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Saturday, 31 December 2016

Will 2017 be the year we dare to dream?

As 2016 disappears into my ever burgeoning memory bank I was thinking of writing a review of Leeds United's year but then I thought no. For the first time since the start of this millennium we will start the year with real hope and genuine optimism that 2017 could be something special in the history of Leeds United. So here's my thoughts and musings on what's on the agenda for 2017 the year the long suffering Leeds fans just might to dare to dream once more.

Let's start with Garry Monk. When he was appointed manager there were more than the odd eyebrows raised amongst the footballing world after all Mr Cellino's previous attempts at managerial appointments and dismissals had ranged from the ridiculous to the jaw droppingly bizarre. Here was an appointment that appeared to have some logic behind it. There were even people talking of a real coup in attracting the former Swansea boss to the Football Manager demolition yard that is Elland Road. Putting to one side the appalling way the previous incumbent, Steve Evans, had been treated during his protracted dismissal there was a flicker of optimism amongst the mighty whites followers.

The eloquent Mr Monk has assembled an impressive coaching team around him and has gone about his business in a very focused and effective way. Despite a dreadful start to the season culminating in a painful defeat at home to Huddersfield he stuck to his vision of moulding the team into a playing style that he believes works. He must have been whisker away from getting the hook from Cellino but thankfully the Italian hair trigger finger must have been otherwise engaged and Monk was allowed to continue what has seen a mightily impressive run up to Xmas. His team are playing good football and grinding out results that have seen Leeds climb from 21st in the table to 4th. Add an interesting run in the League Cup finishing with a memorable night at Anfield and suddenly smiles are returning to the faces of the fans. Incredible.  The last game of the year at Aston Villa summed up perfectly the status of Leeds United as we go into the new year. Another impressive performance against a team full of Premier League experience in front of 37,000 fans and millions on TV. A game we were unlucky not to come away with all three points and had more pundits sitting up and taking notice of the "new" Leeds United. More tellingly the players, manager and fans were disappointed that we came away from Villa Park with "only" one point. What a change around.

So the management team are at the top of their game going into 2017 but what about the squad? All over the park there have been surprises so much so that does anybody remember somebody call Byram and his mate Cook? Let's start with the case for the defence and let's face it this is an area that has consistently failed to defend for over a decade. Monk's defence is different though. We have two giants at centre back with Jansson and Bartley. Is there a better partnership in the championship? I don't think so. I have run out of superlatives for Pontus Jansson. The man is a god with wicked sense of humour, no little football ability and an iron determination to win every header, tackle and challenge that comes his way. His partner Bartley is equally impressive. Why Swansea let him go out on loan is one of life's great mysteries up there with classics like "why do we buy Cranberry sauce at Xmas when there's already two jars in the cupboard dating back to 2004"  and "What is the point of X Factor" At full back we now have an embarrassment of riches. Luke Ayling is possibly the best signing of the decade. He is like a man possessed whether he's attacking or defending. Charlie Taylor is one of the best left backs in the country at the moment. Why he get's so much stick from his own fans is beyond me. Add Berardi, Denton and Coyle to the mix and we are well covered out wide. Rob Green has divided opinion amongst fans but overall he has strengthened the defence not least of which his constant verbal "support" to his back four.

In midfield we now have a good blend of quality, grit and pace to worry the opposition with a decent depth of cover. Hernandez has the quality to unlock defences and also a vision for a pass that's not always appreciated by his colleagues. Bridcutt brings a calming influence to the boiler room with vital experience to compliment the youthful exuberance around him. Sacko has pace to burn but is still learning the art of the ideal final ball. He is an absolute nightmare to defend against though so despite the frustration of seeing him leave a full back for dead only to blaze the ball over the bar when Chris Wood is screaming blue murder at him to square it he will get better. When he does he will be a star. Phillips and Vieira are still learning the art of their midfield craft but given time I can see both of them proving their harsh critics wrong as they develop into real assets. Dallas and Roofe have both matured as the season has gone on and on their day will give any defence problems. Up front is where I have seen the biggest change. Wood and Doukara are unrecognisable to the players who started the season. Wood is now slimmer and terrorises defences with an impressive tally of goals whilst Doukara's improvement is so meteoric that he's actually keeping Wood out of the starting line up. Unbelievable. So whilst the squad is still wafer thin the work the coaching staff have done with them is remarkable. Whenever the team has been announced and a key player is injured or suspended nobody has failed to step up and fill the gap seamlessly. Take a bow Liam Cooper, Tyler Denton, Lewis Coyle, Alex Mowatt and Silvestri. All of the team now have a common purpose something that was sadly missing last year. They are truly a band of brothers.

So what will 2017 bring? The play offs, automatic promotion or another mid table finish? I am just pleased that we are in the play off mix going into the new year but the form we are in even automatic promotion is not out of the question with 22 games remaining. More likely is a torturous Play off journey to shred the nerves of every single Leeds fan across the world. Just a minute......the fog is clearing from my crystal ball.......It's the play off final......against Huddersfield Town (Despite them getting promoted in Aug 2016)......93 minutes gone and it's 2:2.......Leeds have a corner, Jansson strides into the area.........Dallas swings the ball into the box..........Jansson rises like a Phoenix at the back post.......Bollox the Crystal ball's gone all foggy again! Ah well we'll just have to dare to dream. Bring it on.

Can't wait.


Happy New Year to one and all.


Dermot Culliton said...

Happy New Year Andrew... Big big thanks for all your time and work put in to those excellent entertaining match reports and more. Always look forward to your recaps no matter what.Team so much better this season. It just has to continue in 2017.But We Are Leeds.����Take it Easy. MOT.. dermot

Unknown said...

Happy and successful new year to you and Leeds United. MOT

Unknown said...

Very good read. Well done sir

Andrew Butterwick said...

Thanks for the kind comments. Looking forward to an exciting year......hopefully. MOT.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your continued and brilliant evaluations of all your match day experiences and more. Happy New year to you and your family and to the whole Leeds family too. MOT

Unknown said...

Thank you for your continied and fantastic evaluations of your match day experiences. Happy New year to you and the whole Leeds family. MOT

Andy P said...

Match reports and humour always greatly appreciated from Leeds fans living outside the UK and not able to get to the games. Happy New year Andrew MOT

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