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Sunday, 7 May 2017

Wigan Ath v Leeds Utd. 7th May 2017.

Even the dawn chorus wasn't awake as I dragged myself out of bed for the final game of a fascinating season for Leeds United. We might have blown our play off hopes on the final run in but that wasn't going to stop 5,000 Leeds fans enjoying the last away day in style. Wigan was bathed in sunshine as we made our way to Wetherspoons for some pre match refreshments and despite the clock only just getting past 10am the place was rammed with Leeds fans enjoying the season's last hurrah. There was a party atmosphere amongst the fans as the disappointment in missing out on the play offs was soon swept away by copious amounts of alcohol and the anticipation of putting on a fitting finale to the campaign against a Wigan team already consigned to playing League One football next season. Mmmm!

The team news was interesting. No Cooper or Taylor. Ayling at centre back with Coyle at right back and Berardi on the left. Vieira and O'Kane in midfield and Roofe, Hernandez and Dallas behind Chris Wood up front. The away end was packed in stark contrast to the sparsely populated other 3 sides of the ground. Now if we could just get an early goal you never know................I mused as chants of "Sign Garry Monk" gave way to "14 goals who gives a f***, we're Super Leeds and we're going up" Leeds started the game with a bang as Roofe and Hernandez went close in the first two minutes giving a large dose of false hope to the eager fans behind Rob Green's goal. That false hope lasted until the 6th minute.

Leeds's Achilles heal in recent weeks has been their inability to stop the opposition midfield flooding through their ranks when a Leeds move breaks down. Relegated Wigan were about to demonstrate that flaw in all it's glory as Jacobs scampered through the middle before releasing Tunnicliffe who rounded Rob Green to give the Latics an unexpected lead. 1.0 Wigan. "15 goals who gives a f*** we're super Leeds and we're going up" sang the defiant away fans with more than a touch of irony. Wigan's goal rocked Leeds as they struggled to gain any sort of foothold in the game. The wonderfully named Omar Bogle was giving the Leeds temporary centre back pairing a torrid time whilst the porous Wigan defence was coping easily with any attack the erstwhile promotion hopefuls tried to launch. This wasn't going well.

As the half progressed Wigan gained in confidence and tested Rob Green on more than one occasion. Green even got a yellow for delaying a throw in after chasing a long ball into touch. As half time approached Leeds at last stirred from their slumbers as Vieira, O'Kane and Berardi all had efforts blocked or found the empty seats behind the goals. HT 1.0 Wigan and it could have been more. The urinal philosophers were mellow but realistic. "That was shite" said one fan. "They're already on the beach" thought another harshly whilst a final fan said "why can't we play for a full 90 minutes" as he anticipated a more inspiring 2nd period.

Garry Monk sent out his team early for the 2nd half presumably with the proverbial flea in their ears? Would they respond though? We were about to find out. Leeds started with the urgency that was missing in the first half and within 3 minutes they got their reward as O'Kane dribbled into the box before going to ground with the slightest of touches from Wigan's goal scorer Tunnicliffe. PENALTY. Mmmm not sure myself but that didn't stop Wood grabbing the ball and placing it on the spot with the Leeds fans baying for Berardi to take it. Not a chance with Wood needing just the one for 30 goals in the season. Wood calmly rolled the ball into the net despite the ref trying to unnerve him before he took it. 1.1. Now can we put on a show for the final 40 minutes? Initially it looked as if we would.

Leeds now looked the more likely. Roofe rattled the bar with a superb volley before testing the Wigan keeper with a header. This was more like it. O'Kane was now driving through from midfield instead of getting caught in possession. Hernandez was buzzing around looking for openings and Dallas was coming inside looking for the ball. Then just when we seemed to be building up a head of steam we had the wind taken out of our sails as Vieira, contrary to the song, gave the ball away as he passed back to Green........Bogle rounded Green but couldn't find the net due to some last ditch arms, legs and bodies stopping the shot. The game then became more scrappy as the half progressed. Pedraza and Sacko replaced Hernandez and Dallas. Unfortunately Sacko had his frustrating lack of confidence head on as he continually turned the ball back inside instead of taking his man on. Pedraza had his moments but the game drifted away to an inevitable draw. A disappointing end to a what was for a long time a promising season.

The Leeds fans stayed to deafen the team with their appreciation at the end. Certainly nobody could be in any doubt about their wish to see Garry Monk signed up for next season. A poor game to finish with which probably showed all too well the areas that need strengthening over the summer. News that Taylor had refused to play in this game filtered through as we made our way home. The young left back has made a massive mistake with that decision regardless of his reasons. In the majority of fan's opinion refusing to play for the team is a cardinal sin that will never be forgiven. Such a sad end to the day.

So another season comes to an end. One that tantalisingly showed for a long time the chance of making the play offs only for the team to be found wanting in the final run in. Garry Monk has done a fantastic job and hopefully will be given the chance to build on this over the summer and into next season. As ever we've had some gut wrenching disappointments but tempered with some genuine magic moments watching the mighty whites. Who can forget Jansson scoring and then celebrating in the crowd at Norwich and then young Vieira hitting the winner? Beating Brighton at Elland Road and what for me was a pivotal moment of the season beating Sheff Wed at Hillsborough. Shall we do it all again next year? Course we will God willing! Now when are the fixtures out?

Thanks to all my blog readers for reading my musings and thoughts on the mighty whites. I hope you all have a good summer and we come back stronger next August. Thanks to Garry Monk, his backroom staff and the players who have put some pride back into Leeds United and not forgetting the fantastic fans who make Leeds United what they are.

Don't forget there will be some tasty potential local Derby's to look forward to next year.......Huddersfield, Bradford, Sheff Utd, Hull, Boro, Scunny, Sheff Wed.............

Can't wait.


Saturday, 29 April 2017

Leeds Utd v Norwich City. 29th April 2017

Whilst the disappointing defeats to Burton and Wolves that torpedoed Leeds' play off hopes still burn deep we arrive at today's final regular season home game still with the slim hope of claiming the last play off spot. Alright we are relying on Mick McCarthy's Ipswich and Brentford to do us a favour but dafter things have happened at this time of the season. Maybe with the pressure off we will be more fluid against a Norwich side who blew their chances in the dark days of winter? In the reverse fixture back on Bonfire night a late, late Vieira goal secured a memorable away win for the mighty whites at a time when we were on a smooth climb up the table into the play off positions. Whatever the numerous permutations of results could be one thing was for certain...........we must beat Norwich in front of a sold out Elland Road to stand any chance of taking it to the last match at Wigan. Bring it on!

There was a nervous sense of anticipation amongst the crowd eagerly streaming along Elland Road to take up their positions. We knew other teams had to slip up but if we could just get an early goal you never know I thought as the teams entered the Elland Road cauldron. Garry Monk had shuffled his pack again. Dallas started along with Berardi for Taylor and O'Kane back in the midfield. The sun was shining, the pitch was immaculate and the fans were in terrific voice as the game got under way. Norwich, free from any pressure, started on the front foot. Their midfield with Naismith, Dorrans, Howson, Pritchard linking well with Oliveira embarrassed the home side in the early exchanges with their neat pass and move style. This wasn't looking good. Leeds needed an "up and at em" approach but nobody seemed able to get anywhere near up em to get at em. "Get tighter" I heard myself shouting as the Norfolk team threatened to over run the nervy home side.

Leeds did manage a couple of attacks but the final balls aimed at Wood's head were frustratingly too high for Leeds' leading scorer to do anything with. That familiar sinking feeling that has been well honed in recent years started to replace my hopeful pre match optimism as Norwich cut Leeds apart with swift counter attacks. On 28 minutes the inevitable happened. A Norwich attack found Naismith in space 25 yards out nobody closed him down so he rifled in a superb shot beyond the desperate Green. 1.0 Norwich. The Play offs suddenly seemed light years away. Leeds were rattled and 6 minutes later Norwich's lead was doubled as another swift counter attack found Leeds short at the back giving Oliveira a simple tap in at the back post. 2.0 Norwich and the faithful home fans started to self combust as they aimed vitriol at their heroes to try and inspire a come back!

Leeds have struggled with the run in to the end of the season since the defeat at Reading and it seemed as if the whole weight of over expectation had finally caught up with them and there wasn't anything they could do to change it. Passes were going astray opposing players weren't being closed down and a general malaise swamped both the team and the fans. Just as I was thinking this could get really embarrassing it did as Oliveira notched his second right on half time. 3.0 Norwich. An early visit to the urinal philosophers was needed for me. The doom and gloomers were in full voice when from the bowels of the stand they were silenced by a muffled cheer. Wood had pulled one back! 3.1 Leeds Half time. Still it was going to be a long way back if Leeds were going to rescue their season. I cringed as I waited for the other half times to come up on the big screen. Wendies and Fulham were only we just needed to score three without reply in the 2nd half. We couldn't could we?

4 minutes into the 2nd half Elland road erupted like constipated volcano as Bartley bundled Jansson's header over the line. Get in 3.2 Norwich and at least we were back in with a shout. Norwich still looked dangerous on the breakout but Leeds had lifted the tempo and were applying pressure on the Canary's defence. Roofe, O'Kane and then Hernandez all had shots blocked as the volume was ramped up by the home fans. Surely we couldn't come from 3 goals behind could we? Rob Green was performing heroics at the other end to keep Leeds in the game but it was the home side who were now enjoying the better of the game. Even Jansson's booking couldn't deflate the team or the fans. They were going for bust with all guns blazing but why did we wait until we were 3 behind before starting?

The minutes ticked frustratingly away. Doukara and Pedraza joined the fray as Leeds looked for another two goals. I daren't check the other scores. What if they were both losing? COME ON LEEDS I urged for the 200th time since half time. Berardi's selection in front of Taylor surprised a few Leeds fans but he was showing the full metal jacket warrior mode that has made him a favourite with the Leeds faithful. On the 77th minute he typified this approach in fine style as he swapped a pass with Roofe and hurtled towards the box only to be cynically dragged down by a desperate Dorrans. Berardi's reaction reminded me of a snarling Tasmainian Devil as he got to his feet and demanded an "explanation" from Dorrans. They both received yellows for their troubles. Just 12 minutes left. Hernandez stepped up to line up the free kick. Could he get it over the giant Norwich wall? YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES and the whole ground shook as 34,000 fans jumped to their feet. Unbelievable. 3.3 and definitely game on. They couldn't do the impossible and win now could they?  There was still time and Norwich were rocking.

As the time ticked away Leeds continued to push for a historic winner. Pedraza slotted a ball to the near post where Roofe arrived to poke the ball inches past the post by which time I was 6 foot in the air celebrating. Naismith then saw red for a challenge on Vieira. 6 minutes of added time arrived. Again I was screaming for Leeds to attack as balls were launched forward in desperation. Bartley tried a overhead shot to no avail. Hernandez swept a lovely cross right onto Bartley's head but the goal bound shot hit Roofe and rolled away for a goal kick. Talk about a dramatic ending to the season. This was right up there with the best. Finally the ref blew his whistle to end the game, the players sunk to the turf and the fans desperately searched for the Fulham and Wendies score. Alas it wasn't to be as Wendies single goal victory and Fulham's draw at Brentford secured 7th place for Leeds.

Jonny Howson applauded the Leeds fans at the end and then the Leeds players did their lap of honour. The game probably summed up Leeds' season very well. A truly awful showing in the first half but then showing some real true grit and no little skill to get so close to an amazing victory in the 2nd period. Berardi and Green were my men of the match. If only we'd started on the front foot, if only we hadn't given the impressive Norwich midfield too much space, if only we'd beaten Wolves, Burton et al. It's been a season of if only's. Still a massive improvement from last season and some firm building blocks for next year. Garry Monk has done a remarkable job.

Just the Wigan match to finish off with now. Hope we can finish with a bang?

Can't wait.


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