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Saturday, 19 April 2014

McCormack's classy finish buries the Barnsley Hoodoo.

In recent years Leeds United have acquired more than their fair share of bogey teams such as Derby County, Millwall and of course Barnsley our noisy neighbours from South Yorkshire. No matter how poor Barnsley's form is or how low they are in the table a visit from the mighty whites to Oakwell is seen as a guaranteed three points by the followers of the Reds. It's like a hated Uncle visiting distant cousins and giving them a wedge of money to buy the week's shopping as payment for some mysterious family misdemeanour's way back in the mists of time. As a consequence the distant cousins always looked forward to the visit much more than Xmas even though they detested the said Uncle.

Today was the day Uncle Leeds paid their annual visit to Cousin Barnsley and as usual the Happy Chocker was dreading it. After all he has to put up with lot's of his Barnsley cousins day in day out at work. As usual Barnsley were in the middle of a desperate struggle against relegation but a battling win against fellow strugglers, Charlton, had given them extra confidence in front of the Easter showdown with Leeds. Would Barnsley resurrect their championship survival hopes or would Leeds bury the Barnsley hoodoo once and for all? We were about to find out.

After pre match drinks behind enemy lines in the Barnsley Snooker club HC, the Quiet One and yours truly joined the 4,000 nervous but noisy Leeds fans in the away end. Memories of the 11 goals we've shipped on the last 3 visits to Oakwell weighed heavy on my mind as we digested Brian McD's latest team sheet. Rudy Austin replaced Stewart on the bench in an otherwise unchanged team. The game started in bright sunshine with the hosts knowing that with games against Boro, QPR and Derby to come this was their best chance of 3 points to haul them away from the relegation trapdoor.

Leeds started brightly but it was Barnsley who had the first strike on goal when Jennings mistook the back row of the Barnsley kop for the goal as he sent the ball high wide and handsome. The first of many chants of "that's why you're going darn" rang out from the taunting Leeds fans. In previous visits to Oakwell Leeds have succumbed to a much more creative home midfield. Last year the blond haired Perkins was Leeds tormentor but this year the lack of quality in the red's engine room was thankfully there for everyone to see. Leeds first chance came when the hard working Smith planted a header towards the top corner but the alert Steele in the Barnsley goal was equal to it. Minutes later Murphy so nearly added to his two goals from last week when Ross Mac picked him out 10 yards out but his fierce header hit a defender with Steele struggling.

A combination of some early Leeds pressure and a hesitant Barnsley side started to give me a glimmer of hope that this just might be the day we actually do well at Oakwell. On 16 minutes the feeling got much, much better. A dangerous ball into the Barnsley box saw Smith out jump his marker and flick the ball in the general direction of Ross Mac who's first touch completely bamboozled the Reds defender freeing him to blast home his 29th goal of a very productive season. The away support roared as if we'd just scored the winning goal in a cup final. Some people would argue we just had. 1.0 Leeds.

 Barnsley responded to the goal with a lot of bluster but very little skill. This was turning into a game that was right up Michael Brown's street as the wild tackles started to fly in from both sides. Etuhu was booked for the home side closely followed by Brown as the match struggled to get out of second gear with the referee's whistle working overtime. Barnsley had another couple of shots blazed into the kop as the match reached half time with the sides still separated by the sublime McCormack strike. News that Millwall were winning 2.0 at Boro didn't lighten the mood amongst the home fans.

The 2nd half started with the home fans trying to rouse their team by singing the theme from the Great Escape which to me seemed a bit bizarre given that the Great Escape was a heroic failure and not actually an escape? Still if it keeps them happy? The home team responded to the encouragement though as Leeds seemed content to sit back and let Barnsley come onto them. Not a tactic that did my heart any good or the lady who was stood next to me who was urging Leeds to "close them bloody down" and "gerrout" every time Barnsley attacked. Brian McD changed things on the hour as Hunt replaced Zaliukas as Leeds went to a flat back four. This stemmed the Barnsley flow as Leeds regained some control of the game. Smith stole in at the back post but his downward header was saved by Steele. Minutes later Ross Mac sent a searing volley over the bar to check the potential Barnsley comeback. Butland was hardly troubled in the Leeds goal other than making a couple of decent punches from dangerous crosses.

Brian McD stood impassive in the technical area as Leeds loosened the relegation trapdoor for Barnsley. "Wear your track suit every week" chanted the knowledgeable Leeds fans as they sussed the real reason for Leeds sudden up turn in fortunes. The expected late charge from Barnsley never materialised as Leeds toyed with their South Yorkshire cousins. "It's just like watching Brazil" mocked the away fans as the disgruntled home fans headed for the exits knowing full well that League One football was almost certain after this defeat. Full time 1.0 Leeds and the Barnsley hoodoo well and truly buried.

This was a hard earned battling victory against a team short on quality and confidence but the 2nd win on the bounce together with a 2nd clean sheet sent the majority of Leeds fans home happy. Warnock was my man of the match with good performances from Murphy and Pearce. Ross Mac once again showed he has the class to play at a higher level as he heads for 30 goals in a season. The Happy Chocker couldn't stop texting and tweeting on the way home just to remind his many Barnsley supporting colleagues what the score was. Delicious! It might have been a game very short on quality but a win is a win and given the location this one was as sweet as it gets.

Forest head to Elland Road on Monday for another Televised clash. Can we keep another clean sheet or will it be another goal fest against the tricky Trees?

Can't wait.

MOT.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Leeds rock Blackpool with a Murphy double.

Blackpool arrived in LS11 with a worse recent record than their struggling hosts.........a fact most Leeds fans find impossible to believe. I mean how can any team be worse than the abject imposters of Leeds United players we have seen over the last six weeks? The Donkey Lashers have won only 2 of their last 25 games and have failed to win any of their last 14 away games as they have slowly sunk into the smelly quicksand of the relegation quagmire. Leeds have tried really hard to keep up with that standard of ineptness as they have only a lucky win over Millwall in their last 12 games to shout about. "Today's match should be a classic then" I suggested to the Happy Chocker as we boarded the train at Selby station. He just chuckled and rolled his eyes. As has become the norm we had more than enough off the field antics to debate and dissect as the train trundled along into Leeds. Haigh's resignation, Cellino's night out with the fans in the Peacock, a million fan friendly quotes from the mad Italian and of course the incredible saga of the spy cameras in the boardroom and even the toilets. Urinal Philosophers beware! Just another week on Planet Leeds then?

We heard the team announcement in the members bar. A back 5 including Zaluikas with Wootton at wing back. Tonge, Brown and Murphy formed the midfield three with Ross Mac and Smith up front. It felt weird discussing the paucity of right back cover whilst watching Forest loanee Peltier on the big screen. Ah well. The minute's silence in remembrance of the 96 fans who went to a match and never came home was impeccably observed. I am sure I wasn't the only fan thinking "there for the grace of god go I" thinking of games attended with similar crowd congestion on the old terraces.

Leeds started the game on the front foot for a change and within two minutes Pearce put a half chance high and wide. Leeds were playing with a bit more purpose than of late against a hesitant and nervous Blackpool side. It wasn't difficult to see why they were in such poor form. The recalled Murphy looked eager and created a good chance for him self as he ran intelligently onto a pass from Ross Mac only to be denied by a last ditch Blackpool tackle in the box. After the dross we've had to put up with recently this was almost liquid football..............almost! Blackpool didn't show too much of a threat going forward with Butland only having a soft Goodwillie shot to deal with in the first twenty minutes.

Leeds were looking comfortable and converted their early pressure into a goal on 22 minutes. Smith rose and flicked on a long ball forward to Ross Mac who had drifted off his man on the edge of the box. The Leeds captain calmly picked out Murphy steaming into the box at pace.......Murphy's first touch forced him to pull the ball back instead of shooting before slipping the ball between Gilks and a Blackpool defender into the net. The cheers rung around Elland Road like a volcano of relief. We were 1.0 up in a game we really needed to win to avoid an unseemly end of season relegation fight. The goal fired up the crowd who in turn fired up the team. Minutes later Ross Mac ghosted into the box only to see his header drift wide from a superb Wootton cross after more good work by Murphy. Blackpool then had a mini revival as first Bishop missed a glorious headed chance before Goodwillie went near with two shots. "We need another goal" I muttered to HC.

The game headed for half time with Leeds still trying to take advantage of a poor Blackpool side. Murphy was bundled to the floor on the edge of the box after another surging run. Free kick. Tonge stepped up and rattled a shot that Gilks only just held onto in the Blackpool goal. HT 1.0 Leeds and the home fans gave the team a decent ovation as they trooped off for their cup of tea. The Urinal Philosophers were shocked. "unbelievable we've still got a clean sheet and we're one up" one cheery fan announced. "We'll be getting a nose bleed if we keep this up" another one shouted.

Leeds might have felt pleased with their first half performance but they got an early reminder of how precarious a single goal lead is as Bashem slid a shot just wide of Butland's post from six yard out after just 90 seconds of the second period. Leeds hit back with a good chance of their own as Ross Mac controlled the ball in the box and laid an inviting ball into the path of Warnock who's shot ballooned wide. The game became increasingly scrappy as Blackpool looked for a life saving equaliser. Hunt replaced Smith on the hour to be greeted by boo's as he entered the fray. He might not be the best player in the world but booing him before he's touched the ball is just crass.

The boo boys were soon feeling a tad guilty though as Hunt rose to flick a delightful ball into the path of Murphy who beat the oncoming Gilks with a delicate finish to give Leeds a welcome two goal lead. Get innnnnnn! 2.0 Leeds. Minutes later Murphy turned provider as he set up Ross Mac with a delightful ball through the middle but Gilks thwarted the Leeds captain with a good save.

Aidey White replaced the injured Zaliukas with 15 minutes left. Blackpool put Leeds under pressure for the last 10 minutes without really looking like spoiling the home side's rare clean sheet. Even 5 minutes of added time couldn't spoil a much needed and welcome win for the struggling home side. Final score 2.0 Leeds. There was a mixture of relief and well relief as the fans streamed away from the ground. News that Barnsley had lost and Millwall had equalised late on meant we were in the rarefied atmosphere of 16th place a full ten points above the relegation places with just 4 games to go. Phew!

Murphy was the man of the match with a much improved performance from his last outings in a Leeds shirt. Zaliukas also looked assured at the back. Good as it was to win and keep a clean sheet most fans were conscious of the quality or lack of quality of the opposition. It was a battling performance though and after Tuesday's inept efforts I suppose we should be thankful for small mercy's? Barnsley away next week and a chance to not only lay the Oakwell hoodoo but also to virtually condemn our bottom of the table neighbours to relegation. That would be nice tha know's

Can't wait.

MOT

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