A Leeds United blog of rantings, match reports and a whole load of weird shit...

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Leeds United: The 7 Final Itch

For those who buy into the concept of karma, the takeover drama that has dominated our thoughts for over 100 days can only end with a successful resolution; a handover of power that with it, will bring ambitious, altruistic owners with a commitment to success on the pitch and a desire to embrace and engage, rather than alienate the supporters off it. Having suffered Ken Bates for over 7 and a-half years, it follows that a period of contentment and success is now due to redress the karmic imbalance. Surely?

Well, that’s the theory, and for my own sanity, I’m going with it…well, maybe – in truth, karma is probably a load of old bollocks. After all, we are talking about a game in which an (alleged) racist, disabled parking spot stealing adulterer (etc.) is still lauded as the man who should be leading the national team; where the most graceless leader of men in Western society presides over a team of perennial winners, and where Danny Pugh is still able to gain steady employment.

But, if just for once, the footballing Gods drop a payload of good fortune onto the green fields of LS11, then maybe, just maybe, we can finally stop bemoaning our cursed luck at boardroom level and go back to what we do best and return to lamenting what goes on for the 90 minutes each Saturday (and the odd Tuesday, Wednesday…and Monday, Friday, Sunday – cheers Sky!) on the pitch; it’s high time that the referees, The FA, the opposition – hell, anyone else but Ken f**king Bates lie at the root of our problems at any given time.

With that in mind, I’m going to start the ball rolling early and ask the question: “When the hell is Leeds United next going to win a major final?” I consider this a good place to start as – victims of mental scarring from the Ken Bates, apart - those who’ve shared in the common experience of witnessing nothing but misery and heartache on these occasions is surely amongst the largest demographics amongst our support.

How many readers hold treasured memories of the magical 1989/90 promotion season and the remarkable title triumph that followed only 2 years later?  Show of hands? Ah yes, lots of you – wasn’t it just the best? Okay, now the rest of you; how many of you have at least some recollection of the brief, short-lived, glorious promise of the O’Leary era? Excellent! Squandered promise, but great while it lasted all the same, eh? Right, now who remembers a glorious day out watching the Whites triumph at a final? Ermmm…

It’s been 39 long years since Leeds last triumphed in a final of any sort of description which means that the few people who can answer yes to that last question – I’m not flattering myself that I’m writing to a wide audience here – are quite possibly same people who are just starting to take notice of Michael Parkinson as he tries to sell them Sun Life Assurance policies; they may have even pondered whether to take Argos vouchers or a pocket camcorder as their free welcome gift. Yes, it’s been that long!

39 years and 7 finals and nothing to show for it, nothing but countless generations of Leeds fans, ruthlessly conditioned into expecting failure on days where above all others, winning is everything; and through all those finals there is one common theme, that our every turn has undermined the quest for glory – conspiracy.

That save

Over the four decades it’s only the nature of the conspiracy that has changed; back where it started, at Wembley in 1973, it was the innocent spectacle of one man colluding with fate to have the game of his life in denying the Whites glory; “plucky” Second Division ‘no hopers’ Sunderland, came to Wembley, saw fit to score a goal then camped in the defensive third of the field while Jim Montgomery spent the 90 minutes looking like a goalkeeper plucked from ‘Pro-Evolution Soccer’ rather than streets of his own town. His double save from Cherry and Lorimer still has the ability to taunt today.

The Cup Winners Cup Final, held 11 days in Thessalaniki, was a whole different ball game however; Leeds, in their only ever appearance in the competition faced up to Italian giants AC Milan… and the referee. To describe the refereeing performance that night as “questionable” would be akin to terming Hitler’s foreign policy as “dubious”; before the game, Johnny Giles revealed he heard whispers over lunch that the team “couldn’t win” the game, no matter what they did. As it turned it, they did everything…and they didn’t win; having gone behind in the 4th minute to a goal scored direct from a free-kick (an indirect free-kick having been awarded), Leeds would go on to be denied three clear-cut penalties and two more “borderline” claims.

Before the acrimony...

The locals responded to the performance of local official Christos Michas by chanting “Shame! Shame!” from the terraces and come full-time, so incensed were they, that Milan’s lap of honour had to be curtailed as a barrage of missiles rained down onto the players. In contrast, the Leeds team were afforded a standing ovation. The referee was subsequently investigated by his own FA on suspicion that he’d taken bribes from the Italians, while UEFA swiftly banned him from officiating at any future international club fixtures. Despite the fall-out, UEFA refused Leeds’ request for a replay and opted to sweep matters under the carpet; the ill feeling however still remains, with Yorkshire & Humberside MEP Robert Corbett as recently as 2009 lobbying UEFA with a 15,000 name petition for the trophy to be retrospectively awarded to the club.

1975 most famously of all somehow threw up an uncannily similar scenario, albeit this time it was two rather than three penalties, inexplicably denied, albeit to that tally you could add a long-range Peter Lorimer goal, also famously chalked off. At the centre of the whole affair this time, two men; the referee again (this time, Frenchman Michel Kitabdjian) and Franz Beckenbauer, the former overlooking the latter’s penalty box indiscretions, and then paying heed to his desperate prostestations for an offside flag – seemingly it was only those two and the linesman in the entire stadium that picked out Billy Bremner as positioned illegally as Leeds celebrated the opener.

(not a) Penalty!!

With Leeds still shaken, Bayern struck two quick goals; the game was gone and in the stands, heads were lost as seats were ripped out and hurled onto the pitch. At the full-time whistle, Beckenbauer was moved to say “In the end we were the winners, but we were very, very lucky!” It was the end for Revie’s old guard and remains Leeds’ last European final, it was also Kitabjian’s final appointment. Defeat in the Mestalla Stadium cruelly denied David O’Leary’s side the chance to exact revenge 26 years later, although karma has seen to it that Bayern are still paying the penance for that evening against other English clubs; Scum’s 1999 triumph and Chelsea’s recent victory, the least sweet tasting retribution possible? If karma isn’t a load of bollocks, then it sure it some sick, twisted son of a bitch!

Mercifully, I’m too young to have had to live through the injustices of the 1970’s, my heartbreaks like many others’ are confined to these shores; while the conspiracy line still holds true, it’s been rather a case of our own players conspiring against themselves by performing like ***** (feel free to insert your swear word of choice) that has undermined most subsequent finals.  

The only exception to this rule was back in 1987, in the dark, dilapidated surroundings of St. Andrews on a Friday night; the first ever play-off final had gone to a replay and this godforsaken shithole in the West Midlands was where the destiny of an epic season was to lie. It was the last time that a Leeds team actually ‘turned up’ for a final and when 9 minutes into extra time, John Sheridan struck the most considered, measured and sublime of free kicks into the top right hand corner, a 5 year exile top flight looked over; 16,000 Leeds supporters rejoiced as he manically raced towards the main stand and punched the air.

The class of  '86-87

That could’ve been it, it should’ve been it; even the Karma Fairy seemed to have her eye on this one – as uncharitable as it seems in retrospect, even the loss of Brendan Ormsby just before half-time to a cruciate injury appeared like some form a divine retribution for a young boy, still smarting from the moment he cost my club an FA Cup Final appearance just 6 and a half weeks previously. Nobody reckoned on mediocre centre back with a mere 4 goals to his name in a over 200 games; who would? 113 minutes on the clock, Leeds only 7 minutes away from a return to the promised pastures of Division One…117 minutes on the clock and suddenly Peter bloody Shirtliff is on a hat-trick. Screw you Karma Fairy!

The indescribable agony of ’87 is as good as it’s got over the last quarter century; our next final set the template for what we’ve now become depressingly accustomed to. That was in 1996 and the Coca-Cola Cup final against Aston Villa, Wembley playing host to possibly the most depressing showcase game experience of the lot.

Quite how the team got to Wembley in the first place was somewhat of a mystery; performances had been universally awful for months and without the kindest of semi-final draws, pairing Leeds with Second Division Birmingham City, the cup run (stagger) would most likely have ended at that stage. I don’t recall anyone travelling down to the capital with any degree of optimism. Howard Wilkinson had the aura of a dead man walking, patience was wearing thin, and Tomas Brolin, brought to the club in sea of hyperbole and flash bulbs had been inexplicably outcast to the fringes.


Many thought the game represented the ideal stage for Tom, but not Howard who left him in the bench to accommodate teen winger Andy Gray. Ironically Gray was the only positive from a shambolic showing as Leeds were battered 3-0. Anarchy ruled in the stands as chants of “Super Tomas Brolin” rang out from the Leeds end, but by the time Wilko relented it was already too late and tragically, the man who 4 years previously had delivered the title ran a gauntlet of boos as he departed down the tunnel at full-time; Bill Fotherby, well aware of his manager’s work behind the scenes stood loyal, but with supporters denied the same full picture, his departure seemed inevitable from that moment; a 4-0 home drubbing by Scum in September – capped ironically by a penalty from another maverick talent he wasn’t able to handle, in Eric Cantona – proved the final straw.

The drubbing at the hands of Watford at the Millennium Stadium was every bit as scripted. Despite presiding over one of the most mind-numbingly awful seasons of football ever seen at Elland Road, Kevin Blackwell had somehow guided Leeds to the final. He had many doubters and their every fear was realised upon hearing the team news – Kilgallon moved to left back and an untested 4-5-1 formation. A tortuous 90 minutes ensued and for the only time in my life I left the game early; as the board went up to signal injury time, I took that as my prompt to leave, so little there seemed to be worth acknowledging from that XI.


Doncaster…well, you get the picture! The only difference this time was the existence of a true belief that Leeds would finally triumph; having started the season with -15 points and overcome such a mountainous penalty, along with the loss of Gus Poyet and the presence of Dennis Wise and Dave Bassett, it seemed McAllister’s men simply had to deliver the fairy tale ending, especially after the drama in Carlisle. An estimated 57,000 Leeds supporters had managed to acquire tickets by whatever means possible to witness finale, while tens of thousands more were denied as Doncaster suspended their general sale at the Keepmoat.

And for what? Another abject performance, where not a single player, bar the outstanding Ankergren turned up – 1-0 may have flattered the team, but that was of little consolation in the queues at the tube station as fans congregated, a mass of broken men, James Hayter’s 48th minute winner and John Ryan’s shit eating grin, the only two images burned on their retinas.

Flying in the face of fairy tails and logic!

So will this seemingly endless stretch of misery ever end? In my dreams it will do, and it will happen next May at a packed Wembley Stadium against Cardiff City. Automatic promotion? Pfft, you can stick that, I demand drama! As things stand, it seems inconceivable that we can finish in the top six without a takeover, but if a bidder can shift Bates, then surely anything’s possible – even winning a final!

To others such a denouement may seem fantastical, but then again I have just spent over 2000 words pondering the existence of fairies…

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Leeds United 2 Nottingham Forest 1

Come 4.57pm yesterday afternoon, the Leeds players left the Elland Road pitch elated, Neil Warnock was f**king thrilled, and around 22,000 of those in the crowd were of a similar mind. It’s important to remember these things at a time when matters on the pitch almost appear to be a mere sideshow, a support bill, for the epic TOMA soap opera that rumbles on, seemingly indifferent to the needs on the team.

Everything we need from the touchline...

Victory was worth celebrating; although it came against a club, the likes of which Leeds United should expect to regularly beat at home, it was achieved against a team we had little right to expect victory against. While 11th position in the Championship is, and should always remain, a long way off an acceptable state of affairs, it’s a credit to Neil Warnock that we even occupy such a modest place within the league hierarchy; 6 of the 7 sides we’ve faced so far have boasted superior (some, vastly so) line-ups in terms of quality than Leeds can muster, it’s only the determination and discipline installed into the side that has been sufficient to see us get to where we are at this stage. Although the manager has come to resemble a broken record, stating after every game that “the players gave everything” – it is not said without justification.

Alas, as much as the back-biters and snipers may have you believe otherwise; as much as the fabulist tweets of Duncan Castles may lead those willing to believe them, into cul-de-sacs of mis-truths; as much as it would be nice, just for once to forget about it, the only undeniable truth of the here and now is there is no avoiding takeover talk, simply as, it is that and that alone that continues to hamper the progress of this football club.

"Look into my eyes..."
Mercifully, it appears that even Bates is getting fed up of the whole affair, or at least the increasing agitation it’s bringing him, so he finally chose to break his silence before the game. Under his stewardship Bates has ‘educated’ the supporters into believing the process of reviving the club to be a process of “slow arousal” leading to eventual orgasmic fulfilment; this, on the surface at least represented the polar opposite as the trailing tweets from Yorkshire Radio and LUTV staff, hinting at something major, stirred the online community quickly to the brink of climax, only then to be left flaccid by a barely coherent monologue that merely represented a progress report.

It was a classic Bates performance, the usual splenetic ramblings against LUST, and more recent enemies, twitter and Phil Hay. There was also the priceless revelation that part of the delays in talks could be attributed to it just “being too hot in the Gulf” during the summer to negotiate. Little in the way of new information was brought to light, but at least it was now afforded the rubber stamp of officialdom, and the fact that Bates himself chose to go public, suggests admittance on his part that the sale will now go ahead.

Four of the key players from the bidding team

Whatever way it was viewed, it represented a positive development, a fact reflected by the pre-match mood inside the stadium; the meek rendition of ‘Leeds, Leeds, Leeds’ that has become commonplace, giving way to a far more impassioned diapason chorus from the Kop; the buzz, so reliant in recent times on performance, in place for kick-off. 

All that was missing was a decent musical accompaniment for the players’ entrance – what the anonymous piece currently in use does to stir the emotions is beyond me. While ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is clearly quite dated, it evokes memories of when a trip Elland Road represented every visiting player’s worst nightmare, a time where every player and every fan would be “at it” from the first minute to the last; it’s a piece indelibly connected with our last promotion campaign and perfectly dovetails with the abrasive personality of our current manager. Ironically, for a man obsessed with hotels, Elland Road has been the most hospitable of places for teams for the most part of Bates’ reign. Perhaps such a retrograde move may just be a small step in the right direction?

Becchio...1-0! (Again)

Regardless, the players mood matched those in the stands from the off as they dominated the first half. Becchio and Diouf caused a shambolic Forest backline no end of problems and the patchwork Leeds midfield somehow wrestled control of the game. As such, Becchio’s 14th minute opener was no surprise, perhaps only his method was, finally scoring by the way of the boot, rather than his head, seizing on a loose ball following good wide play from Diouf.

At that stage Leeds were rampant, on 25 minutes they doubled the advantage, this time Becchio’s hesitancy when presented with a clear sight on goal benefitted debutant Dominic Poleon who raced onto the loose ball to lash home from 16 yards and Elland Road was treated to the sight of a delirious teenager racing to the bench, as if to say “F**king hell! Look what I’ve done, boss!!” – Warnock responded with applause then a warning that a bollocking would be imminent if he didn’t get his head straight. It was a glorious moment, but an isolated highlight however from Poleon, who on the basis of the rest of the game still looks some way off being a genuine option over 90 minutes.

Teenage dreams...

Shortly afterwards, Becchio had a chance to add a third in front of a boisterous South Stand, but side-footed over from 6 yards. It was an awful miss and could’ve killed off Forest at a stroke, as it was it provided the lifeline the visitors needed ahead of the second half.

After the break, Forest came out a revitalised outfit; the introduction of Lansbury and McGugan changed the game as the Leeds midfield four, comprising two 19 year-olds (one a striker on debut), the rusty Michael Tonge and Austin, became the weak link many had feared. The visitors started to dictate play, and perhaps unsurprisingly for a side who have Camp at the back and Cox up front, proved rather more effective as an attacking unit. That said, most of their most threatening moments came from corners and throw-ins, including the goal, where Paddy Kenny came for a ball he just wasn’t able to see in the glare of the sun.

Warnock made changes, substituting the injured Peltier and the struggling Poleon; it was just a shame it had to be with Aidy White and Luke Varney, the former of whom appears a lot better without the ball than with it, and the latter who just resembles a startled deer, every time the strange white spherical object arrives in close proximity. Forest continued to press and Kenny twice over redeemed himself with superb saves from McGugan’s curling effort and Cox’s close range lob.

Under the cosh

When Andy D’Urso decreed that an inexplicable 6 minutes added time were justified, it was easy to fear the worst; then something quite remarkable happened… Leeds suddenly adopted the hitherto unseen appearance of a team confident in their ability to see out a game, spending the majority of the closing stages collecting throw-ins and corners in the Forest half. Diouf especially, who’d been exemplary throughout along with Byram, played a key role. That said, the man really at the heart of matters was (again) Austin; his lung bursting run in the 90th minute from his own half to the corner flag was a joy to behold; a man who should be in no physical state to jog, somehow sprinting beyond all, then still possessing the strength to nonchalantly push away any defender who dare try and dispossess him – eventually as a third opponent moved in, he settled for a throw-in by the corner flag and the ground rose as one to acclaim him. Our beloved Jamaican had set the “No surrender” tone for the closing minutes and the team as one, followed.

When the final whistle blew, a jubilant Warnock hugged Austin as if he was his son, then ushered his other charges in all directions to acknowledge the support; it’s been a long time since the club has had a manager who’s so in tune with the supporters. We can only hope that very soon we’ll have a man blessed with similar qualities applauding with approval from the chairman’s seat in the East Stand, and with it, ataraxia can replace the acrimony, and once again, the football is all that everyone is talking about.   

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Leeds United 2 Hull City 3

Ashdown, Kisnorbo, Pugh, Brown, Gray, Thompson, Poleon

These are the players that made up Leeds United’s bench ahead of Tuesday night’s league game with Hull City; if anything should bring home the current state of this football club, maybe it is a glance at this list of names. While Jamie Ashdown appears on first impressions to be a very sound back-up goalkeeper, concerns have to be raised about the quality of outfield options; even during the darkest times of the League One era, I’m not convinced that the club ever fielded a bench as weak as the one Neil Warnock had to muster for this game.

Pretty clear message

I would have to confess my first reaction upon discovering who the substitutes were, was to work through the outfield players and conclude the following: too old (and injury savaged), hopeless, too old, too old, too young and too young; Ken Bates’ rhetoric – and that of those who follow his lead on club station, Yorkshire Radio – about the manager possessing a strong, competitive squad, both in terms of numbers and quality, exposed as an utter fallacy. While some may wish to make a case for Poleon being deserving of a run in the side, the truth is, teams that challenge for titles, automatic promotion spots and even just play-off places do not typically find themselves relying on a completely untried teenagers.

As it is, Neil Warnock is already finding himself leaning heavily on another young prospect, who like Poleon, was not even on the fringes of the first team squad at the end of last season. In Sam Byram, it appears that the club have unearthed a new gem from the Academy, his fearless and enthusiastic performances have so far been one of the highlights of the season; but rather than being nurtured and eased into first team life – the new boy looked after the experienced pros, it already seems that this young lad is having a huge amount of responsibility placed upon his shoulders.

Instead of being allowed a degree of freedom, Byram along with Rodolph Austin has suddenly found himself as one of the key men in the engine room. With the wholly ineffective Luke Varney (and at times, the almost equally ineffective Aidy White) on the left, and now the desperately off the pace Michael Tonge (1 Premier League start in 4 seasons at Stoke) completing the midfield quartet, the side find themselves relying on an 18 year-old and a new to the English game, Jamaican who Warnock would ideally like to rest following his international commitments.

With that in mind it is no wonder that Leeds are currently struggling; while the results show on the surface that every league game has been tight, with every victory and defeat being by the odd goal, in truth only exceptional goalkeeping displays by Paddy Kenny in Cardiff and Blackpool glossed over the huge dichotomy in class that was evident on both occasions. While the opening day victory over Wolves offered encouragement, it was achieved against a side that took over an hour to get into gear, and as much as supporters were left to bemoan the referee’s role in denying Leeds a maximum return against Blackburn, in truth, it was a game that the visitors should really have killed stone dead before El Hadji Diouf provided the Whites with a foothold in matters.

And we have to settle for Luke Varney...

Last weekend, Craig Bellamy left the bench to set Cardiff on the way to victory, then minutes later, Neil Warnock saw his “Number 1 summer target”, Nicky Maynard, win the penalty that condemned his side to defeat. Blackburn had given a debut to £8m Jordan Rhodes the Saturday before; Blackpool were able to field Tom Ince and then bring Matt Phillips off the bench to turn victory from the jaws of defeat at Bloomfield Road…Warnock is expected to compete with a budget (now completed exhausted) that has allowed him to set his aspirations no higher than Andy Gray and Luke Varney.

The fact is, Leeds United are a club going nowhere, its fan base left with nothing more to do than to pray for the moment that they can once again start to go somewhere. What is clear is that will not happen without a change of regime: new owners with a new philosophy of putting football first and wholly willing to back their vision with financial muscle. Even as things stand, Leeds United should be a much more competitive outfit, but an inhibitive wage structure and player budget, put in place so as to prioritise building projects, serves to ensure they cannot even now hope to compete for the cream of the emergency loan market.

Add to this equation, the losses to injury of Paul Green and David Norris from the midfield, the experienced Adam Drury at left-back and most crucially, the confirmed absence of Ross McCormack for up to 2 months and Leeds suddenly have the look of a bottom 6 outfit.

Still though the chairman chooses to preach to those naïve enough to swallow his increasingly inconsistent and nonsensical programme notes, his problem now however, is that he finds himself writing sermons to an increasingly small congregation of believers. Too many times has Ken Bates cried wolf, too often has he insisted that his is the way and then emphatically failed to deliver.

Independent thinking

The pre-match protest outside the East Stand by the same “morons” Bates is at pains to dismiss, week upon week as being of no concern to him was essentially just another simple reiteration of discontentment amongst what is (contrary to opinion) a largely articulate and well informed hardcore; while the ingeniously placed LUST advertisement on the lamp post outside the executive entrance, merely another PR masterstroke by an organisation that offers to supporters, the accountability and communication, never afforded from those running the club. Such actions are nothing new, albeit the clustering of supporters in the South Stand for the game displayed a more organised element of independent protest, somewhat necessitated by the anguish of nearly four months of playing the takeover waiting game.

None of these actions are likely to have concerned Bates more than they might normally do so, however, what may do was the verdict of the wider fan base, reflected in the attendance. Barely 12 months on from the last Elland Road encounter with Hull – which was incidentally another early season Tuesday night game, played against a similar backdrop of discontent of acrimony following a pitiful summer of investment in the playing staff – the gate had dropped from 22,363 to 19,750; a fall of over 2,600. Bearing in mind that the Hull City fans travelled in greater numbers this time and the fact that this season’s game was deemed ‘Category B’, meaning that adult tickets were in general, £5 cheaper, this represents a continuing trend of support sharply falling away – even allowing for more player sales (and who’s already wondering whether Lees, Byram or McCormack will still be here in February, should Bates remain?); it seems Bates can do little to sustain his tenure with income dwindling so drastically and future season ticket sales mortgaged against the cost of the East Stand redevelopment work. Surely an end is in sight?

In the meantime, the action on the pitch continues to accurately reflect the lack of ambition shown off it. True to work ethic that Neil Warnock has installed, the side started quickly against the Tigers, dominating the opening 20 minutes and took a well-deserved lead from the penalty spot; Becchio stroking home following a trip on Diouf. But, as things tend to go at times like these, one mistake was all that was needed to let the opposition back in, the hugely ineffectual Tonge tamely rolling the ball left from the edge of his own area, rather than taking the no nonsense option of launching it upfield or into the stand, allowing the rather more impressive Hull loanee, Elmohamady (55 starts in 2 years at the Stadium of Light) to run on to the loose ball and smash it home from 20 yards. From that moment, Hull were in the ascendancy; Leeds, having created a number of problems by getting the ball forward quickly to Diouf and Becchio, who’d been afforded the luxury of staying up front due to Steve Bruce’s decision to opt to play three centre backs, suddenly found themselves chasing shadows; Austin and Byram, essentially carrying Varney and Tonge were never in with a chance against a 5-man midfield. Six minutes on and Tom Lees lost Faye, free header, 2-1.


For the second consecutive home game, Leeds were there for the taking, but rather like Blackburn, the visitors seemed to lack the killer instinct to press on and finish off their opponents. While Blackburn had fallen apart following Diouf’s goal, Hull simply set the height of their ambitions at holding up the game at every opportunity, taking the sting out of any token momentum Leeds could muster – there wasn’t much.

Once behind, Leeds in general lacked creativity, players who could pick passes and a sense of positivity, only Diouf could oblige on all three counts, Austin and Byram on the latter. Most troubling was the complete and utter lack of pace in all areas of the pitch; indeed Aidy White, the only starting player renown for pace appears so incapable of using it to any constructive purpose, he may as well not have it.

Nothing emphasised the deficiency more than the introduction of Dominic Poleon just after the hour mark; his first two contributions were to run at players, and the team, suddenly afforded a new dimension picked up the tempo. Sadly it didn’t last as 15 minutes from time a corner for the home side turned into a break for the visitors, Leeds were hopelessly stretched at the back and Koren was able to steal in unmarked at the back post, rounding off the sort of fleet footed attack Leeds are just incapable of, to tuck in the third and seal the points.

Andy Gray grabbed a late second for Leeds as the referee’s assistant was preparing to deliver the news of there being 5 minutes stoppage time; that brought a brief surge of excitement but never looked like being the pre-cursor for a dramatic equaliser.

On paper, 3-2 looks like a narrow defeat, but nobody was fooled. Unless the club comes under new ownership very soon, a repeat of last season where the team effectively found itself anchored in mid-table with nothing to play for by March may yet prove to be more aspirational than we dare contemplate. 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Leeds United 3 Blackburn Rovers 3

“As one door closes, another opens”, so they say – it’s a pity the same doesn’t apply for windows; Neil Warnock could certainly be forgiven for thinking so as he woke this morning to reflect on another afternoon that defied all logic at Elland Road.

Deprived of the marquee signings he’d tailored his summer recruitment campaign around, and not "holding his breath" over any incoming loanees, Warnock currently presides over a team that has the battling qualities of potential title winners, but a squad that possesses the quality and depth of mid-table strugglers. Ambitions for an entire campaign hamstrung at board level by one individual, incapable of either running the club sustainably enough to support his manager or predisposed to put any of his own money in, yet seemingly unwilling to let others do so.

Bates' latest spin on the takeover...

Of course, Ken Bates was busy spinning a different tale; his own solipsistic take on matters in the programme proving not only a complete contradiction of everything that’s previously been stated about the takeover, but also an astonishing exemplar of hypocrisy of the highest order. Dear old Ken suddenly needs to feel assured the ‘investors’ can provide proof of funds; he wants to know who they are, whether they are ‘fit and proper persons’; he’s suddenly curious about their business plan and their reasons for investing in the club.

...it seems to be rather at odds with the official club statement, doesn't it?

This rather flies in the face of the official club statement on the website – a place we are constantly reminded, provides solid facts about the club – that revealed back in June that a period of exclusivity had been granted to the bidders after discussions had left the club “very comfortable they had the financial resources to support the club” and satisfied that “they will no issues satisfying the Football League’s Owners and Directors test”… something really doesn’t tally up in Bates’ rationale, now does it?

In truth it was quite amusing to see our chairman try and paint himself as a man of integrity, whose main interest was to ensure he left a positive legacy; how he’d absolutely refuse to hand any controlling interest over to a party until he was completely satisfied with their credentials. I can only imagine all those years he’d spent happily representing owners he claimed to know nothing about have been forgotten since he bought the club back off them.

Still, there seems to be plenty of supporters out there, only too willing to swallow the latest shovel load of horse shit that Bates is dishing out, especially with two ex-players from the greatest ever Leeds side seemingly only too willing to validate it all. While Peter Lorimer already stands several miles beyond the boundaries of redemption for selling his soul for a fistful of Euros; Eddie Gray now appears to be emerging from the shadows of the club’s premier Gaberlunzie, religiously reiterating the propaganda in the face of all logic – please stop it Eddie, you’re so much better than that.

A rather paltry 24,000 at Elland Road - a reflection on the board rather than the manager

Insanity off the pitch was reflected in the madness on it, come 3pm. The huge ovation afforded to Paul Robinson as he made his way towards the goal in front of the Kop, a reminder of what the club used to be and could be again; the reciprocated applause and ‘Leeds salute’ an acknowledgement of a special time in his career and a deep-rooted love for the place. Meanwhile, up by the centre circle stood Jordan Rhodes, his presence, openly mocking any claims that Leeds will ever be any kind of force, even at this modest level under the current regime.

For 35 minutes the harsh reality of the situation was plain for all to see; Leeds struggled to stay in the game. The decision to pair Diouf with Peltier down the right hand side, ruthlessly exposed as the former, charged with tracking Markus Olsson failed to do so twice; the first time Olsson charged unopposed into the area to drill the ball home, on the second occasion he set up Gomes to sweep home and double the advantage.

Chasing shadows

At that stage it was painful to watch; the Kop stood forlornly as one, like a collection of parents, watching their young charges playing a big game against another school, looking on in despair as the kids from the other place with their privileged backgrounds and Adidas Predator boots cruelly exposed the shortcomings of those beloved to them, all while the referee laughed, smiled and obliged the tormentors as they toyed with the beleaguered Whites.

But then two things changed and with it, so did the game; with the near lifeless carcass of Leeds United almost pleading for a mercy killing, Blackburn decided to drop back rather than strike a decisive blow, while in the absence of anything more constructive, Leeds adopted a new tactic of pummelling high balls in and around the 6 yard box at high speed.

Success was almost instant; after a couple of close calls, Norris' Saturn-bound punt had Becchio and Diouf bearing down on Robinson upon its eventual return to Earth; the ball was fumbled and eventually, several toe pokes later, Diouf put Leeds back in it – it was an eyesore of a goal, but ANYTHING would do at that stage. From that point, Blackburn crumbled; minutes later only Robinson’s fingertips denied Diouf a second as the visitors clung on for the interval in a game that should’ve been over.

Bang! 2-2

The pattern continued in the second half; as a spectacle it resembled today's Leeds United taking on last season’s XI, so lamentable was Blackburn’s defending. A simple long ball wasn’t dealt with and McCormack hammered in a shot that swerved passed Robinson to put Leeds level, then shortly after, another deep cross caused panic and Becchio’s header somehow evaded the keeper – 3-2: cue pandemonium.

That should've been it; Blackburn were in pieces and cries of "Kean out!" rang out from the Kop more audibly than from they did from the West Stand, it would’ve been it too had Pearce’s header been allowed to stand – few people could understand why it didn’t. It wasn’t of over course, not while Neil Swarbrick had a role to play; I was still bawling expletives from the back of the Kop over his ludicrous decision to award a free-kick against Tom Lees following Morten Gamst Pedersen’s pushing, as Ruben Rochina back-heeled in from the resultant corner with 7 minutes remaining.

Tom Lees: faultless throughout, regardless of what the ref may claim...

It was the worst and most costly of a multitude of mystifying decisions made by a referee who spent the entire game trotting around the pitch like a Brylcream smothered show pony and a last gasp opportunity squandered by Diouf in the dying moments ensured he wasn’t to be spared the wrath of Warnock; come the final whistle, rather than walk towards the Kop to applaud the home support, Neil waited, and waited, and waited some more, until the official, surrounded by a bevy of minders made his way towards the tunnel. Fingers were pointed vigorously…

Warnock later branded that final decision as “embarrassing”; even that seemed fairly charitable, though maybe the referee was merely trying to fit in with the spirit of another perplexing day. At 3.35pm the home support were desperately looking at a damage limitation exercise; by 5pm many were fuming at being denied a win.

Logic has long since departed LS11.