Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Ricketts' Spark: United 2 Oldham 0

United boss Kevin Blackwell promised he would be making changes for this Carling Cup game and he delivered on that promise, with two players on for their debuts and eight changes to the side that beat Wolves in all.
Rui Marques came in for his first start, not at centre-half as had been expected, but replacing Gary Kelly at right back. The Portuguese defender had played only 90 minutes for the reserves previously. The other full home debut was given to Jonathon Douglas, the midfielder signed on loan from Blackburn for the season. He came on to good effect against Wolves at the weekend and was rewarded with his first start.
There was a change in goal too where Neil Sullivan came in for Ian Bennett, whilst other changes at the back included Matthew Kilgallon in for the rested Paul Butler and Stephen Crainey played made his first start of the season at left-back.
Asides from Douglas in midfield, there was one further change with Eddie Lewis getting a rest and Danny Pugh made his first start this season.
Upfront Michael Ricketts and David Healy both returned to form a little and large partnership.

The Match
Oldham were the first to show, and came close twice inside the opening 15 minutes.
The first came from a free-kick when Douglas fouled Paul Warne 25-yards out. Andy Liddell, who Kevin Blackwell knows well from their time together at Sheffield United, brushed the side netting with the free kick but Sullivan had let it go wide.
Both sides were showing plenty of huff and puff but there was shortage of clear cut chances until the visitors won a corner on 14 minutes. The corner was swung in and Guy Branston was the man making the run into the area and he met it with a firm header down that was blocked on the line by Frazer Richardson.
It was a let-off for United having failed to track Branston's run but Richardson was placed just where his manager would have wanted him to be.
United's first real shot on goal came on 17 minutes when Ricketts played the ball back across the edge of the area where Healy met it with a right footed shot that drew a great save out of Chris Day in the Oldham goal. It was a first class strike but the save was just as good.
Leeds began to settle down and pass the ball around more and the chances came.
Richardson crossed to Einarsson and the Icelandic midfielder got hold of the ball but shot well over from 20-yards in what was a real chance.
Leeds did not have long to wait for the opening goal though, as Michael Ricketts doubled his goal tally for the club - his first goal having also been scored in the Carling Cup.
Ricketts chased down the defender whose header was poor, allowing Ricketts to pick the ball up on the right hand side of the area and he shot low and hard straight into the far botton left corner of the goal with little hestitation. Cue the now familiar chant of "Ricketts for England." The striker took it well but Oldham manager Ronnie Moore will have been disappointed with his defence.
Four minutes later and it was 2-0 and Leeds were cruising.
David Healy was the provider as he backheeled the ball back to Richardson and the winger smashed home the low shot home in similar style to Rickett's opener, again the ball finding the far corner of the net.
There was concern for United when Douglas was involved in a clash with Warne and the loan signing took a bang which saw him disappear down the tunnel to get a wound on his leg stitched up. Within minutes of Douglas having disappeared for treatment, Gylfi Einarsson took a knock and went down inside his own area for a few minutes. Fortunately he was fine to continue.
Michael Ricketts may have his critics, but there was no doubt his heart was in the right place for this game. Not only was he working hard upfront and trying to put Healy away as often as possible, but he was also getting back and doing plenty of valuable defensive work.
When half time came Leeds were in the rare position of having the game more or less sown up, bar any second half disasters.
Leeds picked up in the second half where they left off at the end of the first, attacking the Oldham penalty area and putting the visiting defence under some heavy pressure.
Richardson put in two dangerous crosses into the heart of the penalty area, one which Ricketts nearly got hold of and another that was just too long for Healy to punish Oldham further with. Einarsson showed his strength in the air again when he met Danny Pugh's corner seven minutes into the half, the ball just landing on top of the netting. Ritchie Wellens tried to reduce the arrears for Oldham with a long range strike that fizzed past Sullivan's left hand post, but there was no real danger in the shot.
Jonathan Douglas could have had a goal on his full debut but his shot from 18-yards flew straight into Chris Day's chest. Had it gone in it might have given the game a bit more life at a time when it appeared both sides were just going through the motions a bit. Leeds came desperately close to making it 3-0 when a chance fell for Healy on 70 minutes. Crainey's ball into the area was headed on by Einarsson and the ball went loose inside the area for Healy to latch onto, but the striker probably took too long to get his shot away and Oldham centre-half Gareth Owen managed to get back and block the shot.
Healy was having a frustrating night on his return to the side, he couldn't quite control a ball from Pugh that found him free inside the area and then later when Einarsson headed a cross from the corner on to the Northern Ireland international he sliced the chance wide but was offside anyway. He went off with ten minutes remaining, replaced by Robbie Blake. Leeds had done more than enough to secure their passage through to the next round, in the end it was comfortable for them but another confidence boost nonetheless.
Warnock loses out on striker
Yorkshire Post

Cresswell chooses Leeds over Blades to spark renewed banter between cohorts

THE WAR of words between former comrades, Kevin Blackwell and Neil Warnock, intensified last night after Richard Cresswell agreed to join Leeds United ahead of Sheffield United.

The 27-year-old striker has agreed a four-year deal at Elland Road, subject to passing a medical at Thorp Arch today, after the fierce Yorkshire rivals both had £1m-plus bids accepted by Preston North End.

Warnock, who did receive some good news yesterday with Portsmouth's David Unsworth agreeing a three-year-deal at Bramall Lane, had been hoping to sign Cresswell as a replacement for Andy Gray, last season's top scorer recently having joined Sunderland for £1m.

However, the Blades manager had clearly become resigned to missing out on his preferred target over the weekend, suggesting after Saturday's 2-1 victory over Preston that the Bridlington-born striker was intent on joining Leeds.

At a press conference yesterday lunchtime to preview Leeds's Carling Cup meeting with Oldham Athletic, Blackwell had seemed keen to avoid becoming embroiled in a spat with his one-time mentor.

However, the United manager last night told the Yorkshire Post: "I would like to thank Neil Warnock for this one. I did not think I had a chance of getting Richard because I felt it was a fait accompli that he was going to Sheffield United.

"The first time we had any encouragement was on Saturday night when Neil said what he did after the Preston game. I started to get phone calls from the media soon after, which was the first time I knew Richard might want to come here.

"I felt it a strange thing for Neil to say and maybe he was trying to use us as a smokescreen to get the deal through. It was very strange because Neil continued to negotiate with Richard on Sunday.

"I had not even spoken to Richard at this point because we all thought the deal (with Blades) was done. I spoke to our chairman and it all went from there."

On his new £1.15m signing, he added: "The pre-season injury to Rob Hulse showed we needed physical cover as there was too much pressure on David Healy and Robbie Blake. Richard will give us that."

The former management duo fell out when Blackwell moved to Leeds in the summer of 2003 to become Peter Reid's assistant, ending a long association that stretched back to their time together at Scarborough in the Eighties. The Blades manager was upset to learn from a journalist that his assistant was leaving and both men revealed on the eve of last April's meeting between their two clubs at Elland Road that they now rarely speak.

Warnock said last night: "I would love to believe everything Kevin says but I take most of it with a pinch of salt. I was aware before the weekend that Leeds had definitely made an enquiry for the player. I am disappointed as I feel it would have been a good career move to come to Bramall Lane, but Leeds have given him a much higher basic salary than we offered. So, it is not a surprise.

"I have to say Ken Bates has done a wonderful job for Leeds United. They have now spent the best part of £4m on their strikers and I would expect that nothing short of automatic promotion will be Leeds's objective now.

"I do know though that spending money is not necessarily a guarantee of being successful. The consolation for me is that when we play Leeds, they can still only play 11 players on the field at any one time. I am trying to be successful without spending vast amounts of money and I am really looking forward to the challenge."

Cresswell started his career at York City before moving to Sheffield Wednesday for £950,000 in 1999. A spell at Leicester City was followed by a switch to Preston where his 21 goals last season helped Billy Davies's side reach the play-off final.

The arrival of Unsworth is a major boost for a Blades side second in the Championship with the 31-year-old able to operate in a number of positions. The Blades will pay a nominal fee to Pompey should the Blades win promotion to the Premiership.

Six strikers who will be competing for places at Elland Road.
Rob Hulse: Must be automatic selection when fit.
Robbie Blake: Slow start, but still has key role to play.
David Healy: Clinical finisher when played up front.
Richard Cresswell: Will compete with Hulse for a starting role.
Ian Moore: Facing tough fight for place in attack.
Michael Ricketts: Exit seems best option for club and player.

Monday, August 22, 2005

United Agree Terms With Cresswell

Leeds United have agreed personal terms with striker Richard Cresswell on a four year contract.
The deal will be complete once the 27-year-old passes a medical at Thorp Arch, with Leeds having agreed to pay Preston North End £1.15m for his services.
United Chairman Ken Bates spoke of the deal, saying:"We don't talk about what we're going to do, we just go out and do it.
"This signing shows our commitment to the future of this club."
Manager Kevin Blackwell likened Cresswell to another striker already at the club, Rob Hulse, and argued that the pair will ensure Leeds carry a physical presence upfront.
"We have needed another striker in," said Blackwell.
"Rob Hulse makes a difference by taking a lot of the weight off David Healy and Robbie Blake. To get a lad of Richard's quality in the club is just superb.
"When Rob missed some games this season we have definitely missed a physical presence upfront so it was decided we should go and do that bit of business right now. We now have soem very capable strikers at the football club."
Sheffield United were one of the clubs believed to be also interested in signing the 27-year-old.
Cresswell began his career with York City where he became an England under-21 international, then moved to Sheffield Wednesday for £950,000 in February 1999. Eighteen months later he joined Leicester City and in July 2001 joined Preston.He was a major influence in Preston's success last season, with the Lillywhites having got to the play-off finals where they were narrowly beaten by West Ham.
Healy Key To Plans

United boss Kevin Blackwell insists David Healy remains very much part of his future plans at Elland Road.
The Northern Ireland international was left out of the last two games with Blackwell opting to change things around tactically, and his absence prompted rumour and speculation that the striker was on his way out of the club.
Claims of a bid from Championship rivals Sheffield United fuelled the speculation further, but Blackwell says any attempt to take him away would be turned down. At the same time he defended his decision to leave Healy on the bench.
He said: "There is nothing to clarify about David Healy, I have had no bid for him and he's not going anywhere.
"I made a decision to leave him out on the strength of him playing international football last week, we talked about it and it was my decision to do that. In both games I have been proven right."
"This club is not about any individual player or person, it's about a team, and whilst fans have favourites, I still have to make sure I am making the right decisions for the club in the general scheme of things."
Blackwell insists that players like Healy are key to his aims for the football club, and he wants to create stability at Elland Road, which means the club is no longer a selling club.
"We have had a lot of clubs very interested in Leeds United players and that tells us we are on the right lines.
"I have had good offers for five players at the football club that could have gone by now, two from Premiership clubs and a couple from the Championship, and that shows the level of the players we have reached here now. "But I need players here now to develop that understanding, and to know that when they come to work they will be at the club for a while. We are putting some roots down, and the longer we can give them the deeper they will grow and the stronger we will be."

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Leeds 2 Wolves 0: Leeds finish Hoddle’s run
Sunday Times
Michael Harold at Elland Road

THE Christmas turkey had barely been digested the last time Glenn Hoddle tasted a league defeat as Wolves manager. For the sake of his side’s promotion ambitions, he’ll hope this performance can be banished from their systems sooner rather than later.
Records, as Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell had said before the game, are there to be broken, even when they arrive as impressively assembled as Wolves’ at Elland Road.
The visitors’ last league loss was on January 4 — opening their finest unbeaten run for more than eight decades — but in finally kick-starting their Championship campaign yesterday Leeds always suggested they were up for puncturing Wolves’ inflated confidence.
A goal in each half from Eddie Lewis and Rob Hulse delivered the Yorkshiremen’s most assured performance of the season so far, but Blackwell knows such an important scalp will only mean something if they avoid the kind of needless defeats that so derailed their hopes of an immediate return to the Premiership last year.
“I’ll tell you in May how important this result will be,” said Blackwell. “But what I do know is that it will give the club confidence and give the players confidence. The signs are that we can get better, so that’s why a win over Wolves might be significant.”
With eight minutes gone, Wolves gifted their hosts just the kind of start Blackwell had been after. Under close attention from the impressive Icelander Gylfi Einarsson, Wolves’ Lee Naylor spilled possession to Frazer Richardson on the right. The midfielder, making his first start of the season in place of Jermaine Wright, dragged the ball across goal and into the path of the incoming Lewis, who side-footed it into the net.
Wolves, minus an injured Paul Ince, were posing only a sporadic threat as Leeds dominated the opening half-hour, but they almost regained parity through Kenny Miller after 23 minutes. The Scot, having been put through by Ki-Hyeon Seol, smacked the crossbar from 20 yards and then almost followed up a mazy dribble only to be denied by goalkeeper Ian Bennett.
Miller’s intervention did at least prompt his teammates into greater attacking pressure, and seven minutes before half-time only a sliding Richardson could deny Rohan Ricketts a clear shot on goal after Carl Cort’s pull-back. Just before the break, Cort employed a delightful first touch to almost turn Naylor’s cross into an equaliser.
After the break, Wolves began to take the game to their hosts in a far more convincing manner, with Seol in particular beginning to see more of the ball on the right flank. Their better football was not responsible for their next chance, however, which came when Naylor’s 55th-minute free-kick was deflected into the path of Cort, who scuffed his shot.
The striker’s miss proved expensive, as Leeds doubled their lead on the hour. Paul Butler’s free kick was headed on by Einarsson, but Hulse still had much to do as he received the ball with his back to goal six yards out. He turned delightfully, leaving Joleon Lescott stranded as he fired a low shot past Michael Oakes. The smartly taken goal in effect ended the game as a contest, and Wolves needed a brilliant save from Oakes to stop Lewis adding a third after Richardson’s 76th-minute cross.
“We’ve now got to bounce back from that,” admitted Hoddle, who insisted his side had been hard done by. “I’m not concerned about unbeaten runs, I’m concerned with getting promotion. That’s the only stat I’m interested in after 46 games.”

STAR MAN: Gylfi Einarsson (Leeds United)
Player ratings. Leeds United: Bennett 7, Kelly 7, Butler 7, Gregan 8, Harding 7, Richardson 7 (Healy 80min, 6), Derry 7, Einarsson 9, Lewis 7, Blake 6 (Douglas 58min, 6), Hulse 8 (Ricketts, 75min 6)
Wolves: Oakes 6, McNamara 6, Edwards 6, Lescott 5, Naylor 7, Cameron 6 (Clarke 69min, 6), Olofinjana 6, Ricketts 7 (Davies 59min, 6), Seol 7 (Ndah 64min, 6), Cort 6, Miller 8

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Leeds 2 Wolves 0

Leeds enjoyed a great morale boosting win over Championship rivals Wolves, with Rob Hulse finding the net on his return from injury and Eddie Lewis scoring his first goal for the club.

United boss Kevin Blackwell made several changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Luton at Kenilworth Road last week.
Frazer Richardson, fresh from signing a new contract that keeps him at the club until 2009, was rewarded with a place on the right wing in place of Jermaine Wright, whilst upfront the big surprise was the return of Rob Hulse. The striker replaced Michael Ricketts in what was his first game since recovering from an ankle ligament injury picked up in pre-season.
Eirik Bakke's controversial decision to play for Norway in midweek backfired on him as he picked up an injury that saw him ruled out. His place in the centre of midfield was taken by Gylfi Einarsson.
New season long loan signing Jonathon Douglas signed in time to be given a place on the bench, where Neil Sullivan also made it after passing a fitness test before the game.

The Match
United got the perfect start after seven minutes when USA international Eddie Lewis scored the first goal of his Leeds United career.
Richardson met Kelly's ball into the edge of the area and he left two Wolves defenders in his wake, made it to the byline and cut the ball back across the face of the area where it appeared as if he had missed the intended target of Rob Hulse, but Eddie Lewis came steaming in and made no mistake from 12-yards out.
It was also just the start the game needed, for Wolves were desperate to continue a 21 match unbeaten run and it guaranteed they would come out and try to attack Leeds and make a real game of it. Kenny Miller had Wolves first chance to level the scores but as the ball broke to him on the edge of the area his first time, low, curling shot was straight into Ian Bennett's hands.
United fans screamed for a penalty midway through the half when in preventing Robbie Blake from getting away from him just inside the penalty area, Wolves defender Rob Edwards appeared to handle the ball as he turned to clear it.
Nothing was forthcoming though and whilst Leeds were still protesting, Wolves broke and came within a whisker of fashioning an equaliser.
Kenny Miller met a hanging cross on the right hand side of the area with a right foot volley that cannoned off the crossbar with Bennett beaten, and then with the ball still in play, Miller looked to go clean through on goal and was only prevented when Dan Harding nipped back and cleared the danger.
Rob Hulse gave Leeds an uneasy few minutes when he went down injured after being clattered by Michael Oakes the Wolves keeper. Fortunately he was able to rejoin the action but having just come back from injury, there were more than a few fears on the bench.Frazer Richardson could have made it 2-0 right at the end of normal time in the half, but his shot was deflected through legs and easily held by Oakes. Wolves had a chance of their own before the half-time whistle went, Carl Cort's shot was blocked well by Butler, otherwise it would have presented Bennett with a real test.
The statistics for the half told a story that Kevin Blackwell would not have been happy with. Wolves had had 11 shots on target compared to just two for the Whites, and Wolves had also enjoyed the vast majority of the possession.
At the start of the second half Lewis won a free-kick 20-yards out and again the free-kick routine where the three men going for the ball pretend to mess it up was employed. Robbie Blake eventually took the shot but it was straight into the wall.
On 58 minutes Blackwell made his first change of the game, with Robbie Blake going off and new-boy Jonathon Douglas coming on. Wolves also made a change of their own, Rohan Ricketts went off and Davies went on.
A minute later and it was 2-0 with Hulse giving Leeds some breathing space.
Gregan's free-kick was met by Einarsson climbing high in the box and his header found Hulse on the edge of the six yard box. Hulse still had plenty of hard work to do, but he turned Olofinjana and squeezed in a shot under the body of Oakes. It was a great way for the striker to mark his return and it gives him a record that reads one goal every two games for United. Colin Cameron must have been wondering exactly what he had to do to get a goal for Wolves. He had at least six shots on goal himself, and his best chance came on 68 minutes when he was left with just Bennett to beat, but from a narrow angle saw Bennett beat his high shot away to safety. Cameron was substituted shortly afterwards and left the field dejected.
With 15 minutes to go, Rob Hulse left the field to a standing ovation and was replaced by Michael Ricketts - although the crowd made it clear to Blackwell that they wanted to see David Healy on the pitch.
Just after the chance Richardson delivered a long cross and Eddie Lewis came in with a flying header at the back post and must have felt certain he would score his second goal as he connected perfectly with his header, but Oakes pulled off a great save, flinging himself at the ball and managing to palm it away. David Healy did eventually come on, and he did so to a hero's reception. Frazer Richardson, who had justified his inclusion in the starting XI, made way.
Two-nil nearly became 3-0 as Ricketts turned and shot inside the area but only found the side netting. The big man is getting closer with every game to his first league goal for the club.
Ian Bennett was clattered into in extra time and received treatment, and fortunately he was not added to United's injury list.
Leeds might not have played at their best, but they were still able to make their possession count with the two goals, and they can be very satisfied at taking three points off a side that, on this evidence, will still be one of the contenders for promotion come the end of the season.
Blackwell Gets Douglas And Targets One Other

Leeds United have signed promising young Irish international midfielder Jonathan Douglas on a year long loan deal, whilst Kevin Blackwell is also targeting a permanent "significant signing."
Blackwell would not divulge more details of the mystery signing, but it is understood to be a player with significant experience and who Blackwell insists will add quality to a squad which has already seen heavy investment in it over the past six months.
The player would be signing a permanently contract at Elland Road if the deal goes through.
Twice capped by the Republic of Ireland, former youth trainee Douglas made his debut for Blackburn in the League Cup against West Ham United in 2000.
He has also spent time on loan with Chesterfield, Blackburn and last season was with Gillingham for two months.
The 23-year-old will be included in the squad for tomorrow's Championship game against Wolves at Elland Road.
Blackwell said: "Jonathan is a young lad who did well during his time on loan last season and he is someone who offers me a number of options across midfield. "He's also the type of midfielder who can get you a goal when you most need it."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

'Deano for England' - new pages uploaded at mightyleeds.co.uk

I've just uploaded my review of the amazing Leeds-QPR game in November 2004.

'I see the donkey's playing up front again...' - a veteran enjoys an amazing swansong during his return to Elland Road and sparks cries of 'Deano for England'

You can find it at http://www.mightyleeds.co.uk/matches/20041120.htm
Luton 0 Leeds 0

United came away from Kenilworth Road with a valuable point after holding a Luton side that had won their opening two games of the season.
The match was far from being a classic, but Kevin Blackwell will have been delighted with the result all the same. Luton had not lost in nine game and after wins against Crystal Palace and Southampton, were definitely a dangerous proposition.
As usual there were a few good chances for Leeds to take all three points, but yet again these were passed up.

United boss Kevin Blackwell decided to make two changes for the trip to his hometown, one of them expected, the other a major surprise.
In goal Neil Sullivan's fitness concerns saw him make way for Ian Bennett to make his first league start for the club, whilst upfront Blackwell decided to go for power and physical presence by playing Michael Ricketts at the expense of David Healy, whose double helped United to their opening win over Millwall a week ago.
Sullivan's injury meant there was no reserve keeper on the bench.
For Luton, former United youngster Warren Feeney, once rated as exciting a prospect as Alan Smith, started against his former team, but there was little doubt the danger for Leeds would be striker Steve Howard, who at 6'3" is a real handful and scored 22 goals in Luton's promotion season.

The Match
A slip on the wet surface from Kevin Nicholls gave Michael Ricketts a chance to run at goal, Luton managed to force him wide but he put in a good ball across the face of goal that was just over the top of Robbie Blake who timed his run into the penalty area well.
The best early chance for Leeds came when Michael Ricketts won a corner on ten minutes. Eddie Lewis delivered it perfectly towards Shaun Derry in space, but the midfielder only got a slight touch on the header and it barely troubled the keeper.
There was concern for skipper Paul Butler when he got caught inside his own area by Luton hitman Steve Howard. Butler was fortunately alright but Howard received a harsh yellow card for going for the ball.
Luton had an opportunity to put Bennett under pressure when they had a little spell of possession inside the last third of the United half, but it came to nothing with Steve Robinson heading over and Howard heading a cross into the side netting.
With 26 minutes gone Luton were denied when Howard hit the post with a shot under pressure from Gregan. In fact Leeds survived twice as the ball came back to Howard but he couldn't turn it in as he slid towards the goalline. It was a real let-off for United.
Eirik Bakke is getting closer and closer to a goal this season, and he was unlucky again when Wright played him through on the right hand side of the penalty area and his low drive was blocked by the keeper for a corner.
It was Luton though who came closest again with a spectacular effort from the dangerous winger Ahmet Brkovic that grazed the top of Bennett's crossbar.
Derry won a free-kick just a yard outside the penalty area when he was brought down after skipping past the right-back, but Lewis curled the free-kick onto the roof of the net.
Leeds best chance of the first half fell right on the stroke of half time. Derry broke from defence with Luton caught cold, he found Blake who then played a lovely cross field ball towards Ricketts, but the big man sidefooted his shot past the post and a glorious chance went begging.No changes for either side at half-time, the game took a while to get going and the first action of any note came on 52 minutes when Bakke shot straight into body of Dean Brill in the Luton Town goal.Luton missed a chance of their own soon after when Feeney couldn't connect with Brkovic's cross.
Leeds nearly punished them for the miss when Lewis broke and Blake shot wide from the left hand side of the penalty area. Just after the hour Leeds broke again from another Luton corner and the move so nearly ended with an opening goal. Derry brought the ball forward, he found Ricketts on the edge of a crowded penalty area, but the striker cleverly flicked the ball through for Eddie Lewis to run onto. Lewis brought a good save out of Brill though as he tried to chip the ball over the teenage keeper. David Healy made his entrance on 66 minutes with Robbie Blake making way. A second change followed five minutes later with Frazer Richardson coming on for Wright.
Ian Bennett will have done his chances of holding onto his place in goal no harm with a good save on 72 minutes to deny Luton the lead from a free-kick. Nicholls' free-kick was heading into the top right hand corner of the net but Bennett was just able to get a hand in the way and claw the ball out for a corner.
A mistimed challenge from Dan Harding on Brkovic earned him the first yellow card of the game for United.
Blackwell's final change saw Ricketts replaced by Gylfi Einarsson with just under quarter of an hour to play. Eirik Bakke moved up alongside David Healy in attack.
It needed a spark from someone to find a breakthrough.
That spark nearly came for the home side when Kevin Foley found himself in space for the shot, but Bennett was commanding again in his goal and made the save. In truth the second half was a pale immitation of a first half that had seen both sides create a number of chances, but as the referee drew the game to a close there will have been few complaints about the result from United.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Times 10/8/05
Purse ensures Leeds remain haunted by Ridsdale factor
By Russell Kempson
Cardiff City 2 Leeds United 1

IT IS a long way back to the Premiership and Leeds United were handed another reminder of how tortuous the trip may be when they were beaten by Cardiff City at Ninian Park last night. Slumming it in the Coca-Cola Championship is no fun for the top-flight leaders of only 3½ years ago and the throwing-away of a 1-0 half-time lead against a resilient Cardiff side did little for their self-respect, either.
Still hamstrung by the debts accrued during the boom-and-almost-bust era of Peter Ridsdale, their former chairman, Leeds made little headway in their efforts to return to the Premiership at the first attempt last season. Although at one stage flirting with the play-offs, a closing run of one win in ten matches meant that they had to settle for fourteenth place.
Leeds opened their 2005-06 account with a 2-1 home win against Millwall on Sunday, but it took an age for them to reproduce the promise shown at Elland Road in the Welsh capital. Cardiff could have taken the lead, after the brightest of openings, but Kevin Cooper drove straight at Neil Sullivan.
Gradually, Leeds asserted control, with Shaun Derry to the fore in midfield. In the 22nd minute, Gary Kelly initiated a swift move along the right flank and David Healy crossed for Robbie Blake to guide in his first goal since joining the club from Birmingham City for £800,000 during the summer.
“Ridsdale, Ridsdale, what’s the score?” the small band of Leeds fans crowed. Ridsdale is now No 2 to Sam Hammam, the Cardiff owner. His embarrassment almost increased on the stroke of half-time when Healy, scorer of both goals against Millwall, blazed over the crossbar from close range.
Jermaine Wright also squandered a decent opening early in the second half, after Darren Purse had blocked a fierce shot from Healy, when his low drive skidded narrowly past a post with Neil Alexander beaten. The home supporters grew more vociferous and, encouraged, the Cardiff players responded with gusto. Jason Koumas had been on the pitch for only three minutes when, on the hour, he lashed in a left-foot shot from 20 yards. Six minutes later, Matthew Kilgallon, a half-time replacement for Paul Butler, thrust a hand inadvertently at Neal Ardley’s cross and Purse thundered home the penalty. From a position of strength, Leeds had inexplicably crumbled.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Healy double seals Leeds win
by Alex Dunn - created on 7 Aug 2005 - Sky Sports

Two sides with contrasting summers met at Elland Road and predictably, it was Leeds who came out on top as they beat troubled Millwall 2-1 at Elland Road.
Whilst Ken Bates has dug deep to assemble a side that looks capable of delivering a play-off berth, Millwall have dispensed with two managers and several of their top players since the close of last season.
In a game that will not live long in the memory, Leeds woke the home crowd on 27 minutes when David Healy swiveled to expose lacklustre Millwall defending but his effort was cancelled out in the second half as debutant Don Hutchison found a leveller on the hour mark.
The first period was a largely sterile affair as both sides squandered possession all too readily - although on occasions Leeds did show sporadic moments of quality.
American wide man Eddie Lewis could have marked his Leeds bow with a goal but screwed his shot wide before Healy's stooped header arched over the top of Andy Marshall's goal.
Barry Hayles looked full of running on the counter for Millwall but in Healy, Leeds have one of the division's top predators and after a corner kick was failed to be dealt with, the diminutive Irishman turned in the six-yard box to lash the ball past Marshall.
A fit again Eirik Bakke saw a near-post shot saved after a powerful run into Millwall's box before Hutchison marked his first appearance with a goal.
Alan Dunne dispossessed Leeds' Dan Harding on the byline and from the full back's cut back, Hutchison delivered a stunning strike from 12 yards past Neil Sullivan high into his near post.
Leeds' response was to up the tempo and whilst they had control for large spells, chances were at a premium and they were mightily relieved when on 73 minutes Bakke was upended in the box to hand Healy a chance to grab his second from the penalty spot. The diminutive livewire dispatched with aplomb from 12 yards and with substitute Michael Ricketts proving a powerful nuisance, Millwall never really looked like getting back into the first game of what could be a long season.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Blackwell Sets The Target

Kevin Blackwell has confidently spelled out his target for this season - a top six finish.
After a summer of heavy investment in the team Leeds are expected to do well this season and are tipped to challenge for the promotion places, and the Leeds boss believes it is an attainable target.
It all starts against Millwall at Elland Road tomorrow (12.15pm KO) and Blackwell cannot wait.
"I am excited with the players I have here now and I know time will prove me right when I say that this team will get better and better," he said.
"It's not an arrogant confidence because we know as a club that arrogance comes before a fall and we have had a big fall. I am confident with the players I have got here.
"Young Dan Harding has a big future ahead of him, there's Rob Hulse at 25, David Healy the same age, Gylfi only 24, Matthew Spring and Kilgallon are only young too and there is a lot of good youth there with some experienced players. Paul Butler is the leader and he knows that he has a responsibility to drag the this club to new heights and I think he is as excited about it as I am.
"We have turned the club around in terms of not looking over our shoulder at relegation, but that is not good enough for Leeds and we have got to get back to the Premier League sooner rather than later. I am not putting all the pressure on us to do it this season either, but I think we all know that if we finish off stronger than we did last season when we were only eight points off the play-offs, we can be in there, and that's what I am looking to bridge this season.
"My minimum aim is to finish in that top six."
Blackwell also believes he probably has the best opportunity to succeed at the club than the previous three managers enjoyed, largely thanks to the fact that the rot has stopped and the groundwork has been put in place for him to manage without financial problems overtaking his plans.
For one thing, he now has the ability to play two different teams if necessary, such is the competition that now exists at Elland Road.
"I feel I am fortunate because I am the only manager in the last three years to be able to do that,"
"I know Peter (Reid) and Eddie (Gray), and even Terry Venables towards the end, were never afforded that. The 11 players that started were basically it every week and there wasn't any competition from behind them.
"We have had a vision for the football club and it's not always easy to reach it, but we have moved so quickly in the last eight months. I watch our team now and I think it's exciting, and the good thing is there's still more to come from them. "It is a side that is still in its infancy and is we see what we've been seeing flashes of in pre-season then it will be an exciting season."

Carlisle joins Watford from Leeds

Watford have beaten off competition from Stoke to sign central defender Clarke Carlisle from Leeds.
Leeds accepted £100,000 from both clubs, but the Hornets clinched a three-year deal for the 25-year-old.
Watford manager Adrian Boothroyd told the club website: "He is exactly the type of defender I wanted." Carlisle joined Leeds on a free transfer from QPR last season and made 38 appearances before returning south after one season.
'Wealthy' Johnson exits United
Richard Sutcliffe

A LEADING symbol of the largesse that almost brought down Leeds United left Elland Road yesterday when Seth Johnson's contract was cancelled by mutual consent.
The 26-year-old joined United from Derby County in 2001 for an initial £7m and was handed an extraordinarily generous five-year contract reputed to be around £38,000 per week.
Johnson, who is believed to be keen on finding a new club in the north, has played just 59 games for Leeds and one more appearance would have triggered a £250,000 payment to the Rams under the terms of his transfer to Elland Road.
Chairman Ken Bates last night told the Yorkshire Post: "There are a few people Kevin Blackwell inherited that are slowly being moved out and one of those is Seth Johnson, who we have paid off.
"He had a good pre-season but went to Norway, played 45 minutes and then his knee swelled up. With the transfer window coming in this season, we could not take the risk because the team we have on September 1 will be the team we have until December 31.
"He has got everything he is entitled to, but the way we have done it means there are cost savings for Leeds United. He is a fortunate young man to be so wealthy at a young age and I just hope he looks after his money.
"It leaves us with Eirik Bakke and Gary Kelly of the old guard and Bakke went in to see the manager yesterday to tell him he wants to stay and help Leeds into the Premiership, which was nice."
The transfer window, which has been in operation in the Premiership since 2002-2003, will operate in the Coca-Cola Football League for the first time this season. No players will be allowed to move clubs between September 1 and December 31, or from February 1 to the end of the campaign.
The two remaining big-earners from United's days in the Premiership are Bakke, with a year remaining on his current deal, and Kelly, who is contracted to the Elland Road club until 2007.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

United ship is back on course

With the big kick-off just four days away for Leeds United, YEP soccer writer PAUL DEWS talks exclusively to chairman Ken Bates about the progress made at Elland Road and his hopes for the future

IF the Leeds United squad is in such sparkling form as chairman Ken Bates, they'll have the Coca-Cola Championship wrapped up by Christmas!

Bates, a tax exile in Monaco, is itching for the big kick-off and from initial scepticism when he took over the club six months ago, he appears to be winning over the Leeds United faithful.

"I think the initial suspicions of having a cockney down at Elland Road have passed now and people are coming around," says Bates."I tell people there is only a cockney at Elland Road because no-one from here was prepared to put their money in. One guy asked how much I was taking out of the club. I said 'not a penny, there's none there because all the other buggers have taken it!'."

That's Bates all over. A dry sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye.

And these past few weeks, he has been like a child awaiting Christmas.

Pre-season is all very well for whetting the appetite, but there's nothing like the real thing, and Bates' Leeds United are looking good bets to put some fizz into the Coca-Cola Championship this season.It's a new-look Leeds and, dare I say it, a new era. The Bates era.

Since saving the club from going under in January, the former Chelsea chief has rolled back the years to rise to the challenge of revitalising United and, while the job is far from complete, the Elland Road club is finally moving in the right direction.

Former chairman John McKenzie likened the rebuilding of the club to turning an oil tanker around.With captain Bates at the helm, and wife Suzannah by his side offering unstinting support, that ship is now turning, some two years down the line, and is heading away from the rocks.

Bates isn't one for analogies – he is a bluff, honest man who speaks from the heart. While some may not always like what they hear, his efforts since taking over Leeds cannot be questioned. From being on the verge of bankruptcy to becoming a stable entity was the chairman's biggest challenge and, as the new season approaches, there is light visible through the trees.

"It's a much tighter ship now than it was," says Bates. "The club won't be going bust and the threat of administration has now passed. That said, we still don't have much money and we have to watch our pennies. There are still little things coming out of the woodwork, but there's not much woodwork left now. Last week we had something else crop up that we were able to negotiate, but I think we can draw a line under all that now. And I've been very encouraged by the interest of corporates and businesses."

And it's the challenge that provides the buzz that keeps Bates feeling young.

Monaco may be his base, but the Elland Road club is never far away from the thoughts of a chairman who wants to bring the good times back.

Aside from cursing the scaffolders and assorted tradesmen who take over Monaco for the Grand Prix during mid-summer – his pet hate about his adopted home – Bates has spent the remainder of the off-season watching over United like a proud father over his new-born baby.

Significantly, Bates has presided over a string of incomings that has seen nine permanent recruits added to last season's squad. At £1.1m, Rob Hulse commanded the biggest outlay, but Leeds have also shelled out transfer fees for Shaun Derry, Ian Moore, Dan Harding and Robbie Blake.In addition, Steve Stone, Eddie Lewis, Ian Bennett and Rui Marques have joined on frees, and 12 months on from scrapping and scrounging the basement bargains, Leeds have set their sights higher.

"How have we done it?" muses Bates. "By being very careful and saving quite a bit in the budgets. Prudence. We paid off Michael Duberry at the end of last season and that saved us £650,000. We then sold Aaron Lennon – we didn't want to sell, but he had a stupid contract. We came to a settlement with Julian Joachim which will help us with our spending. That has saved us money and helped give us a fighting fund. We also looked at the Academy and there were a lot of overpaid kids in there. We looked at all the bits and bats and that's all helped. Of the players we've brought in, we haven't paid for Lewis, Stone and Bennett. With the others the deals are structured so we are chipping away at the payments.

"It's been very similar to how it was at Chelsea. It's the same formula, rebuilding brick by brick. We've also got the players we can afford."

Despite his hard-nosed approach to the business angle, there is no doubting Bates' motives for riding into Leeds last January. First and foremost he is a football man. No, he is a football obsessive. He has followed United's pre-season games from Monaco with all the eagerness of a young fan desperate to see his side succeed.

Midnight telephone calls and snatches of information have kept the chairman's thirst quenched over the past few weeks, but there's no masking his anticipation of the season ahead. That said, he is making no predictions, other than acknowledging the competition on offer.

"I'm very encouraged by the players we have here," insists Bates."I think the bonus payments shows their attitude. And we've got a strong team. We've actually had enquiries for eight of our players over the summer so I think we must have a pretty good squad. There are five or six teams who will be in contention this season and one other always comes out of the blue. Norwich have been very clever and have kept a strong team, and Crystal Palace should be up there after they managed to hang on to Andy Johnson. I think there is a question mark over Southampton, but Sheffield United will be there. They are a well run club and Neil Warnock is a canny manager. Possibly there's Wolves and there's the other three Midland teams – Leicester, Coventry and Derby. They've all got new managers, there are bits of turmoil and you don't know how they will come out."

While Bates is cagey over his expectations – "There is so much uncertainty, a chairman can expect anything" – he has given his full backing to his manager and thrown his weight firmly behind Kevin Blackwell.

"He deserved that because of what he inherited," says Bates firmly. "I demand loyalty and when you demand that, you have to show loyalty. Kevin has got the players he wanted. We pushed the boat out and it's up to him now. It's a great opportunity for him to stamp his mark on the game. He is one of the best qualified coaches in the game and Sam Ellis is his foil. The important thing isn't getting up, it's making sure that when we do get up, we stay in the Premiership."

What is important for Bates now is that nothing should undermine the progress that Leeds are making. Already, he has fended off constant speculation about Blackwell's future as manager and has become involved in a spat with supporters about season ticket prices and the new procedure for handing out away tickets. He's also had to contend with the constant mischief-making, suggesting he is ready to bail out of the club after less than seven months in charge. He laughs off the claims – he is looking at property in Leeds – and will happily sue anyone who wants to put the suggestions in the public arena.It's fair to say that Bates still enjoys the odd spat, even now, but there are signs that he is mellowing.

Take the telephone call to the 11-year-old girl whose dad refused to renew her season ticket. Imagine the dad's face when the voice at the other end said: "Hello, Ken Bates here. Is your daughter around?"

Needless to say, the youngster will be present on Sunday, complete with her season ticket. Bates hasn't broadcast much of what he has done since taking over and has given few secrets away, but he happily admits he is working hard to forge a relationship with the people of Leeds and is enjoying the challenge.

"Yorkshire people definitely like to do deals, but there are no deals to be done here," he laughs. "Things should be paid for in full. This is my first experience where we sell reserved seats for the season without receiving the money up front. That won't happen again after this year.

"I'm still learning about how Yorkshire works. At Chelsea when you reserved your seat you paid for it. It's simple. A top class club has to be paid for by the fans. The last time Leeds were up there, it was paid for by the likes of Teachers and the Pru who lent the club a lot of money."

Bates is defiant in his belief that it is the fans who must fund the club going forward again, but says he is keen to foster relations. More than £3m has been spent on the ground over the summer, with new lounges, corporate areas and improved concourse facilities. The catering on offer to fans will also be vastly improved.

"The ground was looking seedy and shabby, and I think the fans will be pleasantly surprised on Sunday," he says. "It's amazing what a couple of coats of paint and some new carpets can do. We've also created a new chairman's box inside the directors' box. We put 30 seats up for sale at £6.2k – they are probably the most expensive seats in the Championship – and do you know how many we've sold? 35."

Bates has also launched a new Leeds United Members Club and says the priority is forging a direct bond between the club and the fans. Members will be able to make exclusive use of the conference centre bar facilities before and after all home games. United legend Peter Lorimer will be on hand to offer his views, and there is the promise of more guests to follow. Junior supporters have also played their part by choosing the name of Lucas the Kop Cat – United's new mascot – and fans young and old flocked to Elland Road last weekend for a family fun day.

"The club hasn't really had any connections with the fans," explains Bates. "We know we've put a few noses out of joint with the way we've restructured things, but we've got 17,500 members already and that makes them a part of what we are doing. We want to talk to them to see what is going on and, unlike in the past, I want to make sure that the tickets are going to fans who support Leeds."

And with that, talk returns to football, and United's chances for the coming season. "I just can't wait for August 7," he adds.