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Thursday, 29 December 2011

Mid term report & hopes for the New Year.

As we reach the half way mark in this season's campaign it's an ideal time to take stock of how the club have performed so far in their 2nd season back in the Championship.  So given that the world we live in seems to be infested with monitoring bodies, such as OfSted/OfCom/OFWat etc, that want to poke into every aspect of our lives I thought I would present to you the OfFan report on Leeds United for the 2011/12 season so far.

Objectives and targets:
After finishing last season excruciatingly close to the play off places the overall objective agreed for this term, in line with the club's continuous improvement policy, is to achieve a top six place and challenge for promotion to the Premier League.  Supplementary objectives include ensuring the club is maintained on a secure financial footing and also build an effective recruitment and scouting network to supply the correct quality of players for the club.

Key Performance Indicators:

  1. Achieve a top 6 league position.
  2. Achieve a 98% customer satisfaction.
  3. Increase average attendances from last year's figure of 27,299.
  4. Maintain our position as the best supported away team in the championship.
  5. Break even for the financial year ending June 2012.
OfFan assessment
  • Performances on the pitch:  After a shaky start losing the first two games the team made steady progress to the end of September.  This included a spectacular win against Hull City followed by two tight home successes against Palace and Bristol City. During the period Leeds snatched two exciting draws with last minute goals at West Ham and Brighton respectively.  A disappointing defeat at Ipswich acted as a sense check on the quality of the team though.  By the end of September Leeds were in 9th spot on 11 points, 6 points adrift of automatic promotion. In the League Cup victories against Bradford City and Donny were followed by an embarrassing defeat against the Salford Yank's 2nd string at a 3/4 full Elland Road.
  • October saw only one defeat at the hands of a strong Birmingham side but lost points in draws against Coventry and Cardiff took some of the gloss off our improving form.  Lack of a quality back up keeper was a major contributing factor to silly lost points.  Glimpses of what Leeds could achieve were seen in a comfortable 3.0 win at the Keepmoat and an exciting 3.2 win at the Posh. By the end of October Leeds were 7th on 22 points 5 adrift of the automatic spots.  November started badly with a horrendous 5.0 defeat at home to Blackpool.  Weaknesses in the goalkeeping position somewhat masking glaring inadequacies elsewhere.  Away wins at Leicester, Burnley and Forest steadied the ship but a home defeat to Barnsley confirmed just how much work there is still to do to make Leeds genuine promotion contenders.  Leeds finished November in 5th position on 31 points 9 points adrift of the automatic promotion spots.
  • December started with a solid home win against Millwall but deteriorated after that with a snatched point at Watford and defeats to Reading and Derby.  Of more concern was the manner of those defeats where there was a distinct lack of direction and skill on the pitch coinciding with the absence of the injured Jonny Howson.  Leeds go into the last match of 2011 in 8th spot, 11 points off the automatic places and 1 point off the play off positions.  Overall the performances on the pitch have not improved since last term and show a worrying lack of quality in the centre of midfield and the consequent lack of goals from our main strikers. OfFan expect these areas to be addressed in the soonest.  Assessment rating for performances on the pitch: Inadequate.
  • Recruitment and player management:  The inertia over the summer period annoyed a lot of customers and suggests either a lack of a clear transfer strategy or the competence to complete signings in a timely manner or both.  Much customer debate is focused on the size of the transfer and wage budget but carrying a large first team squad of 28, with 2 more out on loan, uses far too much precious wage resource on fringe players who are simply not good enough for the first team.  At this level clubs need to be able to not only choose their transfer/loan targets effectively but be strong enough to move "mistakes" on quickly.  Leeds have failed to do either.  The loss of Johnson, Gradel and Kilkenny over the summer seriously weakened the team. Their perceived replacements Michael Brown, Nunez and Adam Clayton have failed to get anywhere near the levels of performance of their predecessors despite some infrequent classy shows by Clayton.  Schmeichel's replacement, Lonergan, has improved the quality of the goal keeping position though.  Although the chairman and the board's prudent release of monies into the wage and transfer budget has contributed to this serious failing the Manager has not shown he has a firm grasp on this part of his job and will be required to prove he has learnt from his past mistakes during the forthcoming transfer window.  Assessment rating for Recruitment and player management: Inadequate.
  • Leadership and stewardship of the club: Simon Grayson: He clearly creates a good team spirit amongst the players.  This "never say die" spirit has enabled numerous late, late goals to secure or pinch points this term.  His tactical nous can sometimes be found wanting as was shown in the opening game against Southampton but in general the tactical organisation away from home has been good and generated 5 wins and 3 draws on our travels this season.  Conversely at home we have struggled to find the right combination of personnel and tactics to overcome teams that are happy to sit back and let Leeds attack them. Team selection and substitutions have sometimes been difficult to understand leading to the view that he doesn't exactly know what his best starting eleven is highlighted when he ditched the successful 4.4.2 formation with Keogh and Ross Mac leading the line when Becchio returned from injury and flirting with a 4.5.1 or 4.3.3 combination.  Overall he has had more good days than bad during his 3rd year of control at Leeds United. Assessment rating for Leadership of the team: Satisfactory
  • Ken Bates:  The Chairman's approach to customer relations is stunningly crass and belligerent.  Whether it be using his programme notes to slag off his customers and staff or his hard line approach to ticket prices his reluctance to listen to any other view other than what comes from his whiskered lips often beggars belief and continues to drive a massive wedge between the club and it's loyal customers. The continued "smoke and mirrors" perception of how the club is run and who owns what feeds the common held theory that lot's of revenue goes into the club and little comes back out in terms of investment in the team.  A classic example of this is the redevelopment of the East Stand with new executive boxes, a museum and the proposed hotel. All of these developments are sensible steps for the growth of the club in these commercially focused times but when the ground itself is not owned by the club and the size of the transfer budget is under fierce debate the information void that is left in it's wake is readily filled with numerous conspiracy theories by the long suffering customers. As ever the Chairman takes the "bugger everybody else" approach to any individual or organisation who raises the slightest query in opposition to "Ken's way" leading to the now classic programme notes attacking the clubs fans labelling them "Morons" for protesting against the lack of transfer activity.  Memories of Gerald Ratner referring to his company's products as crap come to mind.  The way the Chairman has managed to disenfranchise himself and the club from the local & national media, the vast majority of other club's directors & Chief Exec's but most of all it's massive fanbase is bordering on criminal.  Assessment rating for Leadership of the club: Inadequate to appalling.
  • Support and customer appeal: The club continues to enjoy the best away support outside the Premier League despite the fact that the last trophy to adorn the Elland Road trophy cabinet was back in 1992.  Leeds fans are called a lot of things but glory hunters is not one of them!  This season the support at West Ham, Burnley, Posh and Brighton was particularly impressive all of which were enhanced by late goals signalling ecstatic celebrations amongst the faithful Leeds fans.  The triumph and tribute to Gary Speed at Forest will stay long in the memory of those who were there as the 11 minute tribute on the 11th minute culminated with the opening goal for Snoddy.  Magic. There is a special  affinity amongst the travelling army that exudes unwavering support for the mighty whites despite  activities on the pitch or in the boardroom.  This is probably summed up best by the addition of a relatively new song to the LUFC songbook this term "We're Leeds Utd, we don't give a fuck"  The home support has dwindled this season though under the impact of high ticket prices and the growing disillusionment with the stewardship of the club.  We are unlikely to finish with the highest average gate in the championship with Leicester, Derby, West Ham and Southampton all currently having higher average home gates.  Assessment rating for Support and customer appeal: Outstanding.
  • Individual players performances: Players who have progressed this season include Tom Lees and Aidey White in defence.  Lees has looked impressive at centre half belying his young age whilst White has demonstrated an electric burst of pace whether he's going forward or defending.  The understanding he has forged with Danny Pugh on the left flank has contributed to the tightening of the famously leaky defence of last year. The welcome return of Kissy has seen the % of headers won in defence increase.  He has lost a yard of pace though and this has exposed him to the more pacier front men in the league.  Darren O'Dea has provided a solid platform when he's played at centre half and adds a nice touch of Irish aggression to the defensive unit.  Behind the back four Lonergan has shown much needed consistency.  The less said about his back up Rachubka the better though. 
  • Midfield has been a problem. Clayton has shown signs of class, none more so than against Scott Parker at West Ham, but too many times he has failed to get the type of grip on games that's needed by your creative midfielder.  Jonny Howson continues to do a lot of work "under the radar" and is sorely missed when he is absent, ie the last three games.  He operates best in an attacking midfield role when the five man midfield is deployed.  Snoddy continues to show why Premier clubs will be queuing up to sign him in January though without the foil of another tricky winger on the other flank (ie Gradel) it has been easier for clubs to shutdown the creative spark we get from the feisty Scot. Whilst White has provided pace on the left flank and Sam an element of trickery the team have sorely missed Gradel's pace, skill and goals.  Michael Brown was a good signing but 5 years too late.  His legs have gone and he struggles to last a full match.  But I suppose we did get him from the "past the sell by date" shelf in Aldi's.  
  • Up front Ross Mac has been a revelation most of the time with some spectacular goals and intelligent running.  Of late he has been less effective as the numerous permutations of partners and positions seem to have taken a toll on him.  Becchio has been a major disappointment.  His goal threat in the box has diminished, possibly due to Gradel's departure, and he looks laboured and predictable in possession.  Andy Keogh has brought lot's of good qualities to the Leeds attack but scoring goals is not one of them.  He has formed the best partnership with Ross Mac to date. Nunez briefly showed promise against Donny but seems to have disappeared from the selection radar.
  • Of the rest neither Forssell or Vayrynen look to have enough quality or ability to be anything other than 2nd rate back up players. Assessment of players performances: Inadequate.
  • Conclusion: The team has not progressed as required and is in danger of falling away from the promotion chasing pack on current form.  There is clear need for strengthening the quality of the playing staff especially in centre midfield and also an out and out goal scorer if this seasons KPI's are to be met.  The Leadership of the club by the chairman is potentially inhibiting the growth of the club but the management of the team by Simon Grayson in his 3rd year in position is also quite rightly under focus.  Anything less than last year's 7th position will be deemed a failure by the majority of fans.  Pivotal to the success or otherwise of the season will be the movements in the January transfer window.  Failure to improve the overall quality of the playing staff will constitute a major failing by the management team.  Overall assessment of the club at the half way stage of the season: Inadequate
Hopefully that report will give plenty of food for thought?  In the meantime we have the trip to Barnsley to worry about on New Year's Eve.  Please god don't let the Whippet lovers triumph again in their local Cup Final.  I don't think the Happy Chocker could stand it!  As ever I will be there filled with hope and expectations along with another massive away support.  A 95th minute winner from Ross Mac will do nicely thank you very much.
Can't wait.

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