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Sunday, 18 February 2018

Leeds Utd v Bristol City. 18th Feb 2018.

For fans of a certain age Bristol City at home will always stir painful distant memories of one of the biggest FA Cup shocks Leeds have had the misfortune to have played in.  In 1974 Bristol City were a developing team in the obscurity of Div 3 (League 1 in today's money) whilst Leeds were riding high as probably the most feared team in Europe.  A Don Gillies goal gave the Robins an unlikely victory in the replay in a game that kicked off at 2pm in the middle of the 3 day week in front of a sold out Elland Road.  Fast forward 44 years and Bristol arrive in West Yorks sat precariously in the top 6 of the championship with Leeds frantically trying to keep in touch from an ever increasing gap in 11th.  By any stretch of the imagination if Hecky is going to perform a miracle and get Leeds back on the promotion track this is definitely a must win game. On the evidence of our form since Christmas it looks like a lost cause not made any easier with the continued absence of Saiz, Berardi and Cooper due to suspension.  You never know though...............

The ridiculous Sunday 4.30pm kick off time and the recent awful form had trimmed the crowd below the 30,000 mark for the first time for a while but there were still plenty of home fans hanging onto the theory that if we beat them 3.0 at Ashton Gate we should be able to beat them at home?  They do say it's the hope that kills you. The pre match chat was focused on team selection.  Would Roofe and Alioski survive after their less than inspiring performances at Bramall Lane? What about the midfield three? Could Lasogga keep hold of his shin pads?  We were about to find out.

Hecky rang the changes for his first game at Elland Road with Anita, Ekuban and Hernandez starting in place of Roofe, Alioski and Phillips. Leeds started positively and after just 5 minutes swept down field and sliced through the Bristol defence with Ekuban finally feeding Dallas in the box but the Northern Irishman's shot was too near Fielding in the Bristol goal who parried it away to safety.  This looked good and gave the crowd some early false hope that was soon to be cruelly snatched away from them in an all too familiar fashion.

First Wiedwald came for a cross and punched the ball weakly away causing visible panic amongst the Leeds defence.  Bristol didn't need telling twice with their height advantage they knew exactly how to hurt Leeds...........put the ball in the box for their big men to win.  On 11 minutes this strategy paid handsome dividends for the Robins as Wiedwald came for a long throw and completely missed the line of the ball as he flapped like a dying Swan in his attempt to clear the ball.  The ball dropped into the Leeds area where Bristol's Diedhiou took two touches before sliding the home the opening goal.  The Leeds defenders apparently had concrete boots on coupled with the brain speed of a Sloth suffering from concussion as they watched the Bristol player score with ease.  Farcical bordering on comical defending from the men in white.  Worse was to come just 5 minutes later as Leeds again failed to react to a cross into the box as Pack snapped up the second ball and fired a pass to Reid who stabbed the ball home to double the Robins lead.  Shocking defending. 2.0 Bristol and the majority of the crowd feared this was going to get a whole lot worse.

Leeds capitulated in embarrassing style as Kent, Reid and Flint tormented Leeds.  The home fans were seething and when the ref blew his whistle for half time there was a well deserved chorus of boos to accompany them into the dressing room.  They couldn't deal with any ball into their box, they hadn't won any second balls and treated the ball like an exceptionally hot potato when they did have possession.  A truly awful first 45 minutes that left absolutely no hope for the 2nd period.  In all my times writing this blog I have never experienced a game where the Urinal Philosophers were stunned into silence but I had now.  The performance was so bad nobody had anything to say.  There was no point.  We all knew this was as bad as it gets and couldn't even raise an objection.  Their faces told a different story though.  Etched into their faces was a mixture of crushing disappointment and total despair that needed no words to elaborate.  In their eyes was a dullness you associate with death.  Surely Leeds couldn't recover from this?

The 2nd half progressed in the same sorry way as the first with a continuing comedy of errors from the men in white.  It got that bad that the home crowd reverted to cutting sarcasm as they cheered any catch by Wiedwald and any passage of more than three passes with Ole's.  Then with ironic chants of "We're gonna win the league" ringing around the ground the game suddenly changed.  Roofe replaced Ekuban and Dallas made way for Sacko.  Bristol decided they could just kill the game and take the three points back to the South West.  The ironic chants changed to spine tingling choruses of MOT and ALAW which the players picked up on.  All of a sudden we were stringing passes together and attacking with purpose.  Bristol began to look nervous especially after they had let a three goal lead slip last week.  On 72 minutes Elland Road erupted as Lasogga showed what a good finisher he is as he met Hernandez's cross at the back post to pull one back for Leeds.  2.1 and Elland Road must have felt like a seething Bear Pit to the Bristol players as the Leeds players suddenly changed into world beaters as they surged forward looking for an equaliser feeding on the incessant noise from the stands.

The fans smelt blood, the players smelt blood and tore into the Robins.  Gone were the errors and nervous defending.  Now we were pinging 40 yard balls to feet, we were confidently taking responsibility for the ball and we were creating real chances. On 80 minutes Roofe got the equaliser as he slid in a cross at the back post.  2.2 and Elland Road was absolutely bouncing.  At times like this there is no ground in England that creates as much noise and passion in all four corners of the stadium.  Unbelievable scenes and what was better was that there was still ten minutes left to chase the winner.

The last ten minutes saw Leeds surge forward with high octane attacks that had Bristol crumbling.  Forshaw saw his shot from the edge of the box go just wide, Sacko was causing havoc down the right whilst Hernandez was mesmerising on the left.  Into 5 minutes of added time with Leeds still looking for the winner.  Phillips, on for O'Kane, missed a header from 7 yards which he should have buried and then right at the death Lasogga rose like giant Salmon to thunder a header against the bar.  Wow.  What a game, what a 2nd half and what an atmosphere.  It ended 2.2 but that doesn't begin to describe the drama in this game.  From a first half where Leeds looked so inept and void of ideas to a 2nd half where they picked up on the crowd's incessant noise to pull off a most unlikely comeback this was a remarkable game.  Why can't we play like that for 90 minutes instead of 30?

This game was so Leeds.  They plumbed new depths of woefulness in the first half and climbed new heights of resilience in the 2nd.  Yes the failings in defence are still there and the seemingly inability to keep possession when under pressure is a big worry as is our vulnerability to set pieces but if Hecky can just get some consistency into our play then  we just might be able to build a platform for next season.

Life is never not dull supporting Leeds.  Derby away on Wednesday and God willing I should be there.  Which Leeds team will turn up? Will Saiz come straight back in? Can Hecky sort the defence out?

Can't wait.

MOT.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Sheff Utd v Leeds Utd. 10th Feb 2018.

After another interesting week off the pitch on Planet Leeds the focus returns to what's happening on the pitch as we head to Bramall Lane for a Yorkshire derby with Sheff Utd.  The departure of TC after the embarrassing defeat to Cardiff was not entirely unexpected but the choice of his successor, Paul Heckingbottom, was.  The ex Barnsley boss has definitely talked the talk well since joining Leeds in a typical no nonsense Yorkshire way that has struck a positive chord with the majority of fans including yours truly.  Can he convert all those fine words about how the team should play into reality on a freezing cold lunchtime in Sheffield though?  We were about to find out.

At least PH has O'Kane and Phillips available after their suspensions and Jansson making a remarkable recovery after the seemingly life threatening injury incurred last week should make team selection marginally better.  Rumours that PH had told the big Swede to "get thi sen on t'training pitch cos tha's playing on Saturday yer soft twat" seemed to have helped his recovery.

How would we deal with Leon Clarke this time round? Would Sheffield's lack of an experienced Goalie give Leeds an edge? What formation would PH deploy? There was lots to debate as we waited for Heckingbottom's first team sheet.  As expected there were changes and not just to the personnel as PH went for a 4-3-3 formation in his first game in charge. De Bock, Pennington, Jansson and Dallas were the back 4 with Phillips, Forshaw and O'Kane in midfield.  Up front Lasogga was supported by Roofe and Alioski.  The Leeds players wore black armbands in respect to Liam Miller who tragically lost his battle against cancer today.

Bramall Lane was crackling with atmosphere as the game got underway despite the swirling, cold, wet weather that had engulfed Sheffield.  What Leeds needed was a confident start but what they got was the complete opposite.  The Blades launched their first attack.........Duffy found acres of space on the right and chipped a ball to Billy Sharp on the edge of the box who volleyed a superb shot that left Wiedwald with no chance.  1.0 Blades after just 2 minutes.  Sharp wheeled away in delight as the boisterous away end was stunned into silence.  Why do ex players always score against us?  Sheffield fed on the early goal and attacked Leeds with vigour.  Sharp just missed a header from a corner as the mood amongst the Leeds fans turned sour.  The numerous Leeds managers stood near me had sacked Roofe, Alioski and Lasogga for being f****** useless after just 10 minutes.I hope they give the new coach til at least half time before they judge him I mused.

On 15 minutes Leeds had their first sniff of a chance as Alioski tried a weak overhead kick from a Jansson header after a free kick.  More vile abuse for Alioski from around me.  Jesus we don't half give our own players some stick if they're not at least the same standard as Messi.  The game was fast and furious just as you'd expect a local derby to be.  The Blades were edging the game as Leeds struggled to find any rhythm against the high pressing style of their opponents.  Lasogga lifted the spirits though on 23 minutes as he battled for the ball and hit a stinging 25 yard shot that beat both the goalie and the post. Just before half time Alioski took another heavy tackle to earn Leeds another free kick.  Roofe departed with concussion to be replaced by Hernandez.  The Spaniard made an immediate impact as he stroked the perfect free kick onto Jansson's head but the giant Blackman in the Sheffield goal pulled off a fantastic save as he clawed the header away for a corner.  HT 1.0 Blades.

The urinal philosophers were in an unforgiving mood as they tore into Roofe and Alioski 's efforts in the first half.  Even for this blog there was no comments I could repeat but safe to say both have suddenly been made life members of the LUFC fans "You're f****** shit" club.  Even the Heck didn't escape criticism as one fan declared "I knew we shouldn't have gone with the Barnsley twat he hasn't got a clue"  Wow.  I despair at times.

Leeds were out early for the 2nd half with PH's half time team talk ringing in their ears.  Would it turn things round? We got the answer after just 90 seconds of the restart.  Leeds pressed Sheffield and Hernandez recovered the ball and scuttled towards the Blades' box.  What happened next was pure poetry in motion.  Hernandez mesmerised two defenders with a little wiggle here and a little feint there as he floated the most delightful cross towards Lasogga who struck like a coiled Cobra to thunder a powerful header past Blackman into the net.  The away end exploded in total carnage as bodies flew past me to the right and left in celebration.  1.1 and Leeds were back in the game.

It was the Blades who were rattled now as the little Spanish Magician, Hernandez, struck fear into the hearts of the Blades defenders every time he got the ball and on 57 minutes when he jinked inside and fired a shot just over the bar I began to think we might just take all three points.  Sheffield rallied though with Duffy and Sharp pulling the strings the Blades started to apply the pressure to the creaking Leeds back four as the corner count started to build.  This was now a cracking game that both teams were looking to win.  Then on 72 minutes a moment of controversy settled the game.  The Blades won a free kick 30 yards out.  Fleck made a run into the box and took a short pass O'Kane challenged him and he went down like a sniper had shot him.  PENALTY!  From the away end it looked a stonewall penalty.  Billy Sharp stepped and converted with ease to put the Blades 2.1 up.

Leeds had 17 minutes to rescue something from the game.  Sacko replaced the injured Alioski as PH looked to pinch another equaliser.  Lasogga saw his header bounce off a defender to go behind but the referee somehow thought it was a goal kick which enraged the baying Leeds fans as did an apparent handball by a Blades defender in the box which was waved away by the ref.  Eckuban came on for Phillips as Leeds threw caution to the wind in search of an equaliser.  A couple of desperate goalmouth scrambles followed but Leeds couldn't prise open the Blades defence again and the game finished 2.1.

Hearing that the Blades penalty was debatable at best on the way home didn't do anything to improve my mood.  We did show a lot more fight than in recent weeks but PH will certainly be aware he has a big job on his hands to get Leeds back to winning ways.  Roofe did struggle as did Alioski at times.  De Bock isn't a natural attacking full back neither.  Hernandez did make an impact when he came on even in the heat of a pulsating local derby. Pennington and Jansson put in good shifts as well.  All in all I was pleased we played better despite losing.  PH needs time to show what he can do.  I hope he's not crucified before he does?

Bristol City up next for Leeds.  Yet another testing game for Leeds in the February month of death.  We did beat them at Ashton Gate so can we repeat that at Elland Road? Fingers crossed.

Can't wait.

MOT

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