Returning to the Championship after three seasons in League One, it was expected to be a season of establishing the club in the league before a big go at promotion in the season to follow. But the season has been anything but solid, leave alone taking time to settle into the new league. Throughout the season, there has been so much drama and action in games involving Leeds United that you’d think it was all scripted and directed by Sergio Leone.
Elland Road, 7th August 2010 Rewind:
Leeds United vs Derby County. Quarter of an hour had passed on the clock, the ball had hit the back of the net twice already and the game was nicely poised with the score-line reading 1-1. A little over 10 minutes later, Kris Commons slotted home a penalty to give Derby a 2-1 lead at Elland Road. We had seen three goals in less than half an hour and that’s how life for Leeds United began this season. The goals haven’t stopped coming at either end of the pitch since.
Since then, it has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. Having scored 62 goals this season already, Leeds are the top scorers in the Championship. At the same time, when you look at the goals conceded column, you will find that only four teams have conceded more goals this season. Three of those teams being the bottom three clubs Scunthorpe United, Sheffield United and Preston North End with the other team Doncaster Rovers being a merely 18th in the table. Simon Grayson might be English, but he has hardly shown his roots in his vision for the game. It’s been a tale of Brazil’s ideology – ‘you score five, we’ll score six’.
Elland Road, 24th February 2011, Leeds United vs Barnsley:
Last night, Leeds faced Barnsley at Elland Road in another enthralling game which ended 3-3. The reverse game at Oakwell earlier in the season had seen a goal more in it, with Barnsley coming on top with a 5-2 score-line. That game was shortly followed by welcoming Preston to Elland Road in the last week of September. Everyone who followed that game will never forget it, a game that saw Leeds stroll into a 4-1 lead at one point, only for the lead to be cut back to 4-2 just before half time. Six goals in a half, but surely Preston were still huge underdogs to score two more and draw level? No one told the Leeds defense that, Preston came back after the break to score not just two, but four goals to register a remarkable comeback winning the game 4-6.
The Season So Far:
So that’s been the story of the season so far? Well, not exactly. The attack has been the best in the Championship as mentioned above and has evened things up. The best player this season has been Robert Snodgrass who has been nothing short of sensational this season. His ability to pick the right pass, provide the perfect cross and to beat defenders for fun has been recognized all over England. Apart from being a very skilful player, he’s also showed a sense of commitment to the cause of the club he plays, unlike most of his compatriots in modern day football and even went to the extent of rejecting a trail with Spanish giants FC Barcelona. It does not come as a surprise that since he returned to full fitness in November, Leeds have lost only 1 game in 20 league games played after that.
Luciano Becchio has continued to impress throughout the season, mostly playing as a lone striker. His brilliant ability to hold the ball up is an important factor in the way Leeds have taken good care of the ball this season. It was evident to see his importance in the two FA Cup games they played against Arsenal this season. In the game at the Emirates, Becchio did brilliantly, working his socks off and buying Leeds time whenever he got the ball. In the replay, Becchio was injured and Billy Paynter started in his place and miserably failed as he kept giving the ball away. The results were there for everyone to see.
Max Gradel has been another revelation this season. His behavior on the last day of last season in a must-win game saw him sent off and threatened to send Leeds into the League One play-offs for the third season in a row. But this season, he has come back stronger and showed a lot of maturity playing as a team man. His partnership with George McCartney has really blossomed in the attacking sense from the left side.
A special mention must go to South African striker Davide Somma. At the beginning of the season, no one expected him to be a crucial member of the squad. Most observers expected him to be restricted to the odd appearances with Becchio, McCormark and Paynter ahead of him in the pecking order. But he has changed all that, scoring a goal at every 84 minutes in the league, which puts him in the list of the top 10 players in Europe with respect to goals per minutes ratio, an elite list which includes the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Jonny Howson, Neil Kilkenny and Bradley Johnson have been the backbone of the team. Kilkenny has played as a deep-lying midfielder sitting right in front of the defense with Johnson being the box-to-box player with tremendous work-rate. And Howson, well he’s been the heart and soul of the club amongst the current crop. An outright Leeds fan while growing up, he has come into his own self this season, dictating games with his sheer presence, exhibiting the attributes which have earned him an England U-21 cap against the Italians earlier this month. Lloyd Sam and Sanchez Watt have not got a lot of chances to shine, but have done reasonably well whenever they’ve been called upon.
Coming back to the defense, a bright shining armor has been Kasper Schmeichel. A lot has already been said about his brilliance. Albeit being an amazing shot-stopper, he’s not the greatest keeper in the world when it comes to defensive organization. The defense has been all over the place the entire the season and one of the main reasons for that has to be Schmeichel’s inability to organize his defenders. Andy O’Brien has been reasonably good as well.
George McCartney and Paul Connolly, who have played as full-backs for most of the season, have done decent while going forward, but their performances leaves a lot to be desired in the defensive aspect of the game. Alex Bruce, Neil Collins, Richard Naylor – the trio have been very inconsistent at the back. While Bruce has often shown promise, Collins and Naylor are simply not good enough for the league.
With 33 games already been played, 54 points on the board and 6th in the league standings, a true Leeds fan would have taken that at the start of the season; but certainly not in this manner. It’s not been a smooth and easy ride for the White Peacocks. On the contrary, it’s been as rough as the Yorkshire winter. Consistency is the need of the hour and the Leeds United faithful would hope that the rich heritage and perpetual spirit, which has been the driving force behind the club ever since its inception, will help them to elevate themselves in the top tier English football all over again.
– Nitin Fernandes