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the square ball week: nothing to fear

the square ball week: nothing to fear

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Millwall, Bournemouth, Derby. I would not want to read this holiday brochure any further. You don’t always get a choice about where you go, though: “I went for work,” is the weary explanation of many a weary traveller. And work is what Leeds have got to do. At least Bournemouth are coming to us.

Reading, Burnley and Newcastle don’t have much glamour either, but what those three games have done is halt Leeds United progress. We weren’t exactly on a charge before, but being unbeaten in six in all competitions, with four wins under our belt before August was over, meant chests were puffed out and bit of swagger was back.

September has been a tougher month. QPR was the pivot point; they’re clear at the top of the table now, four wins and two draws the reward for having loads of cash to chuck around, although they’d have two fewer points if Rudy’s last minute strike had been a whisper lower. Since then it’s been hard going. 

Bolton was an unusually old-school Arsenal style performace, an early set-piece goal and eighty minutes of defending got a win against the league’s bottom club. Reading was more old school Leeds, though, with the last minute slap to our cheek, not their’s, just like it always used to be, while against Burnley things just didn’t work. The chance count was decent, the finishing was not. It would have been ideal to go straight from there to Millwall, but we had to go up the A1 (and back down the back roads) and get beaten there to boot.

You can expect Manish’s brow to furrow as he makes his introduction to the highlights of our game on the Football League Show tomorrow night. “Expectations are always high at Leeds,” he’ll say, “But after a good early start Brian McDermott’s men have found life in the Championship tough going of late.” Seriously, I can do the script if they want. “The Yorkshire club went into today’s game just four places above opponents Millwall.” It writes itself! “After a disastrous month, featuring four defeats in five games.” Cut to Clem, holding a balloon in one hand, a pin in the other, a quizzical look on his mug, a lame line on his lips.

Let the ensuing highlights show, then, Leeds United absolutely battering Millwall. It’s not about it being Millwall – we all know what we’ll get from the most tedious fans in England – it’s about the opportunity to play a team who are obviously not any good and who are there for the taking. Reading still bear McDermott’s imprint and are a good side. Burnley have gathered themselves together under the gravelly charge of Sean Dyche and are a decent bet for promotion. Newcastle are in the Premier League. Chuck in QPR and September was always more about hope than expectation.

That’s not the case from now on. Autumn is well and truly here, and the kinder fixtures now fall before us like dead brown leaves. Millwall: relegation candidates and due a beating. Bournemouth: they’ve no business being above us in the table, and their posh boy manager Eddie Howe proved at Burnley that he can’t hack it in the north. Derby: Nigel Clough has carved a mid-table niche for them while wearing a smug face that fools people into thinking he knows what he’s doing. After them: Birmingham, Huddersfield, Yeovil, Charlton. Bring them all on.

This isn’t to put pressure on the team or the manager; it’s about an honest appraisal of where we are. If QPR, Reading and Burnley are going up, well, we’re not ready to follow them just yet. The one-goal margins of defeat, though, show we’re not far behind. But we have to prove our worth with wins, not defeats; and that means beating teams like Millwall and Yeovil.

And they’re lining up to be beaten. The realism Brian McDermott brings to bear with his demeanour and decisions might limit our giddiness – unless he casually mentions getting a loan striker in, in which case my Becchio posters go straight back on the wall – but surely no Leeds fan can look at the games coming up and not feel optimistic. Alright, we never get a result at Millwall, Derby have got that albino wonderkid, Birmingham are depressing and Huddersfield are annoying. They’re all beatable, though. 

Brian McDermott told the YEP after the Newcastle game, “As we walked off the pitch I said to the players that we have to give them something this season. They deserve something.” That’s maybe the wrong kind of pressure. Leeds shouldn’t be looking for a string of good results in the next month as payment of some sort of debt; there isn’t really any debit due for September, because the defeats were largely the sore luck of the fixture list. United shouldn’t go into October looking to right a wrong.

The players should go into October with the aim of doing only what’s right, and enjoying it while it’s done. Even with its much debated faults, all quite natural in the first months under a new manager, this team is definitely capable of putting a good run together in the next six weeks, and heading into winter with momentum and good form. Millwall, Bournemouth, Derby. Birmingham, Huddersfield, Yeovil. It’s not a pretty list. But there’s nothing there to fear.

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