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The Ear-cupping Sign from Leeds’ Patrick Bamford that Spoke Volumes – by Rob Atkinson

Patrick Bamford: what about that then, guys?

As the clock ticked past 61 minutes at Deepdale on Tuesday night, with Leeds hammering away against a 10 man but stubborn Preston side, United’s number 9 Patrick Bamford strode on to a rebound off the wedding tackle of Pablo Hernandez, and absolutely lashed the ball past helpless North End keeper Declan Rudd, to the delight of the massed Whites behind the home goal.

It was that vital breakthrough goal we knew we just had to score. Preston were down to ten men, Norwich and Sheffield Utd would play the following day. Leeds needed to get the three points to put the pressure back on their rivals. Bamford’s lethal finish was spectacular, but it was also a sign of his bravery and self-belief. Some shots hit from that position fly into row Z, some fizz narrowly wide, strike the woodwork or draw a brilliant save from the keeper. Relatively few arrow into the corner, threatening to break the net. Bamford had the confidence to try, and was richly rewarded.

That confidence and bravery brought us the much-needed moment of joy and relief. Bamford’s immediate reaction was telling; he ran to the away support, cupping his ear as if to say “Now what do you think?” It was the action of a man who had had to take some pretty ridiculous criticism and half-baked judgement after missing a few chances during a mini-drought recently. Whatever happened, we may ask, to the old saying about “you have to get there in order to miss ’em”. Half of any good striker’s work is getting into scoring positions. But that clearly means nothing to the armchair experts that make up too big a proportion of United’s support (for want of a more appropriate word). Bamford cupped his ear to the travelling faithful, but the gesture was indirectly aimed at the clueless section of social media Whites.

Clearly, Bamford is a great pro and a decent striker. In his limited contribution to this season, he’s scored some vital goals and, if the season is to be crowned with success, he’ll have done his bit. He also knows the score, and he’s fully aware that the people he can rely on to support and encourage him are inside the club, at Thorp Arch, or lining up beside him on the pitch. For the fans to enter that circle of trust, we would need to eliminate the carping criticism, the petulant knee-jerk reactions and the clueless assumption that the terrace denizens know best. As fans, we have to earn the trust and confidence of the players, in which case we’d all be better placed to succeed.

Will that ever happen? Is it too much to ask? The last few games of an epic season might just give us some sort of an answer to those deeply vexed questions.

Marching On Together

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Stumbling Blocks Hardly Unknown on Leeds United’s Historic Success Trail – by Rob Atkinson

All White Champions

Champions 1973/74 – despite a late blip

There can be no denying that Leeds United were more than a little unfortunate to emerge from Saturday’s Yorkshire derby clash with Sheffield United empty-handed. Given ordinary luck, with just a break or two going the way of the Whites, it could have been a very different story; even a draw would have seen Leeds two points clear of third place. But little went right on the day and that, sadly, is a feeling that every Leeds fan down the years knows all too well. 

As it is, we had to take an undeserved defeat on the chin, with the woodwork, injuries and just about every factor you could name ranged against us. United are now a point off the automatic promotion places, when they could have been five points clear of third. Loud and woeful has been the wailing, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth among the United faithful, as the fates seem determined to conspire against Yorkshire’s Number One club.

But wait just a minute. Calm yourselves, fellow Leeds devotees, and be of good cheer. It’s all happened before, you see, at about this time of year too – and it’s rarely been fatal to our chances of success. When you look at our most recent landmark seasons, right back to when I was nobbut a lad, you’ll see that a late stumble or two, with United there or thereabouts and the tension mounting, is much more the rule than the exception.

Going as far back as 1974, when Don Revie‘s Super Leeds were stumbling somewhat along the title path, having at one stage been nine points clear, Burnley visited Elland Road and departed with two points from a 4-1 victory. It was hailed as nearest challengers Liverpool‘s great chance to overhaul United, but Leeds ended up as Champions and by a decisive margin.

Then, in 1990, Barnsley were the visitors on a night when nothing went right for Leeds. Centre back Chris Fairclough was absent for 13 first half minutes having seven stitches in a head wound. He rejoined the fray in time to plant a brave and bloody header into the Barnsley net, giving Leeds a well-deserved interval lead, to the massive relief of a huge Elland Road crowd. Surely, nothing could go wrong now?

In truth, we battered Barnsley throughout the ninety minutes but, in a sickening second half turnaround, two subs for the Tykes scored in quick succession, gifting the Reds an extremely unlikely win. Again, doom and gloom stalked the streets of Leeds – but United still went up as champions.

And then, two years on, Leeds were engaged in an almighty battle with Them from There for the last ever Football League Championship. The media were all agog for the Devonians to win the league – how fitting it would be, they purred. When Leeds lost heavily away, twice in a short space of time, it looked as though the script was written, with Leeds cast as fall guys. A 1-4 defeat at QPR had been followed in short order by a 0-4 reverse at Manchester City, and the Leeds-hating nation celebrated. But it was the Whites who held their nerve and mustered their resources to clinch the title of Last Champions by four points, while Manchester’s second club amusingly choked on the dry ashes of defeat.

So nil desperandum, all you devoted Whites out there. We’ve tripped up, recovered and gone on to win many a time before, in accordance with this great club’s motto of “Keep Fighting” – and there’s no reason we can’t do it again. Have faith in Marcelo Bielsa‘s boys, who really do have that fighting spirit that typified Super Leeds of old, and simply trust that all will come right in the end. Believe.

Marching On Together

Sheffield Wednesday Play Their Hearts Out for Leeds United and a Derby Day Draw – by Rob Atkinson

Wendies hold Blunts to keep Leeds in second place

It was the third Steel City Derby scoreless draw on the trot, much to the deflated disappointment of the Sky TV commentators who required a Blunts win to see Leeds United drop out of the Championship top two.

Instead, they saw a gritty if punchless performance from the Wendies, who managed to blunt Sharp’s cutting edge whilst stifling the threat from elsewhere in the away team’s attack. The whole game was more perspiration than inspiration and, in the end, a draw seemed a fair result.

For Leeds fans, this was highly satisfactory, putting a two point cushion between themselves and the play off pack. Once again, the Whites’ fate is in their own hands, and their challenge must now be to reproduce the Premier class performance that saw West Bromwich Albion sent packing last Friday evening.

There was some amusement, too, in listening to the morose men behind the mics as they strove to take some comfort from what was a disappointing night for them. All in all, as goalless draws go, this one put the cherry on the icing of one of Leeds United’s better weekends.

Leeds’ Gjanni Alioski: Just Like Robbie Savage, Only With Skill – by Rob Atkinson

Ezgjan Alioski – brilliantly annoying

In football, the effective player may be summed up as follows: skill, plus boundless energy; dedication to the common cause and – last, but definitely not least – that priceless knack of being able to wind up and annoy the hell out of the opposition, so that they’re simply psyched out and don’t know how to cope.

Some players have one or two of these attributes, there’s not many that have the lot. When you find one that does possess the full house, what you then need is a coach able to get the most out of such a valuable individual. Here, Leeds United with their very own genius mentor Marcelo Bielsa, can be described as very well blessed.

Macedonian international Ezgjan “Gjanni” Alioski has been a stand-out player in a very impressive Leeds United side for some time now, particularly since he moved into an attacking left back role to cover for the injury absence of Barry Douglas. Because of his capacity to run all day and through the night-time too, Alioski has been able to start from very deep and still offer a threat up front. This is more than an overlapping full-back – this is a scourge of the opposition, all the way up and down their right flank, niggling, passing, running, tackling, shooting and heading. A proper pest.

Alioski’s energy and running power is a given; to this, add his ability to create and score, as well as covering the left back patrol. At the very end of a typically busy performance against West Brom, there he was, this ersatz full-back, all the way upfield on the opposition goal line to tap home a low cross from sub Jamie Shackleton. This is not a man you find on his haunches, wheezing with exhaustion as the clock runs down. Alioski puts in the miles, and his level of performance lately has been a joy to behold.

The other thing about Gjanni is that he’s annoying. He’s the kind of player you love to hate in the opposing team, someone who will pester and hassle his opponent, taking the mick, getting in his man’s face, trying all he knows to ruffle and unsettle his opponent. He’s got an annoying face, annoying hair, an annoying attitude and an annoying smile, with the ability to get right under the skin of the other team’s more volatile characters. You hate this sort of opponent, but they can be your heroes when they wear your own team’s shirt. Just as long as they can play, too.

Because it’s not enough to be annoying, you need the other things too. Robbie Savage was the classic example of a player who nicked a living on the basis of his irritant factor plus not a lot else. He had the kind of face and hair that made you want to own a baseball bat and a pair of shears. But he couldn’t really play, though – as I well recall from a 6-0 Leeds victory in the League Cup away at Leicester – he wasn’t the type to hide. If Robbie Savage had had more ability to add to his dislikability, he would have been something approaching the player Alioski is. Even now, in his role as a radio gob on a stick, Savage continues to show more irritant value than talent.

Gjanni Alioski though is much more of a complete product, and he’d be a good bet to score a few goals as well as wind up a few victims, for any team prepared to utilise his strengths. Leeds, under Marcelo Bielsa, are uniquely placed to get the best out of a player who, in less ideal circumstances, may have struggled to fulfil his potential.

As it is, though, Alioski looks set to make a significant contribution to what, for United, could well be a landmark season.

Tyler Roberts a Revelation as Four-midable Leeds United Blitz West Brom – by Rob Atkinson

Tyler Roberts, Man of the Match Against former club West Brom

There were so many highlights from Leeds United‘s sparkling demolition of West Bromwich Albion, that it’s really difficult to pick out any notably outstanding element of what was the classic “statement victory”. There were a couple of coolly-taken goals from Iceman striker Patrick Bamford, there was another defensive juggernaut performance from skipper Liam Cooper, and of course we had Pablo Hernandez, our own Spanish wizard, back to his best with a sublime, world-class strike and so much more as he twinkled brightly all over the pitch.

But the abiding memory I will take away from a highly memorable evening is that of young Tyler Roberts, late of the Sandwell parish but now very definitely Leeds, striding forward from an unaccustomed deeper position to cause havoc in the defensive ranks of his hapless former club.

Tyler was a revelation on the night. Surging through midfield and beating baffled Baggies with sinuous, snake-hipped ease, he was a continual threat to West Brom and helped himself to a couple of juicy assists for the Iceman’s brace of goals. The first of these reminded me of Kemar Roofe‘s round the corner pass to Gjanni Alioski to score at Norwich early in the season. Roberts’ ball through to Bamford was part of a beautifully-worked goal that began with an intelligent ball into the area from Mateusz Klich, and was finished beautifully by our number 9 as he held off a challenge from behind to finish clinically.

On this form, Tyler Roberts should have a major part to play in the run-in to the end of the season. His work rate and decision-making on Friday were different class and, on a night when every man in a white shirt did himself immense credit, Tyler emerged as the clear Man of the Match.

Honourable mention too for Alioski, who combines tireless running with that annoying nuisance value which is so handy in demoralising the opposition. The Macedonian Marvel deserved his last-gasp clincher, put on a plate for him by sub Jamie Shackleton after more good work from Pablo and Klich.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of all about last night’s performance was its inherent topsy-turvydom, with the Whites murdering a WBA side that had won nine of its previous ten away games, just days after falling to defeat against a QPR team that had lost seven on the spin. Go figure. But the upshot was that all is forgiven from Tuesday night, in the sheer joy of seeing the real Leeds turn up to send a promotion contender packing.

The sixty-four thousand dollar question now must be: with a tough game at Bristol City coming up next weekend, can United replicate this level and standard of performance? If they’re to do that, it may well be because Tyler Roberts has now found both his niche in the team and the secret of his maximum effectiveness in this new, deeper role.

In which case, Leeds United might just have discovered the golden key to the Premier League‘s Promised Land.

Leeds Looking for a Favour when Old Friends Millwall meet Norwich – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United roared back to the top of the Championship last night, with a spectacular 4-0 thumping of awayday specialists West Bromwich Albion – and the Whites will be hoping that the Lions’ roar will be heard in London today, with a flock of Canaries the victims.

Millwall play Norwich City at the New Den, always a formidable destination. Leeds will remember securing a last gasp draw there in the autumn, courtesy of a late Jack Harrison strike. Norwich, with the prolific Teemu Pukki always a good bet for a goal or two, will hope to go one better, but many a team expected to do well has come a cropper in this part of London.

While we’re asking for favours from old friends, it’d be nice if Sheffield Wednesday could do the honours as they host the Steel City derby on Monday evening. Hillsborough is another venue that limited Leeds to a solitary point this season, but the Owls will possibly find the Blades too sharp for them – we can but hope, for purely selfish reasons, that things work out well for Steve Bruce & Co on the night.

Next weekend sees Leeds United heading for a stiff examination away at Bristol City, with Norwich and Sheffield United at home, to Swansea and Rotherham respectively. There’s plenty of scope there for United to be pegged back – so we really could do with a couple of good turns this weekend from Millwall and Wednesday.

So, come on guys – you know we’ve always wanted the best for you…

You Can Be Angry, You Can Be Critical, and Yet STILL Be a Loyal Leeds Fan – by Rob Atkinson

leeds-fans

Leeds fans United behind team and club


In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s irritating (not disastrous) defeat at QPR, I wrote in anger about what I thought of Leeds United‘s performance – saying that, although we didn’t get the breaks, we also lacked bottle and class. I’d still stand by that, but possibly with the slight amendment that we seemed to lack bottle and class because we failed to show bottle and class. It’s a small but important difference.

In my heart of hearts, I know that this Leeds United squad is not short of courage or quality – they’ve demonstrated on many occasions this season, though not so much lately, that they possess both attributes. The comeback win at Aston Villa, hunting down a lone Wigan attacker like a pack of hungry wolves, late levellers in adverse circumstances as at Middlesbrough. Many such moments. I know all this and I’m proud of it. But I’m sure that no group of professional footballers would expect the fans to take this as read. It’s their job to go out and prove that they have the guts and the skill, game after game, over and over again, all season long. That determination to prove they’ve got the bottle and the class was missing at QPR. And it was right, even in post-defeat anger and hurt, to point that out.

I say this, because there are different schools of thought among Leeds fans, both in physical groups, in the pub post-game, perhaps, and online. Some feel they have a right to say what they like, however harsh, having paid their money – even to the extent of dismissing this or that player as “useless” or “should never wear the shirt again”. You see those tweets collected to make articles that purport to be the feelings of the fans as a whole but, in reality, it’s more representative of an extreme group of hypercritical malcontents.

Others hold the view that any criticism is A Bad Thing, and that we should all be totally positive as a condition of support, unwilling to hear or tolerate a bad word about anything to do with Leeds. Again, this is quite extreme, though in the opposite way – and it’s probably almost as unhelpful as the rabid critics referred to above. For me, there has to be the possibility of feeding back to the club when you honestly feel that standards are dropping. Some fans are knowledgeable, some are not – and some appear to feel they know better than the pros, be they on the playing staff or responsible for coaching and team selection.

But I firmly believe that the vast majority of fans know and love the game well enough, and have enough of a passion for their club, to be able to steer a useful middle path between the extremes, and vociferously support their club, defending them against attacks from outside, while reserving judgement when on-field performance dips.

I’m confident enough in my own regard for “my” club that I feel able to launch into them occasionally, without being thought of as negative or hostile. I wouldn’t be writing about Leeds United in the first place if I didn’t feel the highs and lows with as much pleasure and pain even as the players who trot out to the crowd’s applause. Like thousands of others, I was supporting United many years before any of those lads in the yellow shirts at QPR were born. So I wouldn’t like to think that anyone – players, staff, fellow fans or anybody else – would read what I wrote just after the final whistle last night, and think that I’m not a true fan, or that I’m disloyal or habitually negative. I’m not – anyone who knows me will know that I’m virtually defined by my abiding love for Leeds United.

It’s always a difficult situation after a disappointing defeat, especially in these circumstances, with the carrot dangling of going back top, and taking on a tired team who’d just reeled off seven straight defeats. But that’s no reason to hold back, so I said what I thought needed saying – and yes, I said it feeling bitterly angry. But that’s not to say I’m not a loyal and committed supporter – I went into print precisely because I am loyal and committed and because, loving the club and believing in the players and management, I have great expectations.

For what it’s worth, I believe that the players will be angrier and more disappointed in themselves than even the most gutted fan, and I think they will use that to bounce back at Elland Road on Friday against West Brom. I hope and believe that will happen.

But, if it doesn’t, and if we all have another bitter pill to swallow – then please don’t doubt my loyalty and commitment when, choking on that pill, I write another angry and critical piece. Because I really would be doing it for what I honestly see as the very best of reasons – to show that I care deeply. As we all do.

MOT

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.

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.