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Saturday, 11 March 2017

Leeds Utd v QPR. March 11th 2017.

Way back in the dark days of August Leeds Utd were humbled at Loftus Road in the first game of the season. The Leeds team sheet that day had names such as Diagouraga, Grimes, Bamba and Antonsson on show. Jansson was still an unknown Swede on Garry Monk's wish list, Cook had departed to  Bournemouth and to top it all Berardi went off injured after 22 minutes. Ex QPR keeper, Green, had a horrendous debut so all in all the depressing trip back from West London was an absolute worryfest of how we could possibly avoid relegation to League 1 with this collection of clueless, journeymen footballers. How times change.

If any fan had then suggested Chris Wood would pass 20 goals for the season with ease by March, Rob Green would become the best keeper in the Championship and our defence would become as mean and miserly as Scrooge they would have been deposited at the local institution for the clinically deluded in double quick time. How things have changed as we welcome QPR to Elland Road for today's crucial championship game and huge credit for that transformation lies at the feet of Garry Monk and his coaching team. The fact that Garry Monk is still the Leeds head coach is a miracle of epic proportions given the track record of Cellino's hair trigger finger. To be honest it's all a bit surreal for your average Leeds fans who have dieted on disappointment, frustration and a distinct absence of hope for the last decade.

30,000 hopeful fans had descended on Elland Road for the game hoping to see Leeds take another step to the play offs. Monk selected both Bartley and Ayling who were one booking away from a 2 match ban. Vieira came back into midfield along with Hernandez and Wood returning up front. QPR started the livelier with the fleet footed Connor Washington and Luke Freeman catching the eye for the visitors when they had the ball. When they didn't have the ball they formed a formidable back five and midfield four to challenge Leeds to break them down. Even the repetitive new chant of "Luke Ayling and Berardi, Pontus Jansson Kylie Bartley" couldn't inspire a strangely ponderous Leeds in the early stages. On 13 minutes Washington sprung the home defence only to see his shot expertly saved by Rob Green on his 600th appearance. Mmmmm not the start we hoped for? On 34 minutes things got worse as Ayling clattered into a 50/50 tackle and received a harsh yellow card that keeps him out of the next two games. Bollox!

The game was hardly easy on the eye. Leeds had the Lion's share of possession but stuttered and spluttered to open up the QPR defence. Wood hardly saw the ball as the three QPR centre backs smothered the few balls that came his way. When the visitors did have the ball they broke far too easily for my liking to pressurise the home defence. This was definitely not going to plan and even worse there didn't seem to be anybody on the pitch in a white shirt who had the quality to unpick the Rangers defence. Just before half time Roofe threatened when he cut inside but his shot went wide. Half time 0:0. The eerie silence of the Urinal philosophers told it's own story. Very few highlights from the first 45 minutes but at least the teams around us were struggling as well. Surely a good half time team talk from Monk with a little tweaking of the tactics would do the trick? Well as it happened Nope!

The 2nd half played out to the same pattern as the first as the home crowd became more and more frustrated with misplaced passes and poor final balls from the under par home side. "Has Smithies touched the ball yet?" I enquired as Sacko replaced Roofe on the hour mark. Maybe this would be Sacko's chance to drop his tag as a massively frustrating player with lots of potential...........Mmmm not quite. On 68 minutes there was a flash of hope as Wood connected with a Hernandez cross but his header went wide. Minutes later Sacko finally hit a lovely cross into the box.............Wood tumbled to the ground and the ball cannoned off the QPR centre half safely into Smithies hands. "Does that count as a shot on target" I mused as I still couldn't remember Smithies having to make a save.

Doukara came on for Leeds to try and pinch a winner but in reality it was QPR who looked the most likely to snatch a win in a very dour stalemate. A lot of the crowd were heading for home as the 4 minutes of added time started. Not surprisingly it ended 0:0. Very, very frustrating for the home fans. Credit to QPR they came with a plan and implemented it perfectly to blunt the Leeds attack. Leeds didn't manage one shot on target. The point was better than the performance with Reading and Sheff Wed both losing but Fulham's impressive win at Newcastle has certainly jangled the nerves of the teams in the play off places. They are now just 2 points behind Wednesday with a game in hand. Maybe Tuesday's point at Craven Cottage wasn't too bad after all?

Squeaky bum time is definitely here until the final match at Wigan. Next week's clash with Brighton is huge but I can't see the Seagulls defending as QPR did which might give Leeds a bit more room to attack. Steady nerves needed by all concerned though as we enter the final straight of a fascinating season. Tighten your seat belt it's going to fun!

Can't wait.


PS I'm away on holiday for the Brighton game so there will be no blog but I will be willing the team on from deepest darkest India....#DelhiWhites

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Birmingham City v Leeds Utd. 3rd Mar 2017.

After battling through some horrendous Friday night weather and traffic Birmingham City's floodlights appeared out of the depressing gloom of England's 2nd city like a welcoming lighthouse for the hardy 3,200 travelling Leeds fans. As is the norm for this remarkable season expectation levels were high as we digested Garry Monk's latest team selection. Dallas was in for the hugely frustrating Sacko, Vieira was rested and O'Kane continued alongside Bridcutt. Could Leeds stretch their advantage over 7th placed Fulham to a mind boggling 11 points? Would we suffer any yellow card suspensions for our key defenders? Would Monk's touchline ban impact the team's performance? We were about to find out.

Birmingham's form since bizarrely sacking their manager has been catastrophic save for a surprise victory at neighbours Wolves last time out. Still on paper they have a decent side and in the opening salvos they showed that they might just be adapting to Zola's tactics in a positive way. After Dallas had tested the home goalie it was the Blues who were on the front foot as they looked to spread the ball wide at every opportunity, especially on Berardi's's flank. Gardner crashed a shot from a tight angle into Green's side netting and then minutes later breached the Leeds back line to force a terrific save from the Leeds guardian. Green's early days at Leeds were less than convincing but he has grown in confidence as the season has progressed and is now in the best form of his long career. Birmingham's bright start gave the home fans some hope but Leeds aren't in the play off positions by luck. On 14 minutes they showed St Andrews and the TV audience just why they have got their fanatical following dreaming of a return to the Premier League.

The Leeds back four repelled another Blues attack and the imperious Luke Ayling drove the ball out of defence like a well tuned Hummer.............the ex Bristol City full back looked up and hit a lovely curling ball forward looking for Wood behind the home defence. A desperate out stretched defenders leg failed to make contact with ball allowing the ice cool Wood to simply lob the oncoming Kuszczak with the precision of a brain surgeon. 1.0 Leeds and the away end celebrated yet another goal from their star striker. Who needs to spend a fortune on strikers? The goal didn't upset Birmingham's rhythm if anything it spurred them on to attack Leeds with more vigour. Davis wasted two good chances and then Gardner blazed over after more good approach play stretched the creaking Leeds defence. This wasn't the form of a team in crisis as the nerves started to jangle in the away end.

When Leeds drew breath and attacked themselves the home back four did look vulnerable. Wood combined with Dallas to leave the Northern Irish international free on the edge of the box but he snatched at his shot and the ball sailed into the Birmingham crowd. Doukara found the same spot in the crowd with a horrendous left foot effort but it was definitely the Blues who were on top as the half  came to a close. A spectacular volley from Tesche clattered Green's bar as the half finished with Leeds leading 1.0. Phew!

Monk appeared to have adopted Muhammed Ali's famous "Rope a Dope" tactics when he allowed George Foreman to batter him on the ropes before grilling him with superb counter attacks in the Rumble in the Jungle. Either that or the impressive Birmingham side had surprised Leeds with the quality of their play and the play off contenders were struggling to cope? Leeds weren't helping themselves though with the number of times they gave the ball back cheaply.......Something not lost on the notoriously hard to please Urinal philosophers......."You can take Hernandez, Doukara and Dallas off for me, they're shite" one expert pundit thought, "Our midfield is non existent" thought another whilst the vitriol didn't end there "O'Kane's a complete waste of time" sneered another upset Leeds fan. We were 1.0 up away from home by the way if anybody had forgotten against a team who were playing very well.

Leeds needed to react to the Birmingham tactics though as they continually looked to attack from wide out. Berardi was working overtime to keep the flow of balls into the box down to a minimum with every tackle increasing in intensity Mr Berardi had a potential red card written all over the him. Jansson and Bartley were grinding it out with their usual grit in the trenches. Bartley saved a certain goal with a last ditch clearance. This wasn't looking good for Leeds as an equaliser looked inevitable. Inevitably the inevitable finally happened. A poor headed clearance from Doukara was hammered back into the Leeds box which rebounded to Gardner on the edge of the box where he drove home a deserved equaliser. The home fans erupted. They were on top and sensed the game was their's for the taking. Depression gathered in the away end as the home fans finally found their voice.

Phillips had replaced O'Kane and immediately brought a bit more structure to the Leeds midfield. Hernadez was still playing either a suicidal pass or a wonder pass but nothing in between. Bridcutt was playing too deep. Doukara and Dallas were flitting in and out of the game. Leeds needed an injection of hope and within 4 minutes of the equaliser they got it which was as much a surprise to Leeds as it was devastation to Birmingham. Phillips was at the heart of it as he swapped passes with Doukara and breached the Blues backline to pull back the perfect pass to Wood who doesn't miss from 5 yards. 2.1 Leeds and carnage in the away end. This Leeds team just don't know when they're beat.

Birmingham were wounded and struggled to respond. Leeds started to pick them off on the break. Pedraza replaced Dallas. His fresh legs rubbed salt into Birmingham's open wound as Leeds tore into the weakening home defence.  Hernandez last act before being subbed was to set up Pedraza with a sublime pass that the Spanish loanee finished with some style. 3.1 Leeds and the warbled tune of "Leeds are going up" blasted out from behind Kuzsczak's goal. Unbelievable! Leeds saw the game out with Roofe coming on for a delightful cameo. 3 more points for Leeds's promotion juggernaut. Delicious.

In lots of ways this result and performance typifies Garry Monk's team. They find a way to win even when things are not going well. They don't give up on anything from a tackle through to the result. It's not always pretty but with splashes of quality entwined with a streak of sheer bloody mindedness this Leeds team are on a roll and long may it continue. Green was brilliant, Ayling was awesome, Wood just sublime, Pontus and Kyle were towers of resistance, Berardi stuck to his difficult task manfully. Pedraza looked good when he came on and took his goal ruthlessly. Phillips changed the game when he came on. The long journey home flew by as the reality of an 11 points cushion between us and the 7th placed caressed my ragng senses. Delicious!

Fulham away up next and then QPR at home. Fasten your seat belts the Leeds United juggernaut has got the hammer down and heading for the Premier League. Who dares to stop them? Love it.

Can't wait.


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