Leeds United's End of Term Report
The ‘I f*cking love this game’ highlight of the season: The obvious answer is there were very few. Whilst we did produce a series of late winners, they were usually just papering over the cracks of another desperately ineffective performance. There were rapturous moments in finally winning at Millwall and ramming their tiresome ‘Istanbul’ chants down their throats, and the 4-0 win at Nottingham Forest on the night of the 11-minute Gary Speed tribute. The most jubilant moment however, when the overriding feeling wasn’t one of being hoodwinked, was probably the 99th minute Becchio winner against Doncaster Rovers. Having come from 2-0 down and with new appointee Neil Warnock watching on from the stands it felt like a wonderful new beginning. Notice I am speaking in the past tense.
The season ticket shredding moment: I can honestly say I have never known so many in my 34 years of watching Leeds United. The head in hands ‘for f*cks sake’ moments were not just confined to during matches, they carried on well into the night in the cold comfort of your own home, usually on Tuesday’s as our appalling midweek form continued from last season. Take your pick; 5-0 at home to Blackpool, 4-1 at home to Birmingham, 7-3 at home to Nottingham Forest. They were all chilling reverses at the place where we should be at our strongest.
For me, though, the most depressing spectacle was on New Years Eve at Barnsley. I sat on the coach home after a 4-1 defeat during which literally every player had performed with Chuckle Brothers ineptitude, and morale was so palpably low that you knew there was no coming back from that. For Simon Grayson there wasn’t, but for most of those players there was, yet they never got better, and quite how we never flirted with relegation is indeed a head scratcher.
The moment that just about summed it all up? Again, where do you start? Was it Paul Connolly slicing another aimless punt into the West Stand? Was it Michael Brown being out run by another midfielder you’d never heard of? Was it Danny Pugh being shrugged off the ball by a player with no atomic mass? Was it any number of centre halves forgetting the most basic principles of defending? Was it Danny Webber missing another open goal?
The nadir of this wretched season, however, was probably the first half performance of Paul Rachubka in the 5-0 home defeat against Blackpool. Right there, before our very eyes was an abject display quite unlike any other, and we have seen quite a few. Rachubka spilled three consecutive shots each leading to goals, this followed a series of previous mistakes and Grayson was left with no option but to substitute him at half time. On came 18-year old rookie Alex Cairns for the second half, but even if little Jimmy Krankie had appeared between the sticks, we wouldn’t have felt any less confident. Rachubka is now re-building his life elsewhere on loan, and good luck to him.
Got the right manager? I remain just about convinced, yes. Nobody else could address the wholesale revolution that is required within such a short time scale. Warnock is his own man and he knows the business. Whether Bates gives him sufficient funds is another question, but Warnock is wily enough to know his market and know exactly what he can get for his money. He is a past master at getting the most out of average players, but I know what you’re thinking, they need to be average players with a certain mentality, and that’s what we haven’t got at Elland Road at the moment. We’ve got plenty of average players, but we need the right levels of concentration, belief, attitude, bravery, commitment, energy, pace, application and fitness. It’s not rocket science, and Warnock has never worn a lab coat, but if he can get what he wants this summer, it can only be better than the horror show we have just witnessed.
Player of the Season? I sense muffled laughter out there, but there are candidates. Tom Lees has been solid and consistent in his full season at this level, but he has a lot to learn. His distribution is desperately one-dimensional and his concentration levels have been highlighted by Warnock as a weakness, but that will come. He also needs to lighten up a bit, you sense a few early morning episodes of Rastamouse might make him relax and enjoy his game a bit more, with positive dividends.
Snodgrass has had an inconsistent season and has produced only in flashes. I don’t think he is good enough to carry a team on his own, nor do I think he is captain material, but surrounded with better players next season I would expect him to thrive, presuming he signs his contract and stays.
Adam Clayton started the season like a train but his influence has faded, yet he has contributed some decent goals and his energy has been important in an otherwise lightweight midfield. Player of the Season for me, by a long stretch, is Ross McCormack. Quite apart from his 18 goals, he has consistently been the most tireless worker and has been played in a series of unconventional positions. McCormack is willing and vibrant, always an option and often is the only outlet with any kind of mobility or attacking flourish. He and Snodgrass offer something different amid the ponderous predictability of their teammates, but Ross wins it for his consistency this season.
What would you change next term if you were the gaffer? Honestly, it is easier to state what you would keep the same. Only McCormack and Snodgrass would be automatic first choice players for me next season. Every other position is up for grabs. I have mentioned the promise of both Clayton and Lees, and with improvement they can have good careers at Leeds. This also applies to Aiden White, again, if he stays. But right now I think Warnock is looking for better players.
Which player would you like to sign? A Nigel Martyn, a David Batty, a Gordon Strachan, a couple of Chris Faircloughs, a Mel Sterland, a Tony Dorigo, a pair of Vinnie Jones, a Shaun Derry (not necessarily THE Shaun Derry), a Mark Viduka, maybe a Bobby Davison, but definitely a Lee Chapman. Oh and Jermaine Beckford.
Best Goal? Honourable mentions to McCormack’s first away at Brighton, and Howson’s volley (remember him?) away at Forest, but the best goal was probably Clayton’s 30 yarder past Kasper Schmeichel at Leicester.
Biggest tosser? Sticking to events on the pitch, sour-faced poor loser Darren Ferguson is always up there and didn’t disappoint again this season (twice), El Hadji Diouf demonstrated his faultless reliability in picking a fight wherever he crawls out of, but I’ll keep my counsel on him until I find out where he ends up next. I’ll give it to Andros Townsend, the perennial loanee, the Premiership footballer in name only, who manufactured an abrupt end to his loan period to return to his parent club Tott……….oh, sorry no, to go to his eighth loan club at the age of 20, Birmingham.
Best Chant? Chants are all about timing; ‘You had to be there’ moments. The Kop’s rendition of ‘Michael Brown is not for sale’ was Tony Hancock pathos in a dark moment, and ‘If Billy scores we’re on the pitch’ was changed for Blackpool away, after Paynter had just scored for the first time in a year, to ‘If Billy scores, we’re in the sea’. He didn’t score.
Player’s tweet of the season? As with most footballers, the #banter that flies about is somewhat wearing amongst Leeds twitter folk. Alex Bruce had an interesting duel with Stan Collymore one evening, but for significance it probably goes to Davide Somma. Having just suffered a pre-season knee injury that would put him out for the season, he chose Twitter as the platform to inform the world, much to the chagrin of then manager Simon Grayson, who subsequently banned all players from sharing tales of fascinating excursions to Nando’s. This was lifted, to a cacophony of groans, almost the minute he was sacked.
Best laugh all season? It has very much been a case of Black humour all season to be fair, but Beckford raised a smile with his Leeds salute during the Leicester game and then pretending to swap shirts with Alex Bruce. Though this was perhaps an ironic joke on Bruce’s part, given Beckford was being cheered to the rafters far more than any player currently wearing the Leeds shirt. The toddler escaping from his parents clutches and racing towards the half way line during half time against Doncaster, was otherwise as good as it got.
How do you plan to get through the summer without football? Quite frankly I am looking forward to it. Every season is a new beginning and 2011/12 was truly an unspeakable period of time that most Leeds fans already refuse to acknowledge. It is a relief to have three months off; we need to re-discover our love for the club, the players and indeed the game of football.
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