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.