Monday, August 18, 2014

Leeds United 1 Middlesbrough 0: Sharp is back as he pounces to banish ‘fat lad’ tag

Yorkshire Post 19/8/14
by Nick Westby
Billy Sharp has been scoring goals at Championship level since long before Leeds United had become the apple of Massimo Cellino’s eye.
The diminutive striker first started tormenting second-tier defences when playing for unfancied Scunthorpe in the 2006-07 season, round about the same time that Mr Cellino was on his 23rd manager at Cagliari.
Sharp’s latest goal – some 100-plus strikes later – is one that gives the next man in Cellino’s firing line a precious bit of breathing space.
Dave Hockaday had started his tenure in the Leeds dugout in circumstances befitting the most inauspicious of head coaching appointments, but the healing power of a single goal – Sharp’s 87th-minute close-range pounce – can not be under-estimated.
It gave validation to Hockaday’s reign, reassurance to the striker that he can still contribute at this level after a couple of nomadic years, and the Elland Road faithful something to smile about at long last after a summer in which there have been precious few positives.
It also vindicated the owner’s decision to act swiftly in the wake of the listless season-opening defeat at Millwall by strengthening the squad available to Hockaday with the signing of not only Sharp, but also Liam Cooper from Chesterfield.
Former Hull City defender Cooper looked confident in the heart of Leeds’s defence, bringing the ball out from the back to great effect and helping central partner Jason Pearce to limit Kike – Middlesbrough’s big summer signing – to nothing more than scraps.
But it was Sharp who stole the headlines, as he has done on so many occasions down the years, whether it be for Scunthorpe, Sheffield United, Doncaster Rovers or even Southampton, a Premier League club where his face never really seemed to fit.
“I just had a feeling the ‘keeper was going to drop one. I thought he was going to in the first half but I managed to get onto this one and tap it in from two yards, which I like to do,” said Sharp, who pounced when Tomas Mejias spilled Michael Tonge’s 87th- minute shot.
“I’d been beating myself up for five minutes after missing a header that I should have scored, but I thank the lads for grinding it out and Tongey for having a good shot.
“He (Mejias) is not usually in the net for Middlesbrough so I wanted the lads to have more shots. I should have probably had one in the first half, but as a striker you’ve just got to keep gambling, especially after missing one a little earlier.
“Luckily for me, I got the chance.”
Coincidentally, Sharp’s previous goal had been scored in front of the Revie End, for Doncaster Rovers in March – a fact his father reminded him of upon his signing for Leeds on Wednesday.
“It’s nice to get another one there and, hopefully, I can get many more,” added Sharp, whose goal was greeted with an enormous outpouring of relief by the Elland Road faithful and resulted in the striker ripping off his shirt in celebration.
“It’s a superb club, the fans are amazing and I just wanted to show how delighted I was when I scored and try and get rid of the ‘fat lad’ tag I’ve got – or rather, I made for myself, but, hopefully, I’ve got rid of now.
“I’ll take the yellow card (for the shirt removal). Obviously you’re not supposed to do it but I was overjoyed.
“I won’t do it every time but for the first one I was more than happy to do it.”
It was the third time Sharp has scored on debut, with Scunthorpe and Reading fans also getting an early glimpse of his poaching prowess.
He nearly had one after 90 seconds when he raced onto a through ball to which Mejias beat him before Daniel Ayala retreated behind his goalkeeper to scoop Nicky Ajose’s follow-up shot from off the line.
Other than the header Sharp knows he should have scored from 10 minutes before he did slide in the only goal, Leeds barely threatened against a Middlesbrough side who looked neat and tidy in possession, if a little toothless in the final third.
Lee Tomlin, playing in support of Kike, was a constant threat in the first 30 minutes before Leeds finally shut him down.
Boro should have been rewarded with a goal on 25 minutes when poor defending from a long throw saw the ball bounce through to Albert Adomah, who swivelled and launched a boot at it to send it into the bottom corner.
Referee Stuart Attwell, though, deemed the foot to be too high and too close to the face of Stephen Warnock.
Leeds would be thankful for Warnock’s interventions either side of the break that denied what would have been clear shots on goal, one of them to thwart Adomah, who was left bemused at the decision to rule out his earlier strike.
“It’s a shame, I thought it was a well-taken goal,” said the Middlesbrough winger. “But the referee obviously thought differently, he saw a high foot and disallowed the ‘goal’.
“Everyone else thought it was a goal. Even the linesman. I was speaking to the linesman afterwards and he said it was down to the referee.”
Adomah’s manager, Aitor Karanka, had empathy, but was wise enough to accept that his Middlesbrough side did not sufficiently threaten a home team who, while at times too narrow and a little anxious, did have enough character to stay in the game and then possessed the vital element in poacher-extraordinaire Sharp to win it.

Leeds United: Hockaday backs his coaching credentials

Yorkshire Evening Post 18/8/14
David Hockaday secured his first league victory as Leeds United head coach and then vowed to vindicate Massimo Cellino’s controversial decision to pick him for the job at Elland Road.
United got their season moving with a dramatic 1-0 win over Middlesbrough on Saturday, earned by an 88th-minute goal from new signing Billy Sharp and produced seven days after a dismal opening day at Millwall.
Hockaday and his players came in for criticism after a 2-0 loss at The Den but a competitive performance against Boro saw Sharp claim three points with a poacher’s effort.
Hockaday, whose previous job in professional football was as manager of non-league Forest Green Rovers, said he was “proud” of Saturday’s victory and “fortunate” to be occupying the position of head coach at Leeds.
The 56-year-old was an obscure appointment when Cellino unveiled him as his replacement for former boss Brian McDermott in June, but Hockaday said: “I want to prove the president right.
“The president did his homework and he picked a British coach. We’re great at knocking ourselves in this country but there are great coaches here if they’re given a chance.
“I’m head coach at Leeds United so really, how tough is that? I love it. I’m genuinely honoured and for someone to give me the opportunity, I can’t thank (Cellino) enough.
“I’ve been in football for 40 years so pressure’s my middle name. If you’ve been in football this long, you’re used to it. It’s a results-based business and I know that. This is a very good start at home.”
Middlesbrough dominated the early stages of a tight game and were denied the opening goal when referee Stuart Attwell ruled out an overhead kick by Albert Adomah.
But Leeds played their way into the contest and Sharp – one of two debutants on Saturday – snatched a 1-0 win when he punished an error by Boro goalkeeper Tomas Mejias two minutes from time.
“My players were different class and whatever the quality, nobody can say they didn’t sweat for the shirt,” Hockaday said. “I don’t know a top team that doesn’t work hard and you have to get the fundamentals right.
“You’re not going to dominate a team like Middlesbrough for 95 minutes but we weathered the storm and got a break. I don’t know about their goal, I don’t know why it was disallowed, but we came out stronger in the second half.”
Hockaday also paid tribute to Sharp, saying: “That’s what he does but there’s more to his game than scoring goals. His was a complete performance.”
Sharp became United’s 10th summer signing when he joined the club from Southampton last week but Leeds are continuing to look for other recruits ahead of the closure of the transfer window in a fortnight’s time.
The club are being strongly linked with a deal for Mirco Antenucci, a striker who is involved in a complicated co-ownership deal between Catania and Ternana, and they are keenly interested in Adryan, a Brazilian midfielder at Cagliari. Cellino was responsible for taking Adryan on loan to Cagliari from Flamengo last season and the 20-year-old’s future is unclear after he was omitted from friendly between Cagliari and Celta Vigo on Saturday night.
Hockaday said: “We need to strengthen but I’m not going to name names or positions. The players we’ve brought in have added to the mix and I’m happy with them. I think between us we’ve got an eye for a good player.”
Noel Hunt appears to be surplus to requirements, however, after Sheffield United boss Nigel Clough revealed that he declined an offer to take the forward from Leeds last week.
Striker Souleymane Doukara is a doubt for tomorrow’s game at home to Brighton after suffering an ankle injury in the second half against Middlesbrough.

Leeds United 1 Middlesbrough 0: Billy shows his quality at the Sharp end

Yorkshire Evening Post 18/8/14
by Phil Hay
Years in the making, days of dreaming and a winning goal after 88 minutes in Leeds United colours. This was Billy Sharp’s calling and no mistake; made in Yorkshire and made for Leeds.
The shirt came off as the ball went in and the fat lad from Sheffield was up and running. Leeds United are up and running.
Massimo Cellino once described the club as a jumbo jet he was trying to push but he and Leeds have momentum at last. In strangely apt fashion, the Italian greeted the end of Saturday’s win over Middlesbrough with a casual two-fingered salute.
Leeds United, so often, are all about him but it will never fall to Cellino to tuck the ball away from six yards or defend as Liam Cooper, another of his new signings, did against Boro. It dawned on Cellino last week that he was neglecting the football and falling short in the transfer market, something he promised never to do. Saturday was pay-back for time and money thrown at it.
By the time he joined Leeds on Wednesday, Sharp had become a gift-horse; a striker who scores goals, on offer to a club who without him might not. Cellino told him to hurry up and do so when they met for the first time and Sharp kept his side of the bargain with two minutes of Saturday’s game to play, sprinting in and sweeping up after goalkeeper Tomas Mejias fumbled Michael Tonge’s awkward shot.
For 10 minutes prior to that, Sharp had been beating himself up about a free header sent wide from six yards. In that moment, and the earliest seconds of the match when Mejias plucked a good chance off his toes, there were small signs of rust built up in a bit-part summer with Southampton but his goal was taken with a swagger. He took a yellow card too for a shirtless celebration but was unrepentant afterwards. “Obviously you’re not supposed to do that but I wanted to show how delighted I was,” he said.
Sharp is a nemesis of Boro’s with a remarkable record of scoring against them. He sensed early on that he had the beating of Mejias, a Spaniard whose handling failed him when it mattered.
“I don’t know what it is against Boro,” Sharp said. “For some reason I do seem to score against them. I did it for Southampton, Doncaster and now Leeds – but any goal’s a good goal.
“I just had a feeling that their keeper was going to drop one and I thought he was going to do it in the first half. As a striker you’ve got to gamble. I was beating myself up after my headed chance and I should have probably had a goal in the first half too but I’m chuffed to bits.”
Sharp talked on Thursday about his “soft spot” for Leeds and his perennial aim of playing for the club. In his poaching and his general play there was the confidence of a footballer who will cope with the environment and politics of Elland Road and play as if the Championship is what he knows best; the right sort of talent and the right sort of fibre to live and survive in the bubble.
Cooper’s shift in the centre of defence was admirable too. Signed in midweek, it is hard to know when the decision to start him was taken. Giuseppe Bellusci was primed for a debut after joining on loan from Catania but Leeds learned at midday on Friday that his international clearance would not arrive in time. “That’s why you have options,” said head coach David Hockaday. Finally, Leeds do.
Saturday’s win – United’s first of the Championship season from their first league game at home – changed Hockaday’s body language markedly. Post-match, he looked at ease in his chair and in complete control of the questions around him.
His team were not good enough for him to gloat and a disallowed effort from Albert Adomah midway through the first half was a controversy about which Boro were rightly aggrieved. There are issues still with United’s midfield and viewed in its entirety, the game explained why Leeds are trying to get their claws into Adryan, a young Brazilian midfielder who Cellino took to Cagliari from South America last season.
But there was wit in United’s attitude and a reactionary streak too. Outplayed for 25 minutes, they soon killed Lee Tomlin – Boro’s number 10 – and dragged Aitor Karanka’s team into the type of intense, snapping football that Karanka’s team evidently hate.
Boro’s coach raged about Adomah’s ‘goal’ but was fairly self-critical. “We didn’t keep the ball and we didn’t play in our style,” he said. It suggested a certain blueprint for destroying Boro’s tactics.
“In the first half we created a few problems for ourselves and to come away with a clean sheet was great,” Hockaday said.
“Middlesbrough are a very good team and there were times when I was thinking ‘I’ll be happy going in at 0-0.’ But in the second half we upped it. We made it very difficult for Boro, the work ethic was super and to get the goal at the end from a new signing was great. I keep going on about it but we worked so hard and everyone in Leeds should be very proud of the players.”
Hockaday said he had no idea why Adomah’s overhead kick in the 25th minute was disallowed by referee Stuart Attwell. The winger produced an improvised finish after Jason Pearce misjudged the flight of a throw-in and the ball skidded off Cooper’s head but Attwell appeared to rule that Adomah’s raised foot inches from Stephen Warnock’s head was dangerous.
“It was an ugly goal and straight away I was thinking about how we should have defended that throw-in,” Hockaday said. “Fortunately it was cancelled out.”
Leeds did not ride their luck too often after that. The second half was almost chanceless but Sharp had the best of them in the 79th minute when he met Luke Murphy’s free-kick with a header which skipped past a post. Annoyed though he was, it offered some fine tuning for the mistake from Mejias and the tap-in that followed it. As Sharp showed his torso to the Kop, Millwall seven days earlier felt a long time ago. “It really helps to get off the mark,” Sharp said. That goes for him and his new club.

Leeds United: Goal poacher Billy’s in dreamland

Yorkshire Evening Post 18/8/14
by Phil Hay
Billy Sharp launched his Leeds United career with a decisive goal against Middlesbrough and said: “I dreamed of that moment.”
The striker lit up his debut by claiming an 88th-minute winner at Elland Road on Saturday, handing United their first win of the Sky Bet Championship season.
Sharp, who joined Leeds from Southampton on a two-year deal last week, pounced on a late error by Middlesbrough goalkeeper Tomas Mejias to settle a tight match in dramatic style.
The 28-year-old forward was booked for taking his shirt off during a euphoric celebration in front of the Kop – and spoke later of his relief having headed an equally good chance wide 10 minutes earlier.
“It’s what dreams are made of,” Sharp said.
“I’d dreamed about that for three days.
“When I signed last week I was in the stadium, looking at the Revie End and really wanting to score there.
“My last goal was for Doncaster at the Revie End and my Dad texted me on Friday to tell me that.
“The fans will have been thinking, just as I was, that I should have scored the header a few minutes before but you’ve got to keep on believing.
“I believe in myself and I will score goals.”
Leeds brought Sharp to Elland Road on Wednesday as part of an urgent attack on the transfer window carried out in the wake of their loss to Millwall on the first day of the season.
United coped with Boro’s patient style after a difficult opening in which Albert Adomah had an effort disallowed, and Sharp said: “Middlesbrough are a really good side.
“They’ll be up near the top end of the table.
“To beat them at home with a clean sheet is a really good win for us.
“The gaffer (David Hockaday) has said that this is our stadium and we need to make sure people don’t want to come here.
“Middlesbrough know they’ve been in a game and I’m happy that we’ve taken three points.”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hockaday: Pressure my middle name

Club Call 16/8/14
David Hockaday kept talk of his trigger-happy owner at bay with his first league win as Leeds manager, with Middlesbrough beaten 1-0.
By his own admission Hockaday is the 'Mr Nobody' of coaching and speculation had been rife over how long the 56-year-old - who lists Forest Green as the most senior side he has previously managed - would last at the hands of colourful owner Massimo Cellino.
The Italian admits he goes through managers quicker than he does clothes and losing at Millwall on the opening day of the Championship campaign was a start Hockday could have done without.
But rather than respond with a P45, Cellino bought him three players and one of them, Billy Sharp, scored an 88th-minute winner to sink Boro.
"It was a tough game, there were quite a few chances and it took a goal poacher to sneak the win," Hockaday said.
"Boro are a good team, one of the form teams, and to come away with a clean sheet and three points, I can't ask for more."
Hockaday refused to take any personal glory from the victory, though.
Asked if he had proved anyone wrong, he said: "I am here to prove the president (Cellino) right. I have been, I am the head coach at Leeds United - how tough is that? I am honoured and can't thank him enough.
"I am fortunate to be given this chance and the players worked their socks off today. Nobody can say we didn't sweat blood for that white shirt.
"I've been in football for 40 years and pressure is my middle name."
Hockaday may have been in the game for four decades, but match-winner Sharp has been a Leeds player for only four days.
"It's what he does," Hockaday said of the 28-year-old. "There's more to his game, he linked the play and it was the complete performance from him."
The outcome could have been different had Middlesbrough not had a first-half goal disallowed.
There appeared to be little wrong with Albert Adomah's overhead kick on the back of a mistake by Liam Cooper, but referee Stuart Atwell saw something in the moment when the winger went for the ball close to Stephen Warnock's head. Adomah ran away to celebrate and the goal appeared to have stood until eventually it was ruled out.
"I can't understand why the goal is not on the scoreboard," manager Aitor Karanka said. "I think it was a good height (Admoah's foot) if you see the replay.
"The referee was the person who saw the foot, but the replay does not show this decision in the first second he was waiting four, five, six seconds as we were running to the middle of the pitch.
"I didn't see the incident, but if you have a foul you have it on one second not six."
Karanka, whose side earned plaudits in the first week of the season with convincing wins over Birmingham and Oldham, felt his players paid the price for getting dragged into a war by Leeds.
"We played in their style," he added. "We didn't keep the ball. We tried to do it by putting Adam Clayton on the pitch but we didn't get to play in our style."

Dave Hockaday - Great Leeds United team performance against Middlesbrough

Vital Leeds 16/8/14
Leeds United first team coach says he couldn`t have asked for any more as Leeds secured their first win of the season against Middlesbrough.
Striker Billy Sharp scored the only goal of the game on his debut with just two minutes remaining and Hockaday was pleased with a great team performance.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Hockaday said, "It took a goal poacher to sneak the win for us.
"To come away with a clean sheet and the three points, I cannot ask for any more.
"It was a great team performance for a young inexperienced team."
Sharp had already had Leeds best chance of the game when he headed wide with just twelve minutes remaining but he made no mistake ten minutes later when he was first to react after the Middlesbrough goalkeeper could only parry the ball.
In a tight game of very few clear-cut chances, Middlesbrough will complain after Albert Adomah had a goal disallowed in the first half. Adomah scored with a bicycle kick but referee Stuart Attwell ruled out the effort for a high boot.

Leeds United 1 Middlesbrough 0: Sharp nets winner on Elland Road debut

Yorkshire Post 16/8/14
by Nick Westby
Billy Sharp, who has made a habit of scoring late winners in his career, grabbed another on his Leeds United debut to give the Whites a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough in the Yorkshire derby.
The former Doncaster Rovers, Sheffield United and Southampton striker, who only joined the Elland Road club on Wednesday, pounced three minutes from time with a trademark poacher’s goal.
Middlesbrough goalkeeper Tomas Meijas spilled Michael Tonge’s 20-yard strike and Sharp was on hand to slide in and steer home the rebound.
The scoreline may have a been a little harsh on Middlesbrough - who had a first-half goal wrongly ruled out for a high foot - but it was a game that was there for the taking and typical of Sharp that he would be the man to decide it.
The 28-year-old’s dramatic intervention gave Dave Hockaday the first win of his reign as head coach and also lifted some of the negativity that had hung over Elland Road since his inauspicious appointment in the summer.
Leeds had begun with a 2-0 reverse on the opening day at Millwall that did nothing to dispel those fears.
But a United side boasting fresh recruits in 28-year-old Sharp and defender Liam Cooper at least looked more resolute and adventurous against a Boro side who had made a bright start to the season.
Sharp was lively in the first half, his movement setting up an early chance for Nicky Ajose that was cleared off the line by Daniel Ayala, while Cooper - a midweek recruit from Chesterfield - looked accomplished bringing the ball out of defence and solid in the air.
Boro had the better of the possession and also legitimate claims for a first-half goal.
The Leeds defence allowed a George Friend throw to bounce in the box before Albert Adomah swivelled and swung a flying boot at the ball that sent it into the bottom corner, only for referee Stuart Attwell to blow for a high foot against the Middlesbrough player.
Lee Tomlin was central to everything good about Boro’s play when allowed time to dictate, but generally they did not supply striker Kike with enough chances to add to the two goals he has scored since joining in the summer.
Sharp could have pinched victory for Leeds with 13 minutes remaining when he headed Luke Murphy’s free-kick wide from eight yards.
But no matter, for he was there when it counted on 87 minutes, reacting quickest to Meijas’s parry to guide the ball home and give Elland Road a much-needed lift.

Leeds United 1 Middlesbrough 0 - Sharp grabs debut winner

Yorkshire Evening Post 16/8/14
by Phil Hay
Billy Sharp struck in the dying minutes to cap his Leeds United debut with a dramatic winner against Middlesbrough.
The striker - a midweek signing from Southampton - popped up to tap home the rebound from Michael Tonge’s shot and settle a tight contest on 88 minutes.
A game of few chances looked set to end in stalemate at Elland Road, with Boro aggrieved about a disallowed effort from Albert Adomah midway through the first half.
But Sharp delighted a crowd of less than 25,000 with a poacher’s goal in front of the Kop.
The striker and Liam Cooper were handed full debuts by David Hockaday after joining Leeds on Wednesday, and Sharp could have scored with his first touch of the ball.
Nicky Ajose played him clean through in the second minute and though goalkeeper Tomas Mejias dived in to block his effort, Ajose wasted a good chance on the rebound by stroking a week shot against Daniel Ayala on the line.
They were rare opportunities in a first half which Boro dominated initially without cutting Leeds open but the visitors thought they had gone in front when Adomah buried an overhead kick on 25 minutes.
The winger pounced after Jason Pearce and Liam Cooper failed to deal with a throw-in but referee Stuart Attwell appeared to penalise Adomah for a high foot, a decision which Boro protested angrily.
Ayala then nodded a free header wide as Grant Leadbetter swung a corner into the box but Leeds responded with a low effort from Bianchi which Mejias held and an off-target volley from Sam Byram.
United saw more and more of the game as the interval approached but it took a brilliant sliding tackle from Stephen Warnock to deny Adomah in injury-time after Leadbitter picked him out with a clever pass.
The contest became increasingly tight and nervous in the second half and a half-hearted penalty shout from Sam Byram after a challenge by Kenneth Omeruo was the only moment of note before the hour.
Sharp might have snatched a winner 11 minutes from time but headed beyond the far post as Luke Murphy’s free-kick dropped to him six yards from goal, but the forward could not be denied when Mejias spilled Tonge’s drive and left an open goal behind him.