We All Agree…

I was born in the 1960s and from a young age had a passionate interest in football. In 1972, my father decided to take me to a live football game for the first time and gave me the choice of either going to Elland Road, Leeds, to see United (recent F.A. cup winners, several double decker buses leaving from Barnsley Bus Station) or Oakwell (home of local team, Barnsley, within walking distance from the same bus station and struggling in the fourth division).

Not a difficult choice.

That day Leeds beat newly promoted Norwich City and gave a text book account of their great ball skills, solid defensive game and creative attacking flair.

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Redfearn and Leeds

The last time I wrote an article about Leeds United was after Neil Redfearn’s last game in charge as caretaker manager (see https://twilightdawning.com/2014/09/25/ch-ch-changes-2) before Darko Milanic took over the reins for a brief period in charge  – which matched the length of appointment at Elland Road previously only associated with the dark days of David Hockaday, Brian Clough and Jock Stein.

Now Redfearn is back in permanent charge (whatever that means under Massimo Cellino – oh, sorry we’re meant to believe that he has no current involvement in the club’s decision-making process as he is an unfit person), I decided it was time to give another survey of how the team has changed and so I will do so concentrating my energies on the two recent home games against Watford (3-2 loss) and Ipswich (2-1 win). Let’s see what we can learn…

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Ch..Ch..Changes

A visit to Elland Road these days requires that you buy a matchday programme. Not for some interesting half time reading … but in order to identify the players. The team (indeed the squad) has changed beyond recognition and many of the players are new to the UK. So being able to pick out the numbers on the shirts and check them against the list in the programme is the only way forward.

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To ‘Ell And Back Again

And so the era of Simon Grayson’s management of Leeds United has passed and is now but a moment in history. Nothing surprising there but what has surprised is the way in which the appointment of Neil Warnock has seemingly, just for a moment, quietened the doubts of Leeds fans. His every word is rested upon and it seems he is indeed the Messiah or at least Moses come again, to lead us to the Promised Land of the Premiership.

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Back at Elland Road…..

It’s 19 years since I was able to attend an opening home game at Elland Road, Leeds. It’s around that time that I moved to London from my Yorkshire home. It’s 38 years since the first time I attended an opening game there. I guess that me and Leeds United go back a long way. I always get back to Elland Road but it’s a long time since I’ve seen a game there in August.

Arriving at the ground, I was greeted by the bizarre sight of Nigel Clough (son of Brian) walking the Derby team from the bus towards the ground having insisted that the coach stopped on Elland Road itself for the players to walk the rest of the way. This brought echoes of the film "The Damned United" which I finally viewed a couple of weeks ago and which tells a very different story from the one which I remember growing up. It’s interesting that Nigel Clough was seeking to emulate something which the film says his Dad learnt from Don Revie many years ago but which several Leeds players including Peter Lorimer (who is one of the few Leeds players to have anything good to say about the film) say never actually happened. History, fiction, memory and incident all get intertwined as we get older but by any standards this is a peculiar twist of events.

There will be few Peter Lorimers on display in the Leeds team today but I’m guessing that Lash allowed himself a wry smile when the Derby fans tried to get the Leeds fans going by singing classics like "If you hate Don Revie, clap your hands" and "Brian Clough’s a footballing genius". Something odd about the tenses in both of those and the fans singing them could probably not have been alive when Clough and Revie were at the helms of today’s two sides.

So two teams haunted by their pasts and on this evidence Derby doing much better at trying to recapture glory days than Leeds. Derby went ahead through a goal from ex-Leeds striker, Rob Hulse. Luciano Becchio levelled things only for the referee and his assistant (who had exceptionally bad days) to give a dubious penalty to Derby which carried the three points out of Yorkshire as it ended the scoring.

So who was on duty for Leeds in Simon Grayson’s extensively re-tooled line up?

Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel. A new signing from Notts County who proved a popular choice which might be surprising given that his dad filled a similar spot for arch-rivals Manchester United. Schmeichel was Leeds’ best player on the day with a crucial double-save at one point doing a lot to get the Leeds faithful on his side. After all, you don’t get to pick your parents.

Defence: Paul Connolly, playing on the right side of defence, 27 years of age and recently signed from Derby County! Connolly acquitted himself well particularly in the first half. He played with an arm heavily bandaged and strapped but didn’t seem to notice that too much. He defended well and was a good distributor of the ball.

Federico Bessone, another debutant. The Argentinian who moved from Swansea had a quiet game on the left side of the defence. He did little wrong but his work rate will need to improve if the defensive performance of the team is to do likewise.

Neill Collins who sent some time at Leeds on loan last season and has now joined them permanently, was paired with captain Richard Naylor in central defence. Perhaps it was that Collins was not in his best position but the two looked out of place against the lively and energetic Hulse and Commons. They were outclassed and over-matched with Collins perhaps enjoying the better performance of the pair.

Midfield: Leeds crammed the midfield and all the central midfield players performed well. Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny all did their best to feed the wide players and to provide defensive help for those behind them. Unfortunately each of these players is more inclined to push forward which left those behind them a little exposed particularly since the defence was out-matched for speed.

Width was provided by loanee Sanchez Watt and new signing, Lloyd Sam. Sam who has joined the team from Charlton looked like he didn’t know quite where he was meant to be playing and he was the first of the Leeds team to be withdrawn to make room for Aidan White. Sam will have to show much greater confidence and application if he is to succeed in West Yorkshire. Watt did better but seemed a little lightweight and was too easily knocked off the ball. In the second half. Kilkenny was also substituted for another debutant and loan player, Adam Clayton. Clayton did okay but all the central midfield guys looked to have similar skills and with one of the wide players drifting through the game there was too little invention to feed the lone central attacker.

Attack: That lone central attacker was Luciano Becchio who also provided the lone Leeds goal and 90% of the opportunities that came Leeds’ way. He was asked to do too much and when eventually offered a partner in Mike Grella who replaced Howson after 86 minutes, it was expecting too much of his tired legs to take advantage of this very late, almost token, change.

So what does the season hold for Leeds? Despite today’s defeat I don’t think the season is going to be too bad. We have a lot of new players who will take time to find their feet and one another. With a few tweaks, some players back from injury and a lot of settling in, I would expect Leeds to finish in the top half. 

Live in Leeds

A periodic update on the fortunes of my football team, Leeds United

When I first visited Elland Road in 1972, Leeds were the best team in the old Division one of the English Football League (what we would now call the Premiership). At that time, Cheltenham Town were in the old Southern League Division One (a non-league team, in short). Somewhere along the line, history changes things and now both teams are in the Football League, League One (third division, when I was a boy). All these name changes make it very hard to describe historical development in the life of football teams but to cut a long story short, they got much better, we got much worse.

On Saturday, we met at Elland Road. Cheltenham are struggling to stay in League One without much success (they are bottom of the table). Leeds are fighting to get out of League One without much success (we are well out of the automatic promotion places and four points below playoff qualification at the time that the game kicked off). Both teams could have used a win but in the end Leeds came out on top by a two-nil advantage. Jonny Howson, a player that I would have left out of the starting line-up, scored both goals. I was there and I’ll take a moment to review the performance of the Leeds team, player by player, and look at what I think this means for the future.

Goalkeeper

1. Casper Ankergren. Leeds United’s Danish goalkeeper is hardly the safest pair of hands in the division. He seems to lack confidence and seemed to be anticipating losing control of the ball – which he did on a couple of occasions. He conceded a goal which was disallowed but the clean sheet he maintained probably had more to do with Cheltenham’s ambition to play for the draw. 4/10

Defence

22. Andy Hughes. Injury to club captain Frazer Richardson left midfielder, Hughes, playing out of position at right back. An innocuous performance which saw him withdrawn in the first half. Nothing wrong here but not much right. 5/10

5. Rui Marques. The African central defender seems to have lost confidence since he was a target for some Premiership teams a year or two ago but he is faring much better now than he was at the tail end of Gary McAllister’s time as manager. He marshalled the limited resources he had around him well and made few mistakes. 6/10

36. Richard Naylor. Recent signing, Naylor is club captain in Richardson’s absence and there are whispers that might become permanent. Despite this Marques seemed the more significant influence on those around him. Naylor produced a solid but decidedly unspectacular performance. 5/10

19. Ben Parker. Injury and the end of Carl Dickinson’s loan period has handed the left back slot to Parker who is 21 and has some promise. On Saturday, he did enough but no more. 5/10

Midfield

4. Jonathan Douglas. Douglas is probably capable of playing at a higher level but is temperament is a little suspect. He keeps the midfield organised allowing Delph room to roam and be creative. 6/10

15. Fabian Delph. Talk in the transfer window had Delph departing from the Premiership for anywhere from £2.5 million to £8 million and to anyone from Fulham to Arsenal. In the end, he went nowhere and to be honest, he is far from the finished article. His ball control is good and he is inventive and skilful but too many of his passes go astray. Having said this he is still far better than most of the meagre feast on display. 7/10

14. Jonny Howson. Two goal Howson skied a few other chances but didn’t seem to do very much else. A game to remember for him because of the goals but he will need much more than enthusiasm to stay in the team. 7/10

Attack

18. Andy Robinson. Ex-Swansea man, Robinson began wide on the left but moved to the right when Hughes left the field. Last time, I covered a Leeds game, I mentioned his suspect temperament and his tendency to drift out of the game. He has conquered the second of these. He looked like the most committed and dedicated man on the park on Saturday and he was involved in everything that was good about Leeds. However, he was also involved in a running battle with ex-Leeds man, Ian Westlake which saw him gain another yellow card. A player of real passion, skill and ability. 8/10

10. Lucian Becchio. The big Argentinian is at his best with his back to the goal, holding the ball and laying it off for his strike partner. Problem was that on Saturday, he was the only natural central attacker in the team. Options to partner him were Trundle and Grella who were on the bench for the majority of the game. Becchio though is determined and did well in less than ideal circumstances. 6/10

23. Robert Snodgrass. Better as a wideman, Snodgrass was drawn in a little to provide help for Becchio. This didn’t really work but Snodgrass still had a good game when he could use his speed and flair to good effect. 7/10

Substitutes

8. Neil Kilkenny. Usually out of favour under new manager Grayson, Kilkenny had most of the game to impress. However, used out of position, he was little in evidence in this game. 5/10

35. Lee Trundle. After missing a penalty against Hereford, Trundle (on loan from Bristol City) was left out of the starting eleven. In the short time he was on the field, he had a couple of chances and gave the impression that things might have been better if he’d have partnered Becchio from the beginning and Snodgrass had been given more room to get out on the flank. But then Howson would have been left on the bench so who knows……. 6/10

13. Mike Grella. Grella entered the game in time added on and touched the ball once. A pointless substitution.

I really don’t think this team is good enough to get us into the playoffs. When Jermaine Beckford returns from suspension, and provided he can remain fit, we will have a better chance but it will still be an outside one.

Another season in the third division (I can’t get away from the old terminology) seems a dire prospect but most likely. Perhaps then Grayson can add some new faces – permanent signings, please – and better times might lie ahead.

 

Sereyna (my daughter) and Darren

Lee Trundle and Sereyna