By Mark Rasdall
So tonight some 6,000 Leeds United fans will travel to St James Park for the Capital One Cup tie against Newcastle United. It's a game I'm sure all LUFC fans are looking forward to - another opportunity to test ourselves against a Premier League club, following recent seasons' encounters with both Manchester, Liverpool and North London clubs, oh, and Southampton.
It's also a no-win situation in many ways. If we do well it's another league cup fixture to fit in whereas if we get thumped we'll worry about the shaky recent confidence of the team being badly affected. How many times have we worried about cup runs ruining our league campaigns? We are not in the position yet to be able to accommodate both and it not have a negative net effect. However, this is a real opportunity for Brian McDermott to try out some new ideas and I hope some of the younger players in the first-team squad do get opportunities. We no longer seem to be under the Bates/Warnock cosh to earn cash wherever and whenever possible and I hope our longer-term approach to the club these days enables both Brian and the players to 'express themselves' tonight.
Newcastle are, of course, coming off of the back of a poor performance against Hull City at the weekend. Normally, I'd have expected them to be resting some of their more experienced players (or shielding them from more bad experiences?) but, given their stuttering league form, I think they will put out a strong side with the belief that a cup run for them could be exactly what they need to breathe the heart back into the Toon Army.
We're in a bit of a striking desert at the moment aren't we? I feel for the five strikers at the club who read the news, as we all do, and know that we are looking for the elusive 'golden striker' to come in and make everything better. At the same time, I think we all have to stay behind them and the Leeds United coaches in getting past what we all hope are short-term blips. I can't help thinking that Becchio was the one we relied on so much at times like this when his colleagues were misfiring but he's lost in a desert of his agent's own making in Norfolk...
Thinking about golden strikers and games against Newcastle it was interesting to see the piece on the official Leeds United site this morning when we last played them in the league cup in a two-legged affair in 1982. I remember this match well, especially as we lost a goal at St James's so early to go 2.0 down on aggregate. Coming back to win 4.1 on the night - and Terry Connor applying the finishing touch - was just fantastic.
However, when I think of games up there I always remember the game ten years earlier in September, 1972. We lost 3.2 but it was an amazing match as described on the Mighty Whites site, with one of the goals of the season scored by Allan Clarke - a true golden striker if ever there was on. He shot delicately past Ian McFaul but the wind helped the swerve so that it appeared he was hitting it way outside the post and it just curled back in. I watched it again and again on the opening credits of Match of the Day that season and, of course, tried to recreate it endlessly in the garden but an apple tree kept getting in the way. Malcolm Macdonald scored the winner that day but beauty was in the eye of the beholder and the season was far more ours than theirs.
Will history repeat itself? Who knows. It's still a beautiful game and we're still in love with Leeds.