These are the sort of questions playing on the minds of Leeds United fans as the Championship campaign goes by with the same sufferable outcome, another season of mid-table mediocrity.
After the poor 2011/12 season, Neil Warnock promised an overhaul of the squad with fresh faces to pull the team out of the second tier of English football and back to where they belong. He even starred in a promotional video for the new kit with the “new shirt, new start” slogan building up the fans hopes of reviving their Premier League status.
With the takeover talk looming over the entire summer, Warnock was left to rummage through the bargain bin. The calibre of players was worse than the standard seen under Simon Grayson in League One, with four of the signings coming from recently relegated Portsmouth. But, that wasn’t the worst of it. The sale of the clubs best player and captain Robert Snodgrass left not only the fans fuming, but Warnock too. He constantly talked up the need of funds to bolster his squad, but the newly crowned ‘President’ Ken Bates threw out his demands. It left Warnock calling for the help of El Hadji Diouf, a man he once described as a sewer rat.
But on the pitch Leeds opened the season well, a demolition on Shrewsbury in the League Cup, followed by an impressive 1-0 victory of Wolves, it seemed as if this could be the year Leeds push onwards and upwards. But that in fact, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. The league form fluctuated, a lack of consistency left Leeds chasing the pack.
The worse came in a 6-1 home defeat to Watford, a loss which struck a sense of déjà vu amongst the fans after Warnock had previously stated a Leeds team would never be humiliated again like the 7-3 defeat to Nottingham Forrest the previous year. Warnock became increasingly under scrutiny. Even the completion of the takeover, a saga which had lasted 7 months, couldn’t turn all the fans.
The team performed admirably in the cup competitions before the Christmas period, defeating Premier League Everton and Southampton, before the Eden Hazard show lead to an unreflective 5-1 battering by Chelsea. But the festival programme in the league did not follow suit, as the mediocre results left Leeds losing more ground on the play-off hunters.
Warnock’s days seemed numbered from then on, promotion was looking unlikely and his ideas were wearing thin. January saw a 2-0 away loss to strugglers and Yorkshire rivals Barnsley, with the fans letting Warnock know exactly what they thought of him. He showed too much loyalty to his old guard, sending Everton’s hot prospect Ross Barkley back to his parent club as he couldn’t guarantee him game time over Michael ‘Browneh’ Brown and Michael ‘Tongeh’ Tonge. The transfer request and sale of tally man Luciano Becchio, which brought the disappointing Steve Morison to the club, left the writing on the wall for Warnock; it was just a matter of when.
The shock 2-1 win over high-flying Spurs in the FA Cup did nothing for the league campaign as results were constantly disappointing, and after the next rounds 4-0 annihilation by Manchester City, Warnock knew himself his tenure was drawing to a close.
A small green patch of results, followed by hugely disappointing displays against Ipswich and Derby, left Leeds out of reach of the play-offs, and only a whisker away from the bottom three. Warnock ‘mutually agreed’ to leave, claiming he could go with his head held high. No manager, no form, no confidence; it began to look like a relegation battle.
But then the club made a massive announcement.
On Friday 12th April it was announced Brian McDermott would be taking over as manager. The signing was seen as a huge coup as McDermott, who was unfairly stripped of his duties at Reading, is known as a well-respected, highly talented and ambitious manager. And he wasted no time getting involved as he was down in the dug-out for Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday’s visit to Elland Road the following day, a game Leeds won 2-1.
McDermott brought with him his ‘entertaining’ football philosophy, and the changes were evident from day one. The hoof ball tactics of Warnock were gone; Leeds United were actually passing the ball around and team began to prosper from it. Even Luke Varney began to be cherished by the fans. The season finished with a dramatic 2-1 victory over promotion chasers Watford, but left Leeds yet again in the wilderness of 13th place
Amongst a lot of negatives however, there are a few positives. Sam Byram has been exceptional throughout the entire campaign, keeping club captain Lee Peltier out of his natural right back position. The 19 year old is a fantastic prospect, along with midfielder Chris Dawson, who plays with the confidence and guile of Luka Modric.
But as Leeds fans say every May, let us hope and pray it is different next season.
Written by Josh Westerman, We Are Going Up’s Leeds United blogger
As a Leeds fan, the BBC’s The Four Year Plan documentary left two over-riding thoughts.
The first – if only.
If only a businessman such as Amit Bhatia and his investors resided in the boardroom at Elland Road, in place of the current regime. If only we had an ambitious owner with the ability to lure lucrative sponsors, rather than little-known ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers and a desire to develop a relationship between the club and its supporters, instead of dismissing any fan who criticises the owner as a ‘dissident’ or ‘moron’.
The second thought was a little more encouraging – Neil Warnock.
Walking through the corridors of QPR’s training ground on his first day, he gestured towards a sign on the dressing room door, which proclaimed ‘WINNERS ONLY’.
“We’ll have to take that off,” he said.
His first few months in charge at Loftus Road were about small changes, which had big effects. Aside from tweaking the playing staff, the vast majority of his success in keeping the club in the division came by instilling belief in his players. He seemingly received more commitment and passion from the squad than they had mustered during the club’s entire turbulent period of managerial changes.
The documentary aired during a time where Neil Warnock is attempting to save Leeds United’s season and lead the club on to similar success. A playing squad low on confidence, a defence near incapable of protecting a clean sheet and a group of supporters left disillusioned by an owner who threatens to leave them alienated from the club they love.
If Saturday’s performance against league-leaders Southampton was anything to go by, Warnock has already set about making changes, not only tactically, but also psychologically. Installing Robert Snodgrass as Leeds captain was something many supporters had expected Simon Grayson to do upon Jonny Howson’s departure. Aside from his sizable talent, Snodgrass encompasses everything a Leeds supporter demands from players – passion and pride.
Before Saturday’s fixture, Warnock had mentioned on a number of occasions that he wants to lead his side out to a packed-out Elland Road. The attendance fell well short last weekend, but if the side are capable of recreating one of the most exciting and promising performances since the 4-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest several months back, those watching on Sky back at home will surely swap their sofas for the stands.
The result seemed irrelevant. Similarly, a 0-0 draw away at Hull City on Tuesday feels likes progress, as after many months of negativity and bitterness emanating from the chairman’s office and translating onto the pitch, the focus seems to be back on the football itself. The Elland Road crowd were back on side, producing the noise and the support with which the stadium is synonymous.
Campaigns by the LUFC Trust are as likely to continue as the chairman is likely to shift blame upon others in his programme notes, but for now at least, it’s exciting to have the focus, at least on a match day, back on winning games and taking steps towards getting back into the Premier League.
Written by Pete Allison, We Are Going Up’s Leeds United blogger
FA Cup third round day is a key fixture of the post-Christmas football calendar. Held on the first weekend in January, the third round is where the big sides from the top two divisions enter the competition.
In the earlier preliminary rounds, plus the first and second rounds teams from all over the country have fought to get this far, in the hope of securing a money-spinning tie and having a chance of upsetting one of the heavyweights.
League form goes out of the window on third round weekend as teams from the lower leagues take on some of the country’s most decorated sides. This stage of the competition has become famous for throwing up its fair share of shocks down the years, with underdogs upsetting the odds. Here’s ten Football League sides who did just that….
10: Liverpool 1 Reading 2 2010
In January 2010, Championship strugglers Reading forced a 1-1 draw against Liverpool at the Madejski Stadium to earn a replay at Anfield 11 days later – where it was expected the home side would win.
However Reading had other ideas. Despite falling behind when Ryan Bertrand unluckily deflected Steven Gerrard’s cross into his own net a minute into first-half injury time, the Royals held their own against Rafa Benitez’s side. With 91 minutes on the clock, a throw in led to Reading striker Shane Long being fouled in the Liverpool penalty area, winning a dramatic late penalty for the visitors. Gylfi Sigurdsson stepped up, sent goalkeeper Cavalieri the wrong way to force extra-time.
Having saved themselves, Reading then took the lead with ten minutes of extra-time remaining. Brynjar Gunnarsson nutmegged Emiliano Insua down the right hand side and sent in a cross which Long met with a glancing header into the far corner in front of the Kop. Liverpool were unable to find an equaliser as Reading held on to win 2-1 as Anfield was left stunned.
9: Manchester United 0 Leeds United 1 2010
When League One Leeds United travelled to Old Trafford to face great rivals and reigning Premier League champions Manchester United in the 2010 third round, a rivalry was rekindled. The tie evoked memories of the beginning of the century when the two were challenging at the top of the Premiership, but was also a reminder of how far Leeds had fallen since.
At the time of this match Leeds were seeking promotion to the Championship, with Jermaine Beckford’s goals keeping them in the hunt. The striker would produce the one crucial moment against United, as his goal in front of the Stretford End gave Leeds a memorable victory and progress into the fourth round. An historic result too as it was the first time United were knocked out at this stage under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson.
8: Burnley 1 Liverpool 0 2005
This game was memorable not only for Burnley’s unexpected win, but the comical own goal which gave them their victory. Liverpool travelled to Turf Moor for this third round tie but failed to put in a meaningful performance, and were punished.
After a first-half in which Burnley were the better side, the Clarets took the lead six minutes after the break when Richard Chaplow rolled a low cross into the Liverpool penalty area from the left, and Reds full-back Djimi Traore thought he was Zinedine Zidane, with disastrous consequences. The defender tried to turn as he controlled the ball, only to complete a dragback on the spin which ended up with the ball rolling into the back of his own net. A ridiculous goal which gifted Burnley a place in the fourth round.
7: Bournemouth 2 Manchester United 0 1984
In January 1984 Manchester United entered the 1983/84 FA Cup third round as holders, having beaten Brighton and Hove Albion in the 1983 final. Their defence of the triphy began with what seemed a straightforward trip to Third Division Bournemouth. The Cherries were near the bottom of the league and United had lost just once on the road that season, with the likes of Bryan Robson, Arnold Muhren and Frank Stapleton in their team. Bournemouth’s manager was Harry Redknapp, three months into his first managerial position.
United failed to offer much during the game and went behind on the hour after goalkeeper Gary Bailey fumbled a cross. Milton Graham was on hand to score and send 16,000 fans at Dean Court into raptures. Four minutes later Ian Thompson added a second goal and sealed a well-deserved 2-0 win for Bournemouth.
6: Sunderland 1 Notts County 2 2010
When former Manchester United team-mates Paul Ince and Steve Bruce went head-to-head in the dugout in January 2010, it was the former who earned the bragging rights, as Ince’s League One strugglers Notts County secured a memorable 2-1 success over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
It was Notts who took the lead five minutes in when Craig Westcarr’s flick was fumbled into his own net by Black Cats goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and despite some efforts at goal in reply, Sunderland could not find a goal and fell further behind with fifteen minutes to go. County striker Lee Hughes saw his first effort saved by Mignolet but tucked in the rebound from an acute angle to make the game more comfortable for the visitors.
Darren Bent pulled a goal back from the penalty spot on 81 minutes, but it was not enough as Notts secured an impressive victory.
5: Everton 0 Oldham Athletic 1 2008
Four years ago Oldham Athletic from League One pulled off one of the shocks of that year’s FA Cup by beating Everton at Goodison Park. Everton were flying-high in the Premier League and Oldham were mid-table in the third tier but it was John Sheridan’s team who prevailed thanks to a stunning 25-yard strike from Gary McDonald seconds before half-time.
Everton pushed for an equaliser, Yakubu hitting the post deep into the second-half, but Oldham’s lead remained comfortable and their strong rearguard display saw them through to the fourth round at the expense of David Moyes’ side.
4: Swindon Town 2 Wigan Athletic 1 2012
Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon Town side gave us one of the shocks of this year’s third round, as they came from behind to beat Premier League Wigan Athletic at the County Ground.
Callum McManaman looked to be setting the visitors on course for victory when he tucked home the rebound after Ben Watson’s penalty kick came back out off the post, but the League Two hosts fought back. Five minutes before the break, Alan Connell glanced a header into the far corner of the net from Matt Ritchie’s right-wing cross to level matters going into half-time.
Swindon continued to hold their own against Roberto Martinez’s Latics and got their reward fifteen minutes from the end. A 25-yard shot from Ritchie deflected off the legs of striker Paul Benson and rolled into the back of the net with Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi stranded. Swindon held on to defeat a side three leagues above them to the joy of the capacity crowd at the final whistle.
3: Stevenage 3 Newcastle United 1 2011
The 2011 third round draw pitted Stevenage against Newcastle United, rekindling memories of the time when the two met at the fourth round in 1998, where a goal from Giuliano Grazioli saw the non-league outfit secure a replay at St. James Park, which the Magpies won 2-1.
In 2011 Stevenage were playing their first season as a Football League club under the management of Graham Westley and were 13th in League Two as Alan Pardew’s Premier League Newcastle visited Broadhall Way. After a goalless first half the underdogs took the lead when Stacy Long’s strike deflected off Mike Williamson and sent Tim Krul the wrong way as it crossed the line. Newcastle fell further behind five minutes later when Michael Bostwick drilled a low shot in off the post to give the hosts a shock 2-0 lead.
Newcastle had midfielder Cheik Tiote sent off for a wild lunge on what would be an uncomfortable night for the visitors and despite Joey Barton’s outstanding 30-yard drive which halved the defecit two minutes into injury time, Stevenage extended their lead and sealed their place in the fourth round three minutes later, as Peter Winn clipped an effort over the advancing Krul after being played in by John Mousinho to send the home fans into raptures.
2: Shrewsbury Town 2 Everton 1 2003
In Jnauary 2003, Shrewsbury Town manager Kevin Ratcliffe, the most successful captain in Everton history, masterminded an FA Cup shock against his former club, knocking them out of the competition with victory at Gay Meadow. Shrewsbury, in the Third Division were 80 places below their opponents in the league standings but took the game to their more illustrious opponents, being denied on several occasions by Toffees goalkeeper Richard Wright.
However two goals from veteran striker Nigel Jemson either side of a Niclas Alexandersson equaliser – the second coming two minutes from time – sent the Shrews fans into delirium and humbled David Moyes’ Everton team which boasted the likes of Wayne Rooney and Tomas Radzinski in their ranks.
1: Wrexham 2 Arsenal 1 1992
At the Racecourse Ground in 1992, basement division Wrexham wrote themselves into FA Cup history with an unforgettable victory over George Graham’s Arsenal side. The Gunners were reigning league champions and expected to brush aside the Welsh outfit, bottom of the fourth division whilst Arsenal were near the top of the first.
Arsenal took the lead through a close-range finish from Alan Smith and looked to be going through, but with ten minutes to go 37-year-old Mickey Thomas, formerly of Manchester United and Chelsea, rolled back the years as he powered a superb 25-yard free kick past David Seaman to level the game.
With the crowd still in raptures after Thomas’ thunderbolt, the minnows from North Wales were not content with a draw as Steve Watkin squeezed an effort under Seaman’s dive to give Wrexham a 2-1 lead late on in the game. That’s how things stayed and at the final whistle, a pitch invasion ensued as the home supporters celebrated the most unlikely of FA Cup victories.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger
Nottingham Forest put in arguably their worst performance of the season on Tuesday night, as they were hammered 4-0 by Leeds United at the City Ground. From the first whistle to the last the Reds were left wanting as they were out-played and out-fought by the visitors, leaving many supporters disillusioned, wondering how the club have got themselves into such a mess. The season began with hopes of a third successive promotion push – now there is a real threat Forest could exit the Championship at the wrong end come May.
The defeat brings Steve Cotterill’s honeymoon period as Forest manager to an emphatic end. Things looked to be steadily improving under the new boss as he won four of his first six games in charge, but back-to-back defeats at Cardiff on Saturday and to Leeds have seen Forest slip back into the relegation zone.
In previous games under Cotterill prior to the Leeds outing, Forest were at least showing positive signs, with a greater work-rate, will to win and some decent football in spells offering hope that they would be moving up into the safety of mid-table sooner rather than later.
The showing against Leeds has rank alongside some of the worst performances from a Forest side in the last decade, and there have been a few shockers during that period. In the opening exchanges Leeds were allowed to carry the ball forward through the heart of the pitch, and Forest avoided going 1-0 down within the first five minutes. That set the tone for the game in many ways as Leeds were hassling the home side all over the pitch and looked good going forward.
Prior to the game all four sides of the City Ground took part in a minute’s applause for former Leeds midfielder Gary Speed in the wake of his tragic death over the weekend, the players and supporters from both sides showing their respects. The travelling Leeds support filled the lower half of the Bridgford End and on eleven minutes began chanting Gary Speed’s name for eleven minutes. They kept up their chanting and as soon as the eleven minutes were up, Robert Snodgrass put United in the lead, hesitant Forest defending giving him the time and space to beat Camp with a well-placed, powerful drive.
Camp then made a mess of a long-ball forward, trying to chest it away from Snodgrass outside the area but instead gifting it to the Leeds winger, who was denied a second by an excellent block from Guy Moussi. Leeds doubled their lead when Lucciano Becchio – who won a worrying amount of aerial duels against Forest’s centre-backs on the night – nodded the ball over Joel Lynch to Jonny Howson, who unleashed an excellent volley high into the net.
Forest strung together some decent moves with Andy Reid looking the most creative player, but there was a lack of cutting edge up front which saw attacks break down, allowing Leeds to win back possession on several occasions. Four minutes into the second period Becchio ghosted ahead of his marker and made it 3-0 with a glancing header and yet again this season, Forest conceded from a cross into the box, things were now getting embarrassing.
Ishmael Miller came on as a half-time substitute and tried to make something happen, his physical presence asking questions of the Leeds defence and his header forced a save from goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, but it was the Yorkshire side who struck again. Moussi slipped to let Howson clean through on goal and after his shot was saved the ball fell to Adam Clayton, who put it into the net as many Forest fans headed for the exits with 25 minutes still left to play. To compound the misery, Reid collected a second booking and was sent off, while Lynch picked up an injury late on.
Supporters were left in disbelief at what they had seen and boos rang out around the ground at the final whistle. It was the worst performance of Steve Cotterill’s tenure and probably the worst of the campaign. Even though the Reds suffered a 4-1 loss at home to West Ham United and were beaten 5-0 at Burnley when Steve McClaren was manager, they were competing in those games for spells but fell apart after conceding goals. Against Leeds they struggled to maintain periods of attacking pressure and rarely looked threatening – by the end the team lost their shape and balls were being hit aimlessly out of defence.
Some posts on the LTLF Forest Forum suggested the events surrounding Gary Speed fired up Leeds even more to win – certainly their manager Simon Grayson would’ve wanted to honour his former Whites teammate with all three points, but Forest did not offer much throughout the 90 minutes so it is hard to agree with that excuse.
It was surprising to see Forest perform so bad, considering the improvement shown since Steve Cotterill arrived. Hopefully it was a bad night at the office for all concerned but the harsh fact is if the Reds continue to play in such a poor manner, they will be in serious danger of relegation.
In previous posts I’ve remained as positive as possible about Forest’s season and it is worth noting the club are four points away from mid-table and seven adrift of the play-offs. The Leeds match is just that – one match and nothing has been decided yet. There are 27 more before the season is over, so there is still time for things to improve. The league remains as notoriously tight as ever, with Bristol City’s resurgence under Derek McInnes and good form from Watford seeing those two sides leapfrog Forest to push the Reds back into the bottom three. Any hopes of play-off football have surely been extinguished in the past week, the priority for now is to pick up some consistency and more importantly, results.
Earlier this week, Steve Cotterill said he wants to offer new contracts to some of Forest’s top players, but will have to let others go to free up funds first. Whether some players are unsure about their future and are not performing to their best as a result is unclear, however if there are members of the playing staff seeking a move elsewhere, they’re not helping themselves by performing so poorly. With just over a month until the transfer window re-opens, it will be interesting to see whether Cotterill rings the changes by selling some players and bringing in new faces – it could be a wise move to freshen up the squad for the second half of the campaign.
Forest travel to Brighton at the weekend and will face a side who’ve fallen away after a bright start to the season, but remain a tough proposition at home. The in-form Lynch is struggling with a groin problem so Forest might have to revert to a more familiar back four, moving Luke Chambers to centre-half – after he endured a torrid time at right-back against Leeds – and recalling Chris Gunter to that position. Wes Morgan and Greg Cunningham should keep their places on the South Coast but the whole defence need play a part in restoring some pride. Forest’s goals against column is not a pretty sight by any means.
The Leeds result and subsequent drop into the relegation zone has to act as a wake up call for the Forest players to sort things out. The vast majority of them reached the play-offs for two consecutive seasons and they must now show the kind of form which made Forest one of the best sides in the league in that time. They have the quality to do that, but must put in the performances when on the pitch. If they don’t, Reds supporters will have every right to feel aggrieved.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going up podcast member and Nottingham Forest blogger
Everyone loves a good comeback – except the team on the receiving end of one! They tend to be few and far between in football and that’s why they’re so special. When the chips are well and truly down and all seems lost, sometimes being several goals down can galvanise teams to achieve the impossible. Comebacks are a joy for the neutral and the team doing them, whilst they leave their opponents in a state of disbelief.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find something more enthralling and dramatic than a great turnaround on the football field and this week Toppo’s Top Ten looks at some of the most memorable from the Football League.
10: Watford 4 Bolton Wanderers 3 1993
Vicarage Road played host to one of the most unforgettable games in its history in October 1993, as Watford staged a remarkable comeback against Bolton in the old Endsleigh Division One.
The Hornets were lanugishing in the bottom half of the table while Bolton, under the management of Bruce Rioch and Colin Todd, were a side looking to secure promotion into the Premier League. For the first 71 minutes of the game the Trotters looked every inch promotion contenders, as they opened up a 3-0 lead with Watford not offering much and home fans beginning to stream out of the stadium.
However Glenn Roeder’s side got themselves a goal when striker Gary Porter netted with their first shot on target in the game – some pride salvaged at least. However two minutes later they were back in it, Porter scoring his second after bursting into the box, chesting down the ball and smashing it into the net. With around eight minutes to go, a flick-on saw Ken Charlerey pick up the ball and the midfielder let fly from 25 yards, his shot finding the bottom corner of the net and the turnaround was complete – or so Watford fans thought.
With a minute to go, Watford had a corner which was swung in towards the back post. With Bolton defenders attempting to head it clear it struck an arm and the referee awarded the hosts a penalty. Gary Porter stepped up, sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and thus sealed an amazing comeback for the Hornets as their fans went mad in celebration.
9: Sheffield United 4 Nottingham Forest 3 2003
The game which started Nottingham Forest’s love-affair with the play-offs. Having finished 6th in Division One during the 2002/03 season, Forest hosted 3rd placed Sheffield United in the semi-finals, the first leg at The City Ground ending 1-1. The Blades were favourites going into the Bramall Lane return a few days later and it would prove to be an incredible match.
The hosts fell behind when David Johnson gave Forest the lead on the night midway through the first half and on 58 minutes, the Reds doubled their lead when Andy Reid struck Mathieu Louis-Jean’s deep cross into the net at the back post – Forest, it seemed, were on their way to the Cardiff play-off final.
However United stirred themselves and got a goal back two minutes later when Michael Brown’s deflected free-kick crept over the line and Steve Kabba equalised not long after, volleying the ball high into the net after a flick-on fell to him. With the scores level at 2-2 the match entered extra-time where United went in front through Paul Peschisolido, before a Des Walker own-goal extended their lead further. Jon Olav-Hjelde pulled a last-minute consolation back for Forest but it was Neil Warnock’s side who would go on to face Wolves in the final, after a rollercoaster 120 minutes of football.
8: Southampton 3 Leeds United 4 2005
Four goals in a frantic final 20 minutes saw Leeds United complete an amazing comeback against Southampton in the Championship six years ago. Saints were in control on home turf as Marian Pahars and a double from midfielder Nigel Quashie put them 3-0 ahead at the break – and the score was still the same with 70 minutes on the clock.
Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell threw on striker David Healy and his introduction sparked a remarkable turnaround. Paul Butler’s looping header gave the Whites hope then six minutes later Robbie Blake tapped in to make the score 3-2 with thirteen minutes of normal time remaining.
On 84 minutes Healy’s attempted chip was handled by a Southampton defender in the box and a penalty awarded. Healy stepped up to rifle his spot-kick into the top corner and it seemed Leeds had salvaged a point. However Liam Miller converted a low cross from the right on the half-volley with four minutes left to set the seal on an incredible afternoon’s football. He and his teammates ran to celebrate in front of the travelling Leeds support behind the goal, who would struggle to forget what they’d just seen.
6: Oxford United 5 Portsmouth 5 1992
In a match against Portsmouth they looked well and truly out of, Oxford United pulled off an amazing recovery in the final five minutes to salvage a point. This Division One encounter got off to the best start possible for Pompey as Alan McLoughlin rose highest to power a header into the roof of the net and striker Guy Whittingham doubled the lead with a first-time volley not long after.
The visitors made it three from a corner as Kerry Evans diverted the ball into his own net, David Penney did pull a goal back for Oxford shortly afterwards, but Portsmouth restored their three goal advantage as Whittingham scored his second. Jim Magilton volleyed Oxford back into it before the break after what had been a shocking first 45 minutes from his side.
In the second half it was Portsmouth who extended their lead again as winger Mark Chamberlain rifled a shot into the roof of the net and at 5-2, the match looked over. With five minutes left on the clock, John Durnin ran onto a flick-on to score, but with home fans leaving the Manor Ground Chris Allen was brought down in the box and Oxford had a penalty. Magilton slotted his spot-kick into the bottom corner to make the score 5-4 but they were not finished and after another ball was hit into the Portsmouth area, a shot was parried where it fell to Allen, who headed home to make it 5-5.
5: Peterborough United 4 Cardiff City 4 2009
During the 2009/10 Championship campaign, Peterborough United and Cardiff played out arguably the league’s game of the season as eight goals were shared at London Road in an entertaining 4-4 draw.
Cardiff, gunning for Premier League promotion, displayed their credentials, going into a 4-0 lead with 36 minutes gone. Joe Ledley scored twice, Jay Bothroyd added a third and Peter Whittingham’s 25-yard free-kick made it four. For bottom-of-the-table Peterborough, a heavy defeat was on the cards as the Cambridgeshire side were battling to avoid relegation.
However in the second half they turned the game on its head. Boss Mark Cooper introduced two substitutes to bolster his midfield and one of them, Josh Simpson pulled a goal back for Posh on 51 minutes. Charlie Lee’s header made the game interesting before George Boyd’s 89th minute top corner effort meant Peterborough needed one goal to equalise with just minutes to go. Incredibly they did it, Simpson’s close range effort making it 4-4. An unlikely, but brilliant comeback.
4: Birmingham City 4 Swindon Town 6 1993
On their way to securing promotion to the Premier League in the 1992/93 season, Swindon Town pulled off an outstanding comeback at St. Andrews against Birmingham City. In the first 45 minutes the hosts established a 2-0 lead through Dean Peer and John Frain, before Shaun Taylor’s towering header halved the defecit going into the break.
Two minutes into the second half Paul Moulden rounded Swindon goalkeeper Fraser Digby and finished to make it 3-1 to Birmingham before Andy Saville struck a ferocious left-footed volley which flew into the top corner of the net to extend the Blues’ lead further.
On 60 minutes Craig Maskell fired a low finish beyond Blues ‘keeper Andy Gosney to give Swindon a glimmer of hope and five minutes later David Mitchell’s diving header made it 4-3. Mitchell then silenced the 18,000 crowd as the ball fell to him eight yards from goal and he made no mistake, equalising for the Robins with 14 minutes left. Maskell gave Swindon the lead for the first time in the game as he headed home a corner and on the stroke of injury time Mitchell completed his hat-trick, beating the last defender and goalkeeper to slot home an easy finish. What a turnaround from Glenn Hoddle’s side, who were 4-1 down with half an hour to go.
3: Port Vale 4 Queens Park Rangers 4 1997
In 1997 Queens Park Rangers pulled off an astonishing comeback to snatch a draw at Vale Park in Division One, leaving hosts Port Vale wondering how they’d managed to throw away a four goal lead.
In the first half Vale opened the scoring when Dean Glover steered Jan Jansson’s 24th minute corner into the net and they made it two eleven minutes later, the impressive Steve Guppy crossing to the far post where Lee Mills nodded home. Guppy set up Vale’s third when he laid off Tony Naylor’s pass into the path of Jansson, who smashed the ball under the stunned Tony Roberts in Rangers’ goal. Vale’s fourth came before half-time as Matthew Brazier headed Jansson’s corner into his own net.
After a nightmare first 45 minutes, QPR’s travelling support were probably wondering why they’d bothered to make the 200 mile trip north to Stoke-on-Trent, but they had something to cheer on the 66th minute, as Vale debutant Jermaine Holwyn comically nodded the ball into his own net trying to intercept a lofted pass from the right of the area. On 85 minutes, Andy Impey reduced Vale’s lead to two with an outstanding volley which flew in off the bar – then Port Vale went to pieces. Paul Murray chipped Rangers’ third following some great build-up play, then in injury time striker John Spencer rifled in the equaliser after Paul Musselwhite could only parry away Daniele Dichio’s effort. Unbelievable!
2: Leeds United 4 Preston North End 6 2010
When Leeds United hosted Preston North End at Elland Road in the Championship last season, few could’ve predicted the 90 minutes which lay ahead.
It was North End – struggling near the foot of the table under manager Darren Ferguson – who took the lead through Jon Parkin’s tap-in. Luciano Becchio’s header equalised for Leeds and it was another header which put the home side in front, Alex Bruce beating North End goalkeeper Andy Lonergan. Lloyd Sam set up Davide Somma to make the score 3-1 to the Whites on 27 minutes before Somma added a fourth. Parkin almost immediately pulled a goal back for Preston before the break, but Preston looked all over the place as the sides headed into the dressing rooms for half-time.
Keith Treacy made it 4-3 nine minutes after the break from a corner as the home defence began to come under pressure. United defender George McCartney brought down Paul Coutts in the box to give Preston a penalty, which captain Callum Davidson dispatched high into the net for the equaliser. Preston completed a great comeback with 25 minutes remaining as Parkin scored his third of the night, a low left-foot shot beating Shane Higgs in the Leeds goal, and with eleven to go Iain Hume made it 6-4 to the away side, heading in Billy Jones’ diagonal cross from the right to cap off an incredible victory for North End.
1: Cheltenham Town 5 Burton Albion 6 2010
A goal-fest from League Two when Burton Albion met Cheltenham Town at the Pirelli Stadium during the 2009/10 season. The game saw eleven goals, ended up 6-5 and included a stunning fightback from a Cheltenham side who didn’t know when they were beaten.
Burton were 2-0 ahead at half-time thanks to a brace from Shaun Harrad but Justin Richards and Medy Elito restored parity early on in the second period. Burton were soon 4-2 ahead after an own goal from Cheltenham’s Michael Townsend, who deflected Cleveland Taylor’s cross into his own net, before a close-range strike from Brewers’ marksman Steve Kabba. With six minutes remaining Cheltenham were back in the game, Michael Pook making it 4-3 from a free kick in the 84th minute, but a minute later Kabba netted his second to put Burton 5-3 ahead and seemingly on course for victory.
Pook got his second of the match in the 87th minute as his strike hit a Burton defender before going in, then Richards grabbed his second goal to make it 5-5. Mark Yates’ side had pulled off an incredible turnaround but they were not done yet, as with virtually the last kick of the game, Pook completed his hat-trick and the most unlikely of victories, his rising drive beating Brewers’ goalkeeper Artur Krysiak from 25 yards out deep into stoppage time.
Within the space of ten minutes Cheltenham had somehow turned a 5-3 defecit into a 6-5 win, leaving the Burton players, staff and supporters shell shocked.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going up podcast member and blogger
Tweet Steven at @steven_toplis with your suggestions for Toppo’s Top Tens
Sunday 27th November 2011. Football fans awoke after yet another Saturday following their team. As I turned on the radio, I heard the news of a four year old girl who had died in a pile up on the M6. My thoughts were instantly directed towards the girl’s family and those close to her. I personally cannot even dream of how hard this must be to cope with but these thoughts were soon pushed aside for many people. Just a few hours later at 12:30pm, I received a message from a Huddersfield Town supporter that simply read ‘Gary Speed is dead?!’
I didn’t believe the text, not because I didn’t think it possible but because I didn’t want it to be possible. Growing up in Leeds, I was often found talking about their players in the playground despite being a Sheffield United fan and it was my neighbour who first told me about Gary Speed. The stories of his goals always kept me entertained and I dreamt of seeing him play one day.
The years went by and I continued to watch him on TV as often as possible throughout his time at Everton, Newcastle and Bolton. It was his Newcastle career that made me realise the quality he had and how he was able to control the game. His movement and desire on and off the ball coupled with his impeccable professionalism away from the pitch were first class. He worked tirelessly in his career to maintain his fitness levels so that he could play as long as his body allowed it. As well as this, he never once appeared to take his opportunity for granted. Players who have gone on to establish solid careers such as Robbie Savage and Shay Given have shown in their own ways what he meant to them, as have millions of people around the world.
The day ‘Speedo’ pulled on the Sheffield United shirt for the first time, I knew how lucky Blades fans were to have such a player at our club. Speed was just the player we needed at the time, someone who could put their foot on the ball and send a pass to anywhere they wanted it. I know his time at the Lane was short, but there wasn’t a single Unitedite who wanted him to leave the club. I appreciate his reasons for leaving the Blades and I’m sure it was a tough decision for him but ultimately he left for his dream job.
This is not a time to dwell on what could have been had he taken different roads in his lifetime. Instead, it is a time to remember the footballer and manager loved by every single set of fans. That was what was most special about Gary Speed. Fans like us loved him for what he could do and how he went about that. For me, this was shown by tributes on social networking sites and at games such as that at the Liberty Stadium.
Moments like this bring everyone, whether involved with the game or not, together and Gary Speed MBE will be a name that stays with hundreds of people for ever. All I can hope is that these thoughts help the friends and families of Gary and the young girl this morning get through this tough period. Every life is precious and every individual has the right to support from everyone, no matter how it is they are feeling.
Rest in Peace Gary Speed.
Written by Eddie Chapman, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger
The vast majority of football matches see a couple of goals scored per game at most. However on occasion, there can be matches where both sides go goal crazy, scoring at will. These make great spectacles for the neutral but can often leave the fans of the teams involved embarking on an emotional rollercoaster during 90 minutes of action-packed football.
Cardiff City and Barnsley scored eight goals between them on Saturday, as the home side ran out 5-3 winners at the Cardiff City stadium in one of the most entertaining matches of the Championship season so far. There have been many similar matches in Football League history, where the attacking teams have field days and the defences are pretty much non-existent. Here are ten games with big scorelines which gave those paying fans in attendance more than their money’s worth.
10: Cardiff City 5 Barnsley 3 2011
It is South Wales where this weekend’s top ten begins with Cardiff’s victory over Barnsley. As the visiting side, Keith Hill’s Barnsley scored three times but still went back home to Yorkshire with nothing to show for their efforts, instead rueing the five goals they had to pick out of the back of their net.
Kenny Miller got things going ten minutes in as he slotted a low finish into the bottom corner of the goal and it was soon two, Joe Mason tucking home the rebound after Peter Whittingham’s powerful free-kick was parried by Luke Steele. Former Cardiff loanee Danny Drinkwater pulled a goal back for Barnsley with a deflected free-kick but two minutes later the Bluebird’s Icelandic midfielder Aron Gunnarsson volley his side 3-1 into the lead.
Drinkwater hit the bar early in the second period but Cardiff extended their lead when Don Cowie rounded Steele before stroking the ball into the net cooly. Gunnarsson then grabbed his second as he finished off a good team move from eight yards out to make the score a seemingly comfortable 5-1 to the hosts. However Jim McNulty headed home Danny Butterfield’s corner on 82 minutes to give the visitors a glimmer of hope and then four minutes later, Ricardo Vaz Te rifled a low shot past David Marshall to make it a nervous last few minutes for Cardiff, but they secured an entertaining victory.
9: Peterborough United 5 Bristol Rovers 4 2008
Under the management of Darren Ferguson, Peterborough United have served up their fair share of entertaining matches, scoring goals for fun whilst sometimes allowing their opponents the chance to stick a few in their net too. One such occasion came in League Two three years ago as they and Bristol Rovers scored nine goals in a game.
Craig Mackail-Smith gave Posh the lead after sixteen minutes, linking up well with strike partner Aaron McLean before shooting home and returning the favour seven minutes later, setting up McLean who made it 2-0. Rovers’ Steve Elliott then reduced arrears with a back-post header to make the score 2-1 going into the break.
In the second half Mackail-Smith scored his second from the penalty spot before Shane Blackett put through his own net to hand Rovers a lifeline at 3-2. Mackail-Smith then grabbed his hat-trick with a left-foot finish to cap off a fine solo run but Rovers pegged back their hosts once again, Jeff Hughes tapping in from close range. With seven minutes to go Scott Rendell looked to have wrapped things up for Peterborough, heading in to make it 5-3 but Rickie Lambert curled home a superb free-kick two minutes later to set up a grandstand finish – Posh holding on to claim a memorable victory.
8: Grimsby Town 6 Burnley 5 2002
Prior to this game, Grimsby had found goals hard to come by in Division One but they ended up sharing eleven with Lancashire outfit Burnley on an amazing night at Blundell Park. On-loan Crystal Palace striker Steve Kabba opened the scoring for Town before Burnley frontman Gareth Taylor equalised.
Steve Livingstone rose highest to nod a left-wing cross into the bottom corner of the net for 2-1 to the hosts but Ian Moore levelled again as he controlled a ball into the box and lashed home a left-footed effort beyond Danny Coyne. Steve Kabba scored his second to make it 3-2 and Stuart Campbell made it four, tapping in Terry Cooke’s cross. However before the break Burnley were back in it as Robbie Blake’s acrobatic volley saw the scores at 4-3 going into the break.
In the second period Burnley equalised, Gareth Taylor’s finish the eighth goal scored in what was already an outstanding match. It got better as Alan Pouton scored a penalty for 5-4 to Grimsby then defender Simon Ford made it 6-4 with half an hour to go, heading past Clarets goalkeeper Marlon Beresford from a corner. However Robbie Blake’s penalty ensured a nervy final seven minutes for the Mariners but they held out for a remarkable 6-5 victory.
Later in that same season Burnley were involved in another thriller, this time shipping seven goals at home to Ray Lewington’s Watford. Wayne Brown gave Watford the lead at Turf Moor, heading home Neal Eardley’s corner thirteen minutes in but Gareth Taylor equalised for Burnley two minutes later.
Watford went back ahead not long after when Micah Hyde converted Gavin Mahon’s centre for 2-1 and another Eardley corner asked questions of the Clarets’ defence, Neil Cox this time nodding into the back of the net to give the visitors a two goal cushion. On 29 minutes Watford had a fourth, a young Michael Chopra, on loan from Newcastle United beating the offside trap to score. Steve Davis made it 4-2 on 35 minutes then Taylor scored his second four minutes later to make it 4-3. Watford restored their two goal leads seconds after the restart, Paulo Vernazza’s through ball finished off by Chopra despite the attentions of the on-rushing Marlon Beresford. Howver Taylor had one final say in the first half, netting his hat-trick with an unstoppable shot which flew past Hornets’ goalkeeper Alec Chamberlain. The score was an incredible 5-4 at half-time.
The goalscoring continued in the second half as Chopra completed his hat-trick, tapping into an empty net after good work down the right by Eardley and the 19-year-old netted his fourth in injury time, rifling in a Jason Norville cross to round off an emphatic away win for the Hornets.
6: Chesterfield 5 Crewe Alexandra 5 2010
One of the best matches in the Football League last season without question, as League Two sides Chesterfield and Crewe shared ten goals at the B2Net stadium. Crewe went in front after just four minutes as Luke Murphy headed home at the back post and they doubled their lead two minutes later as Lee Bell flighted a free-kick over the Spireites’ wall and into the net beyond ‘keeper Tommy Lee. Alex were crusing seven minutes afterwards as Byron Moore raced through the home side’s absent defence to slot home for 3-0. The ever-prolific Jack Lester gave Chesterfield some hope with a 23rd minute header but Shaun Miller rounded Lee and made the score 4-1 at the break.
With sixteen minutes to go that’s how the scores remained but Chesterfield were defending an unbeaten home run which they clearly did not want to let slip, Lester grabbing his second of the match to peg Crewe back. Danny Whittaker then scored from the penalty spot to make it 4-3 and the comeback was well and truly on, however Clayton Donaldson swept home a fifth for Crewe to re-establish their two goal lead.
Chesterfield were not done though and won another penalty when Craig Clay was felled in the box, Whittaker rifling it in to make it 5-4 with a minute of normal time remaining. Incredibly the hosts found their equaliser two minutes into stoppage time when Clay powered home a low drive into the bottom corner to send the home fans wild and rescue an unlikely point for his side.
5: Accrington Stanley 7 Gillingham 4 2010
On the same day, at the same time as Chesterfield and Crewe were playing out their thriller, Accrington Stanley and Gillingham served up a match equally as epic with eleven goals scored at the Crown Ground.
Sean McConville opened the scoring for Stanley on thirteen minutes but Gillingham hit back through two neat finishes from Mark Bentley. Andy Parkinson equalised for the hosts as he slammed home his first Football League goal for three years, latching onto Terry Gornell’s through ball. Charlie Barnett then gave them the lead, his cross-shot finding the top corner of the net before half-time.
Ten minutes after the break Gillingham levelled, Cody McDonald embarking on a long run before clipping the ball over the onrushing Stanley ‘keeper Iain Dunbavin for 3-3, however it soon started going wrong for the Kent outfit. They had not won away from home for 17 months prior to this match and that run would continue. The hosts were awarded a penalty which Phil Edwards dispatched and on 62 minutes he scored his second, again from the penalty spot after Terry Gornell was brought down in the box.
Gornell beat the offside trap to score his side’s sixth nine minutes later and despite Adebayo Akinfenwa’s 79th minute penalty, Jimmy Ryan scored a minute into added time to make the final score 7-4 to Accrington in what was a pulsating match.
4: Ipswich Town 6 Crewe Alexandra 4 2004
Portman Road has played host to some of the most memorable matches in Ipswich Town history and this one is right up there with the best of them, the Tractor Boys prevailing in a ten goal thriller against Crewe Alexandra in Division One.
A mistake by Crewe defender presented Tommy Miller with the chance to give Ipswich the lead early on and he fired beyond Clayton Ince for 1-0 before making it two after nine minutes with a cracking left-foot drive. Dean Ashton volleyed home to keep Crewe in the game and played a part as Alex equalised after the break, the striker’s cross turned into his own net by Ipswich centre-back John McGreal.
On 55 minutes Shefki Kuqi nodded Matt Richards’ cross past Ince to put Ipswich back in front but the Suffolk club scored another own goal, this time Richards undoing his good work earlier as a parried shot richocheted off him into the net. Dutch winger Martin Reuser curled a fine effort past Ince as Ipswich went back in front, then the Crewe stopper could not do enough to keep Pablo Counago’s effort out and the score stood at 5-3 to the hosts with sixteen minutes left on the clock. James Robinson made it 5-4 on 82 minutes with a shot from twelve yards but Kuqi settled Town nerves two minutes from time, his cool finish completing a 6-4 success for Joe Royle’s side.
3: Leeds United 4 Preston North End 6 2010
An extraordinary match from last season’s Championship. Newly-promoted Leeds United, on the fringe of the play-off spots hosted Preston North End at Elland Road, the visitors suffering an inconsistent start under manager Darren Ferguson.
It was North End who drew first blood through Jon Parkin, tapping in after Leeds’ Shane Higgs parried a cross. Luciano Becchio’s header levelled the game and it was another header which put Leeds in front, Alex Bruce beating North End goalkeeper Andy Lonergan. Lloyd Sam set up Davide Somma to make the score 3-1 to Leeds on 27 minutes before Somma scored again to make it four. Parkin almost immediately pulled a goal back for Preston before the break, but few inside the ground would’ve predicted the events of the second half.
Keith Treacy made it 4-3 nine minutes after the restart from a corner as the home defence began to look rattled. United defender George McCartney hauled down Paul Coutts in the box to give Preston a penalty, which captain Callum Davidson dispatched with ease high into the net for the equaliser. Preston completed the comeback incredibly with 25 minutes remaining as Parkin scored his third of the night, blasting home a low left-foot shot and with eleven to go Iain Hume made it 6-4 to the away side, heading in Billy Jones’ diagonal cross from the right, what a game.
2: Peterborough United 4 Cardiff City 4 2009
An amazing comeback at London Road. Peterborough United, the Championship’s bottom side, faced fourth-placed Cardiff City in December 2009 and the two shared eight goals in what was ‘a game of two halves.’
Cardiff had the better of the first and took the lead through Wales international Joe Ledley after being set up by Peter Whittingham, he then grabbed his second with a header from a corner. Jay Bothroyd made it three, the striker cut in from the right before firing an unstoppable left-footed strike into Joe Lewis’ bottom corner and on 38 minutes it was 4-0, Whittingham curling a free-kick into the back of the net. Cardiff looked to be crusing and ready to cement their spot in the play-offs.
Peterborough manager Mark Cooper must have given the mother of all half-time team talks as his side roused themselves for the second 45. Substitute Josh Simpson began the comeback six minutes after the break following good work down the left from Craig Mackail-Smith then Charlie Lee scored a second for Posh, nodding home George Boyd’s cross. Cardiff’s resolve was tested to the limit in the final 22 minutes as the hosts dominated and with a minute of normal time remaining, Boyd’s dipping volley set up a tense finale. Incredibly Peterborough pulled off the comeback two minutes into injury time as Simpson levelled, rifling in from close-range after the Cardiff defence failed to clear a long throw-in. Posh were still bottom but had played their part in a fantastic match.
1: Burton Albion 5 Cheltenham Town 6 2010
League Two strugglers Burton Albion and Cheltenham Town met at the Pirelli Stadium in March 2010, where they played out one of the most incredible matches in Football League history with goals aplenty and a stirring comeback from the away side.
Burton went in front just two minutes in as Shaun Harrad volleyed home after evading his marker, before the Brewers’ forward doubled the lead from the penalty spot and the score remained 2-0 going into the break. Justin Richards scored a tap-in for Cheltenham to make 2-1 early in the second half and the Robins equalised three minutes later, Medy Elito smashing a shot low into the net after Michael Pook’s cross.
On 56 minutes Burton went back ahead after Cleveland Taylor’s cross was deflected into his own net by Michael Townsend and 16 minutes later striker Steve Kabba looked to have made things comfortable for the home side again, making it 4-2 from close range after some poor Robins defending. With six minutes to go however the visitors were back in it, Pook crashing a free-kick low into the net from the edge of the area to set up a nervous finale. Kabba scored again just a minute later, sliding in at the back post to meet Harrad’s low cross and it seemed as if Burton had sealed it.
Two minutes after that Pook scored his second as his 20-yard shot deflected off a Burton defender and beat goalkeeper Artur Krysiak for 5-4. Mark Yeates’ side then equalised again in the 90th minute, Justin Richards slotting past Krysiak after a long-free kick was flicked into his path by Julian Alsop. Amazingly Cheltenham were not done and managed to find a winning goal, Pook completing his hat-trick in the fourth minute of injury time with a rising drive from 25-yards to snatch a 6-5 win for the away side as the Pirelli Stadium scoreboard went into meltdown. It was a vital three points for Cheltenham as they moved six points clear of the drop zone while Burton were left wondering just how they’d lost the game – unbelievable.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger
Tweet Steven at @steven_toplis with your suggestions for Toppo’s Top Tens
There are encouraging signs at Elland Road. Within days, Honduran international Ramon Nunez, academy-product and local boy Tom Lees and youngster Zac Thompson have all put pen to paper on deals to keep them at the club for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps at last, the club’s management have seen sense; throwing down the gauntlet to defend themselves from potential suitors of Leeds’ prized squad members. Throughout the years languishing in the depths of the Football League, the likes of Jermaine Beckford have slipped through Leeds’ fingers, seeking employment elsewhere as the clock ticks nearer to their contract expiration.
The fates of the recently departed is varied, with Bradley Johnson applying his trade regularly in the Premier League, while Neil Kilkenny is treading water at the foot of the Championship table with Bristol City. Neither may be considered a sizable loss to Simon Grayson’s starting XI, but it’s not the exit of talented players that’s frustrated Leeds fans over recent years – it’s missing out on transfer fees that could then be reinvested. Jermaine Beckford’s free switch to Everton was proceeded twelve months later by a £4 million move to join Sven’s revolution at Leicester City. Although their cash-happy owners have paid over the odds, it’s clear that the striker would have commanded a sizable fee had his contract not expired at Elland Road.
It’s encouraging to see something being done about tying down the club’s integral squad members. Max Gradel’s sudden demands to leave led Leeds to hurry through his departure before transfer deadline day, having accepted an underwhelming offer from overseas, or risk seeing him walk out of the club for free at the end of the season. Ramon Nunez’s impact early in the campaign softened the blow of Gradel’s exit – he fitted neatly in to the mould of a quick-footed attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, which would otherwise remain vacant in the first-team. Since Tom Lees was included in the side, particularly when playing at the heart of the defence rather than shifted out at right back, Leeds have looked relatively more competent against opponent’s attackers. Zac Thompson has seen little first-team action, but it’s nonetheless encouraging to see young talent at the club be rewarded with an extended deal.
In the club’s history, particularly under the stewardship of Howard Wilkinson, the academy has produced talent that has gone on to reach the upper reaches of English football. In recent years, the club has merely occasionally coughed up the odd gem. After a recent overhaul of the club’s academy staff, the tide could again be turning should the likes of Lees and Thompson fulfil their potential.
However, there’s one player whose contract is moving ominously close to its expiration. Club captain Jonny Howson has reportedly begun talks about extending his deal, but the rumours of wage demands and the club’s reluctance to break it’s regimental pay structure mean there’s a suspicious feeling of familiarity about suggestions of contract talks breaking down due to the club’s reluctance to increase wages.
The news of Nunez, Lees and Thompson’s contracts is welcome, but only with the announcement of a new deal for Howson will the club prove it has moved beyond it’s ill-fated period of losing out on vital transfer funds; a new contract for the local-boy-turned-good would be an indicator of Leeds’ new-found commitment to keeping their biggest talents.
Written by Pete Allison, We Are Going Up’s Leeds United blogger
The first day of the football season is always eagerly anticipated. The pitches are a lush green, the sun is shining and fans up and down the county are dreaming of a successful campaign, whether it be promotion or avoiding the drop. Nothing is decided on day one of course, but it is always good to get off to a winning start. Sometimes you can send out a statement of intent to your rivals or be caught in pre-season mode and find yourselves on the wrong end of a spanking. This week Toppo’s Top 10 looks at some of the more glorious and (for some) disasterous opening days in Football League history.
10: Bradford City 11 Rotherham United 1 – 1928
Kicking things off is an opening day defeat from nearly 80 years ago so bad it deserves a mention here. It was the first day of the 1928/29 Third Division (North) season with The Millers travelling 40 miles north to Valley Parade. They probably wished they hadn’t bothered as they returned home having been thrashed 11-1 – not surprisingly Bradford’s record home victory to date.
9: Queens Park Rangers 4 Barnsley 0 – 2010
Following a 13th placed Championship finish in 2009/10, QPR were placed amongst the favourites for promotion the season after, with Neil Warnock about to begin his first full season in charge and a squad assembled with bags of Championship experience. Warnock brought in eight new faces including Paddy Kenny, Shaun Derry, Jamie Mackie, Bradley Orr and the mercurial Moroccan Adel Taarabt, joining permanently from Tottenham having been on loan at Rangers the season before.
Barnsley were the visitors to Loftus Road as the season kicked-off on August 6th, 2010 and the Hoops dispatched their visitors with ease, setting the tone for the forthcoming campaign. Heidar Helguson put them in front from the penalty spot four minutes before the break, Mackie made it two and new captain Taarabt slotted home Rangers’ second penalty on 63 minutes for 3-0. The rout was completed when Hogan Ephraim laid on a tap in for Fitz Hall as Warnock’s side began the season in style, sitting top of the table. It was a position they would relinquish only twice during the campaign as they returned to the Premier League after 15 years away.
8: Notts County 5 Bradford City 0 – 2009
The summer of 2009 will go down as one of the most memorable in the history of Notts County. The club were taken over by Munto Finance, supposedly backed by mega-rich Middle Eastern owners who were going to take the Magpies into the Premier League within 5 seasons. Former England manager Sven Goran-Eriksson joined as Director of Football and after years in the doldrums, a bright new dawn had beckoned at Meadow Lane.
League Two County wasted no time assembling a squad capable of securing promotion, even bringing in former England defender Sol Campbell and Ian McParland’s men heralded the new era with a thumping display on the first day of the season. Ben Davies made it 1-0 on 17 minutes then new marksman Lee Hughes hit two in four minutes as Notts went 3-0 up by the break. Hughes secured a debut hat-trick from the penalty spot before Brendan Moloney’s fine solo strike capped off a fine team performance.
Unfortunately for County Munto’s takeover was based on false promises. The money was never forthcoming, Sol and Sven soon left and the club was on the brink of collapse. New owners came in to save the club who did get their promotion into League One at the end of a tumultuous campaign.
7: Walsall 4 West Bromwich Albion 1 – 2003
Paul Merson spent his latter playing career in Division One, helping Portsmouth to the title in 2003 before leaving to join Walsall, their fans hoping his magic touch could establish them as a force in the second tier. Merson’s debut could not have gone better, the ex-Arsenal man scoring a brace as the Saddlers demolished West Midlands rivals West Brom. Albion travelled to the Bescot on the opening day having just been relegated from the Premier League and Gary Megson’s plans for a swift return got off to the worst possible start.
A record crowd at the Bescot saw their side out of reach by half-time, Merson breaking the deadlock with a sweet right-foot volley which flew past Russell Hoult and into the top corner. The midfielder made it two with a drive which crashed in off the bar then just before half-time Jorge Leitao bagged number three as he tapped home after Simon Osborn’s shot hit the post. Former Wolves midfielder Steve Corica made the game safe 12 minutes after the break as Saddlers fans basked in the warm August sunshine, the only blot on their team’s day coming as Jason Koumas netted a consolation goal for Albion.
In February 2004 Merson was handed the manager’s role at Walsall following the sacking of Colin Lee but could not prevent the club from being relegated to Division Two on the final day of the season.
6: Chelsea 5 Derby County 0 – 1983
A game from back in the days when Chelsea were an second tier team! In the summer leading up to the 1983/84 season, Blues boss John Neal made several signings including Pat Nevin, Nigel Spackman, John Hollins and prolific frontman Kerry Dixon. The new faces inspired Neal’s side to a 5-0 demolition of Derby County on the season’s first day at Stamford Bridge.
Spackman put Chelsea ahead after just four minutes, Chris Walker made it two after the break and Chris Hutchings netted a third not long after. Dixon then plundered his first two Chelsea goals on 63 and 68 minutes to complete the rout. The win set the tone for Chelsea’s season as they finished top of the Second Division – with a 5-3 win at Fulham plus 5-0 victories over Leeds United and Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United along the way – Dixon top-scoring with 36 goals.
On paper a 2-1 win may not seem too remarkable but the significance of the day makes it a match few Seagulls fans will forget in a hurry. Since the club’s owners controversially sold the club’s Goldstone Ground in 1997, they have spent 14 years waiting for a new stadium to call home, playing their games at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium and the Withdean Stadium.
Construction finally began on a new ground in 2008 and earlier this year the club were finally handed the keys to the £100 million AMEX Stadium ahead of the 2011/12 campaign. Gus Poyet led the Seagulls to the League One title last season meaning the club would be hosting Championship football in their state-of-the-art arena.
Doncaster Rovers were the first visitors as emotional Brighton fans created a great atmosphere, 22,000 waving flags long before the teams entered the field. Doncaster netted the first league goal at the ground, Billy Sharp’s partially-blocked effort crawling over the line to give the visitors the lead.
It seemed as if Doncaster would spoil the party, however on 83 minutes they failed to clear a Brighton set-piece and the ball fell to Seagulls new signing Will Buckley, who hit a crisp, low volley from the edge of the area into the bottom corner to level matters. Injuries to Doncaster’s James Hayter and goalscorer Sharp saw eight minutes of added time at the end of the second half and Rovers forced to play with 10 men after they used all their substitutes.
Brighton took full advantage as former Watford winger Buckley broke forward and curled home a 98th minute winner. There were scenes of jubilation as Brighton secured a dramatic first victory at the AMEX, fans and players celebrating wildly.
4: Newcastle United 5 Leeds United 2 – 1989
On the opening day fans get the chance of seeing their club’s new signings for the first time and in 1989, debutant Micky Quinn put on a show in front of over 40,000 Newcastle United followers.
Leeds United were the visitors to St.James’ Park as Jim Smith’s Magpies faced Second Division football after relegation from the top flight two months before. Quinn was signed for £680,000 from Portsmouth, having hit 54 goals in 121 appearances for the South Coast club and soon got on the scoresheet for his new employers, along with fellow debutant John Gallagher. Leeds led 2-1 but the big centre-forward put the game out of reach of Howard Wilkinson’s men, hitting 4 goals on his first appearance for the club. He went on to net 34 times in the league that season, making him the top scorer in England by a distance.
According to his autobiography, after scoring his fourth Quinn ran towards the crowd shouting, “That’s who f*****g Mick Quinn is, that’s who f*****g Mick Quinn is, *****g Come on!”
Nobody told him that he was screaming at the family enclosure full of children.
3: Brentford 4 Leyton Orient 3 – 1991
At the start of the 1991/92 Division Three season, London sides Brentford and Leyton Orient played out a thriller at Griffin Park. Future Wimbledon and Bolton striker Dean Holdsworth put the Bees in front just before the break. Orient equalised in the second half then went in front as Kevin Nugent nodded home Ricky Otto’s left-wing cross.
Holdsworth made it 2-2 straight from the restart, pouncing on a rebound after Richard Cadette’s shot was saved. The frontman then bagged his hat-trick, latching onto Terry Evans’ long ball forward and slotting a composed finish past the goalkeeper. Orient weren’t out of it and Ricky Otto again put a teasing cross in from the left which Andy Sayer converted for 3-3.
That wasn’t the last of the goals as Brentford went in front again. A set-piece was floated into the penalty area, centre-back Evans met the ball with a header which looped over the ‘keeper into the far corner of the net to make the score 4-3 to The Bees. An amazing opening day match that kick-started a promotion campaign for Brentford, which saw them win the league and boast the top scorer in Holdsworth, who netted 38 goals.
2: Millwall 0 Rotherham United 6 – 2002
An incredible scoreline from the New Den on the opening day of the old Division One in 2002. Millwall lost in the previous season’s play-off semi-finals while the Millers just escaped relegation – but it was the hosts who were left stunned.
Ex-Walsall striker Darren Byfield started the rout, powerfully heading home Paul Warne’s cross. Lions goalkeeper Tony Warner then gifted the visitors their second as he let Martin McIntosh’s 35-yard free-kick squirm through his grasp and over the line. After the break Millwall capitulated, hesitation in their defence allowing Byfield to make it 3-0.
Despite going forward in search of goals, Millwall conceded a fourth when Chris Sedgwick cut in from the right to score then Byfield completed his hat-trick with ten minutes to go, chipping the ball over Warner from the edge of the penalty area. Sixty seconds later he had another as he rounded the goalie and slotted home a sixth goal for Ronnie Moore’s side. Unbelievable stuff.
1: Norwich City 1 Colchester United 7 – 2009
It can be argued that this game was a watershed moment in the recent history of Norwich City. Having been relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time since 1960, the Canaries were instantly placed amongst the favourites for an immediate return to the Championship. With legendary former goalkeeper Bryan Gunn in charge and new signings arriving at the club in pre-season, it was expected that they would get their League One campaign off to a good start.
Their first game of the season, at Carrow Road against Colchester United, was a disaster as they slumped to an incredible 7-1 home defeat. Kevin Lisbie put the U’s in front after 10 minutes, scoring after a mistake by Canaries goalie Michael Theoklitos. Clive Platt made it two then grabbed another soon afterwards with a back-post finish. David Fox bent home a free-kick before Lisbie’s second goal, a header, meant Norwich were five down after just 38 minutes with their fans already heading for the exits, two even ran on the pitch and threw their season tickets at manager Gunn.
In the second-half Cody McDonald grabbed a consolation but David Perkins’ volley and Scott Vernon’s tap-in set the seal on a fantastic result for Paul Lambert’s team, inflicting Norwich’s worst home defeat in their 109-year history.
Within a week of the game Bryan Gunn was sacked and Norwich turned to the man who masterminded Colchester’s thumping win – ex-Scotland international midfielder Paul Lambert. Aided by the 24 league goals from Grant Holt, Lambert turned the club’s season around as they won the League One title. He then went even further, guiding them to 2nd place in the Championship and a second successive promotion in 2010/11 – meaning that just two years after one of their darkest days, Norwich City will be playing Premier League football this coming season.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up Blogger
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Three goals, three points – this Championship lark is a stroll in the park!
The pre-match stats had made grim reading for Saints fans. It had been 12 years since we’d last won on the opening day of the season, and worse than that, the last time we’d won at home in a season opener was way back in 1988!
But any concerns the statto’s might have had were soon laid to rest as Saints took control of the game early on, and after two shots on target we were 2-0 up. The first goal was what Paul Merson would describe as a “worldy” – captain Dean Hammond picked the ball up nearer the half-way line than the penalty box, and after ridding Leeds of their entire midfield, he took a few strides forward before hitting a left footed belter into the bottom corner. The second goal was equally sublime. After Kelvin Davis had calmly wrong-footed an onrushing Leeds forward, he went Route 1 and blasted the ball upfield. A flicked header found Rickie Lambert, who did well to pick out Adam Lallana with a neat through ball. Lallana got the better of Andy O’Brien by dummying a shot at goal to commit the defender to the floor, before cutting inside and curling a peach past the outstretched arms of Andy Lonergan and in off the far post. I can remember Michael Owen’s goal for Liverpool in the 2001 FA Cup final and Andy Gray commenting that he’d placed it into the only part of the goal he could have scored in. Lallana’s finish was the same – any closer to the keeper and he saves it, any further wide and it’s off the post and out.
Leeds started the second half well and a goal would have brought them right back in to the game, so Saints needed to take the initiative back off them. And we did that in the best way possible – David Connolly flattening any Leeds hopes with a brilliant give-and-go to Lallana, receiving it back and placing the ball into the far corner for 3-0. Connolly has always been a top class finisher, but has struggled with injuries throughout his career which is a problem that still plagues him today. But Nigel Adkins had said pre-season that his fitness was good and he was looking as sharp as ever – and with finishing like that we’re hopeful he can stay fit for at least a fortnight this season!
That third goal was enough to kill off any Leeds hopes of a comeback – despite what happened at St. Mary’s six years previously when we led 3-0 on 70 minutes only to lose the game 4-3! Leeds never looked like repeating that kind of feat, and it was only a dubious penalty decision that gave them any consolation at all. Aaron Martin, the former Eastleigh man who I thought had performed exceptionally at centre-back, was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the box. Replays showed it came off his chest and bounced on to his arm with little he could do – but it was one of those ‘some you get, some you don’t’ penalty shouts and I don’t begrudge the linesman for raising his flag. Kelvin Davis might though – he saw his well deserved clean sheet bonus evaporate into thin air as Max Gradel despatched the spot kick.
The late drama did little to dampen Saints spirits though – 3 points is 3 points and we’re delighted to have gotten the opening day monkey off our back. As I mentioned in my previous blog, there’s a real feeling of optimism around the club these days and as long as the players stay grounded and the fans keep our expectations within some realm of reality, we could be contenders in this extremely difficult division.
The result was a nice birthday present for the chairman Nicola Cortese, who turned 43 on Sunday. His decision to sack Alan Pardew last year got far more criticism than it did praise from the Saints fans – but of course, he knew what he was doing. The appointment of Nigel Adkins seems to have been a very astute move. I‘ve warmed to the manager a lot. At times he appears to be a walking-talking cliché dispenser, but ultimately he’s a sensible, tactically thorough, no-nonsense manager who prepares and motivates his players for every game. And it shows in his results; by beating Leeds, we recorded a 7th consecutive league win continuing on from last season – and that’s a new club record.
What I liked most about this win was the performance that came with it. A name thankfully long forgotten around Southampton, Jan Poortvliet, promised to bring “total football” to St. Mary’s when he took charge in 2008. What followed was more like “total opposite of football” and we went on a dreadful run that ultimately saw us relegated to League 1. What I saw yesterday though was the closest to total football I’ve perhaps ever seen at Saints. We pressed Leeds at every opportunity and showed great skill throughout the match. All 3 goals would have graced the Premier League – and with Adkins in charge, my fingers are crossed that we’ll get a chance to prove that next season.
But – as says the biggest cliché of them all – there’s a long way to go yet!
Written by Chris Warne, We Are Going Up’s Southampton Blogger