Saturday, 29 December 2012

Away Days: Hull City

Even the world's greatest journalists find it difficult to transform the worst matches into elegantly transcribed pieces of writing and this, combined with a lack of time, formed the reasoning behind me not writing a match report of the Nottingham Forest game on Boxing Day. Therefore, having also not attended any matches since September due to being at university, I promised myself I'd produce a write-up after the trip to the KC Stadium. If only I'd have known just what I had to write about.

Despite a poor performance on Boxing Day, I still woke up on Saturday looking forward to the match, hoping rather than expecting that we could steal something. Kez was driving, which meant for once we could control what time we set off and therefore, for once, we set off on time. Hull is just under an hour away from mine and so with plenty of time on our hands we stopped almost immediately at Ferrybridge services. Kez had helped himself to some toast beforehand and was clearly still hungry. I hadn't eaten anything as I couldn't be arsed and was therefore hungry myself. Upon leaving the services, we'd almost spent up our student loans, Kez in particularly who was robbed just under £8 for a sandwich, a packet of crisps and a bottle of water.

The weather was nothing short of ridiculous and with me in control, the sound-track shifted from Westlife to the Vaccines, ensuring that the rest of the journey was tough but entertaining nonetheless. We arrived at 11.30, and parked in one of the club car parks, completely ignoring the supervisor who whispered a command that he expected us to understand. Somehow, the inside of Kez's boot, was piss wet through and as the boot contained our coats,we were piss wet through before we stepped foot outside. Hull was just as bad as I had remembered it last year. A shit-hole. At least last year the game was on a Tuesday night and we couldn't see much of it.

I'm afraid that's where the excitement ends. Warnock's team selection was a strange one and did nothing to improve the non-existence optimism felt in the away end. Despite a bright-ish start, Leeds were again awful, with Hull looking dangerous every time they crossed the half way line. Their attacking four of El Mohamady, Koren, Brady and Aluko, in particular the latter were on fine form and Leeds rode their luck with a number of crosses fizzing through the penalty area unharmed. The only thing worse than Leeds was the referee; many times in favour of ourselves. I've always commented on football rather fairly and I thought we were extremely lucky to have not conceded an early penalty with referee Eltringham turning down two valid shouts from the home side. Perhaps even luckier was Leeds winger Aidy White, who was only shown a yellow card after what looked a fairly shocking tackle on Ahmed El-Mohamady. What followed however was diabolical refereeing and nearly gave the home side the first goal. Without being waved back onto the pitch, El Mohamady, who had gone off to receive treatment, rejoined play and picked up the ball straight away. After a weaving run, he sent in a low cross which could and should have given Hull the first goal. Had it gone in, I'd have feared for the referee Eltringham's safety, but it thankfully went wide.

That was about it for the first half; Hull looking by far the better side, Leeds looking like relegation candidates. But nothing to worry about; Warnock had his trump card to play at half-time. Bring on Luke Varney. Oh.

As expected, this inspirational substitution achieved nothing and after forcing Kenny into a good save low down to his right, it was Hull who took the lead. Superb hold-up play from the outstanding Aluko resulted in Corry Evans being slipped in down the right and the midfielder finished well into the far bottom corner. A good goal, yes, but it was also far too easy.

Its possible that every Leeds fan in the KC knew that the game was now over; Leeds had never looked like scoring and would surely look less like scoring now they were behind. Any Leeds fan that still believed didn't believe two minutes later as David Meyler rose well to head Hull 2-0 in front from a corner. And that was that. In fact it wasn't. By the time the full-time whistle blew, Leeds had been embarrassed by a Hull side that played out the last twenty minutes as a training match. Two-nil could even be considered flattering; Steve Bruce was said to be disappointed with the way his side took their foot off the gas and he probably has reason to be. It could quite easily have been five or six.

It's hard to think of a Leeds player that came out with any credit. Ross McCormack worked hard with little support, as did Paul Green who most Leeds fans have a lot of time for. Aidy White was alright for Aidy White and that was about it. Michael Brown was awful, Alan Tate continued his run of poor games and Davide Somma looked rusty. I can't blame Somma though, most players would struggle to shine when attempting to win a number of long-balls against what looked like twenty foot of Hull City centre half. Tactically, manager Neil Warnock got everything wrong for me today, including the team selection.

Although Leeds were frankly embarrassing, credit has to be given to Hull City who, as the league table suggests, are one of the best sides I've seen this year. The back three of Hobbs, Faye and the always impressive James Chester are solid, the midfield does the simple tasks well and their forward play is exciting to watch. Despite the fan's poll crediting Corry Evans as man of the match, my vote would have gone to Aluko who was simply outstanding. He was at the centre of every move Hull put together and tore the Leeds defence into pieces all afternoon.

The reactions of the travelling support after the match said it all with a mixture of boos, abusive gestures and chants of "what the fucking hell was that?" greeting the Leeds players as they trudged off. I hope for their sake that they got home quicker than we did; the hour long wait in the club car park after the game did nothing to improve our moods.

I'm only nineteen but I found out at a young age that supporting Leeds United isn't an easy thing to do. I've seen some disappointing things connected with the club, but I think today tops them all. I've seen us lose to Walsall and Histon. I've seen us concede five at home to Blackpool and four at home to Cardiff. But I've never seen anything as bad as I did today. We're not quite Aston Villa and we're maybe not quite Wolves or Blackburn yet. But we're heading that way.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Durham City 0-1 Marske United

Friday was the coldest day I'd had here. For a sports science student, three hours of contact was considered busy and I therefore had perfect reason to feel tired after my long day. Mum was up visiting before she jetted away to Tenerife and so I enjoyed a hearty Italian in town before saying goodbye and having an early night.

I was due to play for my college first team on the Saturday but snow had fallen over-night and the game was pending a pitch inspection at 11. Eleven came and past and at ten past I received confirmation that the game was off, a shame after the morning sun had done its best to thaw out the pitches. Embarrassment had been delayed for the opposition; the magic of the Durham University Inter-Collegiate Cup had drawn us, Hild Bede A, against Collingwood college G. Yes G. That's Collingwood's 7th team.

The cancellation meant that I wasn't to miss Saturday brunch; the finest meal in college which allows you to choose seven items of a full English fry-up. Its actually six items and a croissant or a crumpet and I made the huge mistake of attempting to choose seven normal items. Beans were sacrificed for a hash brown and ultimately, my breakfast was ruined. Can't win them all.

Today was Durham City day, the first time we were to attend a Saturday fixture and so this meant one thing; pub. At home, the pre-match pub trip completes my footballing experience and so at 1.30, the eight of us piled into the Queen's Head, a pub we'd found was en route to the ground. The lunchtime kick off was on and Jack Pepper a.ka. Sergeant Pep, Doctor Pep, Pep Guardiola etc. wasn't happy; his beloved Norwich were 1-0 down to the Villa. Ben and his brother, who was visiting for the weekend, both support Reading, both wanted a draw to keep Reading away from the Premier League summit and along with Pep Guardiola, were delighted to see Michael Turner flick in a late equaliser. The rest of us weren't bothered, it was all about the Citizens for us.

Somehow we made it into the ground ten minutes before kick-off which gave Toby the chance to try fulfil his life-time ambition of owning a Durham City scarf. We were instructed that there wasn't a club shop, but items were for sale behind the bar. The bar itself was large and cheap, but sadly they had no scarves in stock. Toby was gutted and so I bought him a programme, price £1.50, to cheer him up. The glossy non-league programme also came with a classy photocopied handwritten team sheet, which was great in helping us learn the names of our non-league heroes.

The team was a lot different to the one we'd seen two weeks ago against Penrith. In two weeks, new manager Adam Furness had brought in nine new faces and released three. Six of the new signings were unknown to us but we knew three. Both Spencer Brown and Johnny Giles are university students, with Furness managing our university side. Johnny is actually a fresher in our college, but was out through injury. Spencer also wasn't to feature. The final name I recognised would be wearing number eight; the name of Olly Hotchkiss was one I knew, potentially because he's a Leeds academy product or potentially because I'm the world's biggest Football Manager player.

Pale blue socks, green jersey and ridiculous side-burns. He must be non-league.
Since our last visit, Durham had picked up a point from two games, hardly revolutionary. But they started brightly, stroking the ball about with real purpose. Number four, who I identified after a quick look at the photo-copy as Craig Ellison, was the stand-out, playing the simple game that non-league football requires so much. Our Twitter hero Scott Fenwick was looking lively and rattled the bar early on before being adjudged offside. To our despair, he was to go off injured, replaced by Jack Pounder and the excitement for the rest of the half was over. Durham looked in control, but lacked quality in the final third and never created an out and out scoring chance. Marske's goalkeeper clearly felt confident, he was sporting pale blue socks alongside a green goalkeeping jersey.  He also had tights on and after a confident "do you like my tights lads?" he was swiftly dismissed by Preston's one-line-wonder George who remarked "yeah but you've mixed your colours and your whites with your socks". Non-league banter. We also found great amusement in the keeper's side-burns, which made him look like Wolverine.

The half-time meal was dismissed in favour of an agreed post-match KFC and so we settled behind the other goal for the second half. It continued in the same fashion, Durham attacking, but with moves breaking down in the final third. Wolverine was on good form, collecting crosses with ease and distributing the ball quickly and as the game wore on, Marske looked to threaten on the break. For non-league, the crowd started to get a little rowdy; the Durham fans frustrated that they weren't ahead and a large group of Marske fans frustrated with the performance of the linesman on the far side. Mine and Dem's betting skills on the accumulator front were frankly shambolic, Leeds were losing 1-0 and as Durham's Connor Winter accidentally cleared his own midfielder's goal-bound shot off the wrong line, we started to realise it wasn't going to be our day. And, after dominating for eighty-nine minutes, it was Marske who stole the points. Un-impressed with the outcome yes, but we had to be wholly impressed with the goal, which was an outstanding strike. We learned that there were more away fans than expected, as half of the people in the seating area chanted "Sea Sea Seasiders". More disappointment for the Citizens.

Both Leeds and Durham had lost which made for a pretty sad day. The KFC went down a treat though; we tucked into our Boneless Banquets and Big Daddy meals whilst discussing the football, university and the things we'd like to do to Katie, the girl who served us our food. We'll be going back there again if the food is as good and the service as beautiful.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Durham City 4-4 Penrith

Nine days into my time at university and there were two things I wasn't so happy about. The first was physical; fresher's flu had kicked in and wasn't easing up despite two quiet nights in. Secondly, I was missing football. Attending every game for a number of years is all well and good until the opportunity to watch your home-town club is no longer there. I'd missed Bolton away and a win in the Yorkshire derby against Barnsley. Every day my Leeds United poster stares back at me from my university room wall and it makes me miss football. Something had to give and it did. In the first week I'd been lucky enough to get friendly with a couple of football mad lads like myself, one proudly supporting his local Chesterfield and the other, sadly, supporting Manchester United. Even so, football fans stick together and so it was decided that with an army of fellow football loving students, we would go and support our local Durham City in their Tuesday night fixture against Penrith.

Somehow we managed to convince ten others that it would be a good thing to do and at 7pm we met in our college bar, The Vernon Arms. I'd been put in charge of organising taxis to the ground but by ten past had realised that taxi firms in Durham are fucking useless. They're like Danny Shittu. But worse than Danny Shittu; try a Danny Shittu with no legs. Taxi firm after taxi firm took pride in announcing that there were "none available" and it was hastily decided that we were going to have to make the two mile journey on foot. My iPhone was the leader; tracking your progress on Maps still excites me to this day.

The Citizens play at New Ferens Park which as mentioned previously is approximately two miles outside Durham city centre. We approached the ground's version of "Wembley Way" just as the referee blew his whistle to begin proceedings. After picking our way through the muddy, grassy "Wembley Way" we pay our admission of £3 and settle behind the far goal. First observation. There's barely anyone here. Second observation. The pitch is astro-turf! Its not great. But we're here to enjoy it all the same. Chesterfield supporting Demetri is loving it; he's been talking to the Citizens' star man Scott Fenwick all week on Twitter and is clearly enjoying the fact he can see Old Fenners in the flesh. He's a big lad and shows early ability in holding the ball up in the face of Penrith's giant centre half.

Durham haven't won in five and have recently appointed Adam Furness as their new manager; this being the new man's first game in charge. And with us egging them on from behind the goal, the unbelievable happens. City take the lead. For non-league football, its a fine goal; an excellent move completed by a fine finish from Gary Shaw. As well as putting the Citizens ahead, there's also another positive to be taken from the goal; we've learnt the name of another player. Our tally stands at two.

Toby and myself get chatting to one of the locals; an elderly gent with a Durham City scarf on. True fan. He tells us tales of the problematic managerial reign of Dickie Ord, as well as explaining about the club's voluntary relegation last season. Ironically, this was the act that saved my local club, Wakefield FC, from playing in the division Durham are in now. The man's continued cries of "Come on Elliott" lead me to ask whether he's a father or grand-father, but he's not; he's just a die-hard fan, but even so, Elliott Cutts is now added to the list of players we know.

In amongst our tale-telling with said gentleman, Durham concede twice. The first is a soft penalty, very soft, one in a long line of questionable decisions by the referee. The second is appalling, bog-standard non-league defending, something which we see a lot more of as the game wears on. But spurred on by ourselves, City equalise again. Another excellent move this time finished off by Number 9. The tannoy announces the goal-scorer to be Connor Winter - its only half-time and we already know four members of the team. Two-two is a fair reflection.

Half-time is spent experimenting with Durham's food kitchen; my late night snack of a cheeseburger, chips and a Diet Coke costs £4.50. Although this is more than the admission to the game, its well worth it. The chips are especially excellent. I attempt to book a taxi to pick us up an hour later; once again my attempts are in vain and when the last firm hangs up I concede defeat, believing that my number has been blocked by every taxi company in Durham. How I miss Ace Taxis of Wakefield.

Penrith re-take the lead instantly at the start of the second half; more suspect defending allowing Martyn Coleman to turn and shoot from a corner. The goal wakes Durham up and here begins their best spell of the game. Our hero Fenwick comes close twice, firing once into the side-netting before finding the roof of the net with an ambitious chip. Finally the pressure gives; the referee awarding a second penalty after a foul on Craig Ellison. Dan Madden makes no mistake; Durham are level at 3-3.

Our one and only chant of "ohhhhhh Durham Cityyy" isn't catching on amongst the locals, but we feel our thirteen man show is working wonders. And with 78 minutes on the non-existent clock, Durham take the lead. After been sent through by Fenwick, Connor Winter shows excellent composure, rounding the goalkeeper before rolling the ball into an empty goal. We erupt. Its such a huge moment that even the fifty or so sat in the seated area are off their feet for the first time since their first game in 1984. Durham lead 4-3.

So far, our Fenners isn't living up to his pre-match Twitter promise that he will "bag a hat-trick". But the self pronounced "top bagger" has the ball in the goal on 83 minutes. After planting his header in the far corner, he actually storms over to us, running down our thirteen man line for high-fives. We can't believe it, we're touching our non-league hero. The referee's assistant has alternative ideas; adjudging Fenwick to be offside. And a minute later, the should be 5-3, turns into 4-4. One final act of poor defending from the Citizens ensures that Penrith would be heading back to Cumbria with a share of the spoils.

It wasn't ever going to make any news headlines, but the 109 that attended were thoroughly entertained. In my life I've paid £35 to watch Leeds lose 2-1 to Walsall, 5-0 to Blackpool and 3-0 to Swindon to name a few. So to pay £3, see eight goals and have a quiet-ish night with some new university friends was a perfectly acceptable way to spend my Tuesday night.

No matter what level, football is football. Tonight's game proved why its the best game in the world.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Away Days; Bristol City

Most, if not all teenagers heading off to university tomorrow will have been spending their final Saturday with their family. Some might have gone for a nice meal or two, maybe visited grandparents or aunties and uncles, saying their final goodbyes potentially before the Christmas break. I was determined to also spend my last day at home with my family and it just so happened that my last day fell on the same day as Bristol City away. A family day I would have, but it certainly wasn't ever going to be anywhere near home.

The fact we went to Wales excited me, so here's a Welsh road sign.
A standard away day in my house-hold begins by setting off an hour later than planned and we did not disappoint today. With the excitement of the game all I could think about, I'd forgot about the length of the journey ahead and with my trusty iPhone car charger not being so trusty, I had to spend a large amount of the journey listening to Sarah Cox's show on Radio 1. I find her extremely irritating and it was therefore a huge relief to arrive at our stopping place; sunny Chepstow on the Welsh border. Most picturesque villages have a down-fall and Chepstow's is being within 25 miles of Bristol; well within the danger zone with Leeds United visiting. An army of fans clad in blue and white had piled into the local Wetherspoon's and were doing an excellent job of pissing off the locals by treating them to many renditions of "Marching On Together". Another regular feature of a standard away day is the friendly faces and, an hour early, I was greeted by the familiar drunken faces of both Matty Powell (@mrplufc) and Dan Lambert (@DanLambert_). Happy to see them I was; happy to see them flirt with my Mum I wasn't. Dan's lines of "you look young enough to be his sister" don't wash with Jane however as she's heard them all before. Credit to the man, he shook off his disappointment and moved swiftly onto his next target. God help her.

After a quick ham and cheese toastie we left Wales, crossing the Severn Bridge towards Bristol and were greeted by traffic. Lots of traffic. As if we weren't in a big enough rush already. We finally arrived, parked barely legally and power-walked the short distance to the ground. I'd never been to Ashton Gate before but didn't have time to stop and take in its "beauty" as I was more concerned at missing kick off. I missed kick off anyway; it took me five minutes to convince the bored looking security guard that I wasn't carrying anything illegal.

The Severn Bridge in all its glory.

My away game record isn't great; that's putting it kindly, we never win when I make the journey and the first half as expected went un-noticed. It was fairly even, there was a lot of "hoof-ball" and there certainly wasn't anything to write home about. Our position in the corner behind the corner-flag was a good one, but we had unfortunately located ourselves near a group of rowdy, okay pissed, teens. They seemed to be the world's biggest Paddy Kenny fans, throwing themselves into an X-Factor winning rendition of "Paddy Kenny's having a party.." every time he touched the ball. Thankfully, the Leeds stopper was fairly quiet in an opening period that saw little in terms of chances for either side. The head-line moment was a serious injury to Bristol City full-back George Elokobi who we later found out had fractured and dislocated his ankle after a serious fall. The reaction of the home fans was clear enough to me that it was extremely serious and I was impressed that both sets of supporters clapped the fallen giant off the field.

Thankfully, the ring-leader of X Factor's "pissed-up teens" was defeated at half-time; the pool of sick left on the floor representative of his afternoon's work. I'm not a fan of investigating people's vomit but less alcohol and more food would have been worthwhile advice to the poor lad.

On April 28th, on this very blog, I stated that the potential signing of El-Hadji Diouf could have been the cleverest signing of the summer. I'm rarely correct, maybe this time I was, but even I have been surprised at just how much of a positive impact the "sewer rat" has had. And it was Diouf, Leeds' matador that opened the scoring, kick-starting an exciting second half by putting the away side into the lead. Young Sam Byram was excellent down the right, getting to the by-line and instead of drilling a hopeful cross into the box as most would have, the mature 19 year old picked out Diouf who fired it into the far bottom corner. I couldn't believe it, I had my away goal and celebrated with as much surprise as delight. The goal had come after Rodolph Austin twice came close with two headers, one saved well by Heaton and one re-bounding back off the crossbar. I felt we deserved to go 1-0 ahead but in typical Leeds fashion, the lead didn't last long.

In true cutting-edge journalistic fashion, I missed the home side's equaliser. At least I had a valid reason; I was punching the inflatable beach ball. You read that correctly; the beach ball floating round the away end had finally come to me and I gave it a true Paddy Kenny-like punch. As I watched to see where it landed, the home fans erupted. At first I thought they were being appreciative of my punch but sadly not, Albert Adomah had levelled the game at 1-1.

The equaliser settled the home side down and they started to play a lot better. Our end was slightly more subdued and for a few minutes it was hard to see us scoring again; we did have the ball in the net from Tom Lees but it was disallowed for...well I don't know. This time I wasn't punching a beach ball, I actually saw what happened and thought the referee made a mistake in disallowing the goal. As it turned out, we were gifted the lead after a mistake by Robins captain Liam Fontaine. A hopeful ball from Becchio wasn't dealt with and fan-favourite Diouf was on hand to slot the ball under Heaton to restore Leeds' lead. I found myself hugging the friendly man in the row behind me and all of a sudden we were joined by a third man; a three-way hug with strangers is a standard away day ritual.

Two minutes later, it got even better. Michael Tonge has looked like a steady loan signing since his arrival, but on 83 minutes he rolled back the years. He rolled back the years so much that he did something he's never done before. Cutting in from his un-natural position on the left wing, the Stoke loanee unleashed an unstoppable drive into the top right corner of Heaton's goal. The 1,800 Leeds fans were sent into delirium. I couldn't believe it; I was so happy I could have cried.

Somehow Bristol City found a way back into the game through an own goal. It's unclear who actually scored it; the announcer seemed to mention Sam Byram's name, Sky Sports said it was Austin's. Must of had too many rizlas. We didn't care; after a six long minutes, the whistle blew and Leeds recorded their third win in a week. I was delighted.

I felt so proud clapping the lads off one last time before Christmas. Lee Peltier is and will remain my favourite player out of the current squad but its hard not to love El Hadji Diouf. Kissing the badge may have been a step too far for a man who's had more clubs than red-cards (surprising, given his track record) but it still delighted the travelling faithful. If you score twice and kiss the badge, it doesn't matter who you are, you will be loved. Who would have thought the city of Leeds would be worshipping the likes of Neil Warnock and El Hadji Diouf. But so far this season, mixing two hated men with a hated club is working an absolute dream.

Long may it continue.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

I Ran Out Of Superlatives To Describe The Performance In This Headline

Anyone who goes to the football with their family will know that Mum's describe the beautiful game fairly simplistically. Sometimes their insight is so simple that it's frustrating, but occasionally they produce something straight-forward that sums up the situation perfectly. And whilst I sat toiling over how to analyse the game for this very blog my own Mum came up with a line that summarised the game perfectly; "they don't half fight these days". Well done Jane, I'm proud of you.

Neither of them look this pretty after tonight.
She was right. When both centre halves leave the field with bandaged heads, you could have a pretty good guess that they'd been involved in a struggle. That doesn't even cover the half of it; as much as it's cliched, Jason Pearce genuinely looked as if he had gone nine rounds with Mike Tyson. If he had, I'm fairly sure he would have lost. But instead, he and centre-half partner Tom Lees took on the likes of Fellaini, Pienaar and Jelavic. And they won.

They were both outstanding. But if I backed any member of the Leeds team to take on Mike Tyson and win, it'd be Rodolph Austin. Tonight the Jamaican finally produced a performance that I've been crying out for. The game-plan seemed obvious; mark Fellaini out of the game and it was executed so beautifully by Austin that it was hard to tell which of the two would be taking on Southampton this upcoming Saturday. The Leeds man won every header, every tackle and left Fellaini as a passenger for much, if not all of the game.

It was undoubted that a good start was imperative if Leeds were to have any chance. I'd call taking the lead after four minutes a pretty good start. So far this season, Aidy White has performed very "un-Aidy White like", showing none of the pace and urgency that we have come to love. His defensive abilities have always been questionable, as has his final delivery, but after four minutes against Everton the Republic of Ireland Under-21 produced a moment of pure magic. Picking up the ball mid-way inside the Everton half, his turn of pace saw him breeze straight through the heart of Everton's defence before he curled a majestic strike into the far corner. It was, as mentioned earlier, extremely "un-Aidy White like", but this time, for all the right reasons.

That moment of quality represented Leeds' first half performance; one of real grit and determination but one which did show glimpses of brilliance. At times our football was as good as its been all season; the passing and movement not only matching our Premier League opposition, but exceeding it. At the back we looked solid and went into half-time with a fairly comfortable 1-0 lead; a lead that could have been 2-0 had goalkeeper Jan Mucha not kept out Jason Pearce's goal-bound header. Enter the big guns.

As expected, Moyes threw on Pienaar and Neville for the youngsters Gueye and Junior and immediately, more nerves kicked in. In one of my last pieces, I mentioned my fear of Pienaar's pace, fully expecting it to get the better of whichever full-back he had the joy of facing. But it didn't. Young Sam Byram was again excellent in dealing with everything Everton threw at him and on the other flank, Danny Pugh was also solid; those who follow me on Twitter will know I am Pugh's biggest critic and even I was fairly surprised at the quality of his performance.

Michael Brown defied his age for the ninety minutes, covering more yardage than potentially anyone on the pitch. And our pressing gained us a second goal; Danny Pugh's strike catching a deflection off of Austin on its way into the back of the net. Elland Road erupted once more and the atmosphere cranked up slightly as the home fans' delirium was met with the annoyance of Everton's travelling army.

The away side improved slightly, bringing on Nikica Jelavic in the hope of getting the better of the heroic Leeds defence. Goalkeeper Ashdown was on hand to parry away a long-distance drive and Victor Anichebe fired wide as Everton turned the screw. Despite the heroics, Leeds' habit of conceding soft goals again got the better of them as Everton pulled a goal back from a soft free kick, which allowed Sylvain Distin to score a looping header into the far corner. Once more, the final five minutes at Elland Road was to be a nervy one.

Despite a few balls into the box and a little bit of pressure, the four minutes of extra time passed with minimum of fuss and Leeds clung on to take an unlikely victory. Everton weren't at their best, but the quality of our performance cannot be denied. Neil Warnock's Leeds is a Leeds that we haven't seen for years; one that can win games purely on work-rate and one that can look bloody impressive when that work-rate is mixed with just a little bit of quality. The delight on the players' faces was a sight to behold and the crowd were still in full voice as El Hadji Diouf completely his weekly lonely parade around the pitch at the end.

Never write off Leeds United; this team could produce something special.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Battle of the Middle-East

My daily check of Twitter this morning threw up something different. Saturday mornings on Twitter usually consist of reading how "its illegal to be up this early on a Saturday", with some even blaming their parents, their dog and the next door neighbour cutting his grass for the early wake-up call. Sometimes I'm treated to tales of how somebody "enjoyed their lie-in" and in amongst all that excitement, is a bit of football talk. Well, a lot of football talk. The minority is fans of various clubs tweeting words of wisdom about their team's upcoming game, or maybe even kindly telling us they've set off to "insert club name here" away. But the overwhelming majority, is Leeds United talk.

Now normally, its quite depressing, particularly after a result and a performance like the one on Tuesday night. But one magical word reared its head for all the right reasons; takeover. At around 12pm, I read that an interview with Ken Bates was to be played on Yorkshire Radio around 1pm. One particular hint from Kirwin ensured that Leeds fans were drooling over their lunches at the possibility of what they were about to hear; an "investment update".

It turned out that Ken's "investment update" was a bloody exciting one, revealing that takeover talks were at an "advanced stage" and that four of the key members of the investors were in attendance at the game today. All I hoped for then, was a solid performance and that unbelievable Elland Road atmosphere that we all know and love.

It wasn't going to be easy though. Like us, Forest were linked with a take-over throughout the summer, with one key difference to the situation at Elland Road. The take-over actually happened, the Al-Hasawi family of Kuwait taking over the reigns and giving new manager Sean O'Driscoll some much needed spending money. The squad O'Driscoll has in front of him is an outstanding one and I counted a number of faces on their bench that would walk into Neil Warnock's first team. In my opinion, there were also faces on that bench that should have started for the visitors.

From the outset, Leeds looked impressive, with the mid-week defeat to Hull seemingly in the past. The late but successful fitness test of Luciano Becchio was critical; the in-form striker was always going to have to play an important role if the Whites were going to take the points. And he did. After Tom Lees went close through a header, it was Becchio who put Leeds 1-0 up. More outstanding work from the outstanding Diouf resulted in mayhem in the Forest box; the ball popping up to Becchio who volleyed home with aplomb from the edge of the six yard box. Close range it may have been, but the Argentinian made it look a lot easier than it actually was. Forest had had the ball in the back of the net a few minutes earlier but the goal was correctly ruled out for a foul on Paddy Kenny; potentially the only decision referee Andy D'Urso got right in a tough afternoon for the man in the middle.

Youngster Dominic Poleon started tentatively and was having some trouble using his pace to any great effect against much bigger and more experienced defenders. However, any previous nerves were washed away on 26 minutes. After Luciano Becchio stalled on the edge of the area, the ball rolled out to Poleon who was on hand to fire Leeds into a 2-0 lead. Who needs Ross McCormack?

If you look really close, you can see breasts.
O'Driscoll sent on McGugan and Lansbury at half time and I suddenly felt a little more nervous. Both men have serious quality, especially McGugan from set-pieces, something that could have caused us problems with the referee awarding Forest a free-kick every time Jason Pearce won a header. The banter was also over; famous chubster Andy Reid one of the men to be taken off.

As expected, Forest hit back in the second half but Leeds looked comfortable until another soft goal. The softest we've conceded all season. A long throw from Halford caused chaos, Paddy Kenny came and got nowhere near it and Dexter Blackstock flicked his header into an un-guarded goal. Ten thousand people put their hands in their head. The other ten thousand put their hands to their mouths as finger nails were consumed once more.

But similarly to the Wolves game, Leeds dug down deep and clung on for an unlikely win. Some last-ditch headers combined with a lot of time-wasting ensured a return to winning ways for Warnock's Whites and an end to Nottingham Forest's unbeaten league campaign. 

Afterwards I checked Twitter; the Forest fans were bitter. That wasn't meant to rhyme. Honest. Some fantastic tweets claimed that Leeds had "cheated", "paid the referee" and "time-wasted". In fairness, the referee had a shocker, but was equally poor to both teams. It was silly to accuse Leeds of paying a referee could we afford him?

Aw cutie.

I certainly couldn't. After two accumulator successes on the trot, I frantically opened the Sky Sports Score Centre to reveal that this weekend's accumulator had gone tits-up. The bad luck was back. I also had on my weekly "Will Both Teams Score?" bet, where I carefully...okay randomly, select a few games where I hope both teams will score a goal. Today, I cleverly chose three of my seven games to be York City vs Cheltenham, Barnet vs Rotherham and Bristol Rovers vs Fleetwood...the only three goal-less draws in the whole of the football league. Smart.

I left Elland Road all proud to be a Leeds fan; a feeling that isn't rarely bettered on a Saturday afternoon. With Everton at home on Tuesday and my last game next weekend away at Bristol City, I'm looking forward to this week and aiming for three points and a penalty shoot-out. 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Match Preview: Everton

I wrote this for an Everton fan who runs his own blog and asked me to write an article from a Leeds fan's perspective ahead of next Tuesday's game but thought I'd upload it to my own blog as well.

If I was writing this exactly a month ago, I’d be looking at an up-coming Carling Cup tie against Premier League Everton with optimism and positive feeling. An opening day win against Wolves, combining with a performance full of effort, desire and a little bit of quality ensured that I was looking at the upcoming season with belief that maybe, just maybe, Neil Warnock’s new-look Leeds could produce something special. What a difference a month makes.

On Tuesday, we recorded our first home defeat of the season against Hull, a lack-lustre and ragged performance doing little to raise the spirits of the attendees. Coming a week before the visit of Everton, this was hardly the greatest preparation and with Nottingham Forest on their way this Saturday, we could quite possibly be taking on an established Premier League side on the back of three defeats. I’m usually over harsh on my team, but the growing injury list seems to be the root cause for this down-turn in form.
Midfield battlers Paul Green and David Norris have been out for some weeks and will both miss the Everton game. They aren’t perhaps the key, exciting names that will win games alone but their work-rate is faultless and this is something that will be missed against a side who are far superior in terms of quality. Talisman Ross McCormack is also set for a lengthy spell on the side-lines after injuring his ankle in the 2-1 reverse against Cardiff City. These are the names that we need in order to match a side of Everton’s calibre, without them, we’re missing key figures in terms of both quality and work-rate.

I would expect Neil Warnock to play a fairly strong team. The growing injury list ensures this may be his only option; at this rate the team will soon be picking itself. Despite the figures missing however, no Leeds United team will ever roll over and die and so Everton should expect a tough game. Our record on Tuesday nights is appalling but our recent record against Premier League opposition is surprisingly good. With the backing of a packed Elland Road, it could be a potentially tricky tie for the Toffees.

With a few key players out injured, our hopes rest potentially in three players. Centre-half Jason Pearce has been one of the stand-outs of the season so far, consistently out-performing his fellow defensive partners. Our defence is notorious for conceding soft goals however and the aerial prowess of stars such as Fellaini could give Pearce a stern test. It won’t be easy for the ex-Portsmouth captain but he does have the ability to cope at this level, even if he is missing the extra five inches that Fellaini’s hair gives him! Another man for Everton to watch is Jamaican Rodolph Austin, a long-term transfer target of Warnock’s. The dogged central midfielder is as hard as they come and will hopefully relish the task of coming up against such coveted opposition. Despite his continued best efforts, he is yet to completely dominate a game but hopefully his hard-tackling and wide passing range can gain us a valuable advantage in one of the most important areas of the pitch. 

How could I not complete a Leeds United “players to watch” without mentioning El-Hadji Diouf?
The controversial forward was one of the surprise signings of the season; having been branded as “worse than a sewer rat” by Warnock during Diouf’s time at Blackburn. Diouf certainly had a lot to do to win over the Elland Road faithful, but he impressed quickly and has rapidly turned into a fan favourite. At times this season he has been our only bright spark going forward and particularly with the loss of Ross McCormack, we could be counting on Diouf and potentially Luciano Becchio to provide that much needed attacking fire-power. His ability isn’t all you need to watch out for with Diouf; he is exactly the kind of player that could score twice before elbowing Phil Neville and spitting on Moyes on his way to an early bath.

If our opening day success was a good one, then Everton’s was an excellent one. So excellent that it was celebrated in Leeds. Beating Manchester United is an achievement for many in world football, but to look in control for the majority of the game is something that Everton were correctly praised for. I remember watching the game and being incredibly impressed with not only Man of the Match Fellaini, but with the centre-half pairing of Jagielka and Distin. I also watched them on Monday against Newcastle and was impressed; the final score-line of 2-2 being somewhat a travesty after a fine display from the home side.
The Toffees have always had quality and are led by one of the finest managers in English football; for this reason they have and will always be dangerous opposition. They’ve always looked extremely organised to me but in the last few years have perhaps missed an out and out goal-scorer. From what I’ve seen this season and last, they may have found one. Nikica Jelavic.

It’s impossible to tell how strong a side Moyes will pick but if Jelavic plays, he’ll cause us major problems. His height and his strength poses a threat for any defence, particularly one as famously poor as ours. He reminds me slightly of a smaller Nikola Zigic; for the effect that Zigic had at Elland Road last year, you just have to ask Simon Grayson, who lost his job after a 4-1 defeat. If height causes us a problem, pace causes us chaos. The likes of Osman and Pienaar will be relishing the opportunity to impress and will surely have a fairly simple evening as they torment the likes of the abysmal Luke Varney down the wings. Regardless of who Moyes selects, I think we face a tie of great difficulty.

The night promises to be an interesting one and I’m sure the game will be as exciting as people are hoping. It will be nice to welcome back Premier League opposition to Elland Road and hopefully we’ll see an atmosphere that fits with the historically all-Premier League fixture. Leeds and Everton are two of the “big clubs” in the history of English football and despite our spectacular fall from grace, I think both sets of fans would agree that this is the type of fixture that both clubs should be playing week-in, week-out. I’d rather visit Goodison Park than London Road and I’m sure Everton fans would rather visit Elland Road than the DW Stadium.

We also share one more thing in common; something that will create a truly blessed feeling. Both clubs were touched by the late, great Gary Speed and it is fitting that this tie comes just months after his tragic death. Regardless of the game and the score, for a few minutes the whole of Elland Road will be united by united affection for one man and, similarly to the joint efforts of Merseyside through the JFT96 campaign, it will be a truly special thing to take part in.
Prediction: Leeds United 0-2 Everton

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Home Defeat No. 1 - Hull City

After a battling start to the season at Elland Road culminating in taking four points from two tough openers, Leeds next welcomed one of the early pace-setters, Steve Bruce's Hull City. Once more, it was a home Tuesday night game to forget for Neil Warnock's Whites.

Fresh from the back of the excitement of the Blackburn game and having missed the previous two away games due to work, I couldn't wait. However with star man Ross McCormack injured, I doubted our attacking credentials and fancied us to lose; so much so that I placed Hull City on an ambitious accumulator of away wins. I was also sat in the South stand for the first time since goals from David Healy and Jonathan Douglas sealed a 2-1 win against Coventry back in 2007.

Despite the negative feeling, there was certainly the belief that this new team could pick up a result. The starting eleven perhaps had a little less quality than the starting eleven against Blackburn, but hopefully still had the same work-rate and desire, which as we had already seen, can go along way.

For the first ten minutes, I was impressed. We played football, we looked threatening. And we went 1-0 up. El Hadji Diouf's trickery down the right was stopped illegally by Dudgeon and after consulting his assistant, referee Roger East pointed to the penalty spot. Hull protested furiously; I thought it was maybe a little soft, but no softer than the one awarded to Cardiff last Saturday. Becchio stepped up and scored. Good start.

We then went on to create chances. A combination of Ben Amos and the Hull centre halves prevented Diouf from firing Leeds two ahead, before Amos eventually gathered a strike from Jamaican Rodolph Austin. But that's where the excitement ended. From the moment Sam Byram lunged in on Abdoulaye Faye, the game changed. The tackle itself went unpunished; being a referee myself I thought it looked ominously close to being a "two-footed" tackle and was dangerous enough to warrant a red card. But what do I know? Fellow Leeds fans on Twitter after the game dismissed my opinions as "nonsense". If only we could see it again.

Hull grew slowly into the game, looking to have the pace and urgency that so often defeats any Leeds United side. They levelled through Sunderland loanee El-Mohamady who fired into the far corner after some more questionable Leeds defending. Five minutes later they were ahead, the dangerous El-Mohamady whipping in a cross allowing Faye to nod in an un-marked header. After that, everything went flat, the game drifted into stale-mate and the half time whistle provided a welcome break from what was another diabolical Leeds performance.

The Orange 3G on my phone was doing a good job of letting me down as I frantically scoured the Sky Sports Score Centre to see how my accumulator was doing. Despite Hull's efforts, my "away wins" bet was struggling, Hartlepool's ambitious odds of 4-1 reflecting their chance of winning; they were already 2-0 down and went on to lose 5-0. Smart bet Josh, smart bet. My home wins accumulator was looking more positive, with Blackburn's equaliser at home to Barnsley ensuring that a few were winning and a few were drawing going into the half time break.

Sadly, the football started again and continued in the same fashion; Hull looking lively, Leeds looking ragged. The introduction of Dom Poleon brightened things up slightly, the youngster making some promising runs and even forcing a simple save from Amos. But it was Hull that, as expected, scored again. Good work down the right saw El Mohamady (again) deliver from the right and (again), it was a Hull man who was un-marked at the back-post to finish. This time it was the impressive Koren who had the gift of scoring at Elland Road. With no performance and no atmosphere, I even found time to pick out certain friends in various stands. I was that bored.

The abysmal Luke Varney was jeered off and replaced by the equally abysmal Andy Gray. But it was the "no goals a season man" who lifted the crowd off their feet, nodding in a Diouf free-kick to rally the Leeds faithful again. Sadly it was all in vain and a wide Lee Peltier strike signalled the end of the game and the first home defeat this season. The first of many?

In truth, we were awful. Genuinely awful. But it would be harsh to take everything away from Hull. Determined and well-organised, their back three looked strong, with the impressive James Chester the stand-out. Going forward they always looked a threat. Jay Simpson impressed me the most with a number of skilful runs through the heart of our midfield and defence; that isn't particularly difficult mind. El Mohamady would probably have taken the man of the match award; a goal and two assists making him the jewel in Hull's crown.

I really like Robert Lewandowski.
My night was to improve as my best friend read out scores from Blackburn, Dortmund and Chesterfield. Three winners in the last six minutes from Nuno Gomes, Terrell Forbes and Robert Lewandowski combined with wins for Tranmere, PSG and Gillingham to provide a successful accumulator win. £26 is hardly life-changing...enough to buy Leeds a new striker maybe.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

One Step Forward, No Steps Back

Leeds United 4-0 Shrewsbury Town

Its the first competitive game of the new season. There's an abundance of new faces and youngsters that need to gel together into some sort of team. We score four times. We keep a clean sheet. And we win. Not a bad day's work.

And "not bad" is probably the perfect way of describing it. It wasn't unbelievably exciting or impressive but there was nothing wrong with it. Shrewsbury, fresh off last season's promotion, played with confidence and caused a threat at times, but from playing good football rather than our own individual errors. 

Paddy Kenny looked solid and composed throughout, despite being overly tested. His handling looked good and he was on hand to make a fine save from the bright Marvin Morgan...even if the linesman awarded a goal kick for it. What also impressed me was his distribution which was quick, direct and extremely effective.

His back four were also impressive, particularly young Sam Byram who rounded off a fine pre-season with another excellent, mature display. When Lees returns, there is no doubt that the youngster will find his first team opportunities limited and so it was nice to see him play, and play well, today. Although he was slightly out of position at centre half, Lee Peltier put in an excellent performance alongside the solid Jason Pearce, both looking like extremely worthwhile acquisitions. On the left side, Aidy White was rarely tested and didn't attack as much as he usually does, but is a player that is crucial to our successes this year.

David Norris; I love you
The midfield impressed me the most, in particular the centre-midfield partnership of Rodolph Austin and David Norris, the latter who was given the captaincy. Austin is a man who the fans have major expectation for and he eventually delivered after a reasonably slow start. Both men played the simple game well, showing a good display of passing as well as the valuable asset of not being afraid to get stuck in. Austin's powerful strike was the catalyst to the opening goal, which after being poorly dealt with by Weale, was converted by Luciano Becchio. Norris rounded off a good display by scoring himself, his right foot half-volley trickling into the far corner to put Leeds 3-0 up. Paul Green and Luke Varney both made solid debuts with Varney continuing his imposing presence in the air, as well as getting off the mark with his first competitive goal in Leeds colours. It was ultimately a tap-in, after good work by Ross McCormack, despite the Scot being at least two yards offside. Green was reasonably quiet, further fuelling belief over the requirement of an exciting right-winger. 

Enter El Hadji Diouf. Controversial? Yes. Un-necessary at times? Yes. A good signing? Quite possibly. He replaced Green late on and received a mixed reception. He had little impact on the game but did show a few nice touches and creative balls that we lacked with Green on the field. Maybe he'll never be a fan-favouritebut its time to forget his past and support him as the Leeds player he now is. Well, for now at least.

Luciano Becchio and Ross McCormack both did well, working hard and both getting on the score-sheet. Becchio's hold-up play was an improvement on last year's and hopefully a sign of things to come. We all know that Warnock is a huge fan and hopefully Becchio can repay the faith in a manager who has always had the ability to get the best out of players. McCormack wasn't outstanding but still did enough and was lively at times, also getting on the score-sheet from the penalty spot.

It was alright. Nothing to write home about but its impossible to be too pessimistic after a 4-0 win. Shrewsbury were no push-overs; they played extremely well in the face of a tough opposition and a daunting home crowd. They were bitterly unfortunate at times, appealing for a goal from Jermaine Grandison, a penalty after a clear Austin hand-ball and a corner after a fine save from Kenny. They received nothing. As mentioned previously, McCormack was also off-side for the second goal. That's football I'm afraid.

I loved it. Seeing the new heroes of this football club stroll to a comfortable victory in the sun was a perfectly acceptable way of spending my Saturday afternoon. Lee Peltier and David Norris have emerged as the front-runners to be my new favourite player and I certainly wouldn't mind Norris becoming club captain. Rodolph Austin isn't far away either and I firmly believe an excellent season for him could lead to an excellent season for the club. The performance was there, as was the attitude and belief. Improvements are needed but I am optimistic heading into next week's game. Even my Mum kicked off her season in style, correctly naming ten out of the eleven players at half-time, showing adept knowledge of the new players. She forgot Paul Green. When I test her next week, I wonder if Paul Green will be the right-winger's name she doesn't know. Maybe the right-winger won't be called Paul Green. Maybe he'll be called Diouf.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Frustration Born Out Of Expectation

We're back at where we ended up last season, with a divide between supporters. At the centre of the divide are two words. Two words that frustrate those using them, frustrate those who don't and frustrate just about everybody apart from the man they are aimed at. Bates Out.

I'd apologise for forgetting just when Bates Out started but last season for us all has faded into the distant past. The reasoning behind it was a lack of investment in the first-team squad, with dismal performances providing the catalyst behind such a scathing attack on the Leeds hierarchy. If we're being honest, the protests lingered all season and despite some positive results aided by a little bit of luck, the bad feeling around Elland Road continued throughout the year, culminating in a record amount of home defeats for the club. Lack of investment was combined with the sales of key players such as Jonathan Howson and Bradley Johnson, both to Norwich and it was easy to see why there was room for such unrest. In typical Leeds fashion everything went wrong, Simon Grayson lost his job, the season ended poorly and Bates remained in charge. That was last May. And for a couple of months, it was in the past.

This week is week commencing August 6th. Monday marked the year anniversary of a horrendous opening day performance last season against Southampton, resulting in a fully deserved 3-1 defeat. On 6th August this year, the current Elland Road squad contained ten fresh faces. We'd spent in the region of £1-2 million, the majority of it before the sale of Robert Snodgrass in a deal where £1.5 million was paid up-front. We hadn't lost in pre-season. We'd scored goals. Yes, Bodmin Town, Tavistock and Burton Albion won't be threatening Manchester City any time soon, but remember Bury? On Monday August 6th, the feeling was of great optimism, as if Neil Warnock's Leeds United were ready to succeed this season. Three days later, everything would be the same if it wasn't for one more word. Takeover.

Talks of the takeover began months ago, with rumours circulating over a vast amount of companies, corporations and businesses reportedly interesting in buying out chairman Ken Bates. June 26th was the last we heard anything official, when the club released the beginning of the due diligence process. Since then, its been a tale of rumour, deceit and fabrication with nobody at all having any clue on what's going on. We're Leeds United; you didn't expect it to be straight-forward did you?

Today, the takeover reportedly collapsed, for reasons unknown. The Elland Road faithful were quick to blame Ken Bates, probably correctly, for putting the prospective buyers off. They're probably right. Any pre-season optimism vanished and the cauldron of bitterness towards Bates reared up again. The takeover is off. I saw first-hand what this meant to a number of Leeds fans; some even went as far as saying they wouldn't attend another home game whilst Bates was in charge. My reaction went something like this. So?

I'm sick of negativity surrounding the football club I love. Last season, I understood it; who wants their team to be lingering far below their potential? But this year, a single ball has not yet been kicked and already, fans are turning away. All because of false expectation surrounding a take-over. If the word had never been mentioned, would they turn away?

What difference a year makes.
Of course not. This summer we've lost Robert Snodgrass and we've now lost Al Khalifa as a potential buyer. The minority have lost faith and an even smaller minority have decided to boycott. Why?

They're sick of being lied to. They're sick of Ken Bates' regime, one which has quickly soured from one of solidarity and success to one of deceit and despair. For once, I'm more alone in supporting him and the club than I ever have been before. But I'll continue to do it. Why?

Because this summer has been a success. We've signed a new first-team. We've kept one of the finest managers outside the Premier League, as well as one of the finest striker in Ross McCormack. We've addressed the most frustrating issue of last season which was investment. We've sorted the second most frustrating issue of last season which was our defence. Things, in my opinion, are on the up. We don't need a takeover to keep us happy. Who do we think are, Nottingham Forest?

Many disagree and many have rightful reasons to turn away. I will not. I've done it once before and its not the answer. This team needs supporting, regardless of whether Bates will be taking his seat in the West Stand directors box. This team can succeed; the Robert Snodgrass' of this world aren't needed when you have eleven players that are hungry to play for a club such as ours. The "Bates Out" chants need to stop; at the end of the day, he isn't even there half the time. But you should be. The club needs you. I'm a long way away from trusting Ken Bates. But I trust Neil Warnock. Forget Bates and forget Snodgrass. 

The name on the front of the shirt is more important than the name on the back. Its also more important than the name who shouldn't be mentioned. The chairman.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Diary: Bodmin Town 0-4 Leeds United

Wednesday brought about Leeds' second game in the South-West with a trip to Bodmin Town. Unlike Tavistock, Bodmin is only a short distance from Newquay, allowing us to spend our last full day of the holiday soaking up the sun. Again we decided to make use of the on-site pitch and putt course, this time playing twice round to produce a full eighteen holes in the aim of improving our score. Wishful thinking.

The last users of the caravan, namely James' grand-parents, had kindly left a large array of meat which had been de-frosting since our arrival. We finally put it to use, cooking up a huge barbecue and my Mother's words of "make sure you eat healthily" was ringing in my ears as I enjoyed a meal equivalent to eleven mixed grills. Sadly, there wasn't a vegetable in sight.

At around 5.45 we set off and arrived to witness a club that just was not prepared for a clash with a club of Leeds' size with numerous car parks being declared full. Eventually, we found one in the centre of town and walked the short distance to the ground. Disappointingly, the queue for the club-house consisted of half the attending spectators and so we settled for three Cokes before taking our seat on a raised grass verge behind the far goal. In the sun it would have been paradise, but for the first time since our arrival the sky was cloudy.

The main change in the Leeds United team was the absence of Robert Snodgrass who was on his way to Norwich City to finalise a move. Not good. However, the mood was lifted upon the entrance of the two teams, with Bodmin's over-sized goalkeeper becoming the subject of a number of amusing songs likening him to Neville Southall. This was enough to brighten a turgid first half with the home side playing far above themselves, even creating the first real shot on target which was gathered by new signing Jamie Ashdown.

Another new face, Luke Varney, was making his first appearance for the Whites and seemed to be fitting in extremely well with Leeds' occasional "long-ball" style of play, using his height and impressive jumping ability to win a number of headers. It was only fair then that a Varney header would open the scoring, the new man sneaking in at the back post to plant a firm header past the despairing "Southall". Before the half-time whistle blew, Leeds scored twice more through Andy Gray and Ross McCormack, one of which  was a penalty. I would love to describe the goals to you, but in typical non-league style, I missed them both. In my Tavistock write-up I mentioned Ella, a friend of mine who turned eighteen on Sunday. Despite this allowing her to purchase alcohol legally, it seems she still needs someone to hold her hand and in the absence of her Dad, I was the unlucky one who had to join her on the walk around the ground. She settled in the drinks queue whilst I took up position to buy some food; James and Kez had both successfully twisted my arm in making me buy them a cheese-burger. Hideous.

Sadly, I wished I'd have stayed in that queue all day as the second half was terrible, Leeds adding a fourth through Aidy White. That was it for excitement on the pitch but Bodmin did threaten slightly on two occasions where Ashdown was forced into making two good saves. Off the pitch however, the mood was still high and a bleak evening for Bodmin's "Southall" was completed when after placing a ball for a goal-kick, a fan jumped over the railings and slotted the ball into the un-guarded goal. We're Leeds United, we score when we want.

James leaves for Kavos on Friday and as he is both the driver and the owner of the caravan, we left Newquay on Thursday, missing the game at Torquay. I've seen enough this week to know that we can perform well in this league, even without Snodgrass as at the end of the day, we need players that want to play for the club. My pre-season is over; although my love of Leeds extends to Norway, my wallet doesn't and I'm also unfortunate enough to be working instead of visiting Preston as planned. I'll be more than likely working on the day of the Capitol One Cup game against Shrewsbury, so see you at Elland Road for the game against Wolves. I aren't working that day, I booked it off. Priorities.

Follow the people on Twitter mentioned this week:


Thursday, 26 July 2012

Diary: Tavistock AFC 0-6 Leeds United

I woke up on Monday morning with a smaller hangover than expected and was fully looking forward to the evening, where Leeds were set to begin their tour of the South West with a game against Devonshire opponents, Tavistock. Kez and James weren't so lucky and so I got something to eat and watched the Jeremy Kyle show as I waited for them to emerge from their hungover state. The weather, once again, was unreal and despite many sunburnt areas we were soon soaking up the rays underneath the Cornish sun.

Around 2pm we paid a visit to the on-site pitch and putt course, showing off our "skills" to the locals. My embarrassing score of +14 was testament to both the awful state of the course, as well as my lack of golfing ability but was still enough to win our very own "Cornish Open" by three shots. I felt proud, but Tiger Woods I am not, both in and out of the world of golf. I'm not very Tiger Woods like in and out of women either. Sadly.

Our journey to Tavistock began slightly after 4.30, with the Sat-Nav doing a fine job of leading us there. Music was blaring from the iPod and we were in fine spirits as we enjoyed the greatest drive of our life; we seriously do not get roads like that up North.

Tavistock is a small town in Devon, approximately an hour and a half from our caravan in Newquay. The football club is at Langsford Park, a cute little ground surrounded by trees and grass-land. By the time we park up, queue for a beer and a burger and enter the ground, it isn't quite so cute, instead being full with around 2,500 Leeds fans. After the long drive, James was really looking forward to his Diet Coke which I was happily obliged to buy him. Sadly for him, I dropped it and it fizzed all over the floor. If you were at the game and saw someone on the floor desperately trying to save a can of Coke, that was me. Hello, I'm here all week. Actually I'm not, but that line worked well there.

We met up with some friends, one of which has just had her eighteenth birthday and so I finally get rid of the pink birthday card that I've been carrying around for far too long. She likes it. I hope. As we settled behind one of the goals, we learn of the confirmed signings of both Andy Gray and Jamie Ashdown, as well as the agreed deals for Rodolph Austin and Luke Varney. Gray and Ashdown do little to excite me, despite the importance of a solid back-up goalkeeper. However, Austin does; we have cried out for a dogged, hard midfielder for years.

The first half was quite frankly poor, with Leeds struggling to break down a very determined Tavistock back four. The centre half partnership of "Number 4" and "Number 5", a fantastic Vin Diesel lookalike, was performing well and even when breached, Leeds spurned chances, the best falling to either Jason Pearce who headed over, or Ross McCormack who was denied by a good save. Eventually, Leeds got the break-through, with Aidy White applying the finish after a turn of pace signalled the end of the Tavistock's right back's chase. Another goal soon followed, new signing Paul Green getting off the mark in Leeds colours by arriving un-marked at the back post. The half time score of 2-0 was testament to some hard work by the home side, but also to some pretty poor Leeds play in the final third.

In the second half, Vin Diesel was replaced and goals followed fairly "fast and furiously". An unfortunate yet highly amusing own goal made it 3-0, Robbie Rogers scored his second in two games to make it four and Zak Thompson strolled through the now non-existent Tavistock defence to slot home a fifth. The movie hasn't yet been made but Vin Diesel could only look on from the substitutes bench as Dom Poleon stole the show and made it "fast and furious six" for Leeds after a fine finish completing an excellent run. The performance wasn't impressive, but it wasn't bad either.

Jason Pearce again was excellent, producing a determined display in the face of some large Tavistock attackers, further fuelling my belief that he could yet be the centre half we have craved for so long. Despite the large amount of space he was given, it was also nice to see Paul Green play the simple game; his ability to bring the ball down, look around and play a pass looks like it could be crucial to this season's successes.

Ultimately, it was another win and a clean-sheet. There's no need to read it back, we genuinely did win and keep a clean-sheet. And score six goals. If only it wasn't against Tavistock.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Diary: Farsley Celtic 2 - 5 Leeds United

At the end of last season, my best friend and I made a promise that with this being the year we were going our separate ways to university, we would attend every Leeds United fixture we could together, particularly those away from home. And so, a day before we headed off to the South-West for games against Tavistock and Bodmin, we found ourselves on our way to local opponents Farsley Celtic.

For someone like me, Kez is the perfect best friend. Football mad and he owns his own car. I also own one but why would I want to drive when I can let him taxi me around? He also owes me dinner. In recent weeks I've paid for taxi fares, food and most recently, the ticket for the Farsley game and so its time he pays me back. Additionally, no trip out concerning the two of us is complete without a food-stop.

The phrase "couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery" applies regularly to the two of us and, never more so than today as after hastily scribbling down directions to the ground, we left the house...without the directions. Ten minutes and a quick de-tour home later, we set off for the second time...before realising we'd also forgotten the tickets. Third time lucky and we finally made it to Chiquito, a restaurant chosen for no other reason than I work there and therefore we received 33% discount off the food bill.

Farsley isn't far away, located in the middle of Leeds and Bradford. As I didn't know much about it before-hand I decided to research and found that after some careful studying, I didn't know any more about it than before. Not much goes on in Farsley. It has an ASDA nearby, a few bookies and a few schools. Typical shit Yorkshire town.

What Farsley does have though is a football team. Nicknamed The Villagers, they play at Throstle Nest and after squeezing into the car park we arrive. We're early and the 3,900 capacity stadium isn't yet half full with the majority of the sell-out crowd still on their way. A quick head-check of the warm up tells us that neither Luciano Becchio or Robert Snodgrass would feature but that trialists Martin Cranie and Andy Gray would. Both Ross McCormack and Aidy White, the latter who had just signed a new contract prior to the game, were also set to start, amidst continued speculation over their future at the club.

Typically, the first half was a stroll in the park. Despite his abysmal goal-scoring record and the fact that he's abysmal in general, Andy Gray stole the show with two goals, albeit one from a deflection. Robbie Rogers nodded in a third and at half-time Leeds were 3-0 up and coasting with Farsley offering less than their 25 or so home fans. A small section of the away fans were in full voice, clearly enjoying the fact that football had returned.

Half-time saw the first team switch with the "reserves and useless players XI"...namely a group of kids and Billy Paynter. Oh and Ramon Nunez. Easily forgotten. Farsley mounted a come back, scoring early on in the second half through what I believe was an own goal; my vantage point behind the opposite goal serving me no favours. Fan favourite Paynter then silenced his critics with a smartly taken header at the other end; this coming after missing two fine chances, one of which was well saved by the hard-working but sadly let-down Farsley goalkeeper. Two well taken goals later; one for either team finished the game off at 5-2, a decent run-out for both sides in what was a typical pre-season friendly. Fairly average.

There was absolutely nothing to write home about and nothing which will be frightening Stale Solbakken's Wolves side ahead of the first competitive game. But its early days. Jason Pearce looked as though he had the potential to right the continuing absence of a solid United centre half and Paul Green showed some nice touches on the ball. On the trialist front, Martin Cranie looked promising and despite his goals, Andy Gray continued to show that his best days are in the past...he's been doing that for fifteen years.

Our trip out ended with an extremely over-priced burger, consumed whilst waiting for the stationary traffic to clear out of the car-park. Finally we were on our way, enjoying the sounds of Westlife and Erasure as the Peugeot sped towards Liversedge.

We set off for Cornwall tomorrow. Tonight reminded me why I hate pre-season. It also reminded me why I love it. Its irrelevant if the opposition's number nine looks fatter and older than Trevor Sinclair.

 Football is back.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Looking Through The Leeds United Transfer Window

In two days time, Leeds United kick off their pre-season fixtures with a trip to Farsley Celtic before heading off to the South-East next week. The transfer window so far has been a mixture of optimism, excitement and the traditional Elland Road frustration.

Take-over talks have seemingly been ongoing for far too long; the last we heard was the beginning of the due diligence process. Neil Warnock confirmed this morning that the buyers are "real people going about it the right way". Thank god they're real people. Yes, they may actually exist.

Pre-season gives some new faces a chance to introduce themselves in a competitive fixture, with most supporters eyes focusing on how signings Jason Pearce, Paul Green, Adam Drury and Paddy Kenny will fit into the team. Four signings that breed solidarity rather than pure quality and hopefully just a start to the influx of players that is required.

Yesterday Andy Lonergan became the second face to exit for an undisclosed fee to fellow promotion hopefuls Bolton Wanderers. Opinion is divided on this piece of activity; some favour him as an extremely capable under-study to the experienced Kenny, whereas others see him as over-rated and inconsistent. I found him to be consistently average; perfectly capable of the odd outstanding game, with a few errors here and there. He was a solid season-long servant, but to cash in on a back-up player and re-invest in other key areas of the squad can only be a good thing.

Adam Clayton has also moved on to new things with local rivals Huddersfield Town, joining up with former manager Simon Grayson. His talent and potential are undoubted, but his ability to go missing in a game is up there with his natural footballing ability. He also wasn't consistent enough; something which is key for success in a division which can be so close for so long.

Rumour is never a good thing, especially when Leeds United are involved. Especially when it involves the departures of key figures such as Robert Snodgrass and Ross McCormack. Especially when the names linked with a move to the club involve the likes of Luke Varney. But for once, lets be optimistic.

Snodgrass and McCormack haven't gone yet; the latter seeming like the most likely to leave first. Warnock today labelled Norwich's bid for Snodgrass as "not enough", reinforcing that times have changed; we aren't accepting loose change for our best players as was the case in the Bates era. With a bit of luck, both these players may re-sign...for the club to be ambitious, we need ambition from the likes of Snodgrass to have the nerve to sign a contract.

Besides Varney, names linked with a switch to Elland Road include Leicester's Lee Peltier and Rodolph Austin of SK Brann. Both in my eyes would be worth-while signings, particularly in the case of Austin as a dogged central midfielder is a position that has been missing since the years of Olivier Dacourt. The newspaper estimations of the cost of these players totals at just over £1,000,000, giving further backing to the idea that maybe, just maybe, a take-over is near completion.

I personally can't wait. I don't even care who plays. Friday marks the start of the long-awaited return of football and with a month and a half to go until the window shuts, who we have or don't have at the moment is irrelevant. Whether Paddy Kenny saves a penalty against Farsley or Paul Green scores the winner against Tavistock, Leeds United are back. We have a week of excitement to witness our old favourites and new heroes. After that, the hard-work must begin again; more signings are still required.