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Leeds United 0 Watford 2 (31/03/2012) 31/03/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Five Thunks from the final match of an extraordinary March.

1- The day had started in nearby Saltaire.  Strong coffee had been consumed, in an attempt to chase off the night before, from a mug decorated with a Leeds Cityscape.  This was deliberate.  We were having Leeds for breakfast.  See?  Geddit?

Bravado in part. The sort of thing you can indulge in when before Easter and contrary to all expectation you find yourselves comfortably in mid-table without an awful lot hanging on the result.  Good job really, since Elland Road hasn’t traditionally been a successful venue.  We last won here on our first League visit, on the way to the play-offs in 1988/89… since then the general way of things has been that if we play well we get a point, if we play badly we get stuffed.  Actually in 2006 we played well and lost anyway.

Despite which, by 4.45 with Big Chris (of whom more later) finally finishing the contest, we looked to our right and saw the Elland Road stands emptying (see above).  Leeds had been utterly vanquished;  not dominated throughout, we didn’t murder them.  But we beat them, thoroughly, convincingly, deservedly.  The exodus brought back memories of the closing minutes of a previous trip to Yorkshire to face a Colin team and was equally symbolic.  Despite the prospect of five minutes of injury time, the game was over.

The play-offs loom into view.  Still six points off, they remain a very long shot… we would need to extend what is already an impressive run of form over six games, five of which against teams above us in the table.  If we make it, we’ll have bloody earned it.  And at the moment, there’s a furious focus that’s evocative of the manager’s finest moments on the playing staff. You wouldn’t quite write it off…

2- Because above everything, this win was about discipline.

At the outset there was a hearty ovation for Robbo (a muted one for Webber, a muttering for Bromby).  And before we knew it we were ahead… Leeds’ defence had already fallen open once before Deeney’s industry opened a gap for Iwelumo to finish tidily.  Yes, really.

Briefly, another Bristol City was on the cards… a game where our opposition’s ineptitude was such that all we had to do was keep our cool and keep our shape.  It was never quite that easy after the opening five minutes;  for all of Colin’s smokescreen comments post-match, we had to work very hard for this in the end.  The discipline came in retention of our shape, it’s true, but we take that for granted now.  It came in not reacting to Warnock twice threatening to combust in apoplexy on the sidelines.  Most of all, it came in not being provoked into a nasty scrap that would have lit a fire underneath the home crowd.  You remember That Tranmere Game? When Tranmere had a lead but couldn’t bring themselves to play it cool?  This Watford performance is what they should have done, and history would have taken a very different course if they had.

So… Robbo went through Jonathan Hogg, we briefly bayed for a red card until we identified the perpetrator.  Becchio came off demonstrably worse in an early clash with the imperious Martin Taylor, spent five or ten minutes testing how much the referee was going to let him get away with and then disappeared into Taylor’s pocket for the afternoon, the big centre-back refusing to react to one or two stray elbows.  Michael Brown was completely shackled by Hogg; always destined to play for Leeds at some point, Brown is a nasty little shitbag and “used his experience” to test our composure.  He failed.  Adam Clayton, already on a yellow, kicked out at John Eustace and somehow escaped a red card;  Paul Connolly, finally, saw red for a second bad-tempered yellow late on.  Through all of this, our composure didn’t waver one iota.  Admirable stuff.

And the final demonstration of this composure came late, that Iwelumo goal.  Leeds’ defence, wobbly throughout, panicked as we received the ball in the area.  We played the ball around, finding passes on the edge of the box but no clear sight of goal.  “Shoot!” we implore.  “Put your laces through it” bellows someone.  We play it back, we keep possession.  In the stands we console ourselves with the knowledge that a goal up in the dying minutes, that’s all we need to do.  Leeds push out… and then suddenly Sean Murray has nipped in down the right flank and Leeds know they’ve been watching the wrong hand, a conjurer’s trick.  Deeney’s shot is blocked, but there’s only one place this is ending up, and only one team going to win this game.

3- Earlier in the half, two pivotal moments.  Tomasz Kuszczak, given the bird throughout by the home fans for his Old Trafford affiliation, produced two astonishing stops to deny first a fierce low header from Alex Bruce then the follow-up drive from Snodgrass.  The mark of a fine keeper; little got as far as Kuszczak for all that Leeds had spells of pressure, but he pulled out two stunning stops to keep us in the game, much of the rest of which he spent energetically exhorting the away support to greater efforts.

Then Tom Lees, Leeds’ last man, slipped inexplicably giving Deeney a clear run on goal.  Anything that can be achieved through sheer hard work you can count on Troy to deliver.  Occasionally, as at Ipswich, he’s capable of brilliance.  Give him time to think though and… things are a little less convincing.  With the freedom of half the pitch and too much time to consider the situation few in the away end would have been expecting a clinical finish;  Deeney’s first shot was saved, the follow up drifted across the face of goal.

Two incidents.  Deeney’s miss could have been pivotal, Leeds rallied in the aftermath  but Deeney’s head didn’t drop and within seconds he was onto another through ball, barging out a chance he had no right to.  But Leeds… the belief wasn’t there, and whilst there were further attempts at goal after Kuszczak’s double save their heads had dropped.

4- For all that Leeds gave us a tougher game than Bristol, they were nonetheless a disappointing shambles.  In Becchio and Brown, as suggested above, they have players who conform to a tradition associated both with their club and current manager.  And yet… as the home fans exhorted their team to “get in-to them” in the second half, as my brother pointed out, you wondered… with what, exactly?  Their tough guys, their hard men, were already under wraps.  Snodgrass, comfortably the stand out play and switching flanks frequently, a theoretical threat kept at arms length by an aggressive performance from Doyley and, after a wobbly start, a stout showing from former Leeds loan Carl Dickinson.  Most of all, defensively Leeds were all over the place and could have been more severely punished.  Both full backs picking up yellows put them under pressure, and Colin had already telegraphed Tom Lees’ vulnerability by switching him to full-back at Millwall to protect him from Darius Henderson.  Forced back into the centre by O’Dea’s suspension he utterly failed to contain Deeney.  But partner Alex Bruce had the tougher task…

5- Because Chris Iwelumo’s contribution stretched well beyond the two key details.  A disciplined performance from the whole side today, that’s the bottom line.  Rewarded with a victory was celebrated with real relish on the way into the tunnel in front of us, not least by the manager.  Good individual performances throughout the side.

But Big Chris was in a league of his own.  We spent the first half of the season wondering how a striker who had scored so many goals at this level, and caused us problems on countless previous occasions, could look so ineffective.  “His legs have gone,” was the popular explanation, but we’ve said that about John Eustace before and been dramatically, decisively wrong then too.  Iwelumo’s form over the last month has been excellent and here he was utterly unplayable, every inch the centre-forward we thought we’d signed in the summer.  Marking Chris must be a bit like marking a steamroller;  you might keep up with him, but forget about stopping him moving in whichever direction he wants to move.  Ally this with a new-found nimbleness apparently borne of the fitness that comes with regular match time and suddenly, unexpectedly, it’s not overstating the situation to suggest that Watford has a new hero.  Big Chris won every header from the first moment to the last, completely dominating however many markers ventured in his direction. An absolute monster against little boys.  The most significant contribution to a very fine afternoon indeed.

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Comments»

1. Norwayhornet - 31/03/2012

always look forward to reading your thunks!

2. Roger Smith - 01/04/2012

Insightful as ever, Matt, but you might also have mentioned the 569 of you that shelled out big money to support the team. Congrats to all of you. I’m just so glad that you got your money’s worth.

Let’s hope for a big crowd next Friday, and that we really get behind the team, including big Chris. The dream is still alive!

3. yellowyell - 01/04/2012

Wish I went.

Some classic Colin here –
http://soundcloud.com/billy-leeds-1/warnock-post-watford

4. Simmos - 01/04/2012

I suspect that like most I heard the game on 3CR and if the 569 hadn’t made any noise it would have been a library. Great result great effort by those that made the trip.

Although I don’t want to fool myself into thinking it may be possible but could either the Burnley or Leicester games be this season’s Tranmere. Also bear in mind that we are wearing red shorts.

Matt Rowson - 01/04/2012

The red short point is so painfully obvious that anyone who hasn’t noticed already is beyond sensible communication. DM.

5. Scully - 01/04/2012

Great report and another win especially against dirty Leeds (70’s hangover). Big Chris looks and sounds like a late runner for Player of season?
Now bring on the Formby’s next Friday.

Leggatts 'orn - 01/04/2012

So after that surely Dyche’s name is already engraved on the March MotM trophy. Where does that leave us then? The dreaded curse and a season that drifts away to nothing, or the footballing gods saying, “that’ll be a decent laugh..”. we’ll stick Watford against Birmingham in the play offs, that was a bit of a giggle last time. Personally, I’d take finishing above Cardiff as a good result. Lots of the mythical “six pointers” coming up for the teams who are fancying a tilt at the play offs, who’s got the bottle, who’s up for the fight? No one said being a Watford fan is easy, but I have to say at the moment it is an awful lot of fun.

6. Nick - 01/04/2012

Another brilliant result and its great to see iwelumo looking like a footballer at last. All this without mariappa at centre back.

7. Lincoln Hornet - 02/04/2012

Nice to hear Colin calling us a “streetwise Championship side”. Who would of thought people would have been calling us that at the start of the season. U ‘orns

8. Roy Moore - 02/04/2012

Excellent read.

9. Kris - 02/04/2012

What a fantastic turn-around from our early-season form to what we are seeing now. It is incredible to think we’re within a realistic (if somewhat hopeful) stab at the play-offs.

My goals for the season were:
1. Survive in the Championship
2. Do better points-wise than last season
3. Finish above Cardiff
4. play-offs
5. promotion

I was thinking the first one was achievable – the second highly unlikely given our departures and the rest completely unrealistic. Now in April and the unrealistic goals are still up for grabs – I can’t help but think that even if we lose our remaining games we’ve still done very well this season – and I hope everyone can acknowledge that – even if end up with a losing streak.

But man do I hope we can finish above Cardiff!

COYH!

10. Dave - 02/04/2012

Thunks are what make Monday mornings bearable. Great write up as usual 🙂

11. graham - 02/04/2012

Saltaire ? Well, I know what you are talking about but I’m sure nobody else will !
Worth name-checking the referee for future reference; he was unobtrusive, assertive and got everything right ! Contributed significantly to what my brethren and sistren on the WML have celebrated as a righteous and wicked weekend

Matt Rowson - 02/04/2012

Indeed. Paul Tierney. Leeds didn’t seem as keen for some reason…

12. Fran - 02/04/2012

Interesting that our last win was in 88. I was reminiscing about that game on Saturday. The most frightened I have ever been at a football match.

Agree with everything you say, Matt. Deeney leaving Robbo on his backside will live long in the memory and big Chris was magnificent.

13. nw6hornet - 02/04/2012

Our end of season form last year was appalling, and there seemed to be a general consensus that this was at least in part down to the number of games that so many young players had to play.

I know there are many who are disappointed with the way Dyche reshaped the squad in the summer and the limited role that many of the young players that we saw last season have had this time round. However, he has acknowledged the problem that we had at the end of last season, decided how he wanted to rectify it, and one year on, we are going into the last month of the season not only in our best form of the year, but in the best current form in the division.

I share many people’s frustration that we haven’t seen as much of one or two young players as we’d have liked (noting as many others have that many of them seem to have gone backwards this year), and I do think that the shift needn’t have been quite so dramatic, but I’m sure Dyche feels somewhat vindicated by the recent run of results.

As Lincoln Hornet said above, “streetwise Championship side” isn’t a term that would have been used to describe Mackay’s Watford.

Now, with six games to go do we give some of those youngsters some game time or do we give the whole “play-off push” everything we’ve got?

Matt Rowson - 02/04/2012

Two things… firstly, slightly pedantically, our performances at the end of last season were much better than our results. This game last season, Leicester, QPR at home, Norwich at home for example yielded two points in the run in for some pretty decent performances. The “we fell apart at the end of the season” thing is a bit overstated for me. Danny Graham took his foot off. Yes, we tired a bit. But we slipped down to 14th from 8th or 9th with the play-offs gone. It wasn’t a disaster.

As for this season… Sean deserves huge credit for this season however it plays out, but the outcome doesn’t vindicate the approach as a strategy, for me. If, and it’s a big If, the youngsters benefit from the more cautious approach and re-emerge in the longer run, then he’ll be vindicated.

But the approach we’ve taken this season cannot be a viable long-term strategy. You don’t get the sort of income we enjoyed last summer every year. We can’t pretend that we’re going to compete with many clubs at this level for signings at this level when we go head to head. So even if one says that Sean and Watford made some good buys over the summer, you can’t plan as if that’s going to continue. In future years we won’t have the same money to spend and sooner or later we’re going to get it wrong with signings, simply because our budget means we won’t be able to compete. You can’t then turn the tap of young players back on.

Where we do have a competitive advantage is with Harefield and the Academy. Nobody else has got that, few have got anything like it. For me that HAS to go hand in hand with giving kids a run in the first team – last season’s approach – and accepting the limitations and fluctuations in form that come with that. What money we spend we spend fewer, better players that aren’t going to obstruct a route to the first team for a youngster through weight of numbers. Sean Murray has done extremely well, but he was demonstrably ready. I’d rather we were playing a few more that weren’t QUITE the finished article; only with lots of kids in the team do we present a consistent picture which says to kids and their families, “Look, Harefield, time with coaches, emphasis on learning, no buggering around travelling from pillar to post, and by the way you’ll get a chance in the first team when the time comes too”.

That’s our edge on anyone in this division, and indeed in the top flight because no top flight team will offer that platform for young players. In the long term, without having to rely on luck every summer, that’s the way to play it irrespective of what has happened this year.

nw6hornet - 02/04/2012

Thanks Matt, fair points that I largely agree with. I didn’t agree 100% with SD’s transfer strategy in the summer and my post above was a sort of message to myself 8 months ago, showing that maybe I’d judged too soon. Your comments have made me think that now maybe I’ve swung too far in the opposite direction.

However, to continue to play devil’s advocate…

We ended last season losing six of nine, with just one win. Performances aside, that is a bad series of results, and it is a side capable of getting results that Dyche has set out to build. Being slightly pedantic myself, that’s the weakness he highlighted – not any drop in the level of performances – and the one he has sought to redress. I’m not saying we’re playing better football than this time last year, but we are being a more effective Championship side.

If it is accepted (and it shouldn’t be taken as read, but it is certainly SD’s view) that we had a problem due to too many young players playing too many games, that could quite conceivably have carried over into this season, and something did need to be done, especially given the losses of Graham, Cowie and Buckley.

As it happens, SD’s summer signings have been, let’s say mixed, and the players who have made the biggest difference (Hogg aside) have been loans (Kightly, Kacaniclic, Nosworthy, Kuszczak).

I agree that this can’t be a long-term strategy, and I don’t think it will be a long-term strategy, because (a) we won’t have the funds, and (b) as someone who knows Watford and has worked with the youth team, I hope that SD understands the importance of the academy to this club. I don’t envisage anywhere near the same sort of turnover this year (or any year where we don’t change manager).

I’m not sure what conclusion to draw at the end of all of this. I guess a good question is: what do I want to see next season? I think the answer is stability, and more young players. Hodson over Dickinson (I know we were crying out for a LB last year, but being left-footed is irrelevant if you can’t defend. Or cross). Bennett and Thompson as back-up to whichever two of Mariappa/Taylor/Nosworthy are still here. Murray – always, and sometimes in the middle. Assombalonga and/or Massey as part of the regular rotation of strikers. Would you go further? How many changes to Saturday’s starting line-up would you want to see come August?

Matt Rowson - 02/04/2012

No question that Sean has made us tougher. It’s a short term benefit though… unless we DO get promotion. The kids played last year would have been stronger this, and the point was that we were worth more than six defeats in nine. So I don’t accept that pursuing the same path as last year would have relegated us (although there’s no doubt that players needed to come in given Graham, Cowie, Buckley). The point of my earlier post was the long game. You need a consistent culture of bringing kids through. That’s how we continue to compete, that’s how we attract the next Murray. Would we have lost 6 in 9 with him playing?

Next season… I would like to see fewer recruits, quality over quantity. I think the balance was too far the other way last summer. Individuals… I don’t know really. Whichelow is the obvious miss as NRC says below, but it’s daft to champion him (or anyone else) if their attitude might not be right. I’d like to see the ethos drifting back to where it was first and foremost, an opportunity for youngsters to play and a keenness to give them a go.

None of which should detract from Sean having done very well indeed. I fundamentally disagree with the path he took, but he’s made a good fist of it. I just don’t think we can plan on that success continuing by pursuing the same strategy and, to refer to your earlier point, you can’t pursue the “journeymen” route (summarising crudely) and then return to the kids route when the money runs out. A reputation like ours is easily lost, I suspect.

NRC - 02/04/2012

Agree wholeheartedly Matt. Mention too for Assombalonga though. We’ll never know I guess, but what might Whichelow have done with a run? His time with WW seemed a failure, but did he feel frozen out?

SD is a new manager and learning. He’s made a number of brave decisions during the course of the season, not least replacing Loach, which (Southampton notwithstanding) marked the beginning of the current good spell. Is there a ‘second season’ syndrome, like the ‘difficult second album’?

What fun!

Kris - 03/04/2012

Great comment Matt. I have asked your opinion about the current team a few times this season but your comment above illustrates why you are the one co-commentating and I am the one following online from afar.

You are absolutely right that it is short term vs. long term. And I completely agree that in the long-term, being acknowledged as a team which allows youngsters to experience first team football sooner rather than later is a competitive advantage we’d hold over other teams at our level and above.

For me it is about finding the best compromise – a mix which allows us to remain competitive (and by this I mean “able to stay in this league”) while still playing our youngsters.

This does however require that we all accept that bottom-half is our natural level and we also must allow our to fail without the verbal abuse that seems to be common-place when one of our players hit a bad patch. Playing many youngsters demands more of the fans – are we ready for that?

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2012

I don’t necessarily buy your last comment. If we’re bringing through kids of the quality of Murray, Hodson, Thompson, why do we then need to accept this limitation? If we’re trying to BUY a team with a limited budget, that surely is more a more logical obstacle to any ambition.

I also think that our kids get more leeway for bad performances. More so than similarly young players (Forsyth a good example) who come in from elsewhere.

Cheers for the compliments.

JohnF - 02/04/2012

I would agree with Matt and others on this. What have we got to offer over bigger PL clubsother than a good training and an early opportunity of first team football. For example is Hodsen really being rested for his good or is it to have more “streetwise” players in the team. If we do not make the play-offs, which is very unlikely, then is this opportunity wasted.

As far as Whichelow is concerned, he started briliiantly at WW and then rapidly disappeared. WW fans thought they had got a jewell that then was shown to be just a pebble. However, The reduction in substitutes has been a real restriction and things may well have been a bit different otherwise.

14. Sophie - 02/04/2012

Obligatory yellow and being floored by Deeney aside, how was Robbo, Matt? Have his legs actually gone?

Matt Rowson - 02/04/2012

I trust we’re referring to his contribution on the pitch Sophie? You’ll forgive me if I pass judgement on anything else…

Um. Difficult to judge. He was exposed once or twice but had a young lad in front of him who got a whack and was taken off at half time; they then changed their shape so I’m not sure how much protection he was getting and he was part of a wobbly defence which is hard for an on-loan full back to dominate I would guess. When we got in down the right it was Lloyd overlapping, and that’s as much a team thing to cover as the fullback’s.

And frankly, after Big Chris’ performances in the last few weeks I’m never going to accuse anyone’s legs of having gone again. Ever.

15. nw6hornet - 02/04/2012

On a separate note – I think I’ve only ever posted here once before but I’ve read every single entry on BHaPPY and wanted to thank you and ig – I’m sure there are many more like me out there who equally never comment but appreciate the writings and ramblings. I think what triggered me to comment now was a sort of confusion – about really starting to like a lot of this team and wanting to keep them together next year, but also wanting to see more academy players break through. I’m glad a forum for identity crises like these exists.

Matt Rowson - 02/04/2012

Thx. 🙂

Ed - 05/04/2012

… and so say all of us.

16. atrebatus - 02/04/2012

A good read, thanks. I was very cross that the very next day Southampton lost, results like that don’t help our late late push.

Matt Rowson - 02/04/2012

Indeed. Although it does set up Friday as a sort of “are we up for this or not” game doesn’t it? Blackpool are on a good run, if we beat them in the light of the game you mention it might be difficult to not get carried away…

Harefield Hornet - 03/04/2012

We would have to win our remaining 6 games and rely on too many above us getting poor results. With many of them playing each other it’s practically impossible. Still a welcome and unexpectedly brilliant end to the season though! – and still doesn’t prevent me looking at the league table six times a day though! – Not sure what Big Chris is on but I definitely need some!

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2012

It’s a very tall order, but not entirely for the reasons you suggest. The biggest obstacle is that we’ll have to extend an already impressive run against sides above us in the table.

But you’re overstating the scale of the obstacle presented by the number of other teams involved. If we’re still six points off after the weekend, with four games to go then sure. But if every result fell for us we could be top six by Tuesday. Not every result WILL fall for us, of course, but the point is that six games is still plenty of time. We “just” need to keep this ludicrous run up.

Very enjoyable though, I agree.

17. Lincoln Hornet - 03/04/2012

One or two of you have mentioned previous defeats and our bad record at Elland Road but do many of you remember the game during the season we got promoted, culminating in beating Dirty Leeds at Cardiff. If I remember rightly it was Valentines Day and we lost the game 2-0 and ended up with 9 men having lost Doris to a stray left hook and one other who I can’t remember.
My point is I thought this game summed up everything that was good about that promotion winning side, and indeed all that was good about Boothroyd at the time. We had lost the game but we had hung onto Leeds until the dying minutes when they converted their second goal, valliantly with 9 men. At the final whistle instead of the usual half hearted applause from the players and dissapearing down the tunnel Boothroyd ran over with the players towards the fans, fists clenched and saluting the fans as if we’d just won 3-0. It was as if he knew what was going to happen in May that year.
He may have lost his way in the end but I always remember that moment and think in some way it was maybe partly responsible for us getting up that year, and of course it was Leeds who we ultimately took our revenge on in Cardiff.
Happy memories and it just goes to show that some defeats do have a silver lining.

Matt Rowson - 04/04/2012

2006 Lincoln, and the game was briefly referred to in thunk 1.

Report here: http://www.bsad.org/0506/reports/leeds/ar1.html

18. Sequel - 04/04/2012

In the last 3 seasons, a sixth place finish required 70, 74 and 75 points respectively. We’re currently on 57 points with 6 to play, so historically, it’s mathematically possible. Or something like that.

Harefield Hornet - 04/04/2012

We’ve just got to beat the 5 teams above us plus Peterborough and hope a few other results go our way – piece of cake really! A few of those above us have been experiencing the jitters so anything is possible.

19. lukefairweather - 04/04/2012

True we have to beat a lot of teams above us in the leage, but none whatsoever above us in the form table!
Luke


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