The last few years have been a cocktail of dizzying thrills and heart-wrenching lows for the Elland Road faithful, but this season sees Leeds flirting with the idea of Premier League return. As they approach the half-way point, here's one fan's reflection on events so far.
What’s going right? At the moment, most things. We’re undefeated in eight games after a mixed start to the season. Since we were tonked 4-0 at home by Cardiff back in October we’ve put together a run that’s elevated us to the play off positions. The football’s better, we’re playing more as a unit and individual players have raised their games. Things are looking promising for the second half of the season.
What’s not? The defence has a tendency to be shaky and individual errors have cost us dear. The loan acquisition of Bolton’s Andy O’Brien has certainly tightened things up but silly mistakes like Alex Bruce’s wobbler in the recent match against Burnley highlight failings. Midfield was a concern earlier in the season with a seeming lack of any bite and a Battyesque figure being called for. With Neil Kilkenny and Johnny Howson forging a decent partnership in the middle, the fans’ clamour for a destroyer has waned with each game.
Got the right manager? Undoubtedly. I believe we are exceeding expectations. There’s a long way to go yet but Simon Grayson is steadily building a good solid team. He has addressed problem areas and knows when to change tactics and bring on subs at the right time. An outstanding hat-trick for Luciano Becchio against Bristol City illustrates this perfectly with the Argentinean bagging three after coming off the bench.
Star player? Most fans would say Becchio for his goals and work rate but I think Johnny Howson just shades it. He’s recently been given the captain’s armband and is living up to this honour. The manager has pushed him forward to operate behind the forwards and this advanced position has enabled him to express himself so much more than previously. He’s contributing goals and scored the perfect hat-trick away at Scunthorpe – right foot, left foot and head. He’s a tireless worker, closes down the opposition and is full of skill. You can see him maturing with each game and the local boy made good has a bright future.
Who would you like to sell in January? Federico Bessone. Left back has always been a problem position at Elland Road. It seems the position is cursed. Bessone was signed from Swansea in the summer and came with a glowing reputation. The teething problems that he began the season with turned into major dental work as his performances became worse. With the crowd on his back and a complete lack of confidence he managed to pick up a mystery injury and hasn’t been seen near the first team since. I’d be delighted to see the back of him.
We’ll be backed by 8500 travelling fans – 13000 applied for tickets – and the noise we’ll make is enough to scare any snood wearing, glove bedecked, fancy dan foreigner into submission. I seriously expect us to win.
Who do you want to sign? For his contribution whilst on loan, composure, intelligence and strength – Andy O’Brien. It’s no coincidence that our results have improved since his short term capture and he would be a real asset if the move was to become permanent. He wasn’t first choice at Bolton but you can see his experience and ability shining through in every game.
Best chant so far? To Burnley as we approached the festive season and who’d seen their team go from 2-0 up to lose 3-2, ‘Gone Christmas shopping, you should have gone Christmas shopping!’ Ho ho ho!
Best opposition player/team you’ve seen? Craig Bellamy and Cardiff City murdered us at home. We were ripped apart with slick intelligent passing and outmuscled all over the pitch. With a drop of the shoulder he was able to find the extra yard and gave a class performance along with Chopra and Bothroyd. They won’t be far off for the final run-in.
Biggest **** of the season so far? Coventry City and former Leeds loanee, Gary McSheffrey. In his sporadic appearances in the latter half of last season he excelled at finding blind alleys to run into and delivered crossed that most giraffes would struggle to head. Before the Coventry game he made a few unsavoury comments about Leeds and Grayson which resulted in him been booed and jeered throughout the match. The fact we won 3-2 and McSheffrey hardly excelled himself made the victory all the sweeter.
Any other news? This season’s FA Cup third round has paired us with Arsenal at The Emirates. After defeating Man Utd and forcing Spurs to a replay last year, we’re once again looking for a Premier League scalp. We’ll be backed by 8500 travelling fans – 13000 applied for tickets – and the noise we’ll make is enough to scare any snood wearing, glove bedecked, fancy dan foreigner into submission. I seriously expect us to win.
End of season prediction? Sixth. Our current fine form won’t last forever and we’re traditionally wobbly after Christmas but the Championship isn’t the strongest of leagues. If I was offered top ten at the start of the season I’d have been delighted. To be even talking about the play offs is a major achievement.
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