Saturday, 12 January 2013

Away Days: Barnsley

Once the majority of Leeds fans formulate a negative opinion of something it is very hard for that something to change their opinion. On the flip side, the supporters' "golden boys" can never do anything wrong. Last year's visit to Oakwell saw Leeds suffer a humiliating 4-2 defeat against the Tykes, a result which manager Simon Grayson received little criticism for. Today, the reaction that greeted current manager Neil Warnock can only be described as hostile. Very hostile. The same can be said about the reaction that club captain Lee Peltier received. Just imagine if he'd have given away the penalty that ultimately costed the Whites a result. He'd have been crucified. However, the perpetrator, "golden boy" Sam Byram walked off blame-free.

Admittedly Leeds were awful, continuing their run of terrible performances which also saw them extend a disappointing win-less run at Oakwell. The first half saw the home side, who hadn't won in fifteen, take total control as they carved out a vast amount of chances. Leeds goalkeeper Paddy Kenny was in good form, making two or three smart saves and the lively Marlon Harewood struck the post as Barnsley continued to defy their lowly league position. Historically, they always raise their game against us and the array of opportunities, combined with an abundance of corners ensured that the first half today was no different. Somehow, Leeds went into half-time at nil-nil. The atmosphere in the away end through the latter stages of the first half were as hostile as ever and the players were greeted by a chorus of boos as they walked off. Justified, possibly. Correct thing to do, no. It only makes things worse.

Anyone at the game could appreciate that the opening stages of the second half were a little better. David Norris and El Hadji Diouf were replaced by Paul Green and Ross McCormack and fifteen minutes into the second half, Leeds finally had a worthwhile attempt on goal. Debutant loanee Ross Barkley's turn and shot rebounded unluckily off the bar and finally we looked like we could get something out of the game. Had it gone in, maybe things would have gone differently.

The game-changing moment came on 63 minutes. A positive run to the Leeds by-line by Dagnall was stopped illegally by young Sam Byram with the referee correctly pointing to the spot. Despite his undoubted talent and potential, the young right back has played poorly for a few weeks and again showed a real misjudgement caused by inexperience. Ultimately it was to cost Leeds the game and Dagnall sent Kenny the wrong way to give Barnsley a fully deserved lead.

It was always going to be a long way back for Leeds and the task got even harder when Dagnall added his second three minutes later. As ever, Leeds made it far too easy but the impressive build up play and even more impressive finish across Paddy Kenny was worthy of sealing any game. Despite a few long strikes from distance, Leeds never looked like getting back into the game and could even have conceded a third, but Harewood screwed his shot wide.

So where are we going wrong? Probably just abut everywhere. Byram's form has slipped in recent weeks and his selection slides Lee Peltier into a position that he has no idea how to play. I've never been convinced by Alan Tate and although Jason Pearce alongside him is a battler, we never really look assured at the back. But for once, the defence isn't the main problem. The midfield is. Its the area where we're really getting punished. Despite being seemingly declared fit, Rodolph Austin again showed that he is a long way short of the pace with a frankly awful performance. David Norris had a rare shocker and Michael Tonge was uninspiring despite battling hard. Diouf was poor again; last time I saw him play well was around early October and Becchio did nothing. The only bright spark was arguably Ross Barkley; despite being a little greedy at times he showed effort and a touch of class that wasn't matched by anyone else.

I was as disappointed as anyone with both the result and the performance. But the reaction from the fans at full time was nothing short of a disgrace. I understand that fans pay their money and expect better but booing and gesturing abusively at a captain and manager of our football club is a new low.

A good performance and a win is normally dependent on two things; a solid performance by the team and positive encouragement from the start. None of that is happening at Leeds right now. Its all well and good booing the players but it doesn't help at all. The team needs to take a long, hard look at itself. But so do some of the fans.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Altrincham 3-0 Harrogate Town

Studying at university and following Leeds United home and away upon your return is quite time-consuming, so much so that I don't see much of my Dad. With custodial requirements fading into the distant past, weekends spent at my Dad's are rare and have to be planned well in advance. But, as Birmingham City were plucked out of the famous F.A. Cup draw to face a trip to Elland Road, I started formulating plans. There was no way I was paying in excess of £20 for that; Birmingham away maybe, Birmingham at home, no.

It's not exactly the Anfield Kop but it's the Carole Nash main stand.
Nowadays, no trip across the Pennines to Dad's is complete without a non-league football visit. Dad, having fallen out of love with Leeds, "supports" local Blue Square North side Altrincham FC and having been numerous times since childhood, I now class them as my "second team". Anyone that knows me well will know that, for a second team, I follow them quite religiously. I could tell you their starting eleven, I could probably tell you who they're playing next week and, after checking various scores in order to confirm the presumption that I haven't won any of my accumulators, I always check their result. I've even been on an Alty away day with a trip to Stalybridge last season that sadly ended in a 5-1 reverse. They're someone who most football fans haven't heard of; a real shame given most will have heard of fellow Blue Square North rivals Chester, Guiseley and for Leeds fans, Histon...just to name a few. 

Most football fans will have also heard of their opponents today, Harrogate Town. Three points below Alty in the table but with three games in hand, Town are certainly fellow play-off contenders and the game was therefore billed as a big one. We arrived twenty minutes before kick off and took our seats in the smallest of Moss Lane's two seated areas; a seat Dad had selected over recent years due to its proximity to one of the linesmen. Its also near to one of the goals where twenty Harrogate fans had stationed themselves for the first half with their team kicking towards them; non league football allows fans to move wherever they want throughout the game.

Alty are on a bit of a good run and started well, with summer signing Jake Moult taking full control of the game in centre midfield. Inside ten minutes, three chances had gone with top scorer Damian Reeves' lob rebounding off the crossbar before Harrogate keeper Craig McGillivray was forced into two fine saves. Harrogate grew slowly into the game but Alty's centre half pairing of Gianluca Havern and Danny Hall were looking strong. Half an hour in and Alty finally got their reward for their pressure by taking the lead. The impressive Moult found space on the right before delivering a low cross which was converted after a small scrap by Simon Richman. Then came non-league footballing excitement at its finest.

With top scorer Damian Reeves through on goal, a second Alty goal was on. Drama. Toppled by McGillivray, Reeves went down and the referee had no choice but to award the penalty and Moss Lane waited for the card colour. You felt it had to be red. It was red. Harrogate protested but McGillivray was dismissed and replaced outfielder. With no goalkeeper on the bench, Town sent Number Eight (name unknown to me) in to face the penalty. Matt Doughty stepped up for Altrincham and the rookie goalkeeper, in true Phil Jagielka style, made the save. Only at non-league football.

The rookie keeper formed much of the excitement in the second half with a string of outstanding saves that made you wonder whether he had secretly played in goal for Chelsea youth when he was little. After a stunning save from a Nicky Clee free kick early in the second half he was however beaten, with a looping header from the otherwise unimpressive Carl Rodgers looping in to the goal. We felt sorry for the Harrogate rookie keeper; his poor effort at keeping it out representing the idea that maybe he wasn't a Chelsea youth goalkeeper after all. As mentioned though, his string of saves did keep the scoreline down, but didn't prevent Alty scoring again, with Damian Reeves rifling a fine finish into the bottom corner late on. Harrogate had no reply until the 80th minute when, in one of their rare excursions towards the Altrincham box, they were awarded a penalty. Yet again, in true non-league fashion, it was missed, with Alty cult hero Stuart Coburn making a fine save to keep the home sides clean sheet in tact. The 3-0 win sees the Robins close further in on a play-off place.

No football report on January 5th can be complete without mentioning the famous F.A. Cup 3rd Round. Credit must go to minnows Macclesfield Town and Luton for producing giant-killings, if you could consider the latter a giant-killing given the recent fortunes of their opponents. I would also Leyton Orient for an excellent 1-1 draw away at Hull City, had the result not cost me £100. Since out-playing my beloved Leeds, Hull have lost their way slightly. No surprises there then. Speaking of my beloved Leeds, it was another grim day. A 1-1 draw in front of a measly 11,400 reinforces the common idea that we've seen better days. Hey, at least we're still in the draw. Roll on Barnsley next week. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Leeds United 1-0 Bolton Wanderers

The game was awful. Leeds got a penalty mid-way through the second half which Becchio converted. Nothing else happened. At all.