Monday, 30 December 2013

Away Days; Nottingham Forest

With Leeds sitting pretty in 5th having lost just one league game in nine, you could have been forgiven for heading down the M1 full of optimism. However, with the last two games ending in bore draws following equally as boring performances, it would have been wrong from the start to expect miracles away at high-flying Nottingham Forest. After a small blip, they themselves were on a good run of form with two wins and two draws coming from their last four games in which they have succeeded in keeping four clean sheets. They were yet to face Matt Smith and Michael Brown though.

I overslept; probably my alarm attempting to warn me to stay in bed and not attend the match, kind of like Dobby sealing off the barrier in the second Harry Potter film. McDonalds was awaiting me though and having clearly not eaten enough this Christmas that was enough to send me on my way to Elland Road. Coach One was busy and as usual, Leeds fans attending the game on their own were seemingly not keen on sitting next to each other; there were no seats for two people but plenty of single seats strewn across the coach. Thankfully, a gem of an elderly gentleman offered to sit next to an already asleep younger gentleman allowing Kez and myself to sit next to each other. The coach was long, slow and extremely dull. Just over two hours it took to arrive at the City Ground and by that time, we'd missed our chance of having a quick pint at the Trent Bridge. Instead, £2.40 was spent on a Coke with no lid - presumably the guy behind the counter knew I'd throw the tiny piece of plastic at Michael Brown if he came near enough.

Yes, the proverbial talent Brown was to start again in the heart of the Leeds midfield that also included Luke Murphy, returning from his one-match suspension. The starting eleven for the hosts offered much more quality, with even their bench including talent that McDermott must sit at home fawning over. The likes of Reid, Lansbury and Chalobah could wipe McDermott's arsehole with the money spent on them and the latter didn't even make the starting eleven. Centre half Greg Halford was again starting up top for Billy Davies' men due to an injury crisis that another waft of the Forest chequebook should solve come January. I sound incredibly bitter, when I'm not actually that bothered. Nottingham Forest are a big club and I'd rather see them win the league than QPR. Its just annoying and slightly scary when you see Chalobah sat on the Forest bench, ten yards away from Luke Varney or the un-tried Gboly Ariyibi.

Ariyibi, the young winger signed after his release from Southampton was to get his chance to brighten up a dismal Leeds performance. To his credit he made runs, offered some attacking outlet and even had one of Leeds' few opportunities on goal mid-way through the second half. I say on goal when really I mean he sliced a shot out for a throw in, an act that epitomised Leeds' afternoon.

Forest are and were on the day a different class, with Reid, Lansbury and Majewski pulling the strings in midfield. They had an opening at goal inside fifteen seconds as Halford charged down Paddy Kenny following a poor back pass from Zaliukas. Kenny did well, preventing the rookie striker from scoring and injuring himself in the process. The Leeds stopper managed to complete the ninety minutes but had serious trouble kicking which did effect the quality of Leeds' play. Clearly, a back-pass every five minutes is an integral part of our fluid, attacking "football".

In a way consistent with Leeds' recent run, Forest controlled possession in the opening stages and looked lively but never really created a golden opportunity. Don't get me wrong, they were far more the dangerous but the back three of Lees, Pearce and Zaliukas was again holding firm. Leeds' midfield wasn't though and after Reid ghosted past Austin for a tenth time, Michael Brown took matters into his own hands by hacking down the Forest playmaker. Both Brown and McDermott claimed he got the ball. He didn't.

I've always thought a player giving away a stupid free kick that results in a goal should be berated in the same way that a goalkeeper would be for letting a shot through his legs. That's what happened here as Reid's deep cross was met by Halford who planted his header past Kenny and into the far post. Forest had the lead they deserved but the visitors had gift-wrapped it for them.

Forest could then have ran riot as it took them just under two minutes to have another attempt on goal. The Leeds midfield three looked tired and gave the ball away allowing Reid to break before dipping a shot just over the top. Majeswki was then denied by Paddy Kenny who shovelled the decent attempt around the post and Mackie fired high and wide from a good position as Forest finished the first half much the stronger of the two sides. In and amongst, Matt Smith had flicked a header wide for the visitors but it wasn't even a half chance.

The urinal philosophers were as negative as deserved at half time with most agreeing on one thing. "We're shite". Changes were needed and they did come, with young Ariyibi and Sam Byram replacing Michael Brown and Lee Peltier during the second half in a desperate attempt to give Leeds some width.

All the action out wide seemed to be coming from Forest's Djamel Abdoun who thankfully spent half the afternoon offside. When he did get on the ball however he looked extremely lively and was next to try his luck with a near post drive that was beaten away by Kenny. Leeds fared ever so slightly better in the second half, managing on occasion to string two or three passes together and even on the odd occasion, forced their way into the Forest half. It was all side-ways passes and negativity though as Leeds probed with as much enthusiasm as you would when using a rectal thermometer on Billy Davies.

Davies must have felt slightly threatened by the probing as the defensive minded Chalobah replaced Abdoun, tightening the home side up a bit. Immediately Forest went on the front foot and the substitute laid off Reid who struck the post with a delightful strike from distance.

That's when it happened. Leeds' Mariusz Zaliukas did what he does best, intercepting a stray pass and striding through midfield in a fashion akin to Chelsea's David Luiz. I know, I'm bullshitting. His through ball to Byram was perfectly weighted and the youngster prodded the ball goal-wards only for Jamaal Lascelles to clear off the line for the home side. However the clearance was fired straight at goalkeeper Darlow from close range and rebounded into the path of McCormack who slid home Leeds' equaliser. Cue pandemonium in the away end as the visiting fans celebrated as if Leeds had won the F.A. Cup. In our defence there looked to be more chance of Leeds winning the F.A. Cup than ever finding a way back into this match.

The celebrations of 1,800 turned into the delirium of many more seconds later as Forest regained the lead before Leeds could tell the City Ground who they were. Two passes straight from kick off was all it took to defeat a non-existent Leeds midfield before Matt Derbyshire unleashed an unstoppable strike into the top corner of Paddy Kenny's goal. Leeds had fallen for the oldest trick in the book. Everyone knows not to switch off straight after scoring; you can watch a team score on Ardsley Rec before hearing their captain tell everyone "its still 0-0 lads". Everyone tells him to fuck off, but the sentiment behind the cliche is true and Leeds failing to remain switched on was almost as embarrassing as the performance.

Dom Poleon was introduced as McDermott threw the dice once more and even though the young striker found space to head wide from eight yards it was all in vain as Forest held on for a fully deserved three points.

Both managers stressed the importance of a positive January transfer window. You have to believe that Forest will be challenging for automatic promotion should that never ending chequebook be waved in the right direction. As for Leeds, who knows what the month could bring.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Away Days; Blackpool

Christmas is the best day of the year for me.  It is for most and I hope you all enjoyed yours. Its not the best day of the year for the Stone Island wearers who love to remind us every year on Twitter that they prefer Boxing Day because of the football. Strange, really strange but even I appreciate the existence of the full programme of football fixtures that welcomes us on December 26th - what better way to blow off the cobwebs left behind by a day of eating, drinking and being merry than football? With Leeds facing a trip to Bloomfield Road however, the eating and drinking was always going to continue. The "being merry" would have to be dependent on the final result. 
Me being arty.

Boxing Day is a special occasion in our household as, if Leeds are drawn away, its the only away game Mum makes every year. She loves it, bless her. I love it too, means I don't have to fork out on coach travel. It also means we never leave the house on time. After instructing Kez we'd be leaving at twelve, we were still watching Hull-Man United at half past one, before eventually leaving. The pre-planned pub stop en-route was delayed until we actually arrived in the crown jewel of Lancashire and located the Wetherspoons right on the Blackpool sea front. At this point, clearly still full of Christmas spirit I got excited and kindly took my Snapchat friends on a tour of my surroundings. Everyone has probably seen both Blackpool Tower and the sea before and they were all probably muttering for me to fuck off but it isn't my problem if they're playing the Grinch.

A £6.19 all-day brunch went down as nicely as it always does in a pub full of bald heads, Adidas suede trainers and Stone Island. If you can't tell already, this particular fad is one I aren't a fan of. Mum stuck out like a sore thumb sat sweetly doing her puzzle book and proudly announcing to us that she'd just remembered the Warwickshire town linked with writer George Eliot. Nuneaton, I think. I couldn't care, I was more bothered that Hartlepool had just equalised against Chesterfield, ruining my good-looking accumulator in the process.

Blackpool's Matt Smith
The team news filtered through as we made our way to the ground, with two changes being made from Saturday's draw with Barnsley. Luke Murphy was banned after picking up his fifth yellow card and was replaced with Michael Tonge, whilst Alex Mowatt was rested with Michael Brown also starting. No comment. Blackpool remained unchanged, starting as they always do with Tom Ince. I know, I'm hilarious.

To give Ince some credit he is an outstanding footballer, a shining light in a very average Blackpool side. He started brightly as both sides probed rather than penetrated, a recurring theme throughout. Another recurring theme is the lack of quality on Leeds' final ball, one that was reciprocated by both sides in an edgy opening. The only really highlight was Michael Brown being Michael Brown, somehow escaping a clear yellow card after scything down Basham in front of the Leeds faithful.

Of late, Leeds have been solid if not overly impressive and, if not for Ross McCormack, might have struggled for goals. Here they took the lead thanks to the most unlikely of sources as Lee Peltier notched his first for the club since his move from Leicester. Danny Pugh found space down the left before delivering a deep cross met by Peltier who's header looped over Gilks and into the far corner. Scenes. Limbs flying, lovebites everywhere.

Not a bad view for Bloomfield Road
Blackpool are on a shocking run and the goal ruined what had been a good performance so far. They threatened through a succession of corners and were unlucky not to be level as Kirk Broadfoot headed over the bar from a good position. Leeds were practically playing on the counter attack already and it nearly worked wonders, but after being sent through on goal, McCormack was crowded out well on the edge of the area. 

Chances were few and far between and fifteen minutes into the second half, Leeds were strangely rather comfortable, even coming closest to scoring next as Jason Pearce hooked a corner wide. Blackpool threatened with Jack Robinson firing just over from thirty yards, but otherwise a Leeds back five that had kept two consecutive clean sheets was again looking firm. It was eventually to be breached by who other than the talismanic Ince, but a helping hand was needed. Leeds could only half clear a free kick and were rewarded by a thumping drive from Ince that took a huge deflection before finding the back of Paddy Kenny's goal. 

The equaliser increased the tension stakes and preceded a moment of real controversy, with Blackpool again getting lucky. McCormack appeared to be clean through on Gilks' goal before being impeded by Broadfoot. A free-kick and yellow card was awarded by Scott Mathieson when everybody in the ground and watching on television expected red. Leeds felt hard done by and the resulting free kick was rushed and dumped into the wall. 

Blackpool had the last, golden opportunity in the 75th minute when Ince, who else, curled a delightful effort just wide. From then on, the home side pressed and looked the more likely to score but didn't produce a meaningful chance. They did succeed in something though as, for the sixth time in a matter of weeks, they managed to finish the game with less than eleven men. Justice was arguably done twenty minutes too late as Broadfoot received his marching orders for a horrific tackle on Mariusz Zaliukas. 

A point is a point and a point on the road is a good one. It would have been a very good one had we beaten Barnsley on Saturday. Its not a great one considering the poor performance and the fact we have to travel to Nottingham Forest on Sunday. But we're unpredictable - we might stick six past them. 

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Leeds United 0-0 Barnsley

For the fourth time in five attempts, Leeds United failed to defeat neighbours Barnsley as the Tykes displayed immense grit and determination to scrap, fight and limp to a goalless draw at Elland Road. Back to back failures to breach the Barnsley back line was a disappointment for a home side in great form, especially following the final ten minutes in which the visitors soldiered on with ten men after Marcus Tudgay was dismissed for a lunge on Marius Zaliukas. The point lifts Leeds to fifth following Reading's defeat by Wigan Athletic, whilst Barnsley remain rooted to the foot of the division.

A crowd of over 30,000 at Elland Road was treated to an enjoyable opening to the afternoon as owners GFH Capital continued their good work with a parade in celebration of their one year anniversary as Leeds United owners. Their excellent work was displayed in a short video highlighting the key moments in a year which has seen David Haigh, Salem Patel and chairman Salah Nooruddin transform the club into from the darkest depths to a position of enjoyment and genuine optimism. Following the parade, the owners walked through the stand to their East Stand box, meeting fans along the way with the Football League Show's Clem there to witness the whole spectacle. Sadly, the football didn't live up to the introduction.

Leeds remained unchanged again with the only notable difference to the squad being the return of El Hadji Diouf after a tough month for the attacker. Barnsley, led by the returning Danny Wilson for the first time, made two changes with Lewin Nyatanga and Bobby Hassell back in the starting eleven, the latter of which was to sit in front of the back four in a 4-1-4-1 formation that was to deny Leeds all afternoon.

A point away from home; the Wilson Wonderland.
It was the away side's organisation that was to quell a Leeds side who went into the game unbeaten in six games on their own turf. Ross McCormack, the second most in form striker in English football after the incredulous Luis Suarez was kept quiet for ninety minutes; his tame effort straight into the hands of the impressive Jack Butland mid-way through the second half summed up the game for both himself and his team.

Despite a performance lacking any real quality, Leeds were thwarted by Butland on a number of occasions. A frustrating afternoon for Matt Smith began early as, after a fantastic chest down, his thumping half volley was wonderfully palmed away by the Stoke loanee. Just five minutes later, Smith was again sent through but could only scuff his chance under pressure from Ramage. As Leeds huffed and puffed, Barnsley started to grow and often found far too much time in the centre of midfield with Mellis instrumental. Under pressure from Kenny, the ex-Chelsea midfielder slotted wide inside two minutes before teeing up Tudgay for the best chance of the game. After holding off Zaliukas, the s
triker went one on one with Kenny and fired wide when it seemed easier to score. The returning Hassell also went reasonably close as an ambitious half-volley looped just wide before Paddy Kenny did well to help a Tudgay header over the bar.

Hassell's influence sat in front of the back four led to a packed midfield littered with niggly fouls and referee Keith Stroud was more than happy to get into the Christmas spirit early. Mellis and O'Brien both received yellows before Rudy Austin, Luke Murphy and Alex Mowatt were booked for Leeds. The youngster paid the price for his, being substituted at half time to same an inevitable second yellow. As it was, his replacement Michael Tonge survived two minutes before also being wished a Happy Christmas from Stroud. The whole of Leeds' midfield was now in the card-book but only Jack Butland was added to it late on for wasting time.

As well as Tonge, Sam Byram was also introduced at half time in place of the ineffective Lee Peltier down the right. Byram's first chance to get forward resulted in the young right back firing his cross straight into the South Stand, a recurring theme as Leeds' final ball continued to disappoint. A similarly bad cross from Danny Pugh nearly did open the scoring however as it hurtled towards the top corner before Butland tipped it over

Smith; frustrated.
Leeds' lack of quality was apparent throughout and only really created half chances. Butland was again on hand to tip a McCormack header over the bar after a knock-down from Smith, but aside from that Leeds only tested the stopper from distance. Tonge and Austin both tried their luck from distance before the disappointing Smith finally showed a bit of quality with a quarter of an hour to go. After holding three Barnsley defenders off in the box, he turned and shot, but his effort flew an inch wide of the far post.

It wasn't all one-way traffic as Barnsley rallied at times until the sending off of Tudgay. Tomasz Cwyka came within an inch of connecting with a fabulous Mellis cross ten minutes into the second half, with Mellis himself also finding the side netting as the half wore on. Jim O'Brien had the visitors' best chance of the half but shot tamely at Paddy Kenny.

It was to be O'Brien who was replaced by Jason Scotland with ten minutes to go as Danny Wilson showed real intent with two strikers on the field of play. As it was, they finished with just one as Tudgay's afternoon came to an early end. His lunge was a dangerous one which rendered Wilson's attacking switch completely useless and put Barnsley under pressure during a nervy six minutes of stoppage time. The Whites mustered up nothing though, as a number of long balls were dealt with fairly easily by the solid Barnsley back-line. Two points dropped and the Barnsley curse continues but a point that could have real significance come May.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Away Days; Doncaster Rovers

The prospect of a trip to Doncaster's Keepmoat Stadium doesn't excite anyone. Not even the most loyal of Rovers fans. Its one of those modern, soulless pits that looks like something you'd eat your Weetabix in. The club that play there are equally as dull; a small fan-base turn out every other week to watch a team who'd be more than happy to survive relegation on goal difference this season. However, today marked the first day of my Christmas break from university and offered the opportunity to watch the Whites on the road for the first time since a dire 2-0 defeat to Millwall in September. I couldn't wait, but I did expect a tough game. I thought we were due a defeat or at least a frustrating day. I'm fairly pessimistic but I couldn't have been more wrong about today.

Like a tit, I agreed to work on Friday night which pushed back my return home by a day meaning the A1 had to be negotiated on Saturday morning before I could even think about South Yorkshire. Aided by a McDonalds breakfast en route, I arrived home to complete two important tasks. Dropping my over-flowing washing bag for my doting mother was the first, picking up my football tickets was the second. I met Kez at Elland Road at 12pm where we had lunch - another McDonalds. There isn't a McDonalds in Durham, I thought it best that I make up for lost time.

Despite the Keepmoat being equivalent to a graveyard in atmosphere, its modern nature ensures it offers a pleasant welcoming to visiting fans. The view from the vast majority of away seating offers a clear and uninterrupted view of the game and the facilities in the concourse are good. I paid £2.90 for a pint of Becks, a fairly cheap price I thought for a pint of lager that was actually what it said it was - far too many grounds these days serve piss under the name of Budweiser and Carlsberg.

Brian McDermott made just one change to the side involved in last weekend's enthralling 3-3 draw with Watford. Tom Lees returned in place of Sam Byram, meaning Lee Peltier continued at right back alongside a central half trio of Zaliukas, Pearce and Lees himself. Doncaster's last league game resulted in a 3-0 defeat against an ever-improving Bolton Wanderers side and boss Paul Dickov made two changes to his side, with Brown and Woods returning in place of David Cotterill and Mark Duffy.

The most famous Matt Smith in the world.
The Keepmoat was cold, very cold and the strong wind wasn't doing anything to aid the err, passing football that both teams like to play. Both struggled to hold onto possession during the opening exchanges, with neither side asserting themselves with any vigour. Matt Smith's nod down led to the first real chance of the game which was put over the bar by McCormack before the giant striker fashioned a header at goal himself. He however made no mistake, meeting Alex Mowatt's fantastic delivery from a free kick mid-way inside the half. Failing to pick up the visitors' man mountain was a key indicator of the home side's defensive frailty, a weakness that was continuously exposed as they battled into the wind with as much confidence as a Sunday League side. The whole back four looked shaky, particularly the full backs and Ross McCormack was unlucky not to double Leeds' lead as he fired inches over from outside the area. To Doncaster's credit, they survived the rest of the opening period without looking particularly threatened as Leeds' final ball was poor on more than one occasion. The home side did end the half well, winning a succession of quick corners that were dealt with well by the outstanding Leeds back three, before Theo Robinson fired a half volley into the stand after bringing the ball down well. Leeds nearly made the loanee pay and probably should have as Matt Smith headed over an exceptional McCormack cross when hitting the target should have been the minimum requirement.

The wind was always going to make things tough for the visitors in the second half and it did as Richie Wellens' early curled effort set the benchmark for a torrid period for Leeds. Doncaster established total control without ever really penetrating, as Zaliukas, Lees and Pearce continued to impress. Kenny was finally tested ten minutes into the second period and got down well to deny Wellens before a huge slice of luck went Leeds' way in a moment of real controversy. After being played through, Theo Robinson was given enough time to count to ten and score by both a stranded Leeds defence and a seemingly distracted linesman. Score he did, celebrate the home faithful did and cover our eyes we did, until the linesman's flag eventually went up. Robinson did look offside, but the flag was incredibly late. "Sit down, shut up" was the cry from a very relieved away end towards the agitated Rovers supporters.

Leeds continued to look under threat and the home side looked to be the only side capable of scoring. But, after dealing with a thirty minute long bombardment, the visitors stole a second and decisive goal. It was the in-form but quiet McCormack that scored it, ghosting past two Rovers defenders before calmly slotting under the body of Turnbull. Scenes in the away end; limbs and bodies flew everywhere. 

The second goal killed the contest and it got even worse for Doncaster with two minutes to go. McCormack, buoyed by his goal, found space down the right wing and his deep cross was met first time by a thumping Rudy Austin half volley which left Turnbull stranded. Less scenes in the away end, more bemusement. An incredibly "un-Leeds like" end to an "un-Leeds like" performance that secured another three valuable points. We now sit sixth, nine points behind table toppers QPR. Nine points is quite a lot, but we have Mariusz Zaliukas and they don't. 

The only thing better than winning away is winning away at Christmas. Doncaster fans genuinely should have gone Christmas shopping and apparently it is pretty fun to see United win away. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Durham City 4-1 Marske United

On a run of five games in all competitions without a win, Durham City welcomed Marske United to New Ferens Park on Tuesday, with the visitors also looking to pick themselves up after a 5-0 reverse at Whitley Bay last time out.

With a number players out missing, City named a similarly threadbare squad to the one that battled hard for a point at Sunderland RCA on Saturday. Marske made five changes to the side that shipped five at Hillheads Park, with Dean, Butterworth, Matthewman, Alexander and Stewart all returning to the starting eleven.

Marske's last visit to New Ferens Park resulted in a one-nil win for the Seasiders who stole the points late on against the run of play. This time out they adopted a completely different game-plan, taking full control of the game in the opening period against a City side that couldn't get going. However, late on Monday night the home side secured the services of Carlisle United youngster Chris Brass on a temporary work experience placement and it was Brass, on his debut, that kept Durham in it early on, making two fine saves to deny the visitors an opening goal. The first of these was the best; beating away a header from a long throw that was causing City some real problems.

It took twenty five minutes for Durham to stamp any authority on the game, with Ellison in particular slowly becoming more influential spearheading a central midfield three also including Hotchkiss and Hindmarch. However, it was to be the transfer-listed Scott Fenwick that produced the home side's much needed opening goal. The somewhat controversial striker picked the ball up on the left wing and drove for goal, before making space for himself and firing into the near bottom corner. A goal worthy of higher league football perhaps, but the services of the front-man are something that City cannot lose.

It was to trigger a bizarre twelve minutes in which City scored another three, effectively killing the match as a contest. Denver Morris was next to find the back of the net, finishing into an open goal after a poor headed clearance from Dean in the Marske goal. The winger added his second just minutes later as a cross-cum-shot sailed into the far corner, leaving the vocal Dean speechless, for once. Man of the match Craig Ellison added the fourth sixty seconds later; Hotchkiss' deep free kick was headed back across goal by Turnbull, leaving Ellison to apply a simple finish.

Marske were somewhat unlucky to be 4-0 down at half time and did pull a goal back five minutes into the second half. A combination of Brass and Jack Walker denied a first shot on goal, but MacDonald was first to react and thumped the rebound beyond the debutant. It was no less than they deserved.

However, had it not been for Dean, it could have been worse for Marske as the stopper made a number of good saves following their consolation goal to keep the score-line down. The first was a routine block at his near post, but the second belonged at St James' Park as only a spectacular finger tip reaction save denied a comical own goal.

The game faded away into a dull second half of "nearly moments" that summed up Marske's day in front of goal. A poor touch by O'Sullivan allowed Brass to smother well before the visitors had a huge penalty shout turned down for handball. Two long-distance efforts flew harmlessly over the City cross-bar before the goal was breached again. Unfortunately for the Seasiders, hopes of a comeback were quelled by the linesman's flag.

Durham ended the stronger as a great chance was wasted by the fantastic Ellison who pulled his shot wide, before our very own Max Stoker flicked a header beyond the far post. It was to be the last action of a game that was effectively over after thirty five minutes, with the visitors left ruing what might have been. As for the Citizens, it was a much needed win that will hopefully ensure the lads go into Saturday's game full of confidence. Top of the league Shildon are the visitors; let's have 'em City!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Leeds United 2-1 Middlesbrough

On the second anniversary of the passing of Gary Speed, Leeds recorded their third consecutive league win by edging past ten man Middlesbrough. Goals from Ross McCormack and Jason Pearce fell either side of a Muzzy Carayol equaliser to steer the Whites into the play-off spots.

Brian McDermott made two changes to the side that impressively saw off in-form Charlton Athletic at the Valley two weeks ago. Young Alex Mowatt returned in place of Michael Brown and the ankle injury picked up by Scott Wootton at Charlton also ruled him out, with Mariusz Zaliukas given his first Elland Road start.

Middlesbrough's 2-2 draw with Watford last time out signalled the end of the Tony Mowbray era and Boro's visit to Elland Road was therefore new manager Aitor Karanka's first in charge. Rhys Williams, Ben Gibson and Seb Hines all missed out, the latter through injury, and were replaced by George Friend and two ex-Whites, Frazer Richardson and Jonathan Woodgate. The excitement of the new era under Karanka was clear, with the away side selling out their full allocation of tickets. Combine this with 27,000 Leeds fans and a moving tribute to Gary Speed and what you had was an electric atmosphere inside Elland Road as the game kicked off.

Leeds started brightly and could have been ahead inside two minutes. Alex Mowatt's mis-hit shot somehow found its way to McCormack who improvised well but couldn't hit the target with his header. Jason Pearce also headed wide in an opening exchange dominated by the home side until the visitors hit back, enjoying a good spell of possession. Some desperate Leeds defending cleared both a free kick from Leadbitter and the follow-up from Adomah, and only a poor first touch from Carayol prevented him from creating another shot on goal for the away side. Leeds hit back, creating three excellent chances in the space of ten minutes. First, Jason Steele beat away a pile-driver from Rudy Austin before Dexter Blackstock side-footed over from eight yards after excellent work from McCormack.

The in-form Scot was looking lively and with Leeds rejecting four bids from Middlesbrough for him over the summer, it was scripted that he would score. Danny Pugh forced another good save from Steele, but it was the resulting corner that was to lead to the opening goal. It was swung in deep by Murphy and headed back across goal by Tom Lees for McCormack to convert from two yards out. Leeds had the lead, McCormack had his seventh goal in three games and new Boro boss Karanka had seen defending bad enough to make him jump on a plane back to Madrid.

He probably wishes he had as it got worse for the visitors just before half time. An appalling header back to Steele from Daniel Ayala sent Blackstock through but the Forest loanee's run towards goal was stopped illegally by the on-rushing goalkeeper. Blackstock had arguably lost control of the ball and was outside the area upon contact but referee Gibbs, perhaps influenced by the home supporters, dismissed Steele for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. Marvin Emnes was sacrificed for goalkeeper Jason Leutwiler, who's first task was to face the resulting free kick which McCormack sent wide.

HT: Leeds United 1-0 Middlesbrough

When teams fail to beat ten men, the old "its hard to play against ten men" line comes out. When teams go down to ten men, so does the belter, "the sending off changed the game". However managers like to spin things, everybody can understand the desirability of playing a team with less players than you have. So why does it continuously cause problems?

It did here. Leeds couldn't get going in the first ten minutes of the second half and were made to pay on the 52nd minute. A quick counter from the visitors saw the excellent Albert Adomah ghost past Pugh before delivering a cross that Carayol swept in on the volley. Leeds' excellent first half performance was forgotten, as the alarm bells started ringing around Elland Road in a fashion that we're all so used to.

In fairness to the home side, they did exactly what they had to by responding instantly. Mowatt forced a fine save from Leutwiler before Leeds regained the lead just five minutes after conceding. The resulting corner was played short to Lee Peltier who dug out a fine cross, met by Jason Pearce's famous 50p at the back post. Surely game over.

Buoyed by the goal and backed again by the crowd, Leeds pushed on for a decisive third. The impressive Mowatt was again denied by Leutwiler,who spread himself well to smother at the younger's feet. Austin headed a half chance wide, as Leeds turned the screw.

We do love to make it hard for ourselves though and as ever, it was all too easy to "un-turn" that screw. First, George Friend fired high and wide after been given far too much time before Jutkiewicz forced Kenny into his first real save. The ball nearly squirmed through his grasp, and the 'keeper's wry smile to the South Stand told the story; it was Leeds' day.

Leeds: Kenny, Lees, Zaliukas, Pearce, Peltier, Pugh, Mowatt, Austin, Murphy, Blackstock, McCormack.

Middlesbrough: Steele, Friend, Richardson, Woodgate, Ayala, Carayol, Leadbitter, Smallwood, Adomah, Emnes, Kamara.

Attendance: 30,367

Official Man of the Match: Alex Mowatt

My Man of the Match: Mariusz Zaliukas.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Away Days; Doncaster Rovers

A near faultless away performance paved the way for Capital One Cup progression on Tuesday night as Leeds defeated local rivals Doncaster 3-1. Scott Wootton's debut goal was cancelled out midway through the second half by ex-Leeds striker Billy Paynter, but a first goal in Leeds colours for Matt Smith and a Ross McCormack penalty ensured that it would be the Whites facing a tough trip to Newcastle United in the next round.

With Saturday's visit of QPR in mind, boss Brian McDermott made five changes to the side that won impressively at Ipswich Town last weekend. Most notable were the inclusions of new signing Scott Wootton and academy product Alex Mowatt in the starting eleven. Also recalled were Michael Tonge, Matt Smith and Dominic Poleon in place of Luke Varney, Paul Green and Noel Hunt, who made the bench alongside El Hadji Diouf and amazingly, Ryan Hall. The winger didn't feature however and it continues to make you wonder whether we'll ever see him again.

Doncaster only had one enforced change to make with the suspended Keegan being replaced by Dean Furman. Their game on Saturday was a little different to Leeds' backs to the wall victory, with it being abandoned at half time due to a waterlogged pitch. An extra forty five minutes rest over their Yorkshire rivals seems pale in significance to the three points they would surely have picked up, having led 3-1 at half time. No such problems tonight; it was an incredibly mild evening in West Yorkshire.

With five changes made you could forgive Leeds for starting a little slowly, and ten of them did. The vital eleventh man that didn't was debut man Scott Wootton who was on hand after little over sixty seconds to make an excellent clearance off the line. The consequent play led to a good chance for Chris Brown who spooned over from twelve yards as the hosts made an extremely bright start.

However, from ten minutes onwards Leeds grew into the game and started to assert pressure. Young Alex Mowatt was starting to see more of the ball and after a good break from midfield, he set up McCormack who's long distance drive went over. Matt Smith was also looking a threat up front and won everything in the air. Two of these headers caused problems for the Doncaster defence with one bouncing down in the box and the other falling into the grateful arms of Ross Turnbull. McCormack then missed the target completely when it looked easier to score after the ball was whipped across the face of goal. Another Matt Smith header was gathered by Turnbull before Doncaster threatened again down the other end with a header of their own, but Coppinger's effort was saved well by Kenny.

In a game where both teams were trying to gain aerial dominance, it was two Leeds United headers that combined for the opening goal. After Mowatt's deep cross, the impressive Matt Smith rose well to head the ball dangerously back across the box. Scott Wootton was the man who attacked it with the most vigour, opening his Leeds United tally on his debut as the ball ricocheted off the bar and in. Not a bad way to announce your arrival, particularly after arriving from Manchester United. It seemed a perfect time to take the lead on 41 minutes, a lead which could have been extended just minutes later, but Dom Poleon screwed his shot wide.

The second half continued in the same manner with Leeds looking strong both defensively and on the ball. McCormack had the first chance when, after being played in by the excellent Michael Tonge, he was denied well by Turnbull. Dom Poleon then went close after a good run but his shot deflected for a corner, with Smith resultantly looping a header onto the roof of the net. Leeds were impressing; Tonge, Mowatt and Smith particularly in the final third, whilst Wootton was also having a strong debut at the back. With an hour gone, Paul Dickov introduced ex-White Billy Paynter for the ineffective Theo Robinson, to a chorus of "if Billy scores we're on the pitch" from the visiting faithful. Paynter's career at Leeds wasn't exactly goal-ridden and it took him until the second half of the season to net his first goal, away at Preston. Against his former club, it only took him three minutes. He found some space in the box before guiding David Cotterill's cross into the far corner of Kenny's goal. We didn't go on the pitch.

Again Leeds threatened through Smith, who was at the heart of everything all night. This time, he turned and shot well but was again denied by Turnbull. With fifteen minutes remaining the impressive Mowatt was replaced by Luke Murphy and just minutes later, Smith had his first Leeds goal; a goal he deserved after a fine performance. It was Lee Peltier's good cross that was met by the giant front-man who's header was finally too powerful for the home side's goalkeeper.

Three minutes later, the tie was effectively over. Dominic Poleon used his pace and dribbling ability to work his way into the box before being felled by Wabara. I remember when we were linked with him; thank god we didn't sign him, he was shit. McCormack made no mistakes from the spot as the Whites booked their place in the next round of the Capital One Cup.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Away Days; Ipswich Town

Trips to Portman Road in recent years have been nothing short of appalling. As the 6am alarm call rang for 1,950 Leeds fans on Saturday morning it stood that the Whites hadn't won there since 2001. Our last four trips have seen four defeats and four red cards, with our bad fortunes in Suffolk being rounded off in March. Outstanding for half an hour, Leeds capitulated after the sending off of Tom Lees and were hammered 3-0. A four hundred mile round trip for an away day with possibly the worst view, the worst atmosphere and the one that blows the biggest hole in your wallet. Why bother? Because its Leeds.

For the first time, I was travelling down with an official supporters coach and so had my first ever Carlsberg breakfast, which went down as easily as it sounds. The back of the Vine branch coach was in full voice with rousing editions of "Posh Spice is a slapper, she's got a hairy c**t and when she's shagging Beckham, she thinks of Noel Hunt" and other charming songs, some Leeds related, some not. Ella (@elspencexx) and Jack (@TheJackyCalv) were sharing the experience with me and, after nearly missing the coach, filled me in on the previous night which they'd spent on Tuica, a Romanian spirit with an alcohol volume of over 60%. Even with a Tuica-induced hangover, Calv was on form, passing the time with his own "Calvy Quiz", containing obscure questions about the Premier League. Two and a half hours of pointless trivia and Leeds United discussion, usually surrounding our worst ever players (Steve Stone, remember him?) passed quickly and we were soon in Stowmarket for a pub stop.

The Wetherspoons in Stowmarket is one of the poshest Wetherspoons we'd ever been in and we sat outside under the garden terrace. Calv and Ella had literally emptied their wallet paying for the coach fare and so I was on pints and lunch duty. Two all day brunches went down far easier than the Carlsberg breakfast I'd just had.

Stowmarket is only half an hour away from Ipswich and we left at 1.30, preceding a ridiculous stop at the nearby services whilst waiting for the police to get their act in gear. Only Dirty Leeds need a police convoy to go somewhere as meaningless as Ipswich and although the police seemingly flirted with the idea of making us miss kick off, we didn't. I met Francesca (@francescalufc) at our seats, noting a considerably better view than last year.

McDermott had opted for the same starting eleven that took the field at Leicester City, meaning Dom Poleon was benched in favour of Noel Hunt. His opposite number, Mick McCarthy, again fielded an un-changed side, selecting the same eleven that had taken three points from a tough opening period involving games against Reading, Millwall and Queens Park Rangers.

As expected, Ipswich started the stronger and it was one of many questionable offside decisions that
prevented them from taking the lead inside five minutes. Aaron Cresswell, outstanding throughout, bombed down the left wing before whipping in a fantastic ball across the six yard box. McGoldrick at the back post prodded it back towards goal and Tabb applied the finish but was adjudged to have been offside. Still 0-0; first let off for Leeds. The stalemate didn't last long. Some dire Leeds defending allowed the outstanding McGoldrick to bring down an aerial ball before driving towards goal and unleashing an unstoppable strike into the bottom corner of Kenny's goal. 1-0.

Leeds responded with Pearce firing miles over from a corner and Varney coming inches away from connecting with a cross, but it seemed pathetic compared to the chances created by the hosts who were simply unplayable for half an hour. Cresswell, again proving a nuisance from left back, tried his luck from distance but was unfortunate to see his curler hit the crossbar before falling to Tabb. The midfielder did well to make himself some space but drilled his effort into the side netting. Boss Mick McCarthy lamented his sides lack of killer instinct after the game and it was this that saw Leeds draw level as Ipswich were made to pay for not enhancing their lead mid-way through the first half. After being laid off by Austin, McCormack tried his luck from distance but his effort was blocked by an Ipswich defender. It fell fortunately at the feet of Varney who took one touch before smashing the ball past Loach into the roof of the net. 1-1. Leeds now had a foothold in the game, an undeserved one given the balance of play.

The home side then had two excellent chances to regain the lead. First, McGoldrick almost capitalised on more poor Leeds defending but was denied well by Paddy Kenny and then confusion between Kenny and Pearce at the back offered Daryl Murphy an excellent opportunity but Lee Peltier cleared well. Somehow, Leeds were level at the break.

Minutes into the second half they were ahead through more good fortune. McCormack did well cutting in from the left, and his long distance effort was deflected off the foot of Skuse and underneath the body of the sprawling Loach. Just under two thousand visiting supporters couldn't care less that it was a statistical travesty; a Leeds United away win occurred just four times last season. McCarthy responded by throwing on Tunnicliffe, Nouble and Anderson for Murphy, Edwards and Tabb but despite the expected pressure, the home side couldn't carve out any real clear cut opportunities. Hyam headed a half-chance wide before Leeds created an excellent chance for themselves. Some good work by substitute Poleon resulted in a chance for Hunt but the striker was denied his first goal for his new club by a good save from Loach. Green struck a sweet half volley into the side netting and down the other end, Hyam did the same in identical fashion.

Normally, if Leeds take the lead mid-way through the second half, they have to cling on for the rest of the game. Ipswich applied considerable pressure through an aerial bombardment of corners and crosses, but on the ball Leeds closed the game down excellently. Instead of the usual "hoof and deal with the next attack" they tried to play in the final third and could have created more chances with a little more quality in the final third. They did have one final scare though as the game edged towards its close, but Noel Hunt did well to clear a goal-bound header off the line. Full time; the unbeaten run lives on.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Leeds United 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday

The points were shared in Saturday's Yorkshire derby between two sides with the cloud of last October's clash at Hillsborough still hanging over their heads. The match, far less bitter but equally as well fought finished one apiece, with a moment of magic from Ross McCormack cancelling out Kamil Zayatte's first half header. It ensured that Leeds continued their unbeaten start to the season, whilst Sheffield Wednesday picked up their first point of the new campaign.

Four points from two tough opening games was an excellent start for Brian McDermott, who made one change from last weekends stalemate at Leicester. Dom Poleon was given the nod ahead of Noel Hunt, whilst El Hadji Diouf returned to the bench.The visitors had fared considerably worse in their first two games however; a narrow and somewhat unlucky defeat on the opening day at Loftus Road preceded a 2-1 defeat at home to Burnley. Dave Jones made three changes to last week's side, opting for Lewis Buxton, Giles Coke and Chris Maguire in place of Semedo, Maghoma and Floro. The latter was dropped altogether, whilst the other two made the bench.

The inclusion of Poleon ensured that Leeds had a pacy outlet to use against Sheffield Wednesday's solid but slow central half pairing of Zayatte and Gardner. It was utilised from the outset, particularly down the left, where balls through the channels from Warnock repeatedly sent Poleon or Varney in behind the Wednesday back four. The youngster's pace is unbelievable and his potential is undoubted, but his lack of experience continues to shows with his greed which is unforgivable. Numerous chances were to come to nothing in a frustrating first half for the home side, as the visitors' back four dealt with Poleon's over-egged runs with ease. Leeds were applying pressure with both full backs getting forward well but were being let down  as usual with some poor final deliveries. Balls were ricocheting around the visitors' area and Kirkland reacted well mid-way through the first half to deny a tame effort from Varney hit from a narrow angle. Down the other end, the pin-ball continued and Paddy Kenny somehow managed to keep out Nuhiu's goal-bound header. Kirkland was at his best on the half hour mark. Ross McCormack, subject to hoards of transfer speculation, finally found some space around the Owls' area and his excellent chip was acrobatically turned over by the Wednesday keeper. Despite their pressure, the home side were made to pay for their weekly lack of creativity as the visitors took a surprise lead. Two Leeds defenders failed to win their aerial duels, as a deep corner was nodded back across goal before Zayatte found the back of the net with a looping header. As usual, it was far too easy. Wednesday should have been 2-0 up almost instantly with another corner causing huge problems, but Antonio headed wide at the far post. Incredibly original songs about Dave Jones were silenced as the home side went into the half time break behind. 

Leeds had found themselves 1-0 down against the same opposition at Elland Road in April, in Brian McDermott's first game in charge. April and the famous "new manager syndrome" seemed a long way away at half time as it was hard to see the Whites pulling level, never mind completing the come-back. McDermott attempted to change things up by introducing Michael Tonge in place of the ineffective Paul Green, a move that paid dividends with the ex-Sheffield United midfielder becoming influential from the outset. Leeds went close early on but after good build-up play, Luke Murphy fired over from outside the area. You felt that Leeds' key players had to step up and, after a quiet game, Ross McCormack did just that. The Scot picked up the ball in space on halfway before pushing the ball behind Zayatte and beating him, showing pace that nobody inside the ground knew he was capable of. The finish was equally as good as the run, slotting the ball beneath Kirkland to draw the home side level. It was probably no more than they deserved.

Naturally the game opened up after the equaliser and Michael Tonge and Ross McCormack both were denied by some good defending. Most of the pressure was being applied by the home side but the Owls were looking extremely dangerous on the break and after a mazy run, Antonio was denied well by Paddy Kenny. Both managers had used up their attacking options, with Smith, Diouf, and Maghoma all being introduced but none of them could assert any influence on the game. Luke Murphy came closest for Leeds but his tame effort was gathered easily by Kirkland but the best chance in the dying minutes fell to the visitors. A goal-mouth scramble in the Leeds area was somehow dealt with by the home side thanks to some heroic defending by the outstanding Jason Pearce, ensuring that the points, perhaps deservedly, were shared.

Positives for the home side centred around the continuation of the unbeaten start, an epitomization that perhaps, under McDermott, we're harder to beat. Individual performances in attacking areas as usual weren't great, but defensively we were again impressive. Lee Peltier had an outstanding game, arguably his best in a Leeds shirt for a long time, whilst Jason Pearce's commitment to the cause can never be doubted. Green, Murphy and Austin worked hard for little reward, Varney's work-rate was faultless and McCormack chipped in with a crucial goal despite not playing well. A disappointing point, but the performance was there, kind of.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Away Days; Leicester City

Not since I was about nine years old on Christmas Eve had I felt anticipation like I had for today. The first away game of the season on the back of two wins in two; a last-gasp winner at home to Brighton on the opening day followed up by cup progress against Chesterfield. It was also new territory to me; the first away day of last season was Blackpool which sold out inside five minutes on the day it became available to members. I missed out. No such chance of me doing so this time. I was on the ball in the online queue to buy tickets about half an hour early. I shared the queue with approximately no other people. I didn't care though; nothing was to stop me attending.

With Sky Sports adjusting the kick off to a shameful 16.30 on a Sunday afternoon, I spent most of Sunday morning scratching around trying to entertain myself. Such attempts led to me photographing my poor dog wearing an old Leeds shirt, which at least gave him a bit of fame on Twitter and Instagram. Eventually it was time to leave and after meeting Kez (@WhittakerKieran) and Matty (@mattyh47) we consumed a swift McDonalds before getting on the coach. First thing to go wrong; no room on the coach to sit together. Kez drew the short straw and ended up sitting in the front seat next to the woman in charge of the coach. We stopped at Leicester Forest services; an unpopular decision with the back of the coach who wanted to get to the ground and hit the pub. I couldn't blame them after a frankly awful journey; I've seen Luke Varney waddle faster than our coach, who's driver didn't seem to have a clue where he was going.

We arrived an hour and a half before kick off and set about finding an away friendly pub. Thankfully The Counting House is in easy walking distance - it is a good job we left Elland Road about two hours too early though as it took about that length of time to be served. Two pints of San Miguel joined the large Big Mac meal in what was shaping up to be yet another healthy Leeds United away day for my stomach.

It seemed that a failure to get a seat was going to be a recurring theme as for the first time at an away game I've been to, somebody was sat in our seat. I wasn't particularly bothered but the old timer's line of "there's spare seats everywhere go find out" made me think something along the lines of "if there's spare seats everywhere why don't you fuck off out of my seat and find your own". Feeling hard done by, the three of us picked up the Twitter famous Francesca (@francescalufc) and set off on a hunt for four seats. The view we eventually had was a belter; considerably better than the view we would have had without aforementioned dickhead.

Those that follow me on Twitter will have seen this morning that my last seven Leeds away days have yielded no points and no goals. Its hardly promotion winning material. But for fifteen minutes, Leeds looked likely to break that goal-less run. We got the ball down and tried to play a little but chances, for both sides, were few and far between. Varney headed a half chance miles over early on but apart from that, Leeds had to wait until the dying stages for another attempt on goal. I say goal, but Ross McCormack's half volley was closer to exiting the stadium. It was another dire opening from the Scot who does, no matter what the majority think, get a very easy ride from the Leeds faithful. The usually solid Paul Green was also having a bit of a shocker but the same could not be said for new club captain Rudy Austin who was the best player on the pitch all game. Leicester grew more into the game as the first half wore on, but Tom Lees and Jason Pearce held firm at the heart of the Leeds defence. Not a single shot on target was recorded throughout a scrappy forty five minutes, but as a Leeds fan, you almost had to be pleased. We were still in it.

I don't even remember half time but I do remember making an appalling mistake in not going to the toilet as by full time I needed to go like I'd never needed to go in my life. Leicester went close first with Wes Morgan heading over from one of Liam Moore's dangerous long throws, but again, "close" was the subjective word. The difference in squad depth was exemplified with the substitutions; Leicester had it in their locker to throw on Lloyd Dyer, Anthony Knockaert and Chris Wood - undoubtedly all three would walk into our first team. McDermott had far less in his arsenal, but similarly to last week's game at Brighton, did throw on Dom Poleon and Matt Smith for the unimpressive Hunt and the hard-working Varney. In Poleon Leeds have a player with a lot of potential, but he will always remain a Championship impact player unless he learns when and went not to pass the ball. The latter is rarely a problem - he never passes the ball, but instantly his greed cost Leeds when he was easily dispossessed whilst in an excellent position to deliver a cross. This lack of creativity in the final third, a problem we've had since the days of Snodgrass and Gradel, continued to thwart a frustrated Leeds with another excellent opportunity squandered by McCormack who's crossed sailed out over the back post. Down the other end Leicester came close twice from distance, with Vardy sending Kenny sprawling low to his right before Chris Wood rattled the inside of the post. It was looking more and more like a Leicester win in a game that would have almost certainly ended 1-0 to the home side during the Neil Warnock era at Leeds. As it was, it finished all square, with Kasper Schmeichel pulling off a fine save in the last minute from Matt Smith, to prevent the away side stealing the points for themselves.

There's not many teams that would complain with going to the King Power stadium and taking a point and to give our team some praise, we did defend outstandingly. But Leicester were not great and I don't think there's many teams that wouldn't have had a chance of snatching the three points off them today. They were almost there for the taking. So were we though I guess and its undoubted that Nigel Pearson will be the unhappier of the two managers. His opposite number can do no wrong and the roar that greeted McDermott at the end rounded off a not so fantastic performance from the team, but yet another brilliant one from the travelling supporters. It is now eight games without an away goal with me in attendance, but hey, at least we didn't lose. Win the Yorkshire derby next week and we'll see what happens at Ipswich.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Leeds United 2-1 Brighton & Hove Albion

Leeds kicked off the new campaign in style with a 2-1 win against Brighton in what was the most hotly anticipated Elland Road season opener for years. Luke Murphy's last minute winner sealed a deserved three points for the Whites in front of a crowd of over 33,000.

Match-winner Murphy was handed his first league start alongside fellow new arrival Noel Hunt, with Brian McDermott opting for the starting eleven that many predicted. Injuries to Sam Byram, Rudy Austin and El Hadji Diouf ensured that the side almost picked itself, with Peltier continuing at right back and Michael Tonge starting in central midfield alongside Murphy and Green. Oscar Garcia's first Brighton team selection saw new signing Matt Upson start at centre half with key man Will Buckley benched in favour of Andrea Orlandi. Another new arrival at the AMEX, Kemy Agustien, was also named amongst the substitutes with Garcia instead opting for a central midfield pairing of Liam Bridcutt and Andrew Crofts.

A winning start you felt was imperative for McDermott's Whites and a winning start could only be helped by a good start to the match. It was the visitors however who had the first meaningful strike on goal but Orlandi's long distance effort was beaten away by Paddy Kenny. Leeds threatened down the other end but some good defending meant chances for McCormack and Murphy were charged down. The first goal of the afternoon came on thirteen minutes and it came, unsurprisingly, for the Seagulls. Despite looking comfortable, as usual Leeds' defences were flimsy and Leonardo Ulloa found space to sweep home Bruno's driven cross into the roof of the net. Contrastingly to last year, the boosted Elland Road faithful reacted positively, encouraging a response from the home side. The response came inside five minutes. A move down the right had seemingly died down until excellent work from Michael Tonge kept it alive. His ball into the box was poorly dealt with by the visitors and Ross McCormack did well to finish under Kuszczak with his left foot. The celebration said from both fans and players said it all; there was both more passion and optimism on display today than there was throughout the whole of last season. Once back level, Leeds continued to press and Luke Murphy was unlucky to not connect properly with a strike from distance which went just wide. Noel Hunt also clipped an effort wide after a good header down by Varney as the curtain closed on Leeds' first half of the new season. Better was the general consensus.

My half time was warmed, literally, by my doting mother spilling tea down the back of my brand new Leeds shirt. I wasn't best pleased. Similarly to my back, Leeds were also now hotting up and applied early pressure in the first half without creating a killer opportunity. Varney fizzed a shot wide but for fifteen minutes or so, pressure in the visitor's half was leading to disappointment in the final third. Brighton had the best chance but Paddy Kenny was again at his best to produce a fine double save from Inigo Calderon. In order to freshen things up, McDermott replaced Noel Hunt with Dominic Poleon, a move that nearly reaped an instant reward with the young striker's turn and shot inching just wide. Leeds' man of the match simply had to be a toss-up between Luke Murphy and Paul Green and you felt one moment could decide the verdict. Green had his chance first. After more good work, Poleon forced a good save from Kuszczak with the rebound being brought down wonderfully by Green. The shot however was a disappointment as the Irish midfielder fired over when hitting the target was all it needed to score. Leeds nearly paid for Green's miss instantly, but were again thankful to Kenny, who made the save of the afternoon to deny Ulloa's goal-bound header.

If Green's man of the match-winning moment had by-passed, Murphy's hadn't. With the game heading towards its final seconds, a draw was looking the only likely outcome. But Leeds, and Murphy, weren't finished just yet. After a long ball forward deep into the Brighton box, substitute Matt Smith did what he does best by nodding the ball down dangerously in the box. It was Murphy, the £1,000,000 summer signing who reacted quickest, bringing the ball down and finishing past the despairing Kuszczak. A hand may have been used to control the ball inititally but none of the 32,000 delirious home supporters gave it a single thought. The act completed a fairly disappointing day for the referee, but an excellent one for the home side.

It would be hard to fault anyone connected with the club today, with every player, member of staff and fan contributing to the outcome. The reaction at full time spoke volumes in a moment where everyone connected with the club inside Elland Road was, as David Haigh puts it, united. Even Lee Peltier gave it the big old fist-pump; I'm sure stripping him of the captaincy and telling him to enjoy himself a bit more would sort out his questionable performances. McDermott was quick to thank the Elland Road faithful in his post-match interview. That's the simple thing about football Brian. You do your bit, we'll do ours.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Sky Bet Championship 2013/14 Preview

Attempting to predict anything that happens in the Championship is more difficult than predicting the end of this sentence boobs. The league has been a rollercoaster ride for the last few seasons, with last day drama continuously coming into play year on year to decide the fate of its participants. You only have to look at last season to find evidence of this. At one end, Huddersfield and Barnsley were both time-wasting whilst Peterborough conceded late on to seal their fate whilst at the other end, the frankly appalling Leeds United were ruining Watford's promotion party with a last minute winner of their own. This, due to a delay through serious injury, came minutes after a last minute penalty at both ends of the KC Stadium left matters in Watford's own hands and minutes after the final play-off spot had been snatched in the dying embers by Leicester City. Fast forward a week or so to the play-off semi final and you'd have seen Watford reach Wembley, with their ninetieth minute goal coming less than forty seconds after Anthony Knockaert had missed a penalty at the other end that would have sent Leicester through. Football is boring people say.

This season sees relegated Wigan Athletic, Queens Park Rangers and Reading aim to complete the seemingly impossible task of bouncing back up to the Premiership at the first time of asking. Also joining the fun are Bournemouth, Doncaster and Yeovil, with the latter sealing their place in the second tier after defeating Brentford in the play-off final. Here's my soon to be incorrect team by team prediction on the most unpredictable league in world football.


As the curtain closed on the 2012/13 Championship season, everybody connected with Barnsley football club was more than happy to sit and watch time tick away with the ball planted firmly at the feet of Huddersfield Town goalkeeper Alex Smithies. This act, contributing to the relegation of Peterborough United, ensured both Yorkshire clubs would be participating at the second tier of English football for another season. Like any club that escapes relegation on the final day of the previous season, Barnsley again have to be talked about as relegation candidates. Despite a revival during the second half of last season after the appointment of David Flitcroft as manager, Barnsley again left it late and I think that this year could possibly be the year they leave it too late. A small squad and a lack of transfer funds available means their strengthening over the summer has been minimal, only bringing in M'Voto, Nyatanga and Cofie to add to the squad they already have, which more positively does boast one of the finest goalkeepers in the division. Their form at Oakwell is pretty good but away from home you can see them being opened up easily by some of the better sides. Championship football has always been a struggle for the Tykes and this season will be no different.

Verdict: 22nd.

Birmingham City

Birmingham's up and down campaign last season finished with a very respectable final league position of 12th and I'd expect a similar final placing this season. Led by an excellent young manager, they have a good blend of youth and experience but were dealt a major blow, losing key player Nathan Redmond to Norwich City. Their summer signings epitomize a mid-table Championship club, with the majority being solid rather than dazzling. The loan deals for Shane Ferguson and Scott Allan are more exciting and should give the Blues some much needed flair in the middle whereas the signing of Mansfield Town's Matt Green could prove to be a steal. A successful season for the ex non-league striker would supplement the work of Nikola Zigic who will always score goals at this level and Lee Novak, another of Clark's summer signings. Birmingham will be well clear of relegation this season, but it is hard to imagine them forming any kind of play-off push.

Verdict: 15th.

Blackburn Rovers

After an incredibly frustrating relegation from the Premiership, you could have forgiven Blackburn fans for thinking that last season was their year. However, last year saw Rovers dismiss three managers whilst sliding further and further down the table after a promising start. By the end of the season, they'd survived a relegation battle and despite finishing four points clear of trouble in 17th, had had by their standards, another shocking year. Things can only get better for them and despite having the fairly inexperienced Gary Bowyer in charge, I think this season will be a turning point. The squad at Ewood Park is still dotted with Premiership experience and if Bowyer can get the best out of the players that have hid away for the last two seasons then they should do well. They succeeded in retaining the services of the outstanding Jordan Rhodes and have made some good signings, especially Matthew Kilgallon who should prove to be an assured central defender at this level. Despite missing out on Crewe's Luke Murphy, Rovers added another of League One's finest prospects to their ranks, in Notts County's Alan Judge. I expect a lot more from Blackburn this year, who might not find themselves too far away from the play-offs.

Verdict: 10th.


In recent years, the loss of as talismanic a character as Ian Holloway combined with things such as Michael Appleton's lack of decision making ability has seen Blackpool fade from a club flirting with Championship promotion to mid-table mediocrity. Now under the stewardship of the unimpressive Paul Ince, I expect another disappointing season for the Tangerines, particularly if they lose Tom Ince as expected. On their day, they could probably match the majority of the Championship but are far too inconsistent and unpredictable to finish anywhere higher than mid-table next season. Ince has taken risks on signings such as Rochdale's Bobby Grant but has done well in securing the signing of Michael Chopra who should add some much needed fire-power. Keeping his son happy is the manager's greatest challenge and this could deter Blackpool away from anything other than another season of mediocrity. They're far too good to get relegated.

Verdict: 17th.

Bolton Wanderers

Last season was Bolton's first season back in the Championship since 2001 and it was this lengthy stay in English football's top flight that enhanced their reputation a great deal. Such a reputation was enough to attract manager Dougie Freedman to drop down from the Championship's top half to the bottom to join the Trotters from high flying Crystal Palace. The current boss' first game in charge saw Bolton defeat eventual league winners Cardiff City 2-1 and this kicked off a turnaround which, after an outstanding revival post-Christmas, ensured Bolton had realistic play-off hopes going into the final day. Sadly, a 2-2 draw with Blackburn wasn't enough, but it does put them in an excellent position going into this year's campaign. Freedman has kept the majority of his squad together, and has replaced outgoing hero Kevin Davies with Jermaine Beckford, who, undoubtedly using less effort, has the ability to fill Davies' goalscoring void. Individually, the likes of Chris Eagles flourish at this level and across the whole squad, they could match the majority of the division in terms of depth and experience. They should be in for another very good season and could even go one better than last year.

Verdict: 6th.


Led by one of the finest young managers outside the top flight, Bournemouth did fantastically well to finish champions of League One after a fairly torrid start. Key to their success last year was striker Brett Pitman who managed nineteen league goals, a return that you feel has to be reciprocated if the Cherries are to produce this season. Pitman will be supported by new signing Mohamed Coulibaly, signed on a free transfer after being released by Grasshoppers. Howe has also brought in both Elliot Ward and Ian Harte, two players that add some much needed experience to a team full of exciting youth. The midfield is possibly Bournemouth's area to look out for with the youthful Harry Arter and Matt Ritchie being supported by Wes Fogden and the impressive Marc Pugh. It will be interesting to see how the forward thinking South Coast club will adapt to life in the Championship. They'll almost definitely be involved in some form of relegation scrap, but I think they'll survive.

Verdict: 21st.

Brighton & Hove Albion

Defeat to Crystal Palace in the play-off semi final was a disappointing end to a strong season from the Seagulls and under Poyet, everyone was set to expect better things from them this season. However, Poyet was unfathomably sacked just weeks after the season's climax to the surprise of pretty much everyone, not least Poyet who found out whilst sat in a television studio on a live broadcast. Under Poyet, you felt that Brighton were slowly building towards something and its almost difficult to predict how they will fare under new boss Oscar Garcia, who is new to the English game. A league championship winner with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, Garcia has been quiet in the transfer market, with Albion adding only Matt Upson and Adam Chicksen to the squad at the AMEX. Midfielder Ryan Harley has departed for pastures new at Swindon, but the rest of the squad has remained together, indicating that yet again, the Seagulls may not be far away from the play-off positions come next May. With stars like Ulloa, Buckley and, in my opinion one of the best players in the league, Liam Bridcutt, Brighton will never be far away. However, I do think they may miss out this year, as they undergo a slight transition under their new manager.

Verdict: 8th.


Last season was same old, same old for Burnley as an 11th placed finish signalled another season in the middle order of the Championship. However, next year may be a rude awakening, judging on the back end of last season which saw Burnley drop perilously close to the relegation zone before recovering in the last few games. In recent times, they have become over reliant on the goals of Charlie Austin and with rumours rife surrounding the striker's exit from the club, the Clarets could potentially be in for a much tougher season. They've lost important players during the summer, with Chris McCann re-uniting with Owen Coyle at Wigan, Martin Paterson leaving for Huddersfield and Lee Grant joining Derby. Three goalkeepers, Scott Arfield and Ryan Noble have been brought in as replacement. Hardly exciting. Lose Austin as well and this lukewarm bunch of players led by a less than charismatic manager could, for the first time in a long time, have a struggle ahead.

Verdict: 18th.

Charlton Athletic

If you ignored both Cardiff City and Hull, you'd have to look no further than Charlton for last season's biggest achievers. A ninth placed finish for the Addicks in their first season back in the Championship after relegation to League One was an outstanding effort for a fairly young side with a young manager. Having played at The Valley for years himself, Chris Powell knows the club inside out and seems a perfect fit for a side that you feel have the potential to slowly establish themselves as a good Championship side. The squad is fairly solid, albeit not dazzling with key figures including club captain Johnnie Jackson and young right back Chris Solly, one of the Championship's three outstanding young right backs from last season alongside Sam Byram of Leeds and Barnsley's John Stones. This summer saw Powell sell Bradley Wright Phillips to New York Red Bulls, probably a wise move given the striker has never really lived up to his name. The signing of Mark Gower on a permanent deal is a good one and although I don't think they'll do as well as they did last year, another good season is on the cards.

Verdict: 14th.

Derby County

Derby finished 10th last year, impressive considering they boasted one of the worst away records in the division. This season I think they'll finish higher; every year there is one team that turns into a surprise package and I think its Derby's year. As a Leeds fan, I see them beat us twice a year and they've always impressed with a solid back four and a very tidy midfield. They've always lacked a striker and this summer, they've found one. A very good one. £750,000 was spent on Johnny Russell and I expect him to repay Clough's faith with an impressive goal return. Clough also did well to bring in Burnley stopper Lee Grant as well as Craig Forsyth and John Eustace from Watford; the latter should bring an experienced head to compliment the extremely talented trio of Craig Bryson, Jeff Hendrick and Paul Coutts. In the past few days, the Rams have lost right back John Brayford to Cardiff City, but with the £2,000,000 they received, more new arrivals may be on their way. You have the feeling that Clough and Derby have been slowly building something and I don't think they've had as good a chance as this for a long time. If they can fix their lack of consistency and turn Pride Park into a fortress, they could well be in for a very good season.

Verdict: 9th.

Doncaster Rovers

Doncaster succeeded in bouncing straight back up from League One after relegation two seasons ago. However, I think they're in for a very tough season and could well be bouncing straight back down come May. Chairman John Ryan has taken a huge risk with the appointment of Paul Dickov as manager, someone who is unproven at Championship level after hardly setting the world alight with Oldham in League One. As expected for a club with limited funds, most of the incomings have been taken from the lower leagues, most notably Harry Forrester who comes with a big reputation after impressing during his time with Brentford. Dickov also succeeded in bringing in his old captain at Oldham, Dean Furman, who he will undoubtedly bring the best out of, but I'm not convinced that either the starting eleven or the squad as a whole will be able to cut it at this level. An inexperienced squad, led by an inexperienced manager can only go one way.

Verdict: 24th.

Huddersfield Town

An excellent start to last year's campaign had the ever ambitious Town fans dreaming of back to back promotions after finally breaking their League One play-off curse the previous season. However, as Leeds fans expected, the failure of Simon Grayson's plan A, combined with a lack of a plan B, resulted in a down-turn in results. Grayson was sacked and replaced by Coventry City's Mark Robins. Huddersfield were less than impressive after that and only survived mathematically on the final day. In fairness, they never looked like they would actually go down and probably deserved to stay up. Over the summer, Robins has had a vast, much needed overhaul of the Terriers' attacking threats, getting rid of both Lee Novak and Alan Lee who failed to impress last season. The outstanding James Vaughan has been signed on a permanent deal, with Martin Paterson of Burnley and John Stead joining him to form a new look front three. They also secured the permanent signing of Adam Hammill who will add some excellent competition for places on the wing, challenging the likes of Danny Ward and Sean Scannell. Today, Huddersfield confirmed the signing of impressive central midfielder Jonathan Hogg and with the likes of Adam Clayton already available for selection in that position, you sense that a solid squad is slowly taking shape. Its hard to imagine Huddersfield tearing up the Championship next season, but they'll be absolutely fine.

Verdict: 20th.

Ipswich Town

There's a lot of optimism in Suffolk at the minute surrounding Ipswich Town, so much so that I revised my prediction. Like myself, a lot of other predictions I've seen had the Tractor Boys towards the lower end of the table but under Mick McCarthy, you can see them doing fairly well. There's some classy footballers at Portman Road these days; the likes of Luke Hyam, Elliott Hewitt and Aaron Cresswell are examples of young players that have broken through and have become first team main stays, complimenting the experience found there in the likes of Luke Chambers and now Christophe Berra, a useful summer addition. McCarthy has also added Dean Gerken, Cole Skuse, Paul Anderson and Ryan Tunnicliffe to his squad, with these signings again reinforcing the blend of youth and experience that runs through the team. They do look a little lightweight up front but you can always rely on David McGoldrick to score goals; with some support from other strikers and from out wide, they may be dangerous. Ipswich fans seem to be expecting a top half finish this year but I'm not sure. A 14th placed finish last season was a good one; expect something similar again.

Verdict: 13th.

Leeds United

I've never been to Dubai, but when I think of it I imagine a modern, futuristic city characterised by air-conditions buildings carved out of shiny surfaces.  If I think of the people entering and exiting these buildings, I think of Caucasian business men wearing Dolce and Gabbana and influential locals in the finest Arabic dress. Now if you take a taxi ten miles out of town and into the desert, you'll find a small wooden hut. In that hut you might find a rickety fan, a crumbling sofa and the faces of Salem Patel and Salah Nooruddin, lead figures at GFH Capital, board members at Leeds United and the world's poorest Arabs. With this in mind, any fan of English football would struggle to place Leeds United somewhere on the unpredictable hierarchy that is the Championship. Once you rule out the top two, you have to actually start to think about where to place a team with one of the weakest squads yet finest managers in the division. Last season was awful, the 13th placed finish being a generous end to a season that promised so little and offered absolutely nothing. Again, the pre-season pressure and optimism remains as high, but again I think we'll be disappointed. The lack of expected investment from owners GFH has seen Brian McDermott welcome only three new faces in Matt Smith, Noel Hunt and Luke Murphy. The latter, being the first seven figure sum player Leeds have signed since Richard Cresswell will be expected to impress in a midfield void of any quality, whilst Hunt and Smith will have to work hard to support Ross McCormack and Luke Varney up front. The decision to loan Steve Morison out to Millwall may turn into a huge mistake and should the financial situation remain the same, we won't be anything special. Again.

Verdict: 11th.

Leicester City

Had Anthony Knockaert's last minute penalty found the back of the net at Vicarage Road, I may never have been writing about Leicester City in terms of Championship football. The legs of Manuel Almunia sadly dictated that I am but what I'm about to write features a similar story. Whether its promotion, play-offs or just missing out on one of the two, its hard to see Leicester not featuring at the top end of the Championship this season. They have one of the strongest squads in the league and, if they manage to survive Nottingham Forest's cheque book which is waving at Wes Morgan, will have managed to keep all their key players together. Knockaert, already one of the league's finest prospects, will be keen to bury the blues of last season's penalty miss whilst Chris Wood, loaned out to Millwall at the start of last season, is set for big year. The likes of David Nugent and Andy King mature into something finer every year and with the Championship's finest young goalkeeper behind them all, Leicester again should be challenging for automatic promotion.

Verdict: 5th.


If there's any Championship club more frustrating to support right now than Leeds and Blackburn Rovers, its Middlesbrough. Their second half of the season woe continued again last year after an unbelievable start that had the Teeside club dreaming of Premiership football. Taking just twelve points from January until the end of the season was never going to end in glory and a 16th placed finish seemed almost generous given their dire form after the turn of the new year. They lost striker Scott McDonald to Millwall but do have youngster Curtis Main coming through the ranks who could potentially be a big player, as well as fellow youth products Richard Smallwood and Adam Reach who featured a lot more towards the end of last season. Dean Whitehead has joined from Stoke as well as Jozsef Varga on loan from Debrecen, adding some steel to what is already a fairly solid midfield. Mowbray knows his time is short-lived; most are surprised he's still in a job. For me, it'll be another disappointing season for a club the size of Middlesbrough and I think a change in manager is needed for them to hit the highs of a few years ago.

Verdict: 12th.


The Millwall team of recent years has been characterised by unnerving determination and an incredible team spirit, all held together by the outstanding Kenny Jackett. Jackett's decision to leave the South London club for Wolves during the summer came as little surprise as things became slightly stale towards the end of last season. In his place comes Steve Lomas, a young manager with fresh ideas who is especially keen to impress given his unfortunate connections with West Ham. Similarly to Ipswich Town, optimism is rife around Bermondsey after an excellent pre-season that saw Millwall trounce League One Gillingham and edge past La Liga side Rayo Vallecano. The appointment of Neil Harris to the coaching staff is a clever one that has been greeted with much support and the manager's activity in the transfer window can also be praised. With star man Liam Trotter set to miss the start of the season through injury, experienced central midfield pair Richard Chaplow and Nicky Bailey have been brought in, both on frees, with Steven Bywater and Lee Martin also signing. Perhaps Lomas' best signing though is the loan deal involving Steve Morison. The striker was deemed surplus to requirements by Leeds manager Brian McDermott but should settle back in perfectly at his old club. He's had a good pre-season, will link up well with Andy Keogh and is a proven goal-scorer at this level. Expect Millwall to improve on last season's league finish.

Verdict: 16th.

Nottingham Forest

Unlike Leeds United, Forest have managed to find themselves some Middle Eastern buyers that actually have some money - I'm not bitter, I promise. Last seasons squad, with the likes of Simon Cox, Chris Cohen, Lewis McGugan, Billy Sharp and Radi Majewski to name a few, was a strong one but was led poorly by Alex McLeish after the extremely harsh sacking of Sean O'Driscoll. However, under the stewardship of old favourite Billy Davies, Forest flourished and only narrowly missed out on a play-off position on the last day of the season after a 3-2 defeat to rivals Leicester City. Expect them to go one better this season. Owner Fawaz El Hasawi, has promised, has dug into his pockets, allowing Forest to rejuvenate their pack into serious promotion contenders. Despite losing McGugan to Watford, they have secured the signings of Jamie Mackie, Djamel Abdoun, Eric Lichaj and  Jack Hobbs and if rumours are to be believed, aren't far away from the signing of Celtic's Kelvin Wilson. They'll probably miss out on Wes Morgan, but given the strength of their squad, I don't think they'll mind. Davies' managerial ability also has to be credited for pulling out of signing Olympiakos winger Rafik Djebbour; the winger's drink, drug, attitude and ultimately lifestyle problem, could have been a major distraction to a successful campaign. As usual, they'll be up there.

Verdict: 3rd.

Queens Park Rangers

QPR are a club that simply have to return to the top flight this season if they are to avoid the risks set up by their big-spending but failed Premiership season. Thankfully, they were able to off-load Chris Samba back to Anzhi for £12,000,000 but still have the likes of Loic Remy, Bobby Zamora and Junior Hoilett to name a few, on Premiership wages. The money invested in the squad and its depth is matched by no-one else in the division and so you would expect QPR to be amongst the division's high flyers. Harry Redknapp is a manager that knows his way around this division and has spent the masses of money chucked at him fairly wisely, bringing in Danny Simpson from Newcastle, as well as Championship proven Karl Henry and the experienced Richard Dunne at centre half. With the quality Redknapp has at his disposal, anything less than the play-offs would be a huge disappointment but this pressure and expectation could lead for a troubled season for the London club. They have the ability, but ensuring the players are up for every game could prove a challenge. If Remy can't do it on a cold Tuesday night at Stoke, will he able to do it on a cold Tuesday night at Bournemouth?

Verdict: 2nd.


Reading were fairly outclassed in the Premier League last season but are a good club built on solid foundations behind the scenes and a return to the top flight should be well within their reach this season. The majority of the current squad has both played at the highest level and played a part in Reading's Championship winning success two seasons ago and in Nigel Adkins they have one of the best managers in the country, with experience at both this level and higher. Rumours linking them with Gary Hooper over the summer never materialised but Adkins did secure a major coup in Royston Drenthe, who has played in the Premiership with Everton and has the pace and the ability to torment the Championship defences. Both Reading and Adkins historically play good football and despite things not quite coming together last year, the Royals should be far too good for the Championship. Its hard to see a team going to the Madejski and winning comfortably and with the likes of Drenthe, Le Fondre, Robson Kanu, Kebe, Roberts and McAnuff in attacking areas, Reading will be extremely dangerous.

Verdict: 1st.

Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield Wednesday have a fight on their hands over the next few years to establish themselves as a Championship club, after surviving last year. Last year's 18th placed finish was as solid as they were ever going to get, with a fairly weak squad that lacked a true goalscorer. This summer they have turned to Austrian striker Atdhe Nuhiu, but similarly to the failed signing of Pecnik last season, this is a gamble that you feel may not work. Jaques Maghoma has signed from Burton Albion to give the Owls some flair out wide but there are still too many positions that lack in quality for them to push higher up the table. Their defence is solid and at Hillsborough you can see them being effective but away from home weaknesses can easily be exposed particularly in the centre of midfield which is weak. They are too over reliant on the pace and trickery of Jermaine Johnson and Michail Antonio and could really struggle with a few injuries. I'm not sure there's enough depth in the squad to improve on last year's position and although they should be fine, they could be dragged into the relegation battle if they hit a bad run of form.

Verdict: 19th.


After Troy Deeney's remarkable last gasp winner against Leicester City in the play-off semi final, the final was something of an anti-climax for Zola's Watford who were defeated 1-0 by Crystal Palace at Wembley. The great Udinese loan experiment failed at its first time of trying and it will be extremely interesting how they fare this season. Again, the Italian connections have come in handy for the Hornets, who have signed a number of players from both Udinese and sister club Granada. A number of these; Daniel Pudil, Cristian Battochio, Marco Cassetti, Ikechi Anya, Almen Abdi and Joel Ekstrand were on loan last season and played a major part in Watford's success. Also joining from the Italian clubs owned by the Pozzo family are midfielder Iriney, as well as Diego Fabbrini, Gabriele Angella, Javier Acuna and Davide Faraoni. From slightly closer to home, came the big signing of Nottingham Forest's Lewis McGugan whilst Reece Brown also signed from Manchester United. Lee Hodson, John Eustace and Craig Forsyth have been moved on, with Hodson moving to MK Dons and the latter two both joining Derby County. Its another experiment from Zola and although they should definitely make the top half, I think it will fail again. Although permanent deals are in place for the players signed from Udinese and Granada, the masses of Italian flair won't work in a division where sometimes all you need is Danny Shittu or Michael Brown. The failure to re-sign Vydra is a huge blow; expect Watford to flirt with the play-offs but finish just short.

Verdict: 7th.

Wigan Athletic

The third and final side relegated from the Premier League last season, Wigan are another side you would expect to do rather well this season. Their season by season survival act over the last few years means that the squad is packed full of players with experience at the top flight and with Owen Coyle in charge, they have a manager who knows this division inside and out. Coyle's appointment signalled the end of the lengthy Martinez era, an era which has brought great success to the Latics and with this in mind, I'd expect a transition period as the players get used to their new manager's way of doing things. Martinez's departure opened the exit door for key figures Antolin Alcaraz and Arouna Kone who followed the Spaniard to Merseyside, but Wigan have been quick to replace them. The signing of Grant Holt is one of the most eye-catching signings of the summer at this level. Previously with Norwich City, Holt offers something similar to the departing Kone, with un-nerving strength, determination and an eye for goal. He'll be supported by fellow new signings Nouha Dicko and Marc-Antoine Fortune. Defensively, Coyle has recruited Newcastle's James Perch and the unknown Honduran Juan Carlos Garcia as well as raiding one of his former clubs Burnley for club captain Chris McCann. Scott Carson is another excellent acquisition in goal at this level, but perhaps most pleasing for Coyle is the way that Wigan have held onto their key, most talented players. The likes of Shaun Maloney, James McCarthy and young Callum McManaman were shining lights throughout Wigan's relegation season and should flourish at this level. A squad with this depth and ability should definitely be looking to bounce back up to the top flight at the first time of asking.

Verdict: 4th. 

Yeovil Town

It took Yeovil 108 years from their birth to make their first appearance in the football league after earning promotion from the Conference as champions in 2003. For a club extremely limited resources, Yeovil have done fantastically well to reach the second tier of English football in only ten years, with last season's play-off success over Brentford confirming that the Somerset club would be playing at the highest level of football in the club's history this season. Last year's success was engineered by manager Gary Johnson, now in his second spell in charge of the Glovers. At the turn of the year Yeovil were in the relegation zone. Johnson replaced Skiverton at the helm and just five months later on the 19th May, a 2-1 win over Brentford at Wembley secured a remarkable promotion. If Johnson was the engineer, striker Paddy Madden was the driving force scoring 23 goals and Yeovil will be delighted to have retained his services for this season amidst masses of transfer speculation. Championship football may be a step too high for Madden's partner James Hayter, but goals from these two are necessary if Yeovil are to have any chance of survival. The extremely talented Ed Upson is also set to stay at Huish Park and despite losing a few fringe players such as Dom Blizzard, Johnson has kept the majority of his promotion winning squad together. Recruitment is tough for a club the size of Yeovil, but Johnson has added a few fresh faces. Michael Ngoo, Sam Hoskins and Kieffer Moore, the latter from non-league Dorchester Town, have signed to increase the competition up front whilst at the other end of the pitch, Alan Tate, on loan from Swansea, will be expected to partner fellow new signing Dan Seabourne. Both have experience at this level and should act as good replacements for the outgoing Dan Burn, who played a pivotal role in Yeovil's successes last season. For a relatively small club, Yeovil have big ambitions but I think this season is one step too soon for both a club and a manager that are new to the challenge of Championship football.

Verdict: 23rd.