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Saturday, 3 December 2016

Leeds United v Aston Villa. 3rd Dec 2016.

The ever increasing positiveness on Planet Leeds is a joy to behold. No matter what team Garry Monk picks there is a real togetherness and solidarity on the pitch mixed with a system of quality football that is not only pleasing to the eye for the notoriously hard to please Leeds fans but also is receiving many plaudits from the wider Football family.

To those die hard fans who have endured some truly awful times over the last decade it is all still a bit surreal. At work this week I was twice told that “Leeds look a quality team” and “Even I was impressed with how you took the game to Liverpool, you should have won” One from a Man U fan and the other from a Liverpool fan! Bizarre, I know the Premier League has created a lot of plastic fans but this is all a bit too much to take in. They actually meant it!

So it was with a bag full of confidence that I set off for the latest game against the mighty Aston Villa along with another 32,000 crowd at the Theatre of Hope. There was plenty to discuss as we followed the well worn route to LS11. Would Roofe break his scoring curse? Would Jansson or Cooper be fit to accompany the awesome Bartley at the back? Will there be enough bar staff in the Fan village? The travelling Villa fans were in good voice as we dissected the team news. O’Kane out injured but Jansson was back. Dallas dropped to the bench to leave Wood up top with Roofe behind him. Sacko and Doukara on the wings with Phillips and Vieira in the engine room. Ayling returned at full back. With the floodlights adding to the atmosphere of expectancy the game got under way.

Steve Bruce has changed the Midlander’s fortunes since his arrival and it was soon evident how he had stamped his authority on the team freshly relegated from the Premier League. They were well drilled and physical with a no nonsense approach coupled with undoubted quality right across the pitch. This wasn’t going to be an easy night for Leeds. In a very cagey opening by both teams Villa were the first to test the goalkeeper with a weak header from Gestede. Jedinak picked up a yellow for chopping down Sacko before Leeds got their first shot away after 22 minutes when Roofe tried his luck from a narrow angle.

The game was very much stop start as the ref made sure he got the most use out of his whistle and in doing so frustrating both set’s of fans. On the half hour Jansson rose high at a corner but his header went over the bar. Bartley did the same on 40 minutes but both teams were cancelling each other out in a less than enthralling first 45 minutes. HT 0.0. If Leeds were going to get anything out of this game Monk needed to change something during his half time talk. A bit more tempo? More balls into Roofe and Wood’s feet? One thing everybody agreed was it needed something different to break the deadlock.

Villa launched the first attack of the 2nd half but Kodjia screwed his shot horribly wide. It was too much for one fan in the East Stand as he sprinted onto the pitch from the family stand with just his boxer shorts on and lead the stewards a merry dance until they inevitably downed him. “Don’t look Ethel!” That livened the crowd up. Both teams were showing a bit more ambition with Leeds pressing higher trying to disrupt the Villa rhythm. Doukara had a shot blocked after good work by Vieira but Villa responded strongly with a missed chance by Adomah followed by a stinging shot from Westwood that Green punched away.

The tension was rising in the ground. Who would get the all important first goal? Vieira and Phillips were giving as good as they got in midfield against the experienced Villa duo but the game was still in stalemate. It needed a touch of magic to ignite it and on 68 minutes we got it. Phillips hoovered up the ball in midfield and hit a pin point ball out to Doukara on the left wing. The big Leeds forward controlled the ball and cut inside before delivering an exquisite cross right into the heart of the Villa box. The diminutive Roofe ghosted into the box between the giant Villa defenders and rose like a salmon to power a header past the Villa goalie………….get in you absolute beauty! Elland Road erupted with a cacophony of noise that could be heard right across the Championship. 1.0 Leeds and the comatose giant was wide awake and trampling all over Villa. Delicious. Could Leeds hold their nerve for another 20 minutes though?

Within minutes we got a taste of the Leeds United version of “let’s defend what we’ve got” as Roofe took a pass from Wood and got a shot away. Next Jansson is doing stepovers as he dribbles out of his own half before going to ground from a Villa challenge. It looks fantastic but does F*** all for my blood pressure! And he got a ridiculous yellow card from the ref who judged he’d dived! With Villa pushing forward Leeds took advantage and hit the desperate Claret and Blue team on the break.

Mowatt came on for the last ten minutes in place of Roofe. Leeds were now running on pure adrenaline as the home crowd lifted the decibel levels to cheer the mighty whites home. 5 minutes added time. Wood had two shots blocked after a corner as Leeds looked to close the game out. “Just keep possession” I screamed as Monk’s marvels looked for a second goal. With 1 minute of added time left Villa attacked again. Nerves jangled in the Leeds end but the ball broke free. Suddenly Sacko was one on one heading for the Villa box……….he held off the Villa challenge and shot low through the keeper……….the ball spun towards the goal line where Mr Wood appeared to bundle the ball over the line! Yessssssssss! Carnage in the stands as the Leeds faithful celebrated like only they know. 2.0 and game over. Fantastic!

Elland Road was buzzing as we headed for the car. Up to the heady heights of 4th, Roofe scored his first championship goal for Leeds and yet again another gritty, determined performance from Leeds. The first half wasn’t the best but the self belief and sheer bloody mindedness Monk has instilled in them shone through in the 2nd half and drove them onto victory. I’m so pleased for Roofe. Leeds are on a roll and the Championship better look out.

Brighton up next for Monk’s band of brothers. On this form the Seagulls won’t be looking forward to trying to stop the Leeds juggernaut. Remind me……we were 21st in the table not many weeks agoe weren’t we? Garry Monk is definitely a miracle worker along with his coaching team. Long may it continue. Roll on Brighton.

Can’t wait.


Wednesday, 30 November 2016

EFL Quarter Final. Liverpool v Leeds Utd. 29th Nov 2016.

Liverpool v Leeds Utd is a fixture that evokes misty eyed memories amongst all generations of Leeds fans. Flashbacks of securing the title at Anfield, Yeboah in his pomp, Viduka’s foursome and Keegan and Bremner cock fighting at Wembley are just a few of the tantalising memories rewound by the 5,500 Leeds as they made their way to Anfield. Different times though. Leeds still remain in the championship wilderness whilst the Reds are strutting their stuff near the summit of the Premier League with a squad littered with multi millionaire super stars. Question was could Monk’s band of brothers pull off a cup shock at the iconic Anfield Stadium in front of the Sky cameras?

As it happened just getting to Anfield in time for the kick off was an achievement in it’s self as a billion traffic cones on the M62 and a gridlocked Liverpool conspired to frustrate the travelling Mighty Whites army. What a nightmare. So when we arrived with just 5 minutes to kick off there was no time to waste as we scuttled to our seats. The traditional rendition of YNWA by the home fans was raucously challenged by a passionate chorus of Marching on Together belting out from the rapidly filling away end. The scene was set for a cracking cup tie in front of a packed Anfield. The hairs on the back of my neck were rock solid as the game got under way.

Both managers had shuffled their teams as is the way nowadays……….still don’t understand that? Couldn’t imagine Shanks telling Tommy Smith or Revie telling Norman Hunter that they were going to be rested for a game like this? Any how Silvestri, Berardi, Vieira,and Dallas came in for Leeds with Doukara going up top in place of Wood and Roofe playing in the No 10 role. Game on.

Leeds laid down an immediate marker for the evening as they attacked the kop end. Dallas slid Sacko in with a lovely ball forcing a nervous save from Mignolet. Decibel levels in the away end went through the roof. Clearly Monk had given his band of brothers a licence to attack. No cagey game of chess with the Premier League high flyers for Mr Monk. Go and show everybody what we can do seemed to be the message from the Leeds Chief………and that’s exactly what they did. Delicious!

Roofe, on his way to a man of the match performance, combined on 10 minutes with O’Kane to fire a shot goal wards. Again Mignolet made the save. The atmosphere amongst the Leeds fans was electric. Some may have moaned when they saw the team sheet but they weren’t moaning now as Leeds slugged it out toe to toe with Liverpool. A chorus of “stand up if you hate Man U” from the Leeds end swept around the ground like wildfire as the Scouse fans eagerly accompanied their Yorkshire foes. Liverpool’s skillful one touch football tested the young Leeds team but they were equal to it. Charlie Taylor was like a limpet to Mane as he added yey more credit to his burgeoning reputation. Bartley was immense giving more strength to the question as to why Swansea let him go out on loan?

O’Kane was injured on the half hour to be replaced by Phillips. The Leeds midfield boiler room was now controlled by Phillips and Vieira……..if they’re good enough they’re old enough! Leeds continued to take the game to Liverpool as the Premier League title hopefuls looked rattled as did their fans. “Where’s your famous atmosphere” the away fans taunted amongst a plethera of ironic and self deprecating chants tumbling from the massed ranks behind Silvestri’s goal. A single fan sat in the home end end proudly wearing his Leeds scarf caught the attention. “He’s Leeds United, he’ll sit where he wants”

The game continued at a frenetic pace with each team looking to attack. Silvestri made a couple of acrobatic saves to keep the scores level and Phillips drilled in a sweet shot that was blocked as half time beckoned. HT 0.0. The players trooped off to the strains of Marching on Together echoing in their ears. Mint.

As is the case in recent weeks there weren’t any dissenters amongst the urinal philosophers. “We can win this” one fan gushed. “Roofe gets better each week” another enthused. “Taylor will have every man and his dog ringing his agent the way he’s playing” was a more sobering thought. Could Leeds snatch the lead and then hang on? We were about to find out.

Another injury blow for Leeds as Cooper retired at the break with Ayling coming on to play alongside Bartley. Leeds flew at Liverpool from the kick off pressing them into nervous mistakes. As a result Roofe collected the ball on the edge of the box and curled a superb shot beyond Mignolet only to see it hit the post and bounce away to safety. Bollox! If that had gone in ………………….

Minutes later that man Roofe rose to head the ball just wide from a delicious cross from Taylor. Leeds were so tantalisingly near taking the lead it hurt. At the other end Can tested Silvestri but the Italian shot stopper held firm. Just after the hour with the Leeds fans trying to suck the ball into the net Leeds won a corner. Taylor struck the perfect corner………….Bartley rose majestically………Get innnnnnnnnnn! I screamed as the ball glanced off his head and excruciatingly just over the bar. A minute later that man Roofe again got another shot away to test Mignolet. “We’re going to win this” I enthused. Nobody disagreed around me but had we spurned one too many chances? Wijmaldum suddenly suggested that we had as he finished off a sweet move by clattering Silvestri’s post. Leeds legs were tiring.

Football alway has and will continue to be a cruel game. On 76 minutes Liverpool proved that to be the case. Liverpool attacked again. A teasing cross came in from Alexander-Arnold and Origi poked the ball in for the opening goal. 5,500 fans behind Mignolet’s goal had a sharp intake of breath before seconds later launching into a defiant chorus of “we are Leeds, we are Leeds, we are Leeds” If Liverpool thought that the small matter of them scoring was going to stop the continuous wall of noise coming from the Leeds fans they were sadly mistaken.

Liverpool saw their chance and went for the Leeds jugular. More swift attacking, more skillful passing interchanges and suddenly substitute Woodburn was left with a tap in to double Liverpool’s lead and drive a stake through the heart of Leeds United. 8 minutes left for Leeds to rescue the game. With the odds stacked heavily against them Leeds could have rolled over and accepted their fate but they didn’t. Sacko was released by Doukara and hurtled into the Liverpool box in the inside right position, ask your Dad, but with Wood free and unmarked square of Sako the young lad went for the Hollywood finish and smashed the ball into the Leeds fans behind the goal. Arrrrgh!

Wood then had a goal chalked off for offside and missed a header from 8 yards out as Leeds closed the game out with a flurry. Not enough to take the game to extra time as the ref blew his whistle to signal a Liverpool win to the strains of yet another rendition of Marching on Together. A fantastic effort from Leeds even in defeat and a performance that shows real encouragement for the rest of the season. Roofe, Bartley and Taylor were awesome but it would be pedantic to choose a man of the match after such an impressive team performance. Garry Monk is doing an incredible job with this squad of players. The post match media reports focused on how young the Liverpool side was ignoring the fact that Leeds’ average age of the team was lower than their illustrious opponents. Still this was a performance to be hugely proud of. What an incredible night.

The least said about the journey home the better. The traffic cones had multiplied ten fold during the match and Liverpool’s testing road system was in gridlock due to an accident. Absolute bollox. Still it was a cracking game. Bring on the Villa!

Can’t wait.


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