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Friday, 31 December 2010

2010.......a vintage year for Chateau de Blancs Puissants?

At this time a year ago Leeds were sitting proudly on top of Division 3, 11 points clear of third and looking forward to a dream FA Cup 3rd game at the Theatre of Shite.  A year on and there is a nice sense of symmetry as the mighty whites sit joint 2nd in the Championship with a mouth watering trip to the fabulous Emirates Stadium to play Arsenal in the 3rd round of the FA Cup looming.  All is right with the world on Planet Leeds.  The consensus view at the start of this league campaign was that we would be happy just to have a season of consolidation and not get dragged into any relegation dog fight............but now we are dallying with thoughts of automatic promotion to the Holy grail of the money grabbing Premier League after an unbeaten run of 11 games has propelled Leeds up the table. We have gone through the whole of November and December without tasting the bitter taste of defeat since our humiliating reverse against Cardiff back in October.

Lord Larry has quietly got on with the job of steering Leeds onwards and upwards with assured confidence throughout year. Although you might think that he has achieved this with basically the same core of the team that battled through those "character building" games in Division 3 that's not entirely true.  Only 4 of the starting line up who took the field against Stockport County for the last game of 2009 started our last game of 2010 against Pompey, Killa, Snoddy, Becchio and Bradders.  Admittedly Mad Max and Jonny Howson came off the bench to contribute to a 4.2 victory on a cabbage patch of a pitch but in essence Lord Larry has employed an effective strategy of continuous improvement throughout the year. Players such as Ankergren, Doyle, Grella, Michalik and Beckford have moved onto pastures new with the likes of Schmeichel, Connolly, McCartney, O'Brien, Collins, Bruce, Paynter, McCormack, Faye, Watt, Sam, Bessone and Nunez coming in to bolster the squad.............well maybe not Bessone? We now have a strong squad and a very strong bench which should benefit us as the season ploughs on through Jan, Feb, March and April to the finale in May.

It's been a year to saviour for a number of players in the Leeds squad but I'd like to concentrate on 3 in particular, Howson, Snodgrass and Becchio.

At this time last year Jonny Howson was flitting in and out of both the team and the games he actually started.  He was at an age where the "promising young Howson" tag was wearing a bit thin and he needed to step up and be counted.  He certainly did that at the Theatre of Shite as his 60 yard cross field ball picked out Jermaine Beckford who despite an awful first touch rolled the ball past the keeper to give Leeds a historic victory. It was probably a reflection of his season that by the time the final nerve jangling game against Bristol came around he was back on the bench.  But his reputation for being a big game player was enhanced as he came off the bench to snatch an equaliser for 10 man Leeds in that dramatic final 30 minutes of the season. Fast forward to this campaign and his form, and particular his cool finishing, has cemented his place in the Leeds team as he expertly fulfills the attacking midfield role of the 4.5.1 system currently employed by the mighty whites.  His name has even been mentioned as a possible for a starter for England!  Now that might reflect more on the lack of quality currently available to England but it does recognise a year where he has matured into one of Leeds' major assets.

Snoddy is the archetypal Scottish moaner never afraid to have a whinge if things aren't going his or Leeds way.  His progress over the year has been fantastic.  How he is not in the Scottish team is beyond me.  At times he reminds me of Eddie Gray as he torments his full back first one way then the other and then surges past him like he's not there.  His confidence seems to increase with each game that goes by enhanced by the quality of the goals he is scoring.  His sublime curler against Coventry at the Ricoh Arena looked to have secured the goal of the season prize............until he hit his Howitzer against Leicester on Boxing day and I am sure there is more to come.  I know this is an outrageous prediction but I think he'll even bring a smile to Arsene Wenger's face when we play the Arse in the cup.

And so to Luciano. When Beckford departed there weren't many Leeds fanatics who thought Luciano would be the answer to the question "who is going to score our goals now?"  But his 12 goals in 20 games this season is an impressive return for a player who many questioned had the ability to step up to Championship level.  His hard working style and clinical finishing, especially with his head, have made him a firm favourite with the Elland Road die hards.  He is not the most skillful player in the league but he makes up for that with tenacity and an eye for goal that is common to top goal poachers. So Luciano has had a good year and I am sure there is more to come..................just one plea Luciano............try and stay on your feet and lose the dramatic swallow dives when you're tackled.  I know it's genetic for all South American players but I'm afraid most ref's will see straight through you and then not give fouls that are actual fouls.

So has this been a vintage year for Chateau de Blancs Puissants?  Well how many times do we beat the Salford Yanks in the FA Cup, gain promotion and finish the year well placed for another promotion tussle? Not many, in fact none so on that basis I think I can officially announce 2010 as a true vintage.  Hopefully there will be better vintages to come in the future but for now as Big Ben chimes his last sounds for this year tonight I will be drinking in memories of a fabulous year on Planet Leeds, yes I needed my seat belt, yes I needed the defibrillators a couple of times and yes there were times when I thought we'd blown promotion.  But at midnight tonight I will close my eyes and see the ball rolling over the line at the Stretford End, I will see the ball hitting the net for Beckford's winner against Bristol.  The hairs on the back of my neck will be standing to attention and there might just be a tear in my eye. Delicious!  And what lays in store for us in 2011?

"Snoddy leaves Sagna for dead and curls an inviting ball back for Beccccccccccchio 1.0 Leeds and the away end at the Emirates erupts in a cacophony of noise"
"There are 3 minutes of added time for Leeds to get the goal they need to secure promotion for the second year running but QPR are holding firm. Snodgrass tries another run down the right hand flank, turns it inside to Kilkenny who finds Howson surging forward past one man past two he shoots goooooooooooooooooooal. Howson has won at it at the death for the mighty whites and they will be playing in the Premier League next season"
Sounds good to me?
Can't wait.

PS Blancs Puissants translates to Mighty Whites in english.

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