was not the Fulham he’d fallen in love with at that first, romantic meeting between greedy turncoat striker and pink, pretty, blushing new payslip.

But no – despite the horrendous evening that both of these former United hitmen undoubtedly endured, the man who cut the saddest and most tragic figure of all was surely the Sky Sports News live match reporter, Jeremy Langdon. He looked as though he’d lost a bob, found sixpence and been bereaved of his closest friends and family, all while nursing a severe case of strangulated piles. Poor, despairing man. We must surely be big enough in victory to send him all the very best of wishes for his eventual recovery, as he heads for the restorative therapy of counselling, medication and electrodes. The increasingly glum and despondent look on Langdon’s face offered up little hope of him ever smiling again. It had been a truly dreadful night for anyone without Leeds in their blood.

But, for the rest of us – those with the sequence LUFC repeating itself ad infinitum throughout our sporting DNA – tonight was a small miracle as well as a huge celebration. For a start, we won. And not only did we win – we well won, 3-0 away at a club that was taking both the mick and several liberties not too long back. And not only that – we absolutely scored, from a corner, yet – and new hero Sol Bamba got off the mark as a Leeds scorer with that second breakthrough. With Sam Byram having got matters off to a satisfactory start with a powerful header in the dying minutes of the first half, and Mirco Antenucci rubbing the Fulham’s noses in it with a scuffed finish late on – and a sending off for home defender Kostas Stafylidis  – all it would then have taken was a Steve Morison goal to have us pinching ourselves to wake from what would assuredly have been one of those – ahem – “special” dreams. Noctis mirabilis? Abso-bloody-lutely.

If anything can add that extra bit of piquant charm to a 3-0 win away from home, it’s the undeniable fact that the scoreline hardly tells the full story. Fulham could and should have had a hatful themselves but, sure enough, the old firm of McCormack & Smith, “Howlers, we make ’em”, were on the kind of form to make us all send up prayers of thanks that we ever managed to offload them. Poor old Ross had the ball in the net at one point, but brilliantly managed to be offside in the process, much to his amusing anguish. And there has to be some feeling that he actually sustained the injury which eventually saw him subbed, in violently protesting to the ref after Stafylidis saw red. 

Fellow flop Matt Smith must be suspected in some quarters of still being on the Elland Road payroll, such was the sublime insouciance with which he spurned several gift-wrapped, gilt-edged golden chances. Our shot-stopper par excellence, Marco Silvestri should also be accorded a massive chunk of credit; for when any Fulham shirt did threaten to get one on target, there was Signor Marco, proud and defiant, thwarting them like a good’un. It was lovely, deeply satisfactory stuff.

Leeds coach Neil Redfearn commented afterwards that Leeds could have won by a massive 6-0, such was our dominance late on – but, really, it could just as easily have been 6-6 and a tie breaker. Thoughts of a 6-0 win for Leeds would, in any event, have brought with them fears for the grieving Sky reporter Langdon’s very existence.

It’s tempting to say – if only it had mattered more, or counted for something. The play-offs, after all, remain a distant and seemingly unattainable Holy Grail – we’d need a miracle of Steve Morison hat-trick proportions to get anywhere near that particular Promised Land. But the evening may not have been utterly without meaning; Fulham will now be looking nervously over their shoulders at the relegation dogfight just a few points behind them. If Wigan can rally; if McCormack’s injury rules him out; and if Fulham themselves succumb to trapdoor nerves – then this season might, after all, have a riotously funny, Schadenfreude ending of maliciously comic satisfaction. You just never know – but you can always pray for such a rewardingly humorous outcome.

In our comfortable and complacent mid-table security, it’s nice to have something devoutly to hope for in the unseemly battle beneath us. Apart from happier times for poor dear Jeremy Langdon, of course. Honestly. His tragic little face….