By Keith Ingham
It all started so well, Luke Murphy sneaking a shot under the prone body of the Brighton goalkeeper and sending the crowd into frenzy. I remember it well and still grimace at the hangover I had the day after. We'd got a few new names in, Hunt a proven striker but not a prolific goalscorer and spent the first million pounds since 2005 on a skilful midfield youngster Luke Murphy from Crewe who in their time have brought several players through your youth system. Add a striker who scored against both Merseyside teams in the FA Cup last season. Matt Smith was generally seen as one for the future but Brian McDermott had done his best with the limited budget he'd been given. The old guard was still there and the thousands of pounds tied up in their contracts given to them by 'Colin', it still grates that a man who only came for a season gave players two and three year contracts. We followed the first win with a rarity, a Michael Brown thunderbolt in the Carling Cup game v Chesterfield, a creditable draw at Leicester and on our travels we also gained victories at Ipswich and Bolton.
New blood came in before the loan window shut, Scott Wootton a no nonsense centre half that boosted the team in the centre back department. It was going so well until the wheels came off at Millwall and especially at Derby when for the tenth time in a row they beat us, it wasn't the fact of the run of defeats it was the way the team gave in, much to the annoyance of the manager. Burnley dinted the home record when they defeated us but in all honestly they were the best team I've seen in the theatre of hope.
We burst into life when much to my agreement when Brian McDermott tried a 3-5-2 in a behind doors friendly and it worked. Ross McCormack back to his mercurial best scoring goals of quality and being all round our best player of October and November. Other players worthy of a mention are captain Rudy Austin and born again wing back Danny Pugh who came in at Charlton where Ross grabbed four goals and has played like he's never been out of the team. Matt Smith weighed in with a few goals and made one of the front two positions his own and even Michael Brown steadied the ship when needed. Jason Pearce improved and showed why he won so many club awards at his last club. The signing of Marius Žaliūkas was in my opinion Brian's best he is a assured centre back who has done enough to earn a new contract with the club. The emergence of academy product Alex Mowatt was another bonus, bursting into the team much as Sam Byram did the season before him. Tall, dark haired and a little like Gary Speed in the way he plays.
The last month hasn't been the best but as I write Leeds stand seventh only out of the top six by goal difference because Ipswich have scored more goals than us. The future looks better and it could be improved even more if the proposed takeover is completed in the early weeks of January giving Brian McDermott the necessary funds to improve the squad and get in the players he clearly said were needed after the Forest defeat.
So a old year rings out and a new one comes in and who's to say that come May Leeds may well be 'in the mix' for a place where this great club and it's fantastic supporters deserve to be.
A Happy New Year to Leeds United fans everywhere.
By Seán Ryan
For the last ten years Leeds United have been stuck in the doldrums of the Championship and, for a hellish three years, League One. It was an awful time for one of England's and the world's most colourful teams. But with new investment on the way and an ambitious young manager at the helm things are finally starting to look up for Leeds.
Leeds have a massive fan base all over the world, a top of the range training ground an academy that has produced the likes of Harry Kewell, Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith, Paul Robinson, Johnny Howson, Fabien Delph, Sam Byram and Alex Mowatt and a Premier League standard ground. Then, in a league of there own, the fans. Elland Road is a tight, enclosed stadium, where the atmosphere is always electric. Even when Leeds dropped into League One in 2007 Elland Road was still averaging 23,000 for home games. Our fans are one of the main reasons why we will become title contenders once again. When you think about it when we get back into the Premier League there will be 40,000 odd at every game. The club shop sales will go through the roof and bang we’ve big investment to bring in top quality players.
Teams like Manchester City and Chelsea have been bought by multi-billionaires in order to spin a profit and as a pastime to some of their owners. But no team has ever had the history of success that Leeds United do. History will show these backers that if they invest right the fans will stand for nothing less than success, both domestically and in Europe. The club’s history will demand it, the fans will demand it and so will the owners. Which should breed it. Investment would bring back the glory days that fans my age never saw and will also attract new fans.
Leeds is the biggest club in Yorkshire and has the potential to become one of the biggest clubs in world football. Top class players would come to play in Leeds because of the history of the club and the sheer potential that it has. All that needs to be done now is someone to start it and Brian McDermott seems to be doing it. Leeds has the team to go up and with Ross McCormack banging in the goals they are very well capable of going up in style. The Championship is unpredictable so a string of decent results will see us grab one of the top two spots.
The last reason why I think that we will become one of the top four again is because there is no team in the Premier League bar Hull and they will never be more than a bottom half of the table team. The Premier League needs a team from Yorkshire to be challenging and Leeds is the best for the job. All that needs to be done is the signing of some top quality players. We have some tremendous talent coming through the academy that is good enough to rival Dave O’Leary’s team so they should be given a chance. Look at Southampton and how they’ve progressed. Leeds can be better we just have to take the chance.
Once Leeds gets promoted they will be there to stay. The first year will be survival, second year mid-table and third year top four. Leeds United are on the rise again and the glory days of the Don Revie era, the title-winning year of 1992 and the Champions League campaigns of the early 2000’s are on the horizon once again. Premier League beware we’re coming home . . .
By Steve Barras
It’s that time of the season again, the January transfer window and I have a sneaky feeling that once the new years celebrations have all but been forgotten and we drag ourselves screaming into February 2014 we will be a much happier set of football fans. Theoretically we will have new majority owners and four new faces in the squad, hopefully a few of the dead weights will also have left Elland Road but we can’t ask for too much…can we?
Talking of dead weights, who would you like to go in January? For me there are a few but I doubt we could get rid of them all, mostly they would hang on for their wage packets rather than take pay cuts and actually do what they are paid for, which is play football.
The obvious one’s for me are David Norris, Paul Green, Luke Varney, Michael Brown, Adam Drury and the one name that isn’t quite as obvious but the speculation about him leaving is causing as much controversy as he did when he joined the club, El-Hadji Diouf. Danny Pugh would have been on that list as well but his current form must mean a stay of execution…at least until the end of the season. Six faces gone if this was Fantasy Football, unfortunately I can foresee two, possibly three leaving in January.
Now this proposed takeover by David Hague and co. is apparently going to leave us in a very healthy position to strengthen the playing staff in LS11 and Mr McDermott has already handed Mr Haigh a list with four names on it. I personally feel we need five but I am not Brian and we have got to trust his judgement because…well…we haven’t really got a choice.
Firstly we are crying out for a striker to help Ross (18 Goals) McCormack, Matt Smith is doing his best bless him, but we need a striker that can use his feet as well as his head. We don’t need a journeyman striker in the shape of Noel Hunt or a headless sheep like Dominic Poleon, I personally would plump for Nahki Wells, the Bradford striker has scored 15 goals this season in League 1 and has scored 42 goals in 91 appearances altogether for his current team.
Secondly we NEED wingers. I know Max Gradel has been much touted about and yes I would love to have him back but as it is a World Cup year and as much as it hurts to say it, he would be dropping down in stature to play for us again. So lets look at the alternatives. Stevenage winger Luke Freeman could be a good acquisition, the highly rated 21 year old has already been told that he may be leaving in January because Stevenage are enduring some financial difficulties. Another winger who was attracting some attention in the summer was Gary Mackay-Steven and McDermott has, if rumours are to be believed, already made his interest in the player known to his club, Dundee United.
The contentious part of this piece is deciding which position makes up the final four, I have heard calls for a new keeper, a new central defender and a new central midfielder. I say leave the midfield alone, after the wingers come in of course. Even if the deadwood leaves in January that still leaves us with Luke Murphy, Rodolph Austin, Alex Mowatt and Michael Tonge but we also have the likes of Chris Dawson and Zac Thompson waiting in the wings. Midfield is sorted and I think the defence is likewise. The addition of Marius Zaliukas has steadied the ship somewhat and I firmly believe that Tom Lees will become a mainstay of our defence even if we reach the Premier League at the end of this season. With the addition of wingers I think McDermott will go back to a flat back four leaving Jason Pearce and Scott Wootton as back-up.
This leaves the goalkeeping jersey which is currently being occupied by Alex Cairns. Paddy Kenny is our undisputed number 1 at the moment but he isn’t getting any younger and I know little about Cairns except that he is a product of our youth system and he came on for Paul Rachubka in THAT game. I fully believe in our youth set-up as anybody would with the talent that has rolled off it in recent years but even if Cairns turns out to be the next Paul Robinson then we would need a keeper to push him on when Paddy retires and when Jamie Ashdown inevitably leaves the club when his contract runs out in the summer. I have to admit I know little about keepers apart from the obvious and I doubt Joe Hart or Jack Butland would want to come and play for Leeds at the moment so I would have to leave that in the hands of the boss, even though I did, once, have a funny feeling that Alex Smithies would one day play for Leeds.
So after all my rambling we come to the question that is at the top, Will silly season result in a Promotion push? With Wells, Freeman, Mackay-Steven and an extra keeper on the books I really don’t see why not.
By Mike Courtney
Following yesterdays 2-1 defeat at Forest which resulted in just 2 points gained over the 3 game festive period, Leeds lie in 7th place just outside the playoff places on goal difference as we reach the half way stage of the season. The New Year is beckoning with hopes of a new and positive takeover and money for investment in our push for promotion. BMAC has a wish list of 4 new players in the January window to supplement the existing squad and when we look in depth at what we have, it is plain to see that strengthening is required in certain areas.
It's not been a bad campaign so far and if you had offered us fans this position at the start of the season most would have taken it. Yes there have been a few disappointing results, Barnsley and Burnley at home and Derby away spring to mind, but in this league you will get that and it's how you recover and move on is what's important.
As we are halfway there and it is the end of the year I've decided to take a look at the squad and assess the individual performances and see who has been fared well and who has disappointed. So here goes:
Paddy Kenny has been ever present in the League and has shown why he is considered one of the top keepers in the League. He has kept us in games with some good shot stopping and with Ashdown injured and Cairns untried he is vital to our promotion push. He is vulnerable under high balls and tends to flap at crosses but all in all he has had a decent campaign so far. 7/10
At the back we have had 10 players featuring throughout the season. Starting with our four recognised centre backs and the ever present Jason Pearce. He has been one to benefit from the change in formation to 3-5-2 and looks comfortable in that role. His lack of pace is not exposed as much as it was in a back four and chipping in with 2 goals he can be happy with his season so far. 7/10
Tom Lees has played in 19 games and was used as a right back at times in the early part of the season but has also revelled in the 3-5-2 formation since BMAC changed to that formation. He is still learning his trade but has upped his performances from last season and is a fixture in the back 3 and will be for the foreseeable future. Good campaign so far with room for improvement. 6.5/10.
Completing the trio is the impressive Marius Zaliukas. Since his arrival from Scotland he has shown what a good defender he is and has marshalled the back 3 from the centre. He is strong in the tackle, good in the air and on the ground and for me is the leader of the three. He can only get better and has settled in well in his 7 appearances so far, it's hard to remember what it was like before he came. A great signing, 8/10.
Scott Wootton has featured in 9 matches and was holding his own until injury sidelined him. He will find it hard to break the trio of Lees, Zaliukas and Pearce at the moment but when he was in the side, he looked composed and strong and it's great to have a player of his calibre as back up when injury and suspension kick in. He can be satisfied with his move across the Pennines and scoring on his debut in The Carling Cup soon put paid to the few boo boys. One for the future 6/10.
We have four full backs/wing backs in the squad so lets start with Lee Peltier. Our former skipper has his critics, me included, but he seems to be another who is suited to the 3-5-2 formation. He has also benefited from the absence of Sam Byram through injury and has featured in 19 games, also scoring his first goal for Leeds away at Blackpool. His versatility is also a help and he can fit in at centre back or left back. He has had a decent campaign so far and on current form deserves his starting place.
Sam Byram has had a difficult second season at Leeds. Last year's player of the year has been hampered by a hip injury and hasn't featured that much this season with just 9 appearances and most of those as a sub. There is definitely more to come from young Sam in 2014 and once he is fully fit we will see him raiding down the right flank leaving defenders in his wake. A fully fit Byram is essential if we are to push for promotion and I can't wait to see him back to his best. 4/10
On the left we have used 3 players, Warnock, Pugh and Drury. Warnock started the campaign and was ever present until suspension and then injury forced him out of the squad. He has played 13 times but since his return to fitness he hasn't been able to regain his starting place. Still a vital member of the squad and his experience could be vital towards the end of the campaign. 5.5/10
The reason Warnock hasn't regained his place is mainly due to the re-emergence of Danny Pugh. He was the forgotten man who hardly featured in over a year but he has taken his chance like the top pro he is. He has been ever present for the last 9 games and has chipped in with a goal and a few assists and seems to be suited to the left wing back role. He deserves praise for the way he has handled himself and the fans seem to have taken to him. He will be a vital cog in our promotion push. 7.5/10
Adam Drury has only played in one game and is well down the pecking order but he could do a Danny Pugh and his experience could prove valuable in the months ahead. 2/10
All in all our defence has improved under McDermott and having adapted to the new formation they can get better in the second half of the season. Moving to the midfield and we'll start with our skipper Rudy Austin. He epitomises what Leeds United are all about. Passion, power, drive and unfortunately inconsistency. Sometimes when you watch him you wonder why he is not playing at a higher level, his performance against Birmingham in the 4-0 win springs to mind, but then there are other times when he fails to perform and goes missing. Thankfully the former happens more then the latter and if he can get that level of consistency aided and abetted by those around him, then he can be the one to inspire us to promotion. With just 2 goals in 22 appearances he is by no means prolific and we do need him to chip in with a few more goals, but his marauding runs, crunching tackles and endless energy endear him to the faithful and he was an inspired choice as skipper. More to come from our Jamaican International in 2014. 8/10
Luke Murphy, our million pound man has played in 20 games scoring just once on his début with a last second winner against Brighton. He is neat and tidy on the ball and can play the killer pass but again is inconsistent and can appear languid at times in possession. He needs to impose himself a bit more and take control of games along with Austin and Mowatt but all in all a decent first half of the season., 7/10
Alex Mowatt is the Sam Byram of 2013/14. He has come from nowhere and apart from the last 2 games when he was rested, has been an ever present since his début playing 12 games. He is composed in possession, has a great delivery from set pieces and has been unlucky not to get on the scoresheet. He is what the future of Leeds United is all about and having signed a long term deal he will be a fixture in the side for years to come. If he can add goal scoring to his repertoire he will be some player. As for now he has done exceptionally well and doesn't look out of place at this level. 8/10
Michael Tonge was one to lose out to Mowatt and hasn't featured that much of late despite his start against Blackpool being his 12th appearance of the campaign. The emergence of Mowatt and Murphy have placed him down the pecking order and he will probably only have a few cameos if they stay fit. A good man to have though as back up but he will be disappointed with the way the season has panned out for him. 5/10
Michael Brown has only played 6 times but has started the last 2 games and when he is in the side he puts himself about and is a great man to have in the squad. Always likely to be booked though but you would prefer to have him on your side then come up against him. Could be vital part of the squad when the going gets tough. 5.5/10
Believe it or not Paul Green has featured in 9 games, mainly at the start of the season. Injury curtailed his progress and not much has been seen of him of late. Another one with good experience but will find it hard to regain his place in the match day squad especially if new signings are brought in. 4/10
Gboly Ariyibi made his first appearance as a sub in yesterdays defeat at Forest and may have some role to play as the season unfolds. Too early to rate him at this stage. Overall our midfielders have been adequate without setting the world on fire and this is an area I think the manager will look to improve during January. There are not enough goals coming from this area with only 3 goals between the lot of them. We won't get promoted unless more goals come from midfield.
Moving up front and we will start with ours and the Leagues top scorer. What can I say about the performances of Ross McCormack. Only for him I shudder to think where we would be. 17 goals in 23 games leaves him just one short of his best tally since he joined us which was 18 in the 2011/12 season. And it's not just his goalscoring that has been exceptional it's his all round link up play, his unselfish running and his work rate that has made him the stand put player of the season so far. If he gets injured then we can kiss goodbye to any hopes of promotion. He has scored half our goals this campaign and at the moment looks like our only hope of getting goals. He needs back-up and I think BMAC will bring someone in to ease the burden on Ross. He tried that with Blackstock who unfortunately got injured early in their partnership. Ross has been the star man so far and we hope he continues in this rich vein of form in the new year. 9.5/10
Matt Smith is our next top scorer with 6 goals. He started the season as an impact sub, but since Blackstock has returned to Forest has nailed down a starting place and he seems to work well as the target man with Ross feeding off him. There is room for improvement though and for a tall man he needs to be more imposing in the air. He has scored some good goals, his header versus Birmingham his best of the season in my opinion. Needs to take some more of the scoring burden off Ross but all in all a good start to his Elland Road career. 7/10
I though this year would be the year we saw Dominic Poleon shine. It hasn't worked out that way for the young lad. He has played 13 times mostly as a sub and has only found the net once in the league. He does possess genuine pace and if he improves his all round game it could happen for him in the second half of the season. Up to this point it has been disappointing for him but who knows what 2014 will bring. Hopefully more game time for Dom and more goals to push us towards promotion. 5/10
Luke Varney was an ever present at the start of the season in a front 3 that featured Ross and Noel Hunt. Injury and loss of form cost him his place and he has only recently returned to the squad. He has bagged 2 goals in his 10 appearances, so could be another one waiting to make an impact in 2014. If BMAC signs a striker though his days at the club could be numbered. 5/10
Another new signing was Noel Hunt who worked under McDermott at Reading and again was a regular starter in the early part of the season making 8 appearances. The goals didn't come, and though he worked his socks off it just didn't happen for him and his form slipped and he lost his place. Injury has curtailed his progress of late but if he can get back to full fitness and regain some of the form he had at Reading, the fans could yet be singing his name come May. 4/10.
The final player I will rate is El Hadji Diouf. His season never got going and was used mainly as a substitute in the early part of the season, playing 4 times but he hasn't featured at all lately for one reason or another and I can't see him having much of a role under McDermott. Still a fans favourite when he does play but we may have seen the last of him in a Leeds shirt. 2/10.
So there you have it. Some of you will agree and more of you will disagree with my assessment of the season so far. All in all it hasn't been that bad. We are still there or there about at the right end of the table. We need to get a few players in during the window and the manager has 4 targets in mind. If we can get 2 or 3 of them and the gel quickly I think we could make a strong push for promotion in 2014. We need to be more consistent and go on a run of 3 or 4 wins on the trot to close the gap on the top 4. We have the right man at the helm and with Ross, Zaliukas, Pearce, Austin and Mowatt we have the players to do just that. We haven't seen the best of Byram yet this campaign and there is more to come from the likes of Murphy and Smith and with the addition of 2 or 3 good quality signings we can be up there fighting at the end of the season.
Happy New Year to Leeds United supporters everywhere. Hope 2014 brings you joy on and off the field.
MOT Leeds Leeds Leeds.
By Andrew Butterwick
As the car headed south to Nottingham for our last game of 2013 we reflected on another "interesting" year on Planet Leeds. The year started with Neil Warnock's team putting in faultless efforts on the field whilst off the field Shaun Harvey was working his socks off looking for new players to boost the quality of the squad. The problem was none of that transferred into anything other than hopeful hoofball and poor results on the pitch. An inspiring cup victory against Spurs in January papered over the cracks as Warnock's tenure at Elland Road crumbled culminating in the sack after another inept home defeat to Derby appropriately on April Fools day. In true Warnock fashion he believed he'd done a super job at Leeds and left the club in a "good position". Thousands of Leeds fans had a slightly different view. Brian McDermott arrived to steer Leeds away from the relegation trap door and finish the season with a memorable victory at promotion chasing Watford. The summer didn't bring the flood of new personnel into Thorp Arch that many fans craved but Brian McD assembled a team that, with the help of a tactical change to a 3.5.2 system, are now firmly knocking on the play off door as 2014 beckons.
Pre match refreshments were taken in the Notts County bar as the Happy Chocker, Quiet One and yours truly pondered our chances of wiping the annoying smirk off Billy Davies' chubby face. Murphy replaced Tonge in the only change from the Boxing Day game whilst Forest continued with Halford leading their line in the absence of Darius Henderson. Our conclusion was this one was too close to call as we headed for away end. Over 26,000 were packed inside the City Ground as the game kicked off creating a lively atmosphere as both sets of fans exchanged views on Brain Clough, Jimmy Saville and the miners strike.
A miss hit pass back to Paddy Kenny caused the first incident of the game as the giant makeshift Forest forward, Halford, clattered into the Leeds keeper leaving him prostrate on the turf. After 5 anxious minutes Kenny was ready to resume. But was he fit? Leeds had the first chance of the game as Danny Pugh rifled in a shot from the left only for it to cannon away for a corner. The opening exchanges were frenetic as you'd expect from two teams in the play off spots and as a result we heard plenty of the ref's whistle in the first 20 minutes. Brown, Mackie and Reid seemed to either be fouling or being fouled during this period but as the game settled down Reid and Lansbury started to get an upper hand in the vital midfield area. Forest's pressing plan was forcing plenty of unforced errors from Leeds as the home side dominated possession.
On 23 minutes Brown and Reid clashed again and the ref gave Forest a dubious free kick deep in the Leeds half. Reid hoisted the ball to the far post looking for Mr Halford, surely a tactic Leeds were anticipating, but despite the bleeding obvious Halford was allowed to leap and head the ball past the struggling Kenny into the net. 1.0 Forest and the stadium erupted in celebrations. Leeds were now wobbling and Forest were oozing confidence as Lansbury and Reid pulled the strings at the heart of the midfield. Two shots within two minutes of the restart whizzed agonisingly close to the Leeds goal as the home side looked to press home their advantage. Leeds did respond in the shape of Brown as he collected the ball in the centre circle before giving a shimmy to lose his man and head straight for the Forest goal like a man possessed........memories of his stunner against Chesterfield came flooding back..........that is until his shot ballooned wide and handsome into the crowd! This did give Leeds some hope and two more chances quickly followed. First Austin snatched at a shot from outside the box before Smith glanced a header wide from a superb Austin cross.
It was Forest who were finishing the half the stronger though Majewski, Abdoun and Mackie all rattled shots in on the injured Kenny but the Leeds shot stopper stood firm. The half time whistle couldn't come quick enough for me to enable Brain McD to regroup his troops. Lees, Pearce and Zaliukas were all working overtime to keep the Forest at bay. Half Time 1.0 Forest.
The urinal philosophers weren't in a very positive mood as they reflected on the first 45 minutes. "That was rubbish" one fan commented. "We'll get nowt today" another offered. One fan thought Matt Smith was the cause of all evil whilst one was even berating Tom Lees. After that boost of positive thinking I settled down for the 2nd period. The opening exchanges of the half were similar to the first 45 minutes as Leeds struggled to make any impact on the Forest defence. There was a lot more urgency in the Leeds play though which gave a glimmer of hope of pulling the single goal back. It was Forest who nearly doubled their lead on 63 minutes as Abdoun smashed a shot at Kenny from the right hand side of the box.
Brian McD had made his first sub by withdrawing Brown in favour of the untried Ariyibi. The gangling youngster almost made an immediate impact as he found space to receive a lovely cushioned header from Smith on the edge of the box. His snatched shot went for a throw in which I've got to admit takes quite a bit of skill from the centre of the box! Byram followed Ariyibi onto the pitch as Leeds suddenly started to put pressure on Forest. Young Byram's extra pace and willingness to attack soon had Forest back pedalling as Leeds enjoyed their best period of the game. Forest were still a major threat going forward and the portly Reid nearly clinched the game on 81 minutes as he pinged a shot past Kenny and onto the post. Leeds broke down the right from the goal kick and Byram found space in the inside forward position and surged towards the Forest box................his low cross rebounded against desperate defenders legs and straight into Ross Mac's path who side footed the ball low into the net. Get innnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn! 1.1. The away support celebrated as if we had just won the league and we were still celebrating when Matt Derbyshire drove a stunning 25 yarder past a despairing Kenny straight from the kick off. Double Bollox. 2.1 Forest and Leeds had fallen for the oldest trick in the book, never relax straight after scoring a goal.
The atmosphere in the stadium was now electric as both teams tried to finish the game off. Poleon, on for Ross Mac, headed over from 8 yards. Next he found space on the left but his shot was blocked. 5 minutes of added time wasn't enough for Leeds to pull back a 2nd equaliser and the game ended 2.1 Forest. There was a real buzz as the fans streamed away from the ground, "What an atmosphere, what a game.....the best we've played all season" an excited Forest fan shouted into his phone as I reflected on how far we've come in a year but also the fact that our squad is wafer thin and needs a small injection of quality in the January window. A fact supported by the uncomfortable thought that our potential "game changer" from the bench was an untried youngster who was released by Southampton in the summer.
Tom Lees was my man of the match closely followed by his fellow centre backs Zaliukas and Pearce. The midfield took a battering all afternoon and Smith struggled against Hobbs and Lascelles at the heart of the Forest defence. Kenny clearly wasn't fit after his 1st minute collision. Not sure why Cairns didn't replace him? We didn't perform in the first half but fought back in the 2nd when we had no right to but once we'd equalised it was so disappointing to concede within 10 seconds. Nobody said following Leeds is easy though.
So onto the home game with Blackburn on New Year's Day. Brian McD has a list of 4 players he wants to bring in when the transfer window opens. After today's showing we definitely need a little help if we're going to finish in the top six come the end of May. Interesting times ahead on Planet Leeds. Will 2014 be a better vintage than 2013? I've a sneaking feeling it might just be.
By Rob Atkinson
So here we are at the last knockings of what has been, to say the least, an eventful 2013. The New Year is just around the corner, with all of its rich promise, uncertainty and bright prospects - we hope - of a more stable and better-funded club. Everything that can make a success-starved Leeds United fan "dare to dream" is getting closer and closer.
That fresh start is perhaps just a couple of days away now. But before it, there lays in our path the last obstacle of the old year, a hurdle that we traditionally find difficult to clear. This is something that seems likely to be just as true as ever as we travel to the City Ground, Nottingham to face the comically-nicknamed "Tricky Trees" of the Forest.
This is a big game for both clubs, poised as they are to enter the second half of the campaign as genuine contenders for promotion via one route or another. Both ache to be among the elite again, neither will be choosy how that is to be achieved, whether it be by the automatic route or through the chancy play-offs. Either club would grace the top flight; it's a face-off between two of the division's true heavyweights. Forest go into battle on the back of a highly-creditable 2-0 defeat of pre-season favourites QPR, Leeds emerged from an away game at Blackpool with a point and somewhat unlucky not to have gained all three.
Forest are likely to field the team that dismissed Rangers, but also welcome back Simon Cox as a fresh attacking option. On the Trees' injury list are Danny Collins, Chris Cohen and Kelvin Wilson, as well as a certain Dexter Blackstock, out for the rest of the season with a knee injury picked up on Whites loan duty.
For Leeds, Luke Murphy is available again after a one-match suspension, so manager Brian McDermott has options in midfield, where Tonge and Brown performed well at Bloomfield Road. Young Alex Mowatt may remain in the background, being protected from early burn-out, but teenage wide man Gboly Ariyibi continues to push from the bench, while elder statesmen El-Hadji Diouf and Paul Green are also waiting to make their first real contributions in a while.
Even at my most optimistic, I'm struggling to predict anything massively positive from this one. It may well be that this fixture will represent our darkest hour before a new dawn, putting an end to an unbeaten December that has included rather too many draws along with its two victories. A draw would be great here too, but it appears unlikely against a Forest side with its tails up and as eager as ever to beat those notorious Clough-persecutors from up the road. With the best will in the world, I can see little other than a defeat here, possibly by 3 goals to 1.
Still, this is Leeds United - and just as they sometimes kick your optimistic hopes in the teeth, so they will occasionally surprise you when you're expecting nowt. That's the possibility to cling on to as we take on a difficult task. I don't predict a defeat unless I can genuinely see little else on the horizon, and this is one time when I'd be delighted to be proved utterly wrong.
By Andrew Butterwick
The car was full of the usual regrets at the previous day's over indulgence in both food and alcohol as The Happy Chocker, Quiet One and yours truly headed to the Seaside for our Boxing Day clash with the Donkey Lashers. It never ceases to amaze me how much is eaten over Xmas but that didn't stop me filling the car with Turkey sandwiches, Pork Pie and enough chocolate to sink a ship........."just in case" we were hungry at the match. As if!
Blackpool offered an intriguing challenge. Their form has collapsed in recent games losing their last four on the bounce together with collecting 5 red cards for their troubles. At the same time Leeds have put together a mini unbeaten run of four games but in recent clashes with the Seasiders, Leeds have always been left empty handed and in awe at the skill and pace of the Tangerines. The one thing we were all convinced of though was it would be absolutely Baltic in the rickety away stand with the wind whipping in from the less than seasonal Irish Sea.
Brian McD was forced into a change with Murphy suspended but he also rested Mowatt from Saturday's starting line up leaving a midfield three of Brown, Tonge and Austin. New boy Gboly Ariyibi and Wootton were additions to the bench. The travelling support amongst the 15,000 crowd were in boisterous mood as the game got under away. The first 15 minutes were a bit scrappy to say the least as both teams vied for the early superiority. Michael Brown made sure Mr Ince knew he was on the field with a couple of no holds barred tackles whilst the rather portly expert gambler, Michael Chopra, seemed intent on collecting as many offside flags as possible in a ten minute period? Leeds settled the better though and went ahead with their first incisive attack on 24 minutes. The hard working Danny Pugh hit a superb back post cross from the bye line for Pelts to head back across the despairing Gilks and into the Blackpool goal. 1.0 Leeds.
The goal stung the Seasiders into action. They won two corners in quick succession, one from a Matt Smith sliced clearance, but the resolute Leeds defence led by the magnificent Zaliukas held firm. Tom Ince offered the most threat from the home side but he was closely marshalled by the men in blue. Not surprisingly the travelling support gave him dogs abuse for his father's connection with the The Theatre of Shite, but the obscene chants about his family were a step too far for me. The next chance went to Blackpool as another teasing Ince corner was thundered over the bar. At the other end Ross Mac was looking to end his one match scoring drought as he broke away from his markers twice but failed to get a decent shot away. Leeds ended the half in reasonable control of the game with both goalies having had little to do in a tense first half.
The general view from the urinal philosophers was that Blackpool's facilities were less than fit for purpose as we crammed into a small Portacabin seeking some half time relief from the pre match refreshments. Other than that the main theme was "We need a 2nd goal to be safe", too true I thought. Leeds were now playing towards the goal nearest their fans and started the half with a bang as first Austin and then Pearce missed chances to double their lead as Blackpool started to look suspect at the back. Jack Robinson woke the home crowd up with a searing thirty yard shot that went inches wide of Paddy's post. "We definitely need a second" I mused to HC. Austin wasted another good chance from 18 yards when he unsuccessfully tried to volley a loose ball home as the clocked passed the hour mark.
Inevitably Leeds were made to pay for their missed chances by none other than Tom Ince when his shot was wickedly deflected past a helpless Paddy Kenny on 67 minutes. 1.1 and suddenly memories of last year's capitulation at Bloomfield Road after being one up came flooding back like the ghost of Xmas past. Leeds responded immediately though as neat play released Ross Mac who got goal side of Broadfoot only for the Blackpool defender to haul the Scot back on the very edge of the box. Another red card seemed inevitable for Blackpool as Ross Mac was clear on goal when he was unceremoniously dragged back, but inexplicably the ref only produced a yellow? Bizarre. The free kick deflected away for a corner and the danger was gone. Buoyed by the goal the home team went looking for the winner leaving space at the back for Leeds to exploit but suddenly it was the Tangerines who looked the most likely with Leeds bodies being thrown at Blackpool shots to keep the scores level. Broadfoot was determined to get an early bath though and with a minute left he lunged into a reckless tackle leaving Zaliukas writhing on the floor for the 2nd game running and leaving the Blackpool defender with a nice Red card. There was 3 minutes of added time but the game ended with the scores level. Leeds were unfortunate not to take all three points in this very tight game. Statistics don't lie though and with only 3 shots on target all night from both sides this was anything but a classic.
It speaks volumes of the progress Leeds have made that most of their fans were disappointed with just a point as they streamed away from a ground that last year they visited expecting and getting absolutely nothing. Brown and Tonge worked hard in midfield but both tired late on as did Smith. Both wing backs, Pelts and Pugh had notable games but my Man of the Match went to Zaliukas for another impressive showing at the back. The point was enough to keep us in the play off places at 6th with Sunday's clash with Forest up next.
The Forest game will be a big test for Brian McD's men but with the organisation he has instilled in the team they will travel in confidence to the East Midlands. It would be nice to finish another turbulent year in the history of Leeds United with a win at the City Ground wouldn't it?
By Rob Atkinson
A Leeds United side with no festive preoccupations heads off to Blackpool for tomorrow's live TV clash of two famous old footballing names. Kind old Santa McDermott has benignly cancelled Christmas for his troops, or at least he's postponed it until May, perhaps hoping that there will by then be even better reasons to celebrate. Whatever the logic behind it, the Leeds lads will have been training today instead of stuffing themselves with rich food and unwise amounts of alcohol - and quite right, too. We can therefore look forward to them emerging from the tunnel at Bloomfield Road lean, fit and perhaps with a slight, competitive edge of resentment that the usual seasonal gluttony has passed them by somewhat. A bit of a nasty streak is important for any Leeds United team to be at its best.
Coincidentally, it was Blackpool away who provided the opposition for our last Christmas DAY fixture in 1956. Yes, they used to play League Football on Christmas Day - imagine that. It makes a mere training session seem almost festive. On that Yuletide occasion 57 years ago, a goal from Harold Brook secured us a 1-1 draw, which wouldn't be the worst late Christmas present tomorrow, either.
Blackpool, of course, is famous for fresh air and fun. It's also quite well-known for donkeys, and looking at the Tangerines' last few results you'd be forgiven for thinking there might be a few of those noble beasts in their default starting eleven. The last four games have resulted in defeat, seeing Blackpool slide a little off the promotion pace. But as with any side at this level, they can be relied upon to give of their best when Leeds United are in town.
The home side have a couple of injury doubts in striker Ricardo Fuller and centre-back Gary MacKenzie, but midfielder Angel Martinez is available for selection again after a two-match suspension. For Leeds, Luke Murphy is suspended after receiving his fifth caution of the season in the stalemate with Barnsley. Marius Zaliukas must be rated a doubt after the injury he sustained against the Tykes; fit-again Scott Wootton stands by to deputise.
As for a prediction - I will hope for better and fear worse, but on balance I feel a repeat of that Christmas Day result in 1956 is not unlikely. Leeds have two clean sheets on the trot and Blackpool are in a poor run, but this one feels as though it will be tight and competitive, with Paul Ince determined to have his men back to their best for such a marquee fixture. I'll go with 1-1 and a goal from Matt Smith to ensure a share of the seasonal spoils for Leeds United - and Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, to all who read this.
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