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the square ball week

the square ball week


International breaks are hated by top level managers. All their best players disappear to far off lands, their fate given unto untried physios and distractionless hotel rooms; all it takes is one ill-timed tackle from one East European postman, or one late night dispute too many over the communal XBox, and your multi-million pound star striker can be lost to you for three months. In many ways, that Alex Sabella continues to overlook Luciano Becchio is probably for the best.

It helps if you can go into the break after a good result, and while Leeds couldn’t quite get the win against Blackburn Rovers, at least they gave it a bloody good go – in the second half, anyway. The first half was as disjointed a performance as we might have feared against a side just down from the Premier League – no matter how awful and bad they were while there – and who had just added the best striker outside the top flight since Beckford to their attack. Jordan Rhodes wasn’t the problem, really, so much as the lack of understanding between Lee Peltier and El Hadji Diouf down the United right – twice Peltier expected Diouf to track a runner from midfield, twice Diouf failed to do it and left his full back looking like a chump. Peltier was at fault, but at least he was making mistakes while trying to do the right things; Diouf, now with a contract until January, needs to give more to the team than tap ins if this is going to work out.

Diouf’s tap in did set Leeds up for a better second half, in which they got at Blackburn in a whole other way. First was through McCormack, whose scissored volley as he chased a flick on could not have been more sweetly hit or timed; then Becchio kept his strong start to the season going, with another unconventional finish. Against Wolves he executed a perfect ‘Gary Kelly header’ by flying along the floor; this time he watched the ball drop perfectly for a volley into the top corner, but stuck his head on it instead to force it in the net at the Leeds saluting Paul Robinson’s near post. I don’t know if Colin has told Luci to ‘use his head’ more this season, but it’s working and I like it.

I’m less keen on backheeled equalisers, last minute misses, disallowed goals and pig-ignorant refs, but we got all that in the rest of the game too. Jenber’s Blog highlighted that the complaints about the referee shouldn’t mask our struggles in midfield, which left Becchio “to chase long balls which looked to have been primed by Bradley Johnsons GPS.” Fear and Loathing in LS11 did have more to offer on the referee, who was “trotting around the pitch like a Brylcream smothered show pony”; man of the match for Travels of a Leeds Fan, though, was Tom Lees, for efficiently and ruthlessly ruining Jordan Rhodes’s debut.

So enthralling was the 3-3 that the football successfully distracted from the Bates Out/Kean Out angerthons that had been predicted for the stands, but Ken Bates still did his best to put the takeover to the forefront in his programme notes. Both Jenber and F&L note the flabbergasting irony of his demands for proofs of identity, business plans and motives from the potential new owners, all things that Bates himself has denied to give to Leeds fans during his time in charge; and things that, more than three months into the public side of the process, you would think he would have raised by now. Apart from Bates’s bluster, covered further here by The Scratching Shed, things have remained quiet on the takeover front; unless you count social-engineering a player’s Twitter account and feverish speculation around a Thursday meeting, that is. The break afforded by the international week does seem like a natural lull in which to get some takeover completing done and done, but then you could have said the same about pretty much any week during June, July or August, too.

It is still possible to find some solace away from the business side in the actual football, even without a Leeds game. The days when Thorp Arch would empty and the first team, the reserves, and half the youth side would be away with their countries have gone, but there are still a handful in action this week. Tom Lees is the most notable new name in line for England honours, as he has been called up for the Under 21s; he didn’t feature against Azerbaijan on Thursday night, but England’s place comfortably at the top of their qualifying group might mean a run out against Norway on Monday. Aidy White did play on Thursday night, clocking up another appearance for Ireland’s U21s against Hungary, but their 2-1 defeat ended their qualification hopes before Monday’s match with Italy. For the full internationals, Ross McCormack will hope to follow up his goal against Australia with more in the World Cup Qualifiers against Serbia and Macedonia; while Rodolph Austin will become Leeds’ newest full international by playing in Jamaica’s home and away qualifiers against the USA.

The Beast’s 32nd and 33rd caps will earn him a place on Howson Is Now’s fantastic graphic of every United international from 1992-2012; assuming Eamo can bring himself to disturb its fine graphical balance by adding Jamaica to the mix, that is. Even without Rodolph, we still advise you to click that thing for full size and then set it as your desktop; where else will you see Tony Yeboah and Tresor Kandol side by side? And while you’re downloading things, don’t forget about the latest episode of The Square Ball podcast. It features a rigorous preview of the Blackburn game – ahem – along with a possibly even more rigorous look back at Leeds players we and our listeners just never took to. In other words, there’s a lot of ranting about Carlton Palmer on there.