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.