Tag Archives: Wigan Athletic

Derby Well Aware of How to Beat Leeds: Concede a Penalty, Go Down to Ten Men – by Rob Atkinson

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Genius Lampard, wondering how early to concede that penalty and go down to ten men

There are no flies on Derby County supercoach Frank Lampard. All season long, he’s been pointing out that anything Marcelo Bielsa can do, he can do at least as well, or even better. When Bielsa gave his Powerpoint presentation in the wake of Spygate, Lampard was swift to assure anyone who would listen that “we do that too”. And when Leeds United‘s coach earned plaudits for sportsmanship after insisting that Aston Villa be permitted to score an equaliser at Elland Road, Fearless Frank was there again, insisting that his team also stood back to let the opposition score, and pointing to the evidence of two league games against Leeds this season when they have politely conceded six goals in achieving zero points.

And now, it appears that the Lampard genius has identified the fatal weakness in the Elland Road psyche, whereby the Whites are quite incapable of avoiding defeat when the opposition concede a penalty and are reduced to ten men. Both Wigan and Ipswich have employed this crafty route to victory against Leeds, ridding themselves of their habitual uselessness to baffle the Whites into defeat. It’s a ploy that a man of Lampard’s ability will not have failed to note; stand by for a wild Richard Keogh swipe to bring down Kemar Roofe in the box as he bears down on goal early in the first leg at Pride Park. Red card, penalty – and it’ll be “job done”, as a certain former Rams manager might say.

I jest, of course. The thing is, though – in this crazy season, where the unlikely and the unimaginable have become the norm – something as daft as that could well happen. The only difference might be that it wouldn’t happen in Leeds’ favour. The Whites enter the playoffs at such a low ebb, you can’t help seeing your glass as half-empty, if not drained to the dregs.

Then again, they do say that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. It’s been a pretty dark, bleak month to finish off a dismal second half of the season, so the rosy glow of a new dawn for Leeds United might just be about to light up that far horizon, beyond which lies the Promised Land of the Premier League. You just never know.

Marching On Together!

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FA Seeks Leeds Comments on Wigan Missiles Episode: Here’s How United Should Respond – by Rob Atkinson

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Wigan’s Massey getting into optimum position to provoke and incite Leeds United fans

Dear FA/FL

Our observations on the incident at Elland Road in which recklessly cavorting Wigan players appeared to have coins and other missiles hurled at them are as follows:

1.) This is going to happen while ever the relevant football authorities turn a blind eye to players celebrating as if they’d won the Champions League, right in front of the disappointed opposition fans. It’s not big, it’s not clever, and the results should be foreseeable by anyone of even low to average intelligence.

2.) When such celebrations amount, as they did on this occasion, to actual provocation and incitement, then the players involved have only themselves to blame for any crowd reaction thus provoked and incited.

3.) Your request for observations and comments are welcome, but we would respectfully suggest that you might address these also to Wigan Athletic Football Club, as they arguably have a case to answer for failing to control their players.

4.) Leeds United will vigorously contest any sanctions applied to the club in respect of an incident arising out of what is demonstrably negligent conduct on the part of the relevant football authorities and Wigan Athletic Football Club.

5.) We trust that you will find these comments helpful and instructive.

Yours in sport

Leeds United AFC

Leeds United Must Beware Potential Baggies Banana Skin – by Rob Atkinson

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Marcelo Bielsa – taking nothing for granted

West Bromwich Albion, one of the pre-season Championship promotion favourites, have been distinctly off-colour lately, sinking to seventh in the table after defeat at Hull City became the latest example of points carelessly dropped by a talented squad that should be doing much better. This miserable run of form has put Leeds United‘s own recent blip into sharp perspective; despite injuries and a number of, shall we say, controversial decisions against them, the Whites have contrived to stay top of an extremely competitive league, and will head to The Hawthorns aiming to consolidate that position.

Yes, the misfiring Baggies have had their own injury worries, but manager Darren Moore will not be looking for any excuses ahead of a mouth-watering clash with Yorkshire’s finest. In point of fact, Moore should be able to welcome back a number of key players ahead of Saturday’s evening kick off, including the prolific (at this level) striker Dwight Gayle, who would certainly need a close eye keeping on him by a Leeds defence slightly unbalanced by the injury absences of Luke Ayling and Gaetano Berardi. Certainly, more problems can be expected from the Albion attack than the meagre threat posed by Wigan last weekend, and United will need to be wary of what is essentially a wounded and therefore dangerous animal in West Brom.

It’s a classic situation of a team bouncing back to the top of the league after a slightly difficult period, going to visit a team on the crest of a slump. So often, the confidence of the higher-placed outfit turns out to be misplaced as the home side is inspired by the challenge and comes sailing out of the doldrums to win. This is the potential banana skin waiting in the path of the Leeds juggernaut, and club, players and fans alike would do well to be extremely wary of the challenge that faces them on Saturday.

Of course, the world’s best coach isn’t likely to be all wide-eyed and unknowing, and will have his men adequately prepared. Even so, and having witnessed a win at Wigan that was a lot less convincing than it should have been, I have a slightly nervous feeling about this one. Really, a side settling well into the Bielsaball concept should be looking to deal with any and all resistance – but we know that, in the real world of dog eat dog Championship football, it frequently doesn’t work out quite so tidily clear-cut. If Leeds can add a clinical edge to their finishing, and retain the ability to dominate possession, create chances and cover back in numbers, then three points at West Brom is distinctly achievable.

Anything less than that level of performance, though, and we could well slip up on that banana skin. Fingers crossed that, with yet another international break looming, Leeds are ready to sign off this segment of the season with a performance that ticks all the necessary boxes. 

Leeds Fans Ask Sky Pundit “Who Are You, and What Have You Done With Don Goodman?” – by Rob Atkinson

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Ouch – Don Goodman reacts as that alien probe slides on in there 

Among the many talking points emerging from Leeds United‘s victory at Wigan Athletic on Sunday – ranging from the inspiring sight of eight Whites players chasing a lone Wigan attacker in the manner of a pack of lions running down a terrified wildebeest, to Kemar Roofe openly laughing after he converted a chance presented to him by the bumbling home defence – the one that stands out for many United fans is the apparent kidnapping of Sky pundit Don Goodman and his replacement by a lookey-likey with a deep and abiding love for the Elland Road outfit.

It’s difficult to come up with an alternative explanation for the Leedsophilic nature of the co-commentary from the DW Stadium. Whoever the voice behind the mic belonged to, it certainly wasn’t the Goodman that Leeds fans know and despise. This guy, contrary to the Don Goodman modus operandi, had so much positive to say about the Whites, drooling over the skills of Pablo Hernandez, praising the organisation and desire that typify Bielsaball, generally singing a hymn of praise to our United heroes throughout the game.

The real Don Goodman, as we know from past experience, would have been bemoaning the nature of Leeds’ winner “Life is sometimes so unfair”, to quote his doleful exclamation after a United goal at Huddersfield a few years back. He’d have been vocal in his frustration that Wigan created so little. He’d have shed tears at the ruthless pooping of Wigan chairman Dave Whelan‘s farewell party. He’d have lapsed into a monumentally sulky silence as Liam Cooper & Co clinched the three points, erased Wigan’s unbeaten home record and returned to the Championship summit. All this type of thing we have heard from Goodman’s bitter repertoire on too many previous occasions, but there was none of it on Sunday.

So, the only logical deduction is that poor Don has been kidnapped, possibly by aliens, and replaced pro tem by a Leeds-supporting and highly authentic (looks and voice wise) clone or robot. Clearly, a glitch in the programming meant the tell-tale absence of any bitching about Leeds – and that’s what has given the game away. Rumours that the artificial Goodman is being touted as a replacement for Noel “Get Iiiiiinnnnn” Whelan, due to the former’s audibly greater enthusiasm for the Whites, cannot be confirmed. Whatever the future holds for the clone, who is presumably even now being dissected by evil Sky TV technicians, our thoughts and prayers must be with the original Don Goodman, wherever he may be. If his fate is to be experimented on by eager and avid aliens with anal probes and other invasive nasties in their armoury, then we must hope that the experience is neither too humiliating nor at all painful. Well, not very painful. Or, maybe just a reasonable amount of moderately excruciating pain. You get my drift – there is some payback due here.

No doubt those aliens, or representatives of the Leeds United fan-base, or whoever is responsible for Goodman’s abduction, will be effecting his return to Sky Sports and normal duties before this deception becomes common knowledge. Perhaps he will even have learned a little from his experience and, as he wriggles uncomfortably in his chair, he’ll possibly recall the nature of the probing he’s undergone, and maybe soften his attitude towards United from now on. Anything’s possible, after all.

But if Goodman’s best Leeds-hating days are behind him (fnarr) and he’s therefore of no further use to the Evil Empire, then there are surely plenty of available bitter ex-pros who can’t abide United and are willing to demonstrate this at every opportunity. Tony Gale, a former Hammer who has never forgiven Leeds for that Vinnie Jones-inspired 1-0 win at Upton Park in 1989, and has been blowing bubbles of anti-Leeds vitriol ever since, would be an obvious possibility. It’d make a change, anyway – and to be honest, I’m not quite sure I’d want to sit through another punditry performance like that given by Don’s clone on Sunday. It was rather uncomfortable, a bit like an unpopular and vaguely creepy uncle handing out the toffees and half crown coins to the youngsters at some benighted family gathering; it’s just rather too nightmarish.

The thing is, with Leeds, you know there’ll always be another live Sky game coming up soon. So perhaps we’ll see a different performance from former Wolves player and sworn enemy of the Baggies Don Goodman, when we appear before the cameras (and, occasionally, the crowd noise mics) at West Bromwich Albion this coming weekend.

Watch this space…

Can Leeds United be the First Club Promoted Without Being Awarded a Single Penalty? – by Rob Atkinson

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Peter Lorimer demonstrates his penalty technique – from the days when we used to get them

Assuming Leeds United are not awarded a penalty at the DW Stadium during their televised meeting with Wigan Athletic on Sunday (and it’s a fair assumption, as we have seen this season, when some pretty good claims have been ignored) then the Whites will have clocked up 54 league matches without getting a single spot kick. In that time, many an obvious penalty has been refused United and, of the nine awarded against them, there have been some right stinkers, such as the ones given to Stoke and Brentford since the start of the current campaign.

This has now become quite a story in various media, and it makes you wonder what effect it might have on the referees and other officials in charge of United’s games going forward. My guess is that it will simply steel their resolve; no self-respecting, God-fearing, righteously Leeds-hating referee wants to be seen as bowing to external pressure, after all. So it could be a while yet before Leeds get a penalty, and when they do, Pablo Hernandez will probably miss it (as he did our last one, sometime around the Napoleonic Wars).

So – assuming that the record continues – could we actually go a whole league season without one single penalty kick? That’s not unknown, actually, at least in the Premier League, which is the only division for which I’ve seen these statistics. It’s still quite rare, though, and I honestly do wonder whether, in the Championship, with its higher incidence of what we may term “agricultural defending”, it’s really feasible that a club can actually draw a blank for the whole campaign. But I stand to be corrected and, as ever, I welcome any informed input.

Even if any team has previously played a second tier campaign without even one penalty, I’d have serious doubts over whether that team would have managed to be promoted. Any club looked on so unfavourably by match officials must surely feel as though its card is well and truly marked, especially if they keep on getting dodgy penalties awarded against them. That’s been the Leeds United experience so far this term – and yet, despite the additional problem of injuries to key personnel, the Whites ride high in the table, and will look forward to kicking on when (if) the treatment room gets a little less busy.

Leeds have shown every sign so far that, at their best, they don’t need refereeing generosity (or even common sense) in order to win Championship matches. They’ve managed to stay right up there, even in spite of some appalling decisions against them. So – assuming I’m correct to say that no team has ever been promoted without at least one penalty being given to them – could Leeds United be the first to achieve such a difficult challenge?

I actually think that United really could see their penalty drought extend to cover the whole season, despite the fact that we have tricky players who can only be stopped by chopping them down – and yet I remain optimistic of success, hopefully via the automatic route. Because, as well as the “no penalties for you, Leeds” rule, there’s also the well-established law that United just don’t do play-offs. So it’s top two or bust for us, penalties notwithstanding.

I’d really like to know if this would be a first, and I might even check the odds and have a moderate punt on it. But, if any friendly Statto out there knows better, and can prove that I’m barking up the wrong tree, and that it’s all been done before – then, please, let me know. Ideally before I part with any of my brass to Big Bad Bert the Bent Bookie. Thank you.

Leeds Ram Wigan Chairman’s Taunts Back Down His Throat as Mowatt Strikes – by Rob Atkinson

Mowatt - poise, polish and a lethal finish in either foot

Alex Mowatt – poise, polish and a lethal finish in either foot

Outgoing Wigan chairman Dave Whelan became the second club figurehead in a matter of weeks to make the mistake of speaking in haste before repenting at leisure. Not so long back, Middlesbrough owner Steve Gibson saw fit to poke fun at the Massimo Cellino situation, by sanctioning the display of a huge banner displaying his own none-too-attractive mug above the legend “Fit and Proper“. In associating himself with other “fit and proper” Football League types like convicted rapist Owen Oyston, Gibson perhaps did himself no favours. But he committed a greater sin in winding up the Whites, who promptly scored a smash and grab win against the Smoggies. Thanks for the motivation, Steve. And for the three – no, sorry – six points. Very kind, if not all that clever.

Dave Whelan yesterday. Not a racist - honest...

Dave Whelan yesterday. Not a racist – honest…

Then yesterday at Wigan‘s DW Stadium, Dave Whelan, a bluff old cove who some think of as anti-semitic due to rather unwise and ill-considered comments in the wake of appointing Malky Mackay as manager, just couldn’t resist having a pop at visitors Leeds United. When he made his valedictory address to Wigan’s tiny and scattered band of home supporters, old Whelan reflected on a tenure that had seen his club reach and stay for a while in the Premier League, as well as enjoying an unlikely Wembley success against Manchester City. But then he simply had to permit himself an FA Cup jab at the Whites that must have made his manager hold his head in his hands. “Leeds haven’t won the Cup in 25 years“, huffed the old gent, inaccurately (whisper it, but it’s actually 43 years and counting). The travelling United faithful who made up a fair proportion of the crowd and nearly all the noise, were not impressed – and proffered some loud and anatomically impossible advice, in a raucous chorus, as to what Whelan should forthwith do with himself. The players, for their part, merely rolled up their sleeves and prepared for battle.

The result was another 1-0 away win, not quite as Alamo-esque as the Boro one, but still defying the possession and total shots on goal statistics. The Whites’ winner, when it arrived early in the second half, was a fine strike from the increasingly deadly Alex Mowatt, who wrapped his right foot around the ball on the edge of the area to send it hurtling mightily beyond a helpless Scott Carson in the Pie-eaters’ goal. It was a sublime strike – particularly when you remember that Mowatt is supposed to be left-footed (as evidenced by a series of clinical recent free-kick goals). The presence of Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers in the stands will have worried those keen to see United hang onto their young stars; as Eddie Gray apparently murmured, “Well, he’s not here to watch any Wigan players”. Leeds duly hung on to see the match out and complete another welcome victory, all the more satisfactory for that sense of having put a bigmouth in his place.

It’s probably too much to hope for that any other club owner or departing chairman will be so kind as to do Redders’ team talk for him, but really, you never know. The irony with which the Leeds crowd so regularly sing “We’re not famous any more” is calculated to a nicety. The fact is that some of the clubs at this level are still pinching themselves at the privilege they have in regularly hosting an outfit with such a global reputation. And some individuals are simply so carried away with the excitement and glamour of this, that they just can’t refrain from a little unwise counting of chickens before hatching time. How their harassed managers must silently damn their folly when the points then slip away, West Yorkshire-bound.

So much for silly old Mr Dave Whelan then. On the day, as on so many days this season, the one and only Whelan of the moment was Noel David of that ilk, a former United hero who had an endearing habit of scoring against Man U in his playing days, and who – although he now earns a footballing crust elsewhere in the Championship – remains Leeds to the core, wearing his heart on his sleeve and utterly failing to remain impartial. How the Leeds fans love him for it; for his “GET IINNNNNN!!!” when Leeds score and his wit and caustic humour in commentary with Adam Pope on Radio Leeds. It’s such a treat to listen to – that victory cry of Snowy Whelan’s when Leeds score is just something else; you can virtually hear the veins in his neck bulging. It’s fantastic stuff, and a marked contrast to the rather more low-key commentary available elsewhere.

So Leeds march on and it’s been another satisfactory weekend with three points for the Whites, and losses for some of those we love to despise, notably Millwall, who are beginning to look ever more comically doomed to the drop. Next week it’s a resurgent Nottingham Forest at Elland Road and another stiff test for Redders’ Leeds. But it’s fair to say the pressure is all but off now; we’re looking cautiously upwards instead of back at the dog-eat-dogfight.

More on Forest – and Snowy Whelan – during the coming week here on Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. Stay tuned…

New Striker for Leeds United; Cani, Pavoletti or Even Zamora? – by Rob Atkinson

Leonardo Pavoletti - another Italian Job for Leeds?

Sassuolo’s Leonardo Pavoletti – another Italian Job for Leeds?

With loan deals for Sol Bamba and Granddi Ngoyi done and dusted – both with a view to permanence at the end of the season – attention will now turn to the identity of United’s proposed new striker. It’s a minor shake-up for the squad as a whole with the two lads in from the Italian league and Noel Hunt  and Steven Warnock already having departed for Ipswich and Derby respectively. Ngoyi inherits Hunt’s number ten jersey and Bamba will take the number 3 left available by Warnock, despite the fact that there’s an imminent vacancy at the traditional centre-back’s number five, with Jason Pearce seemingly on the verge of joining Wigan Athletic – allegedly for an actual transfer fee, too – which is nice.

Whilst many out here in fanland appear to be of the opinion that a left-winger is needed as a priority, the club’s view seems to be that existing squad members can be trusted to provide better service from out wide on either wing, with the deployment of more effective team shapes now that the late, unlamented diamond is no longer forever. The question remains: who will be the main beneficiary of this anticipated more generous service? Will there be a new lease of life for Mirco Antenucci, who was in such sparkling good form earlier in the season? Will it be Billy Sharp‘s belated chance to shine, now that the threat of being banished to Ipswich has receded? Either or both of these happy events could come to pass, but it does seem more likely than not that more competition is to be introduced in the attacking department of the team.

The two most likely candidates seem to be the Albanian beanpole/battering ram Edgar Cani from Catania, or – more attractively, perhaps – Sassuolo forward Leonardo Pavoletti. It may even be that Leeds are particularly focused on Pavoletti, a target so nearly signed in the summer, with rumoured interest in Cani no more than a smoke-screen. It now appears that Cagliari’s attempts to sign Pavoletti are stalling – could he yet end up at Leeds?

The wild card in the mix is the QPR man Bobby Zamora who, at the age of 34, might just be looking for a final run of first team action before his batteries finally run flat. Zamora’s name has been mentioned on that notoriously less than reliable “source” Twitter; I mention his name here only for completeness.

Of the three striking possibilities, this blog would be happiest with the signing of Pavoletti – a striker who seems to have something about him and who would add something different to the options already at the club.

With the January window due to shut next Monday, the next few days should provide the answers we seek – either that, or it’ll be “don’t worry, the emergency window will be open soon….” We must hope for a happier outcome than that.

Good Day at the Office as United Beat Wigan and the Pride of Devon Lose to Everton – by Rob Atkinson

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Ross “Magic” McCormack scores again

Carlsberg don’t make Wednesday evenings, but if they did…

Victories don’t come much sweeter than a triumph over the Cup holders, with the decided bonus of a home defeat for the champions thrown in.  Like it or not (and I’m aware to my bafflement that taking pleasure from a Man U defeat is scorned by some of my more joyless fellow Leeds fans) – any Leeds win is a heightened pleasure when it’s accompanied by a defeat for Them.  When they lose at home, to their new manager’s and “star” striker’s former team, to the misery of their legion of armchair fans from Torquay to Singapore and back to Milton Keynes, then it’s several shades of sweet.  So slag me off all you like, you puritanical killjoys, I couldn’t care less. I was in a fine mood at United’s victory over Wigan – historic in its own right as we shall see – but news of a defeat for The Greatest Club in the Universe™ at the Theatre of Hollow Myths itself – that was the cherry on the icing on the cake.

Back to Leeds’ own fine win, and several “firsts” came along all at once tonight at Elland Road.  Our first league goal against Wigan Athletic, scored by – who else? – Ross McCormack.  The first time we’ve avoided defeat against the FA Cup winners, having lost our only two previous league meetings to nil.  And obviously, our first league win against the lancastrians, ending a 26 year wait for a victory of any sort since goals from Micky Adams and John Stiles (now, as then, a comedian) gave United a 2-0 win at the dilapidated old Springfield Park on the way to the 1987 FA Cup semi-final.

So, it was a great night at Elland Road, the fifth home win on the trot as United seek to make Elland Road the fortress it will have to be if we’re to challenge seriously this season.  It had been a worrying midweek thus far, a trend being established of clubs who have just sacked their managers achieving unlikely wins.  Wigan of course had just dispensed with the services of Owen Coyle.  Could they, wondered the football world hopefully, maintain the pattern and win at Leeds?

In the event, Leeds won decisively, before a decent midweek crowd of 25,888, although not without having to deal with a fair amount of pressure from visitors who had more than a fair share of possession.  But they didn’t have a Ross McCormack and that was the difference.  One goal in the first half and at the very least an assist for the winner after the break, and McCormack continues to demonstrate just how vital he is to this Leeds team.  One priority in January has to be the recruitment of an alternative source of goals – just in case disaster should strike and our major threat should be unavailable, whether through injury or suspension.  As for the possibility of losing Rossco in that transfer window – well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.  His recent form will have seen his price rocket skywards, but it might be a price some are prepared to pay.

But enough of such paranoid gibberings.  McCormack must know he has the chance to write himself into the Leeds United history books as the natural successor to Jermaine Beckford, architect-in-chief of our last promotion. And now – in stark contrast to earlier in the season – the league table demonstrates quite clearly that it’s all up for grabs for Leeds, only a whisker outside the play offs and, with 28 games to go, a mere nine points off the very top of the league. Whatever the doom-and-gloom pessimists might say, that is not an unbridgeable gap, and there will be a few anxious glances being cast back over shoulders by the top few clubs as they hear the sound of Leeds United on the charge from the rear of the field.

After the “blip” at Blackburn, this win was as badly needed as it was efficiently executed.  Now, attentions must switch almost immediately to a Watford side who have lacked this season the con brio approach they showed last, when they were operating as the Italian B side in the English second tier – only to suffer the play-off disappointment so familiar to us Whites.  Beat Watford, and we’ll be looking well set.  This group of players is showing all the signs of togetherness and good team spirit and, all of a sudden, Elland Road may be seen as the place to be for good players looking for a good move in January.  That promises to be a very interesting month, but the priority now must be to make sure that December continues in the way it has started.

Whisper it softly – Leeds United are on the promotion path.  This could yet be a memorable and historic season.

Leeds Look to Bounce Back Against Troubled Wigan – by Rob Atkinson

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John Stiles: scored the only time Leeds beat Wigan Athletic

Next up for Leeds after the disappointment at Blackburn is a team we’ve met in the league before – but we’ve never beaten them, we’ve never actually managed a draw – we’ve never, shameful though it might seem, even managed to score a league goal against these giants of the game. Then again, we’ve only played them twice in league games.

It is of course the mighty Wigan Athletic we’re talking about, denizens of a town best-known for pies and rugby league, in that order – with the football club still the poor relation of those three preoccupations. Still, the Latics are not to be sniffed at these days – they come to Elland Road as FA Cup holders, still campaigning on the continent in the rarefied atmosphere of European football and of course they’re one of those big boys lately of the Blessed and Stardusty Premier League, with playing staff and parachute payments to match. So we’d better not under-estimate them then, right? Right.

Wigan have actually been a little disappointing so far this season, given high expectations of a swift and trouble-free return to the top-flight. The early optimism seemed justified when they travelled to Barnsley on the opening day and stuffed them 4-0. The Championship settled back and prepared to watch the Cup-holders disappear over the horizon at the top of the league, but it hasn’t worked out like that. Results since then have been patchy with bright spells and Wigan will need to buck up their ideas soon if they’re not to endure a long and frosty winter. The bleak situation culminated this week with the dismissal of manager Owen Coyle, so yet again Leeds are to face a team bereft of a permanent manager, and looking to prove a point or two perhaps.

Leeds have historically fared best against the Latics in Cup competitions, winning at the old and decrepit Springfield Park in the FA Cup 6th Round of 1987 and then achieving two creditable draws against notionally superior opposition in the 2006 competition, Wigan going through on penalties after the Elland Road replay. But all was misery in the league for United in our only season of level-par competition with the Lancastrians, the Pie-munchers running out 2-0 winners in LS11, and dismissing us 3-0 in the return. The aim will have to be the old Wilko battle plan for every campaign – let’s get our first goal, first point, first win – ideally all of them in the same game. Such will be the objective on Wednesday night when a crowd swelled by some freebie tickets should provide plenty of vocal backing – nothing gets a Yorkshireman (or woman) so ready and raring to go as summat for nowt.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Leeds may well have just a little too much for their trans-pennine foes in this latest meeting. Late injury/recovery news will have a big say in how matters turn out – but barring any unforeseen calamity (fingers crossed Rossco is fit) – I can see Leeds winning by the odd goal in three. And who knows – as that seasonal magic begins to gather about us all, maybe Luke Varney will grab a goal as he did at Bolton, to win another Roses battle. Stranger things have happened.

Wigan and Swansea Doing Well in Europe as West Ham Struggle at Home – by Rob Atkinson

Bobby Moore Lifts the World Cup for the 'Ammers

Bobby Moore Lifts the World Cup for the ‘Ammers

It’s the advent of a New Order we’re seeing in European competition this week – Swansea’s highly impressive performance against fallen giants Valencia being the headline, but Wigan’s solid draw in Belgium also drawing praise.  These are not names we’re used to seeing as our various clubs sally forth to uphold the good name of English football by giving Johnny Foreigner a good old punch on the boko (figuratively speaking, of course).  The fact that most domestic teams consist of Johnny Foreigners in a ratio of about 8:3 is neither here not there.  They’re British clubs and as they stomp all over some hapless bunch of continental also-rans, we feel a surge of pride – don’t we?  Even Spurs are doing OK against some unlikely collection of Norwegian lumberjacks.

So what about the old names that have been replaced by these Johnny foreigner come latelies?  Forest, Leeds, QPR and Derby all used to campaign successfully abroad, but their recent domestic record is of failure; all are currently embarked on varying programmes of recovery.   And then of course, there’s West Ham.  Whatever happened to them?

West Ham, you will recall (or possibly not) had a real European Reputation in the sixties, and even a partial one in the seventies.  In three consecutive years from 1964 to 1966, the late, great Bobby Moore hoisted silverware at the old Wembley as West Ham won the FA Cup, then the Cup-Winners Cup and then famously the World Cup.  That last one is a bit of a joke actually, although Hammers’ fans tell the tale seriously enough.  After all, their captain lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in ’66 and their players scored the goals.  But as former Irons winger of the time Harry Redknapp admits, even with Moore, Peters and Hurst, the Hammers finished an average of about 17th in that period.  “It just goes to show how crap the other eight of us were”, remarked ‘Appy ‘Arry.

Therein, perhaps, lies West Ham’s real problem.  They’ve just never quite made it as a Big Club, various shiny baubles notwithstanding.  They have this East End identity, they reek of the Krays and Leslie Grantham and other criminal types.  But as a serious football institution, they’re not quite there.  Even their most famous fan, Alf Garnett, supports Spurs in real life.  So the Hammers are left as a club with no real grasp on greatness, one whose main defining characteristics are the Bubbles Song and being generally recognised as bigger than Leyton Orient.  That mid-sixties heyday was their zenith – by the grace of Ron Greenwood, a Pope John Paul II lookalike and future England supremo – and assisted by three world-class players who were content for a spell to be big fish in a small pond, the Hammers punched above their weight like some cocky rat boy from Bethnal Green.  It couldn’t last, but while it did we became almost accustomed to the sight of a Hammers side fighting to conquer foreign fields – although in later years there would usually be an unhappy ending at the hands of Anderlecht or someone as West Ham met their Waterloo, and the Bubbles – well, burst.

So nowadays, if you want to look beyond the Big Lads at the top of the Premier League – and pending the return of fellow Euro-fighters like Leeds and Forest – it’s Wigan and Swansea we’ll be cheering on against those cross-channel types, whatever our domestic prejudices might be.  It IS good to see British clubs doing well abroad – or at least most of them.  Sadly it seems that the days of our youth when the famous claret and blue was well-known in stadia the length and breadth of UEFA – those days are probably gone forever and the best chance of the Hammers being in Europe again is if there’s a war.  Still, you never know – and they certainly have a better chance than my beloved Leeds.  For this season, at any rate.

Well done Wigan and Swansea, you did us proud.