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the square ball week

the square ball week


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We’ve had a distracting time since last season at Leeds. The glittering baubles of a takeover have been dazzling us since May, while our failure to build a proper squad went unnoticed. The chrome car and chrome mohican of El Hadji Diouf kept us agog, and nobody much cared that his understudy was still in short trousers. Rodolph Austin single handedly took on the job of three midfielders, while somehow Michael Brown snuck back into the side. And now the great conjurer Warnock’s latest sleight of hand is to up-end an old cliche, and he has us all dismissing the league as an unwelcome distraction from the serious business of concentrating on the League Cup. The play-offs? We’ll be in Europe next season!

It’s good to have something, though. In a week during which no goalkeepers were injured and no vile chants chanted, we had to concentrate on the football again. But what passed for football against Birmingham was not enough to hold anyone’s attention. Charlton was bad, but at least we got a point; our habit of picking up scraps in scrappy games ended against Brum, though, to exasperated indifference in the stands. “Flat, rudderless and ridiculously frustrating,” was the verdict at Jenber’s Blog, summing up Leeds United both on and off the pitch. Travels of a Leeds Fan shared in the confusion around Danny Pugh’s sudden inclusion, and hit all the post-match key words: disgruntled, ordinary, lacking spirit and quality. “Leeds fans have nothing to buy into, nothing to believe in,” said Fear and Loathing in LS11: but that’s where the League Cup comes in.

We’ve had some glorious results in the cups in recent seasons, but our sustained stay outside the top flight has meant the nearest we’ve come to a ‘cup run’ has been the tilt for Johnstone’s Paint glory that ended in Carlisle in 2010. But our record in the League Cup so far is now played four, won four, scored twelve, conceded one – a fair bit better than in the league, that’s for sure. Okay, neither Shrewsbury or Oxford were tough opposition, but Everton brought a strong side and Leeds had to dig deep to beat them, while Southampton were dispatched this week with a swagger we’ve haven’t seen enough of in the league.

We have to take a moment to pause and consider The Varney: Football’s Greatest Ever Miss, memorialised by Howson Is Now. That bizarre and stunning moment of unequalled incompetence only brought more derision down on the already much derided Luke Varney, but even he managed to turn in a performance he could be proud of by the end of the night. (But still, next time, just score a goal, you pillock.) Travels of a Leeds Fan heralded the improvements as Leeds ditched the long ball game and played to Varney and Diouf’s strengths up front, and it is odd that Warnock’s players seem to play with greater freedom in the League Cup than in the league itself. It couldn’t just be because Becchio was on the bench, could it? There’s more to our cup run than just tinkling with the line up. The pressure is off in this competition, partly because not all clubs take it too seriously, but there’s also a momentum to our cup performances that is the reverse of the turgidity of the run of the mill matches. Even after the misery of the Charlton and Birmingham games, the attitude was different on Tuesday – did anyone really doubt we were going to beat Southampton?

Of course the draw itself threw up its own kind of obstacle to glory, in the shape of ‘glamourous’ Londoners Chelsea. Really, it was about time. We’ve had Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs in recent seasons, and assuming you don’t count Everton as one of the Premier League ‘Big Few’, only Abramovich’s boys were missing from the complete set. The Scratching Shed drew immediate attention to the obvious downside to drawing this particular team: if ever Ken Bates had a reason to keep hanging around at Leeds, a game against Chelsea – at last! After all these years! – was surely the one thing that would keep him barricaded into his exec suite. His programme notes will probably run to a dozen pages.

While Leeds barrel speedily onwards towards Wembley and the Europa League, GFHC continue to do no more than edge gingerly around the takeover process, as if they’re frightened it might hear them and wake up and tell them off. The drip-drip of information continues on Twitter, where David Haigh tweeted, oh-so cryptically, “Morning from Monaco everyone,” while Timmy Mallet-a-like journo Ben Jacobs reckoned the takeover had “moved from lawyers to bankers,” as if that represented meaningful progress after six months. Is it over? No, it is not over.

Competing with Haigh, Jacobs and co for the media limelight this week was the ever-shy El Hadji Diouf, who told The Independent that, “Everyone wants to beats Leeds because they know it is a big team, and there is a big character on the team: myself,” no doubt blushing like a schoolgirl as he said it. Dioufy might soon need to offer some advice to young Tom Lees about life on the wrong side of the law, although even Diouf might be mystified by the intricacies of the Serbian legal system. Lees has apparently been charged by Serbian police after his part in the under-21s fracas of a few weeks ago, and we’ll have to wait and see whether the days of Lee Bowyer being helicoptered in to matches are due for a repeat if Lees has his day in court.

While Tom remains a free man, he should turn out for Leeds away at Brighton this Friday night, and if you can’t make it down south to see the man himself, I heartily recommend you get along to Billy’s Bar for the launch of the new book by Andrew Dalton and TSB scribe Jon Howe, ‘All White: Leeds United’s 100 Greatest Players.’ The 100 players were voted by the fans, a notoriously fickle bunch, and I’m looking forward to seeing who makes the cut, almost as much as I’m looking forward to the post-League Cup winning edition, where Bremner, Gray, Strachan et al will be joined by our new hero, Luke Varney. Come on. Believe!