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.