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Saturday, 7 May 2016

Preston North End v Leeds United. 7th May 2016

The final game of a season always brings with it mixed emotions and this year is no exception. Whilst many fans will be glad to see the back of another campaign of stagnation in the suffocating atmosphere of mid table Championship mediocrity there will also be a sadness that weekend's will never quite be the same until August comes around filled with another dose of unrealistic hope and expectation. For this season's finale we were heading to Preston along with 5,500 other party animals looking to squeeze every last drop of this season's "vintage" from Chateau du MOT 2016. Delicious!

Inevitably a lot of the pre match debate surrounded the chaotic state our once mighty football club. Is this Steve Evans last game? If it is to be he can certainly take with him the most effective diet plan I've ever seen. He must have at lost at least 6 stone during his time in charge at Leeds? Which of the young guns will be auctioned off over the summer? Will the money spent on legal bills, tribunals and court cases exceed the money spent on players this summer?

There was a carnival atmosphere inside the ground as the sold out away end, with many fans bedecked in fancy dress, lifted the decibel level to new heights. Just think what it would be like if we had anything to play for? Steve Evans made two changes to the team that lost to Charlton with Mowatt and Diagouraga replacing Botaka and Bridcutt. Young Vieira was on the bench. Sunshine broke through the light clouds as the game got under way on a perfect pitch.

Lewis Cook slipped an early ball to Wood who positioned himself for a shot but pulled his effort horribly wide. It was Preston who settled the better though with ex Leeds favourite Beckford threatening the Leeds backline trying to run off the shoulder of Bamba. As Leeds fans remember only too well he is partial to the odd offside decision though. That didn't stop a tremendous chorus of Beckford songs ringing round Deepdale from the away end. Leeds fans don't forget players who did well for the mighty whites and Jermaine certainly comes into that category.

Gallagher and Johnson started to gain control for Preston as both teams seemed to be going through the motions with nothing but pride to play for. Silvestri was commanding his box with confidence and although he was kept busy in the first 30 minutes neither side looked like scoring. With their fans urging them on Leeds suddenly picked up the pace and applied pressure on the Preston back line with some neat moves. Woods finished one with a shot wide and then Mowatt couldn't quite get over a header from a Dallas cross. Preston responded with a Garner header that sneaked over Silvestri's bar. As the game drifted to half time Cooper and Garner clashed heads. The trainers sprinted on to the cheers of the fans. Leeds won that race I am pleased to report. In typical pedantic refereeing stupidity the ref waited for the treatment to the players then dropped the ball at Silvestri's feet and immediately blew the whistle for HT? Why didn't he just blow up straight away?

As you might expect from an end of season game it wasn't the most inspiring 45 minutes of the season but the urinal philosophers were demob happy in the half time gents debate. "Thank f*** this seasons over" muttered one grumpy fan whilst another wondered "Will Vieira get a run?" "F*** it get Botaka and Antenucci on and go shit or bust" said one cavalier terrace manager. As it happened there was a substitute at half time as Wootton appeared in place of the dazed Cooper. There was collective sharp intake of breath from the away end as images of Wootton at centre half left plenty of fans mentally scarred as the 2nd period got under way.

I'd love to report that both sides threw caution to the wind and served up a spectacle for the final half of the season but it wasn't quite like that. Bamba and Wood had a couple of early chances for Leeds whilst Garner and Beckford tested Silvestri at the other end as the game drifted towards it's conclusion. Leeds fans turned to crowd surfing to amuse not only themselves but also the Preston fans. On the hour  Wood failed to convert a free header from 7 yards out as Kirkland made a simple save. Beckford departed to a thunderous ovation and then Antenucci replaced Mowatt as both teams tried belatedly to snatch all three points.

Not for the first time this season Antenucci nearly scored with his first touch as he latched onto a sweet through ball but Kirkland smothered the threat. Then with thirteen minutes of the season to go the game came to life. As Leeds attacked Murphy chased a ball to the bye line where Kirkland needlessly chopped down the Leeds midfielder. PENALTY! The Leeds fans celebrated as if we were about to be promoted. Wood and Antenucci had a heated debate as to who was going to take it before Bamba intervened and gave the ball to Wood. The New Zealander repaid his captain's faith as he blasted the shot past Kirkland. 1.0 Leeds. Get innnnnnnnnn!

Preston threw everybody forward to try and get the equaliser. Gallagher, Doyle, Johnson and Bailey Wright all had shots that either Silvestri or Bamba cleared off the line. The away end was bouncing with MOT blasting around Deepdale as the game entered added time. Vieira had joined the fray for his debut as Leeds coasted to a victory. But wait a minute Preston pumped a nothing ball into the corner of the pitch. Wootton lumbered up to it surely to clear it into row Z............oh no he tried to beat his man but only ended up platting his legs and giving the ball away. The rest was like watching a car crash in slow motion as Hugill punished the mistake with and easy shot past Silvestri. 1.1 Absolute Bollox! Why didn't he just get rid? Typical of our season though. Way too many mistakes.

There was just time for Vieira to have a lovely cameo run past a couple of defenders before releasing Taylor but the move came to nothing and the game ended 1.1. Steve Evans led the team to the fans to take the mutual appreciation. "One Steve Evans" thundered into the afternoon sky as the not so big Leeds head coach was reduced to tears. So another season comes to a close. Taylor was my stand out player from a tepid game. Coyle, Cooper and Bamba all had encouraging games.

As we streamed away from Preston thoughts were already drifting to next August. What state will Leeds be in by then? Who will be Head Coach? Who will be sold? All questions to contemplate over the summer. At least we've got the Euro's to look forward to....................

Thanks for reading my musings this season and God willing I will do it all again next season with some juicy away games to look forward to at Burton, Villa and probably Newcastle.

Can't wait.


PS. If want to hear me rambling on about the season tune into Radio Leeds on Wednesday at 6pm.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Leeds United v Charlton Athletic. 30th April 2016.

There was a real "end of term" feeling around Elland Road for the last home game of the season against already relegated Charlton. Bizarrely this had been designated a category A game by the Lords and Masters at Leeds Utd but despite that there was a healthy number of fans making the trek to LS11 to see the curtain fall on another underwhelming campaign for the mighty whites. Would this be the last time Steve Evans leads Leeds out at Elland Road? Would any of the Cellino family take to social media with yet another embarrassingly crass post? Would Bellusci return from his training ground strop and get some game time? All questions we debated enthusiastically in the pre match lubrication period.

Evans made three changes from the Hull game with Coyle replacing the injured Berardi and Murphy and Botaka replacing Diagouraga and Erwin respectively. Mowatt returned to the bench whilst Bellusci was still absent from the squad after his bust up with Evans. An amazing 25,000 were inside Elland Road as the game kicked off in bright sunshine. Leeds were the first to threaten as Murphy broke free only to see Pope in the Charlton goal pull off a good one on one save as the Leeds midfielder looked to give the home side an early lead. The home side's early confidence took a blow on 20 minutes though as Gudmundsson was allowed to drive at the centre of the Leeds defence before rattling a post with a sweet 20 yard shot.

There was a definite air of end of season malaise about the game with both teams having nothing to play for but pride and the possibility of an extended contract for next season. Leeds were creating chances but failing to really test Pope in the Addicks goal. Dallas, Cook, Wood and Botaka all had shots blocked or drifted wide as both teams searched for the opening goal. The South Londoners were playing with a freedom from pressure that allowed them to test Leeds with their attacks. Not for the first time this season Leeds' extra generous approach to defending at home finally hurt them on 40 minutes. Fox escaped the Leeds defensive pack on the left flank and swung a lovely near post ball for Gudmundsson to clip into the net past a motionless Silvestri. 1.0 Charlton. The score remained the same to half time when Leeds left the field to frustrated boos from the home fans.

The urinal philosophers were silent. The inevitability of another season splashing about in the turbulent waters of championship mediocrity and yet another indifferent 45 minutes of football at Elland Road had finally taken it's toll. They hadn't even the energy or will to have a moan. Very strange! Back on the pitch Leeds started their final 45 minutes at Elland Road in the same low tempo fashion as the first period. 4 minutes into the half the Leeds defense was once again retreating faster than an Italian tank and Lookman took full advantage for Charlton as he almost walked to the edge of the box unchallenged before shooting past Silvestri to double the South Londoner's lead. 2.0 Charlton. Yes the same Charlton side who are already relegated were two up at Leeds.

Mowatt replaced the injured Dallas and Leeds belatedly upped the tempo ever so slightly. Taylor got free down the left and picked Wood out in the box but the New Zealander's header bounced off the bar and into the path of Bamba who's shot clattered into the side netting. Cooper then headed another Taylor cross over the bar as Leeds increased the pressure ever so slightly. On 66 minutes Evans changed the formation as Antenucci replaced Bridcutt. Botaka now slotted in behind a front two of Wood and Antenucci leaving three in midfield. The new attacking approach together with Charlton sitting back to hold onto what they'd got led to more Leeds pressure. On 71 minutes Taylor threw in another teasing cross this time the unmarked Bamba rose to head home and give the home fans hope of a late rally. 2.1 Charlton.

A minute later Leeds could have equalised as a sublime pass from Mowatt released Antenucci in the box but with Wood screaming for the ball to be squared to him the Italian tried a thumping shot from a tight angle. I'm not sure what the Italian is for "you greedy bastard" but I'm sure that's what Mr Wood was mouthing to him. Leeds were now throwing everybody forward leaving gaping gaps at the back that Charlton failed to to take advantage of. Coyle had a half volley saved and Bamba tried another stinging shot but all to no avail. The referee's whistle brought to an end Leeds home season with victory for the already relegated Charlton 2.1. Not the best way to sign off for the summer to the home fans.

The match was an anti climax and in lots of ways an apt summary of Leeds' form at home this season. A lot of flattering to deceive, a lot of frustration and too little real quality on show. The home fans trudged away from the ground philosophically recognising that whilst we will finish slightly higher than last year this is another year of stagnation on Planet Leeds. There is the basis of a decent team but we are in desperate need of better quality to supplement the undoubted potential in the current Leeds ranks........and that will need better investment........and there lies the problem that has haunted Leeds for the last 12 years.

Preston provide the opponents for our final game next Saturday. Another large away following will head across the Pennines to enjoy the final day carnival atmosphere. One of these days we might even go into the final game of the season with a chance of real can always hope!

Can't wait.



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