This sort of end-of-season review is a week early, but owing to work commitments, I can’t make the last match of the season and I obviously have nothing better to do at the moment so I’ve hammered out over 3,000 words about our season… It could’ve been a whole lot more.
With one game left in the Championship, the chances of Leeds United securing a place in the play offs on the final day against champions Queens Park Rangers look very unlikely.
After Nottingham Forest’s thumping win over relegation threatened Scunthorpe United (that’s what you get for leaving Andy Hughes out of the team), Leeds need a win, a hefty goal swing and for Forest to lose on May 7th to stand a chance and despite achieving what many did not think possible, missing out on sixth place will still be somewhat frustrating.
I said at the beginning of the season, like so many others, that staying in the Championship (presuming we’d be battling the likes of Sheffield United to stay out of League One) was ‘the’ objective. Kenneth Bates, on the other hand, was adamant that ‘Leeds were not in the division to make up the numbers’ in his letter to season ticket holders at the beginning of the season. His chairmanship aside, he wasn’t wrong. We have come through a season with a squad of young players who have stepped up and played their part, along with a few questionable loanees and bench-warming transfers.
Looking at the ins and outs, Grayson has worked on a ‘tight budget’ this season; players like McCormack and Clayton – who we apparently paid a fee for ended up playing less than bit parts while freebies like Collins (permanent) somehow managed to play far too much.
After the loss of the free scoring Jermaine ‘What shirt am I wearing bruv?’ Beckford to Premier League Everton, Leeds needed a replacement. In true Leeds style, we looked at someone who was free and to be fair, came with a decent (League One) scoring record. In the 09/10 season, Billy Paynter had amassed 29 goals; we’ll ignore that most of them were penalties. Paynter (to date) hasn’t quite lived up to that expectation, with just the one goal to his name; he starred in Swindon’s 3-0 win over Leeds in the 09/10 season with a brace. We’ve not seen anything like it since.
Throughout the summer months Grayson brought in:
Kasper Schmeichel, Adam Clayton, Fede Bessone, Ramon Nunez, Ross McCormack, Billy Paynter, George McCartney, Paul Connolly, Sanchez Watt, Amdy Faye, Lloyd Sam, Neill Collins and Alex Bruce (Might well have left some out, purely accidental)
Through a combination of injuries/differences of opinions/blind favouritism, all certainly played their parts; like Bessone. Never really fully fit, he was an abomination at left back and during that fateful night against Barnsley, despite being subbed at 1-1, he was still blamed in the most part when we lost in the manner we did. Which said it all.
Collins and McCartney were the worst of a bad bunch who still managed to wrack up 21 and 31 appearances (dis) respectfully. Injuries meant Sam was only fleetingly involved and pretty ineffective when he was; while Watt showed glimpses of an act which can only be described as him wanting to be the next Max Gradel; without the finishing.
Connolly was probably the most consistent in the Leeds defence, his 33 appearances punctuated by injury and the arrival of Eric Lichaj on loan when Conns was injured. Along with Schmeichel, he was probably our best incoming.
The arrival of Schmeichel was a surprise but a nice one; having agreed to forgo the money ‘owed’ from his contract at Notts County, Leeds ‘beat off’ a number of other clubs to sign the young Dane; the eighth club he’s turned out for at the tender age of 24. Starting out with bullish confidence, he was an instant hit; pulling off top saves in most matches and hey, his kicking (generally) stayed in play. With a penance for yelling a lot, Schmeichel was often exposed by the Leeds defence and spent much of the season ‘going a bit mental’ on many occasions, even if something was his fault. With constant reminders of his father’s keeping prowess, he has big things to live up to but he has undoubtedly showed promise. There are however, plenty of areas for improvement. Getting wound up by some bored neanderthal on twitter and blaming other people for his own style of keeping being but-a-few.
Bruce never really got to grips with how to defend and playing alongside Collins was hardly the most effective way of getting the best out of him. Which turned out to be pretty poor. Despite Richard Naylor’s injuries which restricted him to around a half dozen appearances, there were few effective defensive partnerships.
Faye, McCormack and Clayton were none-existent for the most part, the former for very different reasons. With Bradley Johnson struggling to come into the ‘hustle and bustle’ central midfield role, Faye looked like an experienced head with a strong tackle and good presence. He failed to provide any of those and eventually Bradders grew into that very role. Eventually.
For Nunez, his loan at Scunny, like Beckford before him looks to have brought the best out in him, hopefully something he’ll get to showcase next season. Or as is more likely, something he’ll have to get on with in some poncey reserve league. Speaking of which, despite R-Mac scoring for fun in a reserve league which is apparently beneath the club; he has spent most of the season banging them in against the likes of Gateshead. Yet he was still criticised by some as not having scored enough in every one of his 5 minute sub appearances in the first team. Against Burnley today, he showed us what we’ve been missing.
The outs were interesting, if not a relief as Leeds finally shipped out the dead wood which had been floating around Thorp Arch like Jon Parkin on a burger van. The highlights included Jason Crowe to Leyton Orient, Alan Sheehan to Swindon, Fede Bessone to Charlton – although only on loan, Lubo Michalik to Carlisle and beautifully, Neill Collins to Sheffield United. Even their fans were left bewildered at his Bambi on ice impressions after one match.
The lowlight was the departure of Andy Hughes; a loyal servant to the club in times of desperation, his never-say-die attitude to football (nearly) surpassed his inability to play football very well.
More on his departure from an old blog post: https://jenber.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/andy-hughes-is-fucking-brilliant/
Yet seventh, or eighth, wherever we may finish – if indeed it is outside the play offs like I expect, it is still frustrating. We have achieved more than many thought possible with the (lack of) resources at Simon Grayson’s disposal. Questionable tactics and substitutions at the back end of the season aside, Grayson should be commended for what he has done for Leeds United. Those wanting him sacked are fickle and irrational in their protestations about his decisions but Grayson, like his young squad, is learning.
I’m not trying to put a dampener on the season – for the record; with a defence leakier than a broken sieve, we have still managed to score (as it stands) the second highest total in the division, behind 2nd place Norwich and carve out some decent results along the way. I’ll conveniently leave out certain results like those against Preston North End and Barnsley for.. prosperity’s sake.
I’ll flick over the season, month by month:
So, August 2010 seems like a long while back. An undeserved opening day defeat against Derby gave us hope for the season as we more than matched the Rams, before a cup win over Lincoln. A draw away at Forest followed, before wins over Millwall and Watford and a late defeat in the League Cup against Leicester courtesy of the ever-clumsy Neill Collins.
September was an equally inconsistent month and one that still scars the memory with some crushing lows. We did though, have wins against Sheffield United and Swansea, not to mention one of only four goalless draws Leeds have played in this season, against Doncaster ‘Arsenal’ Rovers.
October didn’t get much better with losses against Ipswich, Cardiff and Leicester – the latter two of which we haven’t beaten in like, centuries but after an earlier win against Middlesboro’ – which one generally only remembers as the visit to the Riverside when a fan got bricked in the face, the first of our thumping wins against Scunny was completed courtesy of a timely Jonny Howson hat-trick.
Even with the winter cool setting in, November was a good month; Leeds were unbeaten with wins against Coventry City and Brizzle City and draws against Hull City, Norwich and Reading. After the 0-0 against Reading, Leeds sat 7th in the Championship table, having played 19 with 29 points on the board, things were looking steady.
December brought three consecutive wins against Crystal Palace, Burnley and QPR before score draws against Leicester and Portsmouth and despite the ever leaky back line, Leeds were 4th heading into the new year.
The major problem though continued to be in defence; despite constantly chopping and changing the defensive partnership, Grayson couldn’t decide who should partner Andy O’Brien. Inevitably, the transfer window came and went without any significant activity. O’Brien was signed on a permanent deal after Leeds apparently fought off strong competition from Cardiff and a temporary lack of intelligent discussion saw Bradley Johnson placed on the transfer list for allegedly asking for a lot more money than the club (and indeed the fans) thought he was worth.
All in all, January was a pretty poor month; save for a draw at the Emirates against Arsenal in the cup, Leeds managed just one win, another drubbing of the hapless Scunny. Draws against Pompey and Boro followed and despite another defeat against Cardiff, Leeds were fifth in the table at the end of the month but the chasing pack had games in hand.
At the end of February, despite just one loss in six, Leeds were hanging on to a play off spot after a number of draws against Hull, Norwich and Barnsley and a heavy defeat at Swansea. Wins against Coventry and Brizzle City kept us in the hunt as we headed into March…
March saw the arrival of Barry Bannan from Aston Villa on loan as Leeds picked up wins against Doncaster and Preston before a disappointing draw at Ipswich. The less said about Leeds’ abysmal ‘performance’ at Sheffield United, the better. Leeds finished March on 61 points, in 5th place.
At the beginning of April, Leeds picked up a valuable three points against play off rivals Forest, courtesy of some help from the referee but the rest of the month was pretty forgettable as Leeds embarked on a suicidal run of form which saw us outside the bottom six heading into the final game.
Losses against the ever annoying Millwall, Derby and another non-performance at Palace all but killed off our chances and despite draws against Watford and Reading, even a win against Burnley wasn’t enough to haul us into the top six.
We’re shit in the play offs anyway.
So, on to the players.
With the inevitable clear out/contracts ending, it could be a long cold summer. With Bates no doubt focussing on the redevelopment of the east stand and plans for that f**king hotel, Grayson will be left to scrounge around in the bargain basement to strengthen the squad. Rumours that Paddy Kisnorbo will be offered a pay as you play deal offer some sort of straw to clutch on to but the reality is, next season will offer a sterner test to all in the Championship.
Ratings for the season?
Schmeichel 7 – For his propensity to bite when being abused on twitter and his red-in-the-face rants at anyone near him, he loses at least 1. For the rest, some top saves which have saved a good few points this season. Nice while he lasted, but he’ll be off to a Premier League club in summer, no doubt.
Higgs 6 – Unlucky really. Raring to go pre season before Schmeichel came in. Harsh to mark.
Paul Connolly 8 – Solid and reliable for the most part, unlucky towards the end with injuries. Stable.
Eric Lichaj 7 – Came in, did the job, played in both full back positions with varying degrees of success. Got forward well and always seemed to be up for the fight.
Leigh Bromby 6 – Championed him for a long time while he was warming the bench; didn’t live up to any of it. Bit out of his depth/needed a good run, which he didn’t get.
Neill Collins – Nothing. Enjoy League 1, you’ll do well, it’s your level.
Richard Naylor 7 – Injuries played their part but unthinkably, in the last couple of matches, the best defender by a mile. How things changed. Retiring?
Andy O’Brien 7 – (Loan) – 5 (Permanent) Like any loan player who went on to sign permanently, it started so well for AOB. When he got the comfort of a contract, defending was beyond him. Looks ever shakier.
Alex Bruce 6 – Had some good games and some very poor games. Might’ve built a decent partnership with Nayls; he needed guidance, he got Neill Collins.
George ‘Steady’ McCartney 5 – Apparently Sunderland paid nearly £7m for him a couple years back. Looked a decent signing back in September 2010 on a months loan. Went downhill. Never seen as a capable defender again. £7m? My right ankle must be worth a fortune.
Ben Parker 7 – Simply for being thrown in at the deep end against Arsenal in the cup and just about keeping Theo Walcott anywhere near his pocket.
Fede Bessone 3 – Your girlfriend would’ve been far more capable. And she’s more attractive.
Max Gradel 9 – Most improved player at the club, picking up numerous end of season awards in the process, Mad Max has developed to an extent that he was one of the first on the team sheet. Despite a poor last few matches, he appeared 40-odd times this season, bagging 17 goals in the process. A constant menace to the opposition defence, his willingness to chase anything and everything for 90 mins without breaking sweat won him a place in many a Leeds fan’s heart. Long may it continue. Now, siddown and have a goddamn break, lad!
Neil Kilkenny 7 – I’ve always been a fan of Kilkenny; while he has his critics, Leeds have been a more effective side with him in it – Well I think so, I’m sure someone has some stats somewhere. With a calming influence on the team’s passing game, Kila made the football a lot easier on the eye and despite his constant whingeing and arm flailing, not to mention shit attempts at tackles, he gave Leeds an extra dimension and will surely be missed if he leaves.
Lloyd Sam 6 – In a season of bit part appearances and injuries, we didn’t really see the best of him but he did chip in with a couple of goals. And that’s about it.
Jonny Howson 7 – Mr Inconsistent. He has improved for sure but Howson remains one of those players who will either have a massive bearing on a match in Leeds favour or be completely anonymous. Ok it depended which ludicrous position he was played in but there were times, like against Scunny, when he was instrumental. It was all about finding a system within which he worked best – attacking midfield. Then Grayson put him out on the wing. Hmm. The only ever present (?) though, Mr Undroppable’s contract is up next year…
Bradley Johnson 8 – Ok that might be a bit generous. He gets extra for being my favourite player. Ho hums.. Anyway. After a poor first half of the season, Bradders really began to find his feet after his contractual wranglings were made public and since then has steadily matured into a more robust midfielder, with an eye for a neat pass, heading ability and the goal of the season against Arsenal in the cup. Please stay Bradders.
Jake Livermore 5 – Purely for managing to steal a wage and being that bad. I’m sure he can’t be that bad but when your name is booed as its read out as being amongst the subs.. I’d have driven him back to north Landan myself after his first half showing against Reading. You make Paul Okon look good.
Barry Bannan 10 – For not going back to Villa earlier after Livermore was selected in front of him. A bright player with similar style to Kila, good movement and a sharp eye for a pass. Big future.
Rob Snodgrass 7 – Another player who has improved and who worked tirelessly for the team every week. Flagged towards the end as a long season took its toll. Another who is being watched by Premier League clubs.
Billy Paynter 5 – I don’t know what it is about Leeds fans and players who try their hardest but despite their endeavours, cannot get away from the fact they’re not very good. We loved Hughes despite his footballing shortfalls and for a while, Paynter gained the sympathy of the fans as he went in search of his first goal, week after week, after week, after week.. With a chant belted out with no hint of irony(!) of ‘Come on Billy’, he finally netted against Preston. Today against Burnley, he wasted a host of chances which could’ve meant a closer contest in the goals column against Forest. We expect too much of him no?
Luciano Becchio 8 – After the departure of Beckford, there was a lot of pressure on the Argentinian to shoulder a good proportion of the goals, and often in the lone front man role, he delivered. With a likely end of season total of 19, Becchio clinched a number of important goals in matches were he fought on his own upfront as well as helping to create plenty, with nine assists. His strength is improving, as is his heading ability. Reserved judgement on the touch. A hugely valuable player who, by all accounts, loves Leeds and wants to stay for a good few years yet.
Davide Somma 8 – With a 11 goals from 12 starts (16 sub) you could be forgiven for wondering why on earth the South African didn’t get more of a chance this season. Something about cutting off your nose to spite your face; Grayson wanted to accommodate a midfield five and that meant one striker up front and with his inability to challenge for a header, he was never going to get the lone front man role. His record though, speaks for itself; a deadly finisher who can feel himself hard done by to not have played more.
Sanchez Watt 6.5 – Showed glimpses of promise and despite a league goal, was always going to be a bench warmer. Tenacious and hard working, but a bit of a headless chicken sometimes. Will be remembered for misses against Reading and Burnley.
Ross McCormack 8 – For taking his one big chance and ‘sticking it to the man’… in a sense. Showing all the promise than anyone who had seen him play for the reserves expected, McCormack showed his class as he dragged Leeds over the line against Burnley today. Hopefully we will see so much more from him.
End of season thoughts?
Worst pie: Sheffield United – could only eat half and I was starving. Best pie – Chicken Balti at the Emirates. Had to take out a mortgage to buy one but the handmade, puff pastry encased pie was a beaut.
With Sheffield United, Scunthorpe and Preston all relegated – no sad face here, it will be a shame that three decent northern away days will be no more and it looks like Southampton will join Brighton back in the Championship.. With Blackpool possibly on the way down, I’m getting my beach towel ready!
We have probably overachieved but to come so close and yet be so far. Frustrating but plenty to build on. And I ain’t talking about hotels. But don’t even get me started on this:
ON ON ON!