So a New Year is finally here and by the speed of the Recent Christmas Break it’s hardly a surprise. 2013 has flown by and I’m going to use my first blog of 2014 to talk about my guilty pleasure which is Leeds United.
The Whites have had a mixed bag in 2013 and as we start this year there is certainly a more optimistic feel around the club. I was one of the minority of fans who supported Neil Warnock right up to the end, however as it became really messy with players blatantly underperforming it was best for both parties that he parted ways.
I still hold tightly to my chest the fond memories of beating a Gareth Bale inspired Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup in what was easily our best team performance under Warnock in 2013. The way we passed the ball around and caused problems to an experienced Premiership team on the day showed the tactical ability that Warnock had. Sadly for him the wheels fell off after this and as March dragged on it was a messy situation that threatened Relegation.
Without a manager heading into April it was always going to be a real marker of intent from our new owners by their appointment. It was also vitally critical it was the correct one as the team were caught up in a relegation battle. David Haigh openly inherited Neil Warnock and now it was the first opportunity to really rubber stamp their team. The usual suspects were banded around and it had me worried, the last thing I wanted was for us to reappoint David O’Leary.
It was time for Leeds United to move forward, a new start and more importantly to appoint a new manager with no prior association to our club. Brian McDermott (not of Leeds Rhinos) was the name that failed to quieten down and I think it was to everyone’s relief that a manager who’d managed in the Premier League with Reading wanted to join Leeds.
Brian had been harshly sacked by Reading and the football world couldn’t believe how he had been treated. It was a brilliant bold statement of intent to get Brian McDermott in charge. The response was immediate and a fantastic come back from behind win against Sheffield Wednesday in his first game had the feel good factor back and more importantly ended the relegation fear.
Leeds finished with 2 further wins and even flirted with the most unlikely of Top 6 finishes. What was evident in these 4 matches under Brian, was his desire and positive man management. The same team that were dismally ripped apart by Watford, Forest and the rest were now putting together determined positive performances.
The summer saw some changes and our first million pound signing since the Quidsdale days filled the fans including myself with fresh optimism. We finally had an owner with both a business head and a desire to do the best for the club and it’s fans. Unfortunately Brian couldn’t perform miracles and we were still stuck with the likes of Pugh (an amazing underdog story) Brown, Tonge and Norris as the new season approached.
It’s clear to everyone involved with Leeds United that the first 5 months of this exciting season are going in the right direction. The club lie 1 point outside of the Playoffs and despite a recent wobble I feel with some squad rotation and new signings we can get back on track in the second half of this season.
2013 has certainly seen most emotions experienced by us all. We have had some awesome Cup highs against Premiership sides Southampton, Everton and Spurs. We have also seen some extremely low points and I still pin point the home defeat to Derby as the worst. A new manager with the desire to take us forward in place and as we start 2014 a new takeover close to completion.
As I refer to the title of my blog it leads nicely to our Take Over Saga. As things stand David Haigh is close to completing a minimum 75% takeover with Andrew Flower of Enterprise Insurance. The funds have been made available to Brian McDermott and there are strong rumors that both Stewart and Kebe will be joining us before the weekend. The rubber stamp is so very very close, so close that the ink is creeping away from the stamp and is touching the paperwork. The football league are the ones that are preventing it from being officially completed.
I for one am full of optimism, it’s certainly not dull being a Leeds United fan. Most were right to voice their dissatisfaction after the Rochdale match, but aside from the Barnsley & Blackburn matches I think we have done as well as we could possibly have hoped for in the last few weeks.
1. Ross McCormack signing his new long term contract and Mowatt signing his improved professional contract tying him to Leeds until 2016.
2. David Haigh understanding how to galvanize the club which has included good offers to attract fans to the club and to encourage our supporters to attend matches.
3. Our amazing traveling supporters, selling out Away games each week has made it very hard to get tickets. This has made my two away trips to Reading & Charlton this season so memorable (for different reasons!)
Oh and 4. Danny Pugh, what a story, from being left out in the reserves, unwanted and on the transfer list he has remained a true professional and grabbed his chance. He has now been a permanent fixture in our team and has added a new dimension to our play. Well done Danny, long may it continue! MOT!!
The first away trip of the new season saw me head to the Madjeski Stadium on Wednesday night in Reading. This new season has started positively and the feel good factor since the appointment of Brian McDermott and subsequent buy out by David Haigh et all at GFH has given the club a real lift. This is the same club, but only by name that had seen its heart ripped out and shoved on a steak for the vultures to surround and peck all the good bits away over these last ten years. Ken Bates did save us from Peter Quidsdale and the infamous goldfish, but the way he had put us back into administration left a really sour taste in most fans throats.
That was the past, the future is now here and this season feels great. The false optimism is discarded with a sense of confidence and 3,500 Leeds fans headed to Reading with a real belief that victory could be achieved. The drive from Bedford took a little under two hours despite the M25 and M4 combined efforts to delay me. I arrived and parked up just after 6.00pm and was fortunate to park next to a fellow Leeds supporter who had travelled from Coventry. The one thing I love about Away Days is the way I never feel like I’m alone despite traveling and watching the match by myself. Leeds will always be a family and it’s nights away from Elland Road that truly allow you to appreciate the warm glow that this brings. The comedy moment from the start saw us walk straight into the Hotel Bar built within the stadium which was only accessible to Home Fans. We got in with our Leeds colors slightly on show and got served and sat down amongst a sea if Blue and White. It was even more amusing as we sat at a table with Reading fans talking about away trips abroad watching Leeds United and boasting about how lucky we are to have their old manager Brian McDermott in charge.
Readings stadium is very generic which comes with new stadiums but is very smart and compact. It struck a chord which made me imagine how Ken Bates vision of Elland Road could’ve turned into had he stayed in control. We had our drink and made a bee line for the away end and grabbed a Deluxe Cheeseburger from the van outside Gates 9 & 10. I think this was a bad choice as for a couple of pounds less I saw others eating the standard cheeseburgers which looked like they were only missing Salad!
I saw the Leeds United team arrive in their coach which had been caught up in traffic. This resulted in them having less than an hour before kick off to warm up and get ready. The team received a positive reception from the fans watching and we were slightly relieved they had finally made it to the ground. The reception and atmosphere generated as the team walked onto the pitch before kick off was deafening and for almost the entire match we drowned our the disappointing home crowd. The Madjeski stadium from the inside is very smart and the fact we’d never won here before increased the difficulty of the challenge that awaited us. If there was one thing for sure, the vocal support from us wouldn’t be the factor that let us down tonight.
We played exceptionally well after a scrappy first half which saw both sides have a couple of half chances. Jason Pearce and Rudy Austin in particular were the two that stood out with commanding performances. We played some slick football at times and the way we counter attacked and used the space created was encouraging. We played better with the introduction of Dominic Poleon and there were a couple of decent chances that Ross McCormack couldn’t quite get on target and work our former keeper Alex McCarthy who received a good reception from us. It was the disappointing groans that followed to only 4 minutes of added time that showed we were going for the win and if Jason Pearces header had just gone the other side of the post from a free kick we would have claimed the three points.
What followed was heart breaking and painful to stomach. Reading won a free kick of their own which saw Steven Warnock dismissed for his second booking. Adam Le Fondra picked himself up to convert Drenthes cross and head the ball past Paddy Kenny. The goal was timed at 98 minutes and the Reading fans who had been quick to leave to beat the traffic suddenly reappeared and made their only telling vocal contribution of the evening….. Sorry their second following their loud cheers as Noel Hunt was substituted! It was absolutely gutting and the final whistle followed seconds after the restart.
As I made my way out totally stunned and got into my car it felt as if the whole world had stopped turning. The wait to get out of the car park was agony especially as the filter system was a free for all. It was after I grabbed a coffee from the petrol station that I remembered how well we had played and that it was us going for the win. It’s been a long time since we’ve gone to other teams grounds and pushed them that hard. It was at this point that a smile crossed my face, we are Leeds and this is going to be our year. The confidence is instilled and that’s the one thing that money can’t buy. On another note it was nice to see Brian McDermott get a fantastic reception on his first visit back after his scandalous sacking last March. It was even more pleasing to see his reaction after we conceded at the death. He was devastated and showed everyone that he is Leeds through and through. We will win many more battles this season starting with Burnley on Saturday. MOT!!