The year started with a hungry committee of Vultures circling Elland Road for the visit of Burnley. During December Leeds had slipped out of the play off places following a run of 4 games that yielded just a solitary point and ended with the New Years Eve massacre at Oakwell. Lord Larry was under pressure from fans questioning has ability to juggle his motley collection of football journeymen into an effective unit and off the field from the lack of resources made available for the January transfer window. Grayson cut a lonely figure as he paced the technical area like a condemned man on death row. Lonergan, Bruce, Kisnorbo, O'Dea, Pugh, Clayton, Thompson, Nunez and debutant Andros Townsend all started for Leeds with Forssell coming off the subs bench to play a part. Ross Mac saved Grayson's skin with a last minute winner against ten man Burnley. Lord Larry's execution was put on hold as the fans celebrated wildly a victory that kept Leeds in touch with the play off pack.
Our annual trip to the Emirates in the FA Cup was next as once again Leeds put up a defiant showing against Wenger's aristocrats. Martin Keogh and Robbie Savage entertained the Leeds fans before the game with their live TV spot in front of the massed Leeds hordes. Keogh was nearly killed when a stray ball hit him on the head during a live piece to camera whilst Mr Savage refused numerous offers of Hot Dogs from the generous Yorkshire fans. A certain Mr Henry broke the hearts of the 5,000 travelling fans though with a late winner allowing the headline writers to gorge themselves on Thierry's return. A swift return to London later that week to play Palace saw Snoddy rescue a point for Leeds in a keenly contested 1.1 draw as the transfer rumour mill reached Mach 1. Warnock will replace Grayson, Alan Smith's coming back to Leeds were samples of the speculation but as the transfer window began to close shut only Pugh, Townsend on a season long loan, an unknown American, Robbie Rogers and the return of Delph on loan had "strengthened" the Leeds squad. Not quite the influx of quality players we were looking for? Not for the first time Leeds fans were left feeling slightly underwhelmed at the end of a transfer window. The natives were definitely restless. We were still only 3 points off the play off spots though. All thoughts of promotion were soon obliterated as a bombshell of cataclysmic proportions fell on the Theatre of Hope. The club captain, Leeds born, Jonny Howson was sold to Norwich City. Even for Ken Bates this was an amazing decision. How an earth could he justify this act of Football treason? The Bates propaganda machine went into overdrive............."He wanted to play in the Premier League" "He would have walked away for free in the summer" were just two of the pathetic reasons held up as somehow justifying the ultimate sale of the family silver. With no time to bring in a replacement for Howson the Leeds fans were now in full revolt and the "Bates Out" campaign gained hugely increased support.
The next game was against Ipswich at Elland Road. Protests against the sale of Howson were vociferous and not just from the fans. Ben Parker announced in the members bar that "the club would rather have the money than the player". Leeds stuttered to a flattering 3.1 victory against ten man Ipswich after been a goal down at half time. A victory that only partly quelled the growing frustration amongst the vast majority of fans. Parker left the club a week later. These were dark days for Leeds and they were about to get a lot, lot darker.
January ended with Adam Smith joining on loan from Spurs to an underwhelming reaction from the die hard Leeds fans. Still at least Snoddy hadn't headed out of Elland Road and he proved just how valuable he was to Leeds as he started the next match on fire against a very good Birmingham side. After 20 minutes a Snodgrass inspired Leeds were 1 up thanks to a Ross Mac goal. Zigic pulled one back before half time for the visitors but when he added a further 3 to his personal tally in an horrific 2nd half to give Brum a 4.1 victory Leeds were well and truly in the doldrums. We were still only 3 points off the play off spots but it seemed light years away for a disjointed and rudderless Leeds team.
Inevitably the Vultures got their man the morning after the Birmingham defeat as Grayson was sacked the day after the transfer window closed. Only Leeds could do that but it did avoid debating how much the new man had to spend on new players. It was £0. No surprise there then? Grayson left a Leeds team with another promotion on his CV and a famous cup win at the Theatre of Shite. He would be fondly remembered by the Leeds hordes.
The usual speculation on who would replace Grayson included some interesting names, Holloway, Poyet, Keane, Bruce and even Di Matteo we're all in the frame apparantly. Neil Redfearn took temporary charge of the team as fans waited in vain for a swift appointment. Surely Bates already had somebody lined up? Err well no would be the answer to that particular question.
Redfearn's reign couldn't have started better as Leeds thrashed Bristol City 3.0 at Ashton Gate. Calls for him to be given the job on a permanent basis cooled quickly as Leeds then suffered defeats against Brighton at home and then Coventry away. The defeat at the Ricoh was one of the worst performance's I had seen by a Leeds team and with still no news of a managerial appointment the good ship SS Leeds United was well and truly floundering on the rocks of uncertainty.
As widely predicted Neil Warnock finally landed the poison chalace with the title, Leeds United Manager, and the instruction to get Leeds promoted to the Premier League.
Warnock wasn't a universally popular choice amongst Leeds fans. His outspoken thoughts and firm links with Sheffield United didn't endear him to the passionate Leeds family but once he had expertly moulded his first few press conferences it was clear he would soon capture the hearts and minds of the Leeds folk with his blunt and forthright views on the current state of the Leeds squad. His first game with Leeds was against Doncaster and although Redfearn was officially still in charge a Warnock half time talk helped Leeds turn a 2.0 deficit into a 3.2 victory against a Diouf inspired Donny team. Suddenly there was a spark back at Elland Road and the fans were filled with a modicum of hope. Was it too late to push for promotion? Well languishing in 11th spot 6 points off the play off spots with only 15 games to go wasn't the ideal springboard for a late promotion push but plenty of fans bought into the theory that Warnock would work his magic on this underachieving squad of football journeymen.
The final game of the month was the long trek to Pompey. The south coast team were in the eye of a severe financial storm that would eventually lead to a points deduction and relegation to League 1. That didn't stop their fans turning out in numbers to try and save the club and in doing so create a cracking atmosphere for the clash with Leeds. A tense goalless draw followed with plenty of evidence that Warnock had at least instilled some fighting spirit into the team. A rare clean sheet was one of the positives to come out of the day. Warnock had dispatched with loanees, Delph, Townsend and Smith and made Snoddy captain a move that met with gushing approval from the die hard Leeds fans. Maybe things were on the up after all?
If our faint hope of making the play offs was to come true Leeds had to negotiate a difficult run of fixtures through March that included games against high flying Southampton, Hull, Boro, West Ham, Forest, Millwall and Watford. Before a ball was kicked in March though Ken Bates once again hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. This time he had allegedly blocked the chairman of the Leeds United Supporters Trust (LUST) ability to buy away tickets as a response to the organisation's outspoken opposition to the Monaco one. A move that did more for LUST recruitment than any of their more formal campaigns. Events off the field became more and more intriguing as rumours of mystery buyers for the club surfaced in cyberspace.
On the field the high flying Saints arrived at Elland Road with a one point advantage at the top of the table. Leeds were still only 4 tantalising points off the play off places in 10th. The Saturday evening kick off kept the crowd down to a disappointing 20,000 but the fans that stayed away missed a cracker. Leeds played with pride and passion and despite going behind to a Ricky Lambert goal battered Southampton for the rest of the game. Only a super human performance from Davis in the Saints goal prevented Leeds from getting anything from the game. Yes we lost but suddenly the fans saw some real passion in the team and they lapped it up. Marching on Together rang round the stadium at the final whistle as the Leeds team received a standing ovation.........even though they lost. A goalless draw at the KC stadium followed by a 2.0 win at the Riverside raised hopes of a late push for promotion. Next up were West Ham who were in 2nd spot in the League. Another heroic performance from Leeds saw Becchio put Leeds in front with just 8 minutes to go. The 33,000 crowd inside Elland Road prepared to celebrate a famous victory only to be denied by a late, late headed equaliser by Collins. That certainly felt like 2 points dropped but at least we were still in the play off race and we were playing well. Warnock was doing wonders. Then we played Forest.
If Warnock thought he had turned the corner with his team of journeymen then Forest soon laid bare the inadequacies of his then current playing staff as they annihilated Leeds in their own back yard by 7 goals to 3. An inept and lifeless performance by Leeds allowed a Forest side who were hovering precariously close to the relegation trap door to wreak ample revenge for the 4 goal thrashing they got in the return fixture at the City ground earlier in the season. Warnock announced after the game that "this is the last time a Leeds United team of mine will capitulate like that at Elland Road, changes will be made in the summer, this place will be a fortress next season" Mmmm very bold words at the time. In true Leeds style we then went to Millwall and won by a Ross Mac goal but defeat in the last game of March to Watford left our play off aspirations in absolute tatters. Mr Warnock was now well aware of the size of the task in front of him.
As we entered April we still had a mathematical chance of reaching the play offs but any thoughts of a late run were emphatically dispatched to fantasy land by defeats to first Reading and then Derby. For the first time in a long time Leeds' season was meandering to a quiet conclusion without any promotion, play off or relegation excitement. It felt quite strange. Leeds last win of the season was against a weak Peterborough side when even Billy Paynter scored twice in a 4.1 win. The midweek trip to a freezing Blackpool resulted in a 1.0 defeat although by then the gallows humour amongst the Leeds fans was at it's best. "If Billy scores we're in the sea" chanted the very optimistic away fans. But lightening was never going to strike twice for Billy Barndoor as he reverted to type after his two goal blast against the Posh. Young Tom Ince showed why he was getting rave reviews in the Land of the Donkeys. The last away game of the season was at Cardiff where Leeds produced a battling draw thanks to a Becchio equaliser late in the game. By now the end of the season couldn't come quickly enough. Off the field Cuddly Ken was spending more money fighting another court case, this time with Melvyn Levi, which he lost in court but then explained in his programme notes how he'd actually won?
The final game of the season saw Jermaine Beckford return to Elland Road with Leicester City. The game was meaningless in terms of the final play off positions and was notable for two things. Firstly Beckford coyly acknowledging the adoration of the kop much to his manager's annoyance who subsequently subbed him at half time. Secondly a farcical first goal for Leicester after Pugh made a complete hash of a clearance allowing Waghorn to easily beat Lonergan in the Leeds goal. Leicester won the game 2.1 to leave Leeds in 14th place with 61 points. All together a very disappointing season. Still we had the summer transfer window to look forward to and Mr Warnock had announced that 11 of the current team could leave the club to make way for a much need influx of new blood. Problem was where was the money going to come from?
The close season.
As soon as the season finished the speculation increased on a possible takeover of Leeds United. In cyberspace the wires were humming with news from "reliable" sources that Leeds were about to be bought by a consortium from Chicago/New York/Dubai/Bahrain/Kuwait. take your pick. Then the speculation went into overdrive as a short, curt announcement appeared on the official website confirming that Leeds were in fact in negotiations with potential buyers who were now carrying out due diligence before completing the deal. At last a bit of good news for Leeds supporters to feast on. I mean due diligence won't take that long will it and the new owners should be in place with a big bag of cash for Warnock to spend in the summer transfer window.................won't they? Well as we all know too well things never run smoothly on Planet Leeds and if there's a hard way to do it we do...............and so began the longest takeover saga in the history of football. As each week went by the vacuum of news created by the terms of due diligence left the field wide open for spurious tit bits of news. A proliferation of statements and speculation buzzed around the Internet and each week had it's deadline day that was confirmed by someone in the know..........or not as the case might be. As each week drifted by and the transfer window opened the frustration amongst the fans grew. "If we go on at this rate the deal won't be done by the start of the new season" was a common comment by many a fan. If only!
Another statement from the club appeared on 26th June stating that they had now granted an "exclusivity period" for potential investors to complete the deal. What it didn't say was when the deal would be complete. Still they must get the deal over the line before the start of the season? Won't they?
Evidence that things were moving came with a surge of new arrivals at Thorp Arch. Luke Varney, Paddy Kenny, Lee Peltier, David Norris, Adam Drury, Paul Green, Rudy Austin joined Jason Pearce for the start of pre season training. No signings that had the Wow factor but certainly ones that fitted the Warnock style better than the current incumbents. News that Snoddy had taken the Premier League shilling with Norwich was a big blow to the pre season confidence though. It wasn't a shock but there was a forlorn hope that the new investors money could somehow persuade him to stay. Frustration grew as fans looked hopefully at Elland Road for the white smoke that would signal an end to Ken Bates reign but it never came.
With the pre season tour complete the first competitive game was in the shape of Shrewsbury in the Capital One cup. El Hadji Diouf had controversially joined Leeds on a match by match contract. The reception he received from the fans was mixed to say the least. The new signings were joined by Sam Byram, a product of the Leeds academy, in a completely new look Leeds side. Out of the starting eleven only Ross Mac had started the previous season's opener at Southampton and only Becchio and Ross Mac had started the final game against Leicester. This was now Warnock's team. A team put together with wafer thin resources but still his team. Wolves provided the first opposition of the League campaign. A powerful performance by the Leeds new boys gained an impressive 1.0 win thanks to a Becchio goal. Rudy Austin had a good debut and all was positive on the pitch................but off the pitch the takeover dragged on and on creating a high level of uncertainty amongst the extended Leeds family. Surely the takeover will be finished before the end of the transfer window?
As the takeover saga crept along Leeds visited Blackpool for their 2nd game of the league campaign. Once again Tom Ince showed why he is such a hot target for Premier League clubs and inspired the Tangerines to a 2.1 win despite Leeds taking the lead through a Tom Lees goal. Leeds were well beaten though and the need for an influx of quality players was clear to everybody. News that NW had run out of transfer funds with the transfer window about to close and the takeover still not complete wasn't what Leeds fans wanted to hear. Not for the first time Leeds were scouring the emergency loan market to shore up their ranks. Leeds finished August on a high after bagging their usual win at Posh thanks to two goals from Becchio before comfortably dispatching Oxford United 3.0 in the League Cup helped by a wonder goal from young Sam Byram. Predictably the transfer window slammed shut with the takeover still incomplete. Still August had yielded 4 wins from 5. Not a bad start.
By now virtual deadlines for the takeover were coming and going on a weekly basis. Most fans had resigned themselves to the fact that this was Leeds United and we don't do anything normal so "when it happens it happens............until then just carry on hoping". Blackburn Rovers were the first visitors to Elland Road in September in the "Everybody Out" derby. With Blackburn fans wanting both their owners, the Venkys, and their manager Kean out and the kop baying for Cuddly Ken to go it was a rather unique atmosphere. Thankfully the focus was very much on the field as the two teams served up a 3.3 thriller that had both sets of fans on the edge of their seats for the whole of the 90 minutes. Diouf, Ross Mac and Becchio netted for the whites.
Next up was a memorable cup night as high flying Everton were downed by goals from White and Austin in front of a disappointing 19,000 crowd. The atmosphere was electric though as a combination of the awful weather and a typical battling performance from Warnock's team upset David Moyle's Premier League stars. The Everton game was another that Diouf dominated as he finally silenced any doubters that were left amongst the Leeds faithful. His move to Leeds was at first treated with suspicion by some but his undoubted class and rapport he soon built with the fans put him in firmly in the frame as a fans favourite. Sam Byram was also catching the eye as the previously unknown youngster improved and impressed as each game went by. Leeds finished September with news that the long drawn out takeover might just be coming to a close as the club announced that Dubai based finance house, GFH, had signed an exclusive agreement to lead and arrange the acquisition of Leeds United. Another step nearer but the actual completion of the deal was still weeks away. Leeds travelled to Bristol City for the final game of September and returned with all three points after a 3.2 win. After a stupefying, goalless first half the match burst into life with two goals from Diouf and an absolute screamer from Tonge to send the travelling fans home happy. Leeds were now up to 9th and one point outside the play offs. Could Warnock's warriors put a consistent run together that would take them into the promotion places before Xmas?
Newly relegated Bolton were next on the agenda at a saturated Reebok stadium. The monsoon like weather didn't deter over 4,000 Leeds fans making the journey over the Pennines though. They were rewarded with another battling performance against a big physical Bolton side. Goals from Byram and Becchio gave Leeds a 2.1 lead but they couldn't withstand a late Bolton onslaught and succumbed to a late Davies goal. 2.2. Games were coming thick and fast and there was a quick turn round for Leeds before our local bogey team from South Yorkshire, Barnsley, arrived at Elland Road. An outrageous chipped penalty from Becchio gave Leeds all three points in a blood and thunder derby that moved Leeds up to 7th and extended their unbeaten run to 4 games. Just maybe Warnock was beginning to spread his magic promotion dust in LS11?
The takeover saga continued to grind on with news emerging that the CEO of GFH was a Leeds fan. Hopefully he can get the deal done quickly if he is a Leeds fan he should understand the frustration everyone associated with the club was feeling? Leeds travelled to Hillsborough on a Friday night for their next match. A poor game ended level with Tonge saving a disappointing Leeds with a stunning goal near the end. Unfortunately the game will be remembered for the actions of an idiotic individual who slapped the Wednesday goalie during the goal celebrations. David Jones, the Wednesday manager, then labelled all Leeds fans "vile animals" in a post match press conference and the whole of the country rejoiced in the chance to vilify those who choose to follow Leeds United. I was now not only a moron but also a vile animal. Sweet. Still the unbeaten run continued with the visit of Charlton Athletic to Elland Road in an instantly forgettable 1.1 draw. Leeds had now gone 6 games unbeaten and were still in 7th place.
Another tantalising statement saying the club was ready to complete the takeover deal was released before the next game against Birmingham. The universal response was "just f****** do it" from most fans. The Birmingham game was nearly as average as the Charlton game. A scorching strike from Lita settled it in favour of the Blues as a disjointed Leeds mis-fired. As October came to a close things took a turn for the better though as a comprehensive performance from Leeds sent Southampton tumbling out of the League Cup and Leeds into the Quarter Finals. Leeds finished the month in 11th spot after the defeat by Birmingham.
A Friday night trip to Brighton was the next test for Warnock's men. Leeds somehow returned with a point after the Seagulls had the better of the game but thanks to a Kenny penalty save and then a wonder save in added time the score remained 2.2. Michael Brown got the equaliser with a lovely curling shot. The point couldn't disguise the inadequacies of the current Leeds squad though. With the takeover still not complete fans were wondering if it will be a done deal before the January window?
The mood amongst the fans attending the next game away at Burnley matched the weather, depressing. We had got away with a point at Brighton but the prospect of playing a Burnley side on a decent run of form on a wet Tuesday night didn't fill many fans with much confidence. Their pessimism was justified as a Charlie Austin header settled a very poor game and left a lot of fans wondering just where Leeds would go from here. Warnock promised a gun ho approach for the next match against Watford and that's exactly what we got...........but not from Leeds. Warnock shuffled his pack and changed the formation to 5.3.2. Green started as one of the three centre backs, Becchio was dropped in favour of Varney. What followed was shambolic. Watford were 2 up at half time and Leeds were reduced to 10 men after Pearce saw red for a rash challenge. Warnock brought off Green, Diouf and White to be replaced by Lees, Hall and Brown. This backfired almost immediately as Austin was stretchered off leaving Leeds with only 9 men on the pitch. Watford took full advantage and ran out 6.1 winners at Elland Road. Shocking.
In the next game Leeds travelled to Millwall with little expectation of success against a Lions team on a good run of form. After a decent first half showing Leeds decided to give Millwall a chance as Varney received a red card for a flying elbow. The South Londoners took full advantage and ran out 1.0 winners. The bottom of the Leeds' barrel was scraping loudly now. Some welcome news was about to lift spirits on Planet Leeds though as the takeover was finalised and Leeds had new owners, GFH Capital. The impact was immediate as Warnock picked up Alan Tate from Swansea and Jerome Thomas from West Brom as emergency loans. After a depressing run of games on the pitch had left Leeds in 18th place in the League this was just the news we needed. The question was could the positive vibes of the completion of the takeover lift the team?
The first game of the new era was against a classy Palace side at Elland Road. Both Thomas and Tate started for Leeds as goals from Becchio and Green sent the South Londoners home pointless after a 2.1 win for Leeds in front of their new owners. That victory was quickly followed by a 1.0 success against Leicester city and all of a sudden confidence was surging back through Elland Road. Just the lift we needed as November ended and the local derby with Huddersfield lurked round the corner. Leeds were now up to 15th spot 6 points off the play offs.
The West Yorkshire derby with Huddersfield kicked off December for the mighty whites. A breathless first half ended with the teams locked at 2.2 but goals from Norris and Becchio in the 2nd half saw Leeds run out easy winners. Three wins on the trot since the takeover had changed Leeds fortunes dramatically and with a quarter final against Chelsea on the horizon things were beginning to look brighter on planet Leeds. A sobering 3.1 reverse at a Will Hughes inspired Derby soon realigned expectations though. A flat atmosphere at Elland Road for the next match didn't hinder Leeds as they dispatched Ipswich with goals from Thomas and Green. Then came the quarter final against Chelski at a packed Elland road. The scene was set for a cup shock as the rain poured down and the crowd lifted the atmosphere to fever pitch. A Becchio goal put Leeds ahead in the first half and the Leeds fans were in dreamland. A nasty shock awaited in the 2nd half as Chelski's class shone through as they ran out 5.1 winners. Still the new owners had glanced what Elland Road could be like in the future.
After the hype of the Chelski game Boro were out to spoil the Leeds Xmas party but two Becchio specials sent the high flying Teesiders packing as Leeds came from behind to win 2.1. With the transfer window around the corner things there a was a positive feeling oozing from Elland Road. The Xmas programme was about to destroy any renewed hope amongst Leeds fans though as first Forest and then Hull City showed Leeds just how far they are away from putting in a serious challenge for promotion with 4.2 and 2.0 victories respectively. The manner of those defeats had put a serious question mark over the possibility of promotion this year. Even if Warnock can bring in a couple of quality players in the transfer window can we recover from 9th spot and 5 points outside the play off positions to gain a route back to the promised land? Time will tell.
On the first of Jan 2012 Leeds were in 10th place just 4 points behind 6th placed Hull City. 12 months on we lie in 9th spot just 5 points behind 6th place Watford. All though the wind of change has blown through the corridors of power at Elland Road this year the club itself is in more or less the same position as last year. Neil Warnock has completely changed the personnel but we end the year with quality players at a premium and a team lacking pace both up front and at the back........just like Simon Grayson's team! Of course the constant throughout this has been the stewardship of a certain Mr Bates and the lack of the investment needed to lift the club into the play off places.
The recent accounts show that Howson and Snoddgrass were sold to ensure the club at least broke even and didn't fall back into the financial mire. The arrival of the new owners will give hope to us long suffering fans that at last we have some financial clout to bring in much needed quality into the team. Already there are calls for Warnock's head but, as Larry found out before him, its very difficult assembling a quality team with loans and hand me downs which is what we still have. Warnock should be given to the end of the season to see if he can gain yet another promotion. As bad as we have played we are still within touch of the play offs so if we can get a quality mid fielder in the mould of a Koren or a Hoolahan together with a solid left back we might just sneak into the end of season bun fight.
The positives of the year are the signings of Diouf, Kenny and the emergence of young Sam Byram oh and the completion of that takeover. The negatives well where do I start? The shambolic performance against Watford, but then there was the 7.3 defeat at home to Forest and don't forget losing 4.1 at home to Brum and what about the woeful showing at Coventry...............before I depress you even further don't forget following Leeds is never easy. This year has been frustrating with a capital F. If the new owners do have the financial muscle to support Leeds we shouldn't be sat here at this time next year saying "were only a couple of points outside the play off places if we can just................" I live in hope.
I hope you've enjoyed my review of 2012 even though it's been another difficult year on Planet Leeds. Fasten your seat belts though because I think 2013 will be a bumpy ride hopefully in an upward direction.