Saturday, March 31, 2007
Leeds lifted by Healy's header
By Richard Sutcliffe at Elland Road
Leeds United 2 Preston North End 1
"WE'RE going to Liverpool, you're going to Blackpool," mocked the small band of Preston North End fans in the corner of Elland Road ahead of kick-off last night.On the evidence of the absorbing action that followed, the first half of such a bold claim is about as likely to happen as Steve McClaren suddenly becoming the darling of English football. The sentiment about Leeds facing a trip to the seaside next season could also prove wide of the mark after a pulsating United victory was sealed in thrilling fashion by David Healy in the final minute.Fresh from his heroics with Northern Ireland, the Leeds striker delivered just when his side needed it most to deliver three points. Elland Road erupted with the joy of players, coaching staff and fans speaking volumes for the potential value of this victory.Not only does it lift United off the bottom of the Championship for the first time in two months, it means survival could yet be earned by a side now unbeaten in four games. It was a fitting, and ultimately deserved ending to an engrossing and tension-filled night as Dennis Wise's side finally displayed the sort of quality and determination needed to get out of trouble.Results today, and particularly in the Hull v Southend and Burnley v Luton games, will mean the relegation picture will be slightly clearer come 5pm.But at least there is now hope for Leeds after the sort of display that, had it been repeated across the campaign, would have seen the club battling Preston for a play-off position rather than fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the Championship. Wise had been able to field a strong side with no less than five current internationals starting the game along with a former England left-back and a goalkeeper, Casper Ankergren, who seems just weeks away from his senior bow with Denmark.Such quality meant Leeds were able to play at such a tempo that Preston found it difficult to keep pace. The probing of Robbie Blake combined with the energy and zest of a midfield that Radostin Kishishev's arrival has breathed life into meant the first half was as one-sided affair as Sky viewers watching at home are likely to see all year. Richard Cresswell, David Healy and Robbie Blake all dragged efforts just wide of the target after incisive moves, and it took a full-length save from Andy Lonergan to deny Lubomir Michalik's powerful volley.Such wastefulness in front of goal meant Preston went in at the break ahead courtesy of some customary poor defending from United.Neat play between Callum Davidson and Elland Road old boy Danny Pugh had seen the ball played through for Brett Ormerod who, taking advantage of the home defence wrongly appealing for offside, raced through to score.Leeds equalised seven minutes after the restart when Blake slid in at the far post to convert Cresswell's drilled cross from the left flank. That was just the lift the home side needed and after a couple of fortunate offside flags had denied Preston, substitute Michael Ricketts did
more for United's cause than he managed throughout his time at Elland Road by firing an easy chance over from close range with just 13 minutes left on the clock.That meant when Healy cleverly converted a left-wing cross from Eddie Lewis in the final minute United had the victory their efforts had so deserved. It also means that after taking four points from successive games against Southend and North End, it is not yet the end of the club's quest to stay up.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Healy heroics boost Leeds
By Peter ORourke
David Healy's last-gasp goal gave Leeds a dramatic 2-1 win over Preston at Elland Road.
The Northern Ireland international continued his recent rich vein of form in front of goal with the winner in the final minute against his former club.
Brett Ormerod gave Preston an early lead, but Robbie Blake cancelled out the opener early in the second half before Healy struck the winner for Leeds in the dying seconds.
Preston started brightly and could have taken the lead after just two minutes, but England new boy David Nugent drove his volley wide.
The visitors broke the deadlock on five minutes when Danny Pugh sent Ormerod clear on goal past and the former Leeds loanee clipped his shot past Casper Ankergren.
Leeds tried to rally after the goal and Lubomir Michalik saw a goal-bound deflected wide before Blake drove just side from the edge of the box.
Ormerod was denied his second goal of the night on 23 minutes when he again sprung the Leeds offside trap, but his shot was kept out by the legs of Ankergren .
Healy fashioned an opening for himself on the half hour mark when he worked a neat corner routine with Blake only to drive his shot well wide of the target.
Leeds threw everything into attack at the end of the first half and Matt Heath and Healy both went close to scoring before the break.
The home side levelled matters six minutes after the break when Richard Cresswell crossed to the back post and Blake was on hand to slide the ball home from close-range.
Nugent should have restored Preston's lead five minutes later when he latched onto a mistake by Matt Heath to go clear on goal, but with only Ankergren to beat the normally deadly striker hit his shot straight at the keeper.
Former Leeds misfit Michael Ricketts missed a golden opportunity to fire Preston in front on 77 minutes when he saw his close-range shot come off the top of the crossbar and over the top.
The game looked set to end all-square until Healy capitalised on a mix-up in the Preston defence to bundle the ball home with his head from close-range to send Elland Road into raptures.
The win moves Leeds off the bottom of the table, while Preston remain in fourth spot.
Marching on together into obscurity – where it all went wrong for Leeds United
As away trips to Gillingham beckon, our correspondent begins his two-part series on the fall of a former power
Who killed Leeds United? It is a question that involves murder, excess and rented goldfish, with the answer lying somewhere in the detritus between Taksim Square, the Majestyk nightclub and a room above the Miss World office in Soho. Now football’s biggest fall is nearing the nadir of another relegation. It is the end of a brave new world.
The transformation from a club who reached the Champions League semi-final in 2001 to the present cadaver seemingly doomed to drop into Coca-Cola League One while still paying off Paul Okon, a bit-part player who left the club four years ago on the back of 15 league appearances, is a morality tale.
It began on January 11, 2000, when Sarfraz Najeib was beaten and bitten in an assault off Boar Lane in the city centre. Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer were among those arrested, whereupon Leeds’s new-found popularity evaporated. A stench of suspicion lingered over the club, not helped by the fanatic who threatened to fire-bomb Leeds Metropolitan University, where Najeib was a student, if the players were jailed.
Initially, Leeds prospered and the remainder of that season was wildly successful on the pitch. David Wetherall’s goal for Bradford City against Liverpool on the last day of the season ensured that Leeds qualified for the Champions League and sparked an unprecedented spending spree.
Peter Ridsdale, then the Leeds chairman, was a hugely popular figure at the time. His dignity after the murders of two Leeds fans before that season’s Uefa Cup semi-final against Galatasaray had endeared him to all. Ridsdale had seen the stab wounds and sent his driver to pick up more blood from a neighbouring hospital in Istanbul. He was with Philip Loftus when he identified his brother’s body.
Nobody doubted that he cared. This was the man who had become chairman of the local education authority when it was falling foul of Ofsted, a fan who saw his first Leeds game in 1959 and who idolised Gary Sprake. Two years later, he would meet Sue Speight, one of the widows of the murdered, at a preseason match against Farsley Celtic.
"Her children are doing well and she is looking like her old self," he said in his part-time office above the Miss World headquarters in London, but by then David O’Leary had been dismissed, the club were out of control and Sprake was no longer the Leeds fall guy.
O’Leary’s first buy was David Batty and the rookie manager went on to spend £94 million, recouping £28 million. In 16 heady months up to the arrival of Robbie Fowler in November, 2001, he parted with a net £50 million. To fund this huge increase in ambition — George Graham, the previous manager, had taken Leeds to fifth in 1998 after spending a net £500,000 that season — Ridsdale struck a deal with Ray Ranson, head of Registered European Football Finance, to borrow money up front and pay it back with interest over the course of a player’s contract.
The board also recruited Stephen Schechter, a Wall Street finance guru, to get them £50 million. He managed £60 million as Leeds mortgaged their future against future season-ticket sales. "The importance of the debt has been overstated," one of the directors from that time said.
"The thing you have to do is service the debt. We were unlucky in that the transfer market collapsed and we missed out on the Champions League by one point in 2001 and one place in 2002. Even so, that squad should never have gone down."
Peter Lorimer, the Leeds legend, local pub landlord and later a director himself, sees it differently. "Give me £100 million and there’s a fair chance I would do OK in the Premiership," he said. "Peter got carried away with a bit of glory." Ridsdale’s public utterances made little sense as he paved the road to ruin. "Robbie Fowler is a unique talent and we bought Robbie Keane because we never thought Fowler would become available," he mused. It left Leeds with six strikers.
"When I went, we had £12 million in the bank and we were planning for a 50,000 capacity," Bill Fotherby, Ridsdale’s predecessor, said. "It stems from the top and you don’t need 24 O levels to realise that anybody will give you money if they know they’re going to get much more back.
"It all changed with the onset of plcs — you get people who are in it for the ego. As a chairman, you just can’t go around trying to please all the supporters when they’re screaming for signings."
However, Leeds’s problems were not a one-man show. On December 14, 2001, Woodgate was convicted of affray and sentenced to 100 hours’ community service. The next Friday, Leeds played Everton at Elland Road. Bowyer sat in the stands after being transfer-listed for refusing to pay a £100,000 club fine. Bowyer said the punishment was wrong, given that he had been found not guilty.
He ultimately paid up, but the club were sinking. O’Leary’s diary, Leeds United On Trial, was serialised in a Sunday tabloid just days after the trial concluded, with the author claiming that he had nothing to do with the title or timing. But he could not deny that he had written that he was ashamed and that "their conduct was an utter disgrace." Bowyer, who had given O’Leary his signed shirt at the end of the previous season, was never the same again. "The book lost David his job," Lorimer said.
The fallout from the trial was huge. In court, Michael Duberry, Woodgate’s defensive partner, denied implicating his teammate, but received death threats. O’Leary also received letters stating that his wife would be killed if he played the Leeds Two. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, another letter dropped through his door declaring a jihad against him. On January 1, 2002, Leeds beat West Ham United 3-0 and Woodgate was the man of the match. Top of the Premiership and staring into the abyss.
The Elland Road to nowhere
- Peter Ridsdale - Carried the can for gambling the club’s future and turning a £6 million profit into a £100 million debt
- David O’Leary His book was crass, naive and badly timed. Having spent more than £90 million, he twice missed out on the Champions League
- Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate Their trial was ultimately responsible for Woodgate’s loss of form and Bowyer agitating for a move to Liverpool
- Terry Venables Undermined by the sale of Rio Ferdinand, but his Leeds team were sliding long before anyone else of note left the club
- Professor John McKenzie Saved the club £20 million but invited mockery by his handling of Harry Kewell’s departure and Peter Reid’s dismissal
- Gerald Krasner Terrible PR skills highlighted by using Geoffrey Richmond as a consultant, but his board did wipe away £80 million of debt
Leeds still hold place in heart of their most jilted lover
Our correspondent, in the final part of his series, gets the opinion of Eddie Gray on the club’s decline
Eddie Gray has done it all at Elland Road. He was a wing wizard for two decades, the manager when there was no money for tracksuits and the scorer of a fabled goal against Burnley that features in a sex scene in a cult film. It sums up Leeds United’s capacity for self-harm that they have dismissed him three times.
The last occasion came when Leeds were relegated in 2004, but no one blamed Gray. It merely fell to him to administer the last rites after a funeral march started by Peter Ridsdale, who stepped down as chairman four years ago today. "We still had players like Mark Viduka and Alan Smith, but they knew that, regardless of whether we survived, they were through the door," Gray said. "It made it very hard."
Leeds had been top of the Premiership in January 2002, but they failed to win in their next ten matches and were nine points off a Champions League place by the end of February. The money had been spent, players had been given huge wages, even surprising their own sense of worth, and rifts appeared. David O’Leary, the manager at the time, maintains that he was the victim of a smear campaign and that, when he was dismissed that summer, all the players phoned to wish him well.
However, Danny Mills claimed that he had been victim of a character assassination by the manager, Lee Bowyer refused to sign a new contract and another player declined to sign a book at a function because it had the manager’s face on it. Ridsdale, the chairman at the time, said that O’Leary’s book, Leeds United On Trial, had a huge impact on the squad. "We had an appalling two months when the attitude and motivation of the players wasn’t what it should have been," he said.
There were other self-inflicted wounds. Leeds fans felt that the arrival and promo-tion of Brian Kidd to head coach was a snub to Gray and vented their feelings at a match away to Everton. Meanwhile, others wondered why Stephen McPhail, once rated as the best of the club’s fledgeling players, had started one match in 17 months.
With the club having made themselves a hostage to fortune, O’Leary was dismissed when Leeds failed to make the top four in May 2002. Dominic Matteo, the defender who is now at Stoke City, takes his share of the blame. "To not get in the Champions League was a nightmare," he said. "But although we were top at Christmas, we weren’t playing to the best of our ability."
Terry Venables, the new manager, found the rug pulled from under his feet with the sale of Rio Ferdinand to Manchester United. "We have money to reinvest in the squad and we will be stronger for it," a deluded Ridsdale said. "There is no need to sell anyone else."
Later he would contradict himself, saying that Leeds lost £35 million in the summer of 2002 because deals to offload Bowyer, Robbie Keane, Olivier Dacourt and Gary Kelly fell through. The net debt was £82 million and the wage bill spiralled to more than £50 million. The £60 million loan had gone on Keane, Robbie Fowler and Seth Johnson, debts and improving the training facilities and youth academy.
The irony of that is Leeds offloaded an entire youth team. "Imagine what situation we would have been in if we hadn’t been able to sell players who cost nothing," Gray said before rattling off the list. "Paul Robinson, Alan Smith, Harry Kewell, Jonathan Woodgate, James Milner, Aaron Lennon, Stephen McPhail, Scott Carson."
Leeds’s only hope was to return to Europe, but Venables’s permatan was fading. The fans barracked him early in his reign and he fell out with Dacourt and David Batty, the latter threatening to sue Ridsdale when he told the club’s annual meeting that Venables believed he would not play in the Premiership because of injuries. Venables called Dacourt a "disgrace" and overlooked the midfield duo’s importance. When Venables sat alongside Ridsdale at a press conference after Woodgate’s exit in January 2003, the body language was industrial. The manager was dismissed in March.
Ridsdale stepped down ten days later. Leeds continued to shed points, players and managers, Peter Reid’s reign being most notable for the farce when Professor John McKenzie said he would sleep on it before letting him know if he was dismissed. And so it fell to Gray, dismissed as assistant manager by Reid, to oversee the fall.
Trevor Birch, the chief executive, deftly negotiated a series of standstill agreements to save the club from going to the wall and Leeds limped to a takeover by Gerald Krasner’s consortium. The new board slashed the debt, but at a cost.
The ground was sold twice and by the time Kevin Blackwell pitched up in the summer of 2004, he had two established first-team players on the books. One was Kelly, who was never likely to leave, given he was on £46,000 a week.
Most of those involved in the decline moved on long ago, but last night a familiar figure travelled to Elland Road to watch the latest battle for survival. As Gray took his seat, it was clear someone still cares that they killed Leeds United.
The rise and fall of Leeds United
Jan 1, 2002 Beat West Ham United 3-0 to go top of the Premiership
June 27 David O’Leary is dismissed and starts bitter compensation battle
July 8 Terry Venables is appointed manager
July 22 Rio Ferdinand joins Manchester United for £30 million
Jan 8, 2003 Lee Bowyer, the player of the year in 2001, joins West Ham for £100,000
Jan 31 Jonathan Woodgate is sold to Newcastle United for £9 million.
March 21 Venables is dismissed and Peter Reid takes over on a pounds-per-point basis
March 31 Peter Ridsdale steps down as chairman
May 4 Leeds win 3-2 away to Arsenal to stay up
Nov 10 Reid is dismissed and Eddie Gray becomes manager
May 8, 2004 Leeds are relegated after a 3-3 draw against Charlton Athletic
June 1 Kevin Blackwell becomes the club’s fifth manager in less than two years
Jan 21, 2005 Ken Bates completes his takeover of the club
May 20, 2006 Leeds lose Coca-Cola Championship play-offs final 3-0 to Watford
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Sunday Times 25/3/07
Caught in time
Leeds win the Second Division, 1964
So how can the current Leeds United side avoid relegation to League One? One way would be to find a Bobby Collins. Don Revie, the manager in 1962, pulled off the coup and never looked back.
Collins was 5ft 3in tall, weighed 10 stone and wore size four boots, but the diminutive Scotland midfielder saved his club in crisis. He was 31 years old and believed to be past his sell-by-date at Everton when a desperate Revie got word that he might be available. After initial talks, the manager waited five hours in his car for Collins and then chatted to him until 2.30am, persuading him to join the struggling Second Division side. The £24,000 deal was sealed and, on March 3, 1962, Collins moved across the Pennines.
His first task was to stop Leeds from sinking into the Third Division. They went nine games unbeaten and secured their safety. Then followed a season of rebuilding and by late 1963 they were ready to launch a title challenge. The combative Collins, with a new lease of life, was their fulcrum, cajoling and inspiring the young players around him.
Norman Hunter, a tough-tackling defender, recalls the period with fondness. "It was my second season. I was 19 at the time and we had a very young side. What started it all rolling was the signing of Bobby Collins. He was a huge influence. He was our captain and set our mentality with his determination."
With the acquisition of Johnny Giles for £33,000 from Manchester United, Revie bolstered his midfield for a promotion tussle with Sunderland. Leeds had a strong finish to the season, winning eight of their last 10 games and drawing the other two. They clinched the title with a 2-0 win at Charlton on the final day. Sunderland finished second, two points adrift.
"When we got promoted," says Jim Storrie, a Scottish striker, "nobody was talking about relegation the next season. The targets were set much higher. Revie sat us down and said he would give us incentive bonuses. Every week we were in the top four, we would be paid extra. If we dropped out of the top four, we would get nothing. He also gave us a crowd bonus. If gates were between 15,000 and 20,000, we would get something and more for 20,000 to 25,000. There was extra for anything over 25,000. He dangled these carrots for us and we spent most of the season in the top four and had full houses for our games."
Leeds had a superb season, finishing run-ners-up to Manchester United in the First Division and losing 2-1 to Liverpool in the FA Cup final. It was the start of the finest era in the club’s history.
However, their robust style and win-at-all-costs attitude had its detractors, even among their own. "We played high-pressure football which didn’t suit my style," says Storrie. "I spent the afternoon chasing fullbacks and it was soul destroying when you came off the field after the team had scored a late goal to win a game. The end justified the means. Leeds played it hard and people didn’t like playing against us. One of the things that Revie got out of the players was that everybody played for each other."
Hunter agrees. "He created a them-and-us mentality which we quite enjoyed. He used to show us what people had been writing about us. Other footballers appreciated what we achieved. They used to say: ‘We hated you, but what a good side you were’. Teams were intimidated. I saw sides that were beaten before they even stepped on to Elland Road."
- Willie Bell The Scotland fullback managed Birmingham and Lincoln and then moved to the United States where he was a coach in Virginia. He and his wife run a Christian ministry which visits prisons around Britain
- Paul Reaney A motor mechanic before his football career took off, the England fullback runs coaching courses and works for charity
- Freddie Goodwin A Lancashire county cricketer in his playing days, the wing-half managed Brighton, Birmingham and Scunthorpe before moving to the United States where he coaches
- Gary Sprake A Wales goalkeeper who once threw the ball into his own net in front of Liverpool’s Kop, he is a business training officer in Birmingham. His autobiography is called Careless Hands
- Brian Williamson The reserve team goalkeeper played five league games for Leeds and moved to Australia to settle in Erina, New South Wales
- Norman Hunter An England central defender, he managed Barnsley and now works for Radio Yorkshire
- Ian Lawson An England youth inside forward, he spent three years at Leeds and finished his career at Port Vale. Has dropped out of football circles
- Johnny Giles A Republic of Ireland midfielder, he managed West Brom and the Republic and is a panellist on Irish television’s Match of the Day
- Billy Bremner Dynamic Scotland midfielder who won 54 caps and managed Leeds to the 1987 FA Cup semi-finals. He died at the age of 54 in December 1997
- Jim Storrie A forward who managed St Johnstone and then worked at a sports centre in Cumernauld for 14 years. Also worked at Stirling University and now retired
- Bobby Collins The Scotland midfielder coached, managed and then worked in the wholesale fashion business. He was a driver at Leeds University. Now retired
- Don Weston A much-travelled goalscorer, he was a senior salesman for a Ford dealership in Wrexham
- Jimmy Greenhoff A Leeds apprentice who had spells with Stoke City and Manchester United, he works in insurance in Audley, Stoke
- Jack Charlton A lanky World Cup-winning England defender, he managed Middlesbrough and the Republic of Ireland and is a football analyst, after-dinner speaker and fisherman
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Gray returns to help Leeds beat the drop
By Richard Sutcliffe and Ian Appleyard
MICHAEL GRAY has revealed he turned down a move to another Championship side to help Leeds United in their fight to avoid relegation.
The former England left-back joined United for a second time on loan yesterday from Blackburn Rovers just a few hours before the transfer deadline elapsed.
Gray spent the final three months of the 2004-05 campaign at Elland Road and admits to being surprised at Leeds' current position at the foot of the Championship.
He said: "I really enjoyed it here last time so I jumped at the chance. It is a challenge but a challenge I am looking forward to.
"I could have gone to a mid-table Championship side who had nothing to play for, but this is Leeds isn't it? We have got to get out of this mess we are in.
"It surprises me where Leeds are but I have only seen them from afar. A lot has changed since the last time I was here, but there are still a few of the lads still around.
"It helps when you know some of the lads. I am sure we will have a chat next week and I will catch up on things."
Such has been the rate of change among the Elland Road playing staff in the past two years, there are only a handful of Gray's former team-mates at the club.
Of those David Healy, Ian Moore and Frazer Richardson have all been in the side during recent weeks, but Gary Kelly has been out injured since late last year.
However, Kelly is among a few injured players who could be available for Preston North End's trip to Elland Road a week tonight along with Tore Andre Flo, who has been out since late January, and Alan Thompson.
Gray's arrival will also mean Eddie Lewis, the best deliver of a ball in the squad, can return to his preferred role on the left wing.
The Blackburn full-back is eagerly looking forward to his second 'debut' in Leeds colours. He said: "I had a good rapport with the fans. Everyone was good to me last time, from the staff to the fans, and that was in the back of my mind.
"Things like that stick with you and I just hope it can be a successful end to the season.
"In situations like this we all have to stick together and you have to fight for everything. When I was here last time, the crowds were terrific and they have a part to play."
Meanwhile, Dennis Wise was last night still waiting to hear if he faces an FA charge after being sent to the stands in last week's draw at Southend.
Kelly closing in on Leeds return
Leeds defender Gary Kelly could soon be back in first-team action following long-term injury.
The 32-year-old former Republic of Ireland defender has made only three appearances under manager Dennis Wise due to persistent back and ankle injuries, with his last appearance in the 3-2 defeat at Barnsley in early November.
"When you look at the injuries we have, the international break has come at a good time," assistant manager Gus Poyet told the club's official website. "Tore (Andre Flo), Thommo (Alan Thompson), Gary Kelly, and Robbie Elliott are all getting nearer and they're good players we can have in a week or so.
"Gary should be training next week which is good news, Tore has been running and is close and Thommo as well."
Kelly's prolonged absence had prompted some Leeds fans to speculate the full-back's distinguished Elland Road career was effectively over with his lucrative contract due to expire in the summer, but he could yet make a timely return to boost their survival chances.
Former Chelsea striker Flo has been out since breaking a bone in his foot at the end of January after just two appearances for Leeds, while Thompson and Elliott have both been sidelined with hamstring injuries.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Gray makes Leeds return
By Chris Stanton
Blackburn defender Michael Gray has rejoined Leeds on a month's loan.
The former England international, 32, could extend his stay at Elland Road until the end of the season should all parties be in agreement.
Gray spent the second half of the 2004/05 campaign at Leeds before fighting his way back into first team contention at Blackburn the following season.
Gray was Mark Hughes's first choice left-back as Rovers finished the season in sixth last time out but he has found first team football harder to come by this term.
Loss of form and injury have restricted Gray to just 11 appearances and he will now bolster The Whites' fight against relegation from the Championship.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
United back from the brink
By Phil Hay
Southend 1 Leeds United 1
ON a day when so much seemed to be at stake, controversy was bound to reign at Roots Hall.
Leeds United relied on the latest of strikes from David Healy to prevent a relegation-inducing defeat in Essex today, but the drama of the striker's 89th-minute intervention was lost in the events that followed.United were in the middle of a frantic attack when, with injury-time close to completion and the scores level at 1-1, a cross from Radostin Kishishev struck the arm of a Southend United defender inside their box.Referee Nigel Miller pointed immediately to the penalty spot but, in the blink of an eye, reversed his decision and awarded Southend a free-kick.The reason for his change of heart was unclear, and the County Durham official refused the opportunity to explain his reasoning afterwards.But the damage had been inflicted, and the true cost to Leeds will be clearer when the Championship season concludes. Little wonder that Dennis Wise begged for reassurance that his and Miller's paths will never cross again.Leeds might not have deserved three points, but the fact that victory was denied in such contentious circumstances was a cruel development for Wise's players.With a win in their hands, United would have reached the international break with safety beckoning. When their season resumes with a home game against Preston North End on March 30, they will find themselves four points adrift.Had Healy not struck at the death, however, United might well have been preparing for relegation this morning after a hugely expensive defeat. To that end at least, Wise should count his blessings.Leeds were not found wanting for effort, but their performance was ragged and at times showed signs of desperation. It is, however, another result that fails to improve their position.Wise's willingness to alter United's line-up has been a contentious issue throughout
the term, but the decision to involve Tresor Kandol today was as unexpected an alteration as the 40-year-old could have made.A run of 11 games without a goal had preceded Kandol's recent absence from the team, but the striker was preferred to Healy alongside Richard Cresswell up front after Jemal Johnson sustained a head injury at Leicester in midweek.The combination of Kandol and Cresswell was clearly intended to add physical presence to Wise's team, but it represented a major risk before a fixture which Leeds could not contemplate losing. Selecting Kandol was not exactly a case of Wise wheeling out his big gun.It was almost inevitable that the selection of Kandol was subjected to immediate scrutiny. Cresswell's pass sent Frazer Richardson running towards the byline and the full-back's perfect cross dropped the ball onto Kandol's head six yards from goal. Darryl Flahavan was flat-footed and badly exposed, but Kandol nodded a poor finish wide of the post.The chance, though, was indicative of United's effective approach to the fixture. Jonathan Douglas had predicted an onslaught from Southend, but Steve Tilson's side found possession impossible to control until his strikers clicked with the opening goal on 24 minutes.
Lubomir Michalik surrendered possession 10 yards outside his own box, and Ritchie Foran's pass found Lee Bradbury in space.The striker had the option of shooting himself, but his selfless pass gave Mark Gower the freedom to slip a low shot past Casper Ankergren.The home crowd understood the importance of the opening goal, but fortune favoured Leeds until Miller's late involvement. Three minutes after Gower's goal, Freddy Eastwood curled a beautiful shot against the post as United's defence threatened to cave in.Chances at the other end were few, although Cresswell should have beaten Flahavan when he turned Efe Sodje inside the box as Southend's centre-back struggled to claim a bouncing ball.But Flahavan smothered Cresswell's scuffed finish, and an instant counter-attack from Southend forced Ankergren to prevent the visitors from reaching a disastrous position at the interval.The Dane's one-handed
save denied another cute finish from Eastwood, whose invention created space where there seemed to be none, but United's improvement at the start of the second half at least created the possibility of a recovery.A free-kick from Robbie Blake was parried by Flahavan on Southend's line, and the home goalkeeper was fortunate to come up with the ball after the resulting corner caused chaos inside the box.But Southend's threat was never far from the surface, and Eastwood's deflected shot looped onto the roof of the net with Ankergren beaten on the hour. The hosts were dangerous on the counter, and Foran should have increased their scoreline when a sliced clearance by Matt Heath saw him curl his finish high into the crowd. Another stroke of luck was forthcoming when another effort from Foran was cleared by Michalik in front of goal with Ankergren out of position.But just as United's challenge began to fade, Healy intervened with 60 seconds remaining.The striker was fouled on the edge of Southend's box, and when Robbie Elliott's deceptive free-kick found him unmarked eight yards from goal, Healy thrashed a powerful shot passed the motionless Flahavan. But it was left to Miller to ensure what could yet be a draw too far.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
United by the fight, says Wise
By Richard Sutcliffe
DENNIS WISE has insisted the job of reviving Leeds United's fortunes is not too big for him and Gus Poyet as their side prepare for tomorrow's crunch relegation showdown with Southend United.
The Elland Road club are at their lowest ebb on the field and in grave danger of dropping out of the top two divisions for the first time.
Defeat tomorrow at fourth bottom Southend would leave Leeds six points, or seven if their shockingly bad goal difference is taken into account, adrift of safety with just seven games remaining.
Despite that, Wise remains in defiant mood as United prepare for their first ever visit to Roots Hall with the former England international stressing all is not lost for the Championship's bottom side.
Reflecting on his first four-and-a-half months in charge, he said: "It has been a bit mad, really, in terms of some of the situations.
"I have never known some of the things that have happened at this football club, happen anywhere else that I have been. We have had to deal with the mad things over the last four-and-a-half months. Crazy, really.
"But we are still in it. We still believe. We are slightly closer to certain teams than we were before. We were a few points behind at one stage and now we have gradually clawed back a few teams.
"There are other teams now that we look at think 'hold on, they are not quite out of it'. I don't think it would be very fair to mention the team because he is a friend of mine."
Burnley, whose manager Steve Cotterill was a former team-mate of Wise at Wimbledon, are a club in freefall at the moment after failing to win in 17 league games.
The Clarets remain six points clear of Leeds, however, and have two games in hand, while the two clubs level on points with the Lancashire outfit, Hull and Barnsley, are in good form.
Leeds are running out of games and the common consensus among supporters is the fight will be all but over if they fail to win at Southend.
Wise, however, has stressed that even if Leeds do not win tomorrow, all will not be lost. He said: "There would still be 21 points to play for, which is a hell of a lot. There will be a lot of ups and downs over the coming weeks.
"There are a few games we are looking at that we have a fantastic chance of winning. It is far from over if we do not get a result against Southend. There are too many points to play for."
Wise's reign at Elland Road started with a 2-0 home victory over Southend last October but United have managed just six more wins in their subsequent 24 outings.
It should be pointed out that Leeds were a club in disarray when the former Swindon and Millwall manager took over with embarrassing results on the pitch being accompanied by rumours of dressing room rifts off it.
The task of turning round the club is clearly huge but the United manager insists he and assistant Poyet are relishing the challenge.
He said: "We enjoy it. And no, it (the job) has never been too big for us. This is a learning curve and it is good for us. It is a hard time and if we get through this, it will be fantastic.
"We have had to change a lot of things and we have had to deal with situations. But at the end of the day we want to make this club a great club. That is why me and Gus came here.
"This is Leeds United and everyone expects. Six years ago, Leeds were in the Champions League. That brings a lot of expectation to the club."
Unfortunately, it hasn't happened for a few years. But we are trying to change that. We have not come here part-time, to just do a job for a few months."We have come here long-term to try and sort this football club out. And to try and get it where it belongs, in the Premiership. That is what we want to achieve.
"We will have good times and bad times. But we have to stay strong as a group. We want to succeed and make it happen."
Wise even got support from an unexpected quarter yesterday when Prime minister Tony Blair backed the Leeds manager to steer the club clear of relegation.Blair claimed former Millwall boss Wise was the right man to lift the current gloom at Elland Road.Blair said: "I think Dennis Wise is a good manager and I know it's been tough for them but I hope they pull through it and actually I think they're showing a lot of spirit and a lot of fight. "People are very passionate about their football."Sometimes they go through bad times, but I'm sure Leeds will pick up."Blair was speaking after officially opening a new building at Carr Manor High School in Leeds.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
LEEDS LOOK FOR COUNCIL LOAN
Leeds want to buy back Elland Road and their Thorp Arch training complex with the help of a loan from Leeds City Council.
Club chairman Ken Bates made the reacquisition of both assets one of his main objectives when he took control of Leeds in January 2003. The club hold a buy-back option of around £13million on the stadium and £5million on Thorp Arch.
Both sites were sold to Manchester businessman Jacob Adler in Leeds' battle to avoid administration before Bates arrived. Adler later sold Elland Road to Teak Commercial Ltd, a mystery company based in the British Virgin Islands who are currently charging the club £1.15million annual rent.
Leeds chief executive Shaun Harvey told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "We have approached the council with a request that they assist the club by providing a mortgage so we are able to re-purchase both the stadium and Thorp Arch.
"The mortgage sought from the council would be comfortably covered by security in the form of a charge over the stadium and Thorp Arch and also a personal guarantee from a prominent Leeds businessman."
Harvey added: "If the club owned the stadium then there would no longer be any mystery as to who owns Elland Road. It would enable the club to play a full part in the redevelopment of the Elland Road area and create income streams to support the club on days other than matchdays."
Yorkshire Evening Post 14/3/07
Wise fury at 'naive' United
By Phil Hay
Dennis Wise today admitted Leeds United had been punished for "naive" defending after his side were held to a 1-1 draw by Leicester City.
Dennis Wise today admitted Leeds United had been punished for "naive" defending after his side were held to a 1-1 draw by Leicester City.A tense stalemate at the Walkers Stadium last night added a valuable point to the victory produced by United against Luton Town on Saturday, but a costly loss of concentration prevented Leeds from moving off the bottom of the Championship for the first time in almost six weeks.Wise's team opened the scoring through a brilliant finish from Robbie Blake in the 44th minute, but his players were caught out of position after running the full length of the pitch to celebrate with United's travelling supporters.
Leicester's swift kick-off and sudden attack found Wise's defence in disarray and, aided by goalkeeper Casper Ankergren losing his footing, City striker Iain Hume forced home a weak header less than 60 seconds after Blake's strike.The goal denied Leeds back-to-back victories for the first time in more than 12 months, and the Elland Road club are now poised for another crucial engagement at Southend on Saturday after slipping three points from safety last night. Positive results for both Southend and QPR served to weaken their position.Wise said: "We knew it was going to be a hard game because they do very well at home."We went one up and we were all celebrating but we needed to be more sensible."We wanted to shut-up shop when we scored, but we were very naive. They could easily have taken the kick-off with all of our players on the right-hand side (of the field) if they'd wanted to."I'm disappointed and the players are disappointed. They felt they had an opportunity to beat Leicester."They know they made a mistake. It was a difficult time to concede a goal because you're on a high and then on a low straight away."It would have been a totally different second half and it knocked a little bit of stuffing from the lads. But I'm pleased with the point."Leeds are now likely to reach the international break next week inside the Championship's bottom three, and Wise's team have been trapped at the bottom of the table since their defeat of Hull City at the end of January.Their spell inside the relegation zone stretches back to November, and Wise's squad has diminished again after last night's result left him with fresh injury worries.Alan Thompson, who was making his return from a calf injury, lasted for just 13 minutes as a substitute before limping off with a strained hamstring, and Jemal Johnson is also likely to miss a number of games after being injured in the build-up to Blake's first-half goal.The striker was caught by the knee of Paul Henderson as Leicester's keeper cleared a loose ball, and he was carried from the field on a stretcher with his neck in a brace.Henderson was booked for the challenge, and Johnson was taken to hospital for a precautionary examination, showing signs of bleeding from his mouth and his ear.Wise said: "He had a bit of blood coming from his ear which was quite worrying. But the referee was on the ball, and I thought he did very well."United's boss also revealed that Eddie Lewis, who missed last night's game, had damaged a disc in his back during training on Monday.The American has been one of Leeds' most consistent players this season, but he is now in danger of a prolonged spell on the sidelines.Wise, meanwhile, brushed aside a confrontation involving him and a number of Leicester supporters around the away dug-out following Henderson's challenge on Johnson.Wise, who played for Leicester for 12 months but left the club in 2002 after a incident which left Scottish defender Callum Davidson with a broken jaw, was subjected to sustained abuse by City's fans throughout the game last night."They've never liked me here," Wise said. "It was rubbish, just handbags."
Yorkshire Post 14/3/07
Wise goes on the attack as Nicholls saga continues
By Richard Sutcliffe
DENNIS WISE has angrily accused Luton Town manager Mike Newell of "talking a load of rubbish" over his claims that Leeds United had tried to loan out Kevin Nicholls to a relegation rival.
The United manager revealed after the derby defeat to Sheffield Wednesday nine days ago that the 28-year-old midfielder had been stripped of the captaincy after asking to return to his former club. Wise was furious that Newell had phoned to ask to take Nicholls back to Kenilworth Road, but the Hatters manager hit back in the build-up to Saturday's important game between the two clubs by claiming he had only contacted Leeds after learning the player had been offered on loan to QPR.After watching his side beat Luton courtesy of Richard Cresswell's 50th-minute strike, Wise said: "Mike is talking rubbish and he knows he is talking rubbish. He knows the phone call he made to me. "He tried to off-load one of his players to me. I was not interested and I was not interested in loaning him Kevin Nicholls."I was not interested in loaning anyone Kevin Nicholls. There was one situation after Kevin Nicholls had told me he wanted to leave. He asked me to speak to a certain person. "I spoke to him and that was it. It was not QPR.
It was not any team in the lower half (of the Championship). That is the end of the matter. Stop covering your back. What he (Newell) is saying is a load of rubbish."I think some of you (press) knew anyway before (the Wednesday game) so the question was going to be thrown at me. I answered that question honestly."The majority of the 27,138 crowd, Elland Road's second highest of the season, made their feelings known about Nicholls with several derogatory chants being sung about United's former captain. Newell, who a source in Luton has claimed offered Dean Morgan to Wise as part of a loan switch, maintained after the game that he had only enquired about a player who Leeds signed for £700,000 last summer after learning he had been offered to QPR. On being told Wise's comments, he said: "I am speaking rubbish? What about? I am not speaking rubbish about it. I don't speak rubbish."My information tells me that he has (been offered) to two different clubs. If my information is wrong, I will hold my hands up, but I don't believe it is."United's victory on the pitch was not their only triumph on Saturday with the club going to court to ensure the matchday programme could be sold after an injunction was served by former director Melvyn Levi on Friday. Levi was described as "the enemy within" in the Sheffield Wednesday programme with chairman Ken Bates also printing his home address. The row continued all week and the former director was granted a temporary injunction that ran out at 9am on Saturday.Bates and the club's media officer Paul Dews made their submissions at Leeds Magistrates Court on Saturday morning and the injunction was not extended.United sell 8,500 programmes at a typical game and had it not been available for sale, a club official estimated the cost to United would have been around £50,000 due to lost sales and advertising revenue. Despite not being asked to by the court, a paragraph relating to Levi was crossed out with a black marker pen as a precaution.Nevertheless, Bates re-iterated elsewhere in his notes his belief that Levi was proving a stumbling block to investment being made into the club.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Sunday Times 11/3/07
Leeds grab lifeline
Leeds 1 Luton 0
Rob Hughes at Elland Road
There remains the faintest, nervous chance of Leeds United clawing their way out of the pit of despair.
Both these clubs remain in peril of the drop to the third tier of English football this morning, but courtesy of a coolly taken goal by Richard Cresswell and by a penalty save from Casper Ankergren near the end, Leeds were able to claim their first win since February 10 and ignite the first inkling of belief that they will yet survive this nervous end to the season.
There remains something remarkable about Leeds, the only club in this Yorkshire city. A hardcore of 27,000 still come on a moody, windswept afternoon to Elland Road, appearing to believe in the miracle of survival. And from all that’s around the club, from its descent from what once was a force in Europe, there remain frighteningly familiar panics.
In the match programme, Ken Bates, now two years in the chair, is still accusing others of betrayal, still making vituperative accusations that the people of Leeds have let their club run to rack and ruin. He names names, we dare not for fear of libel. But imagine the feelings of the Leeds faithful when they open the programme and read that "a man with £100m cash in the bank flew down to see me in Monte Carlo. We had detailed discussions about the way forward, then he rang and apologised and said he would not be proceeding because of ...." and there Bates names the man he claims is ruining Leeds’ chance of attracting new benefactors.
No change, there, from his Chelsea days and none either in the fact that Bates also berates the prime minister, the chancellor of the exchequer and the sports minister for taking millions out of the game in Vat while calling for football to lower its prices.
On and around the field there was scurrying endeavour. We are light years away from looking at the Premiership, but under the pressures that surround these two clubs, perhaps some allowances need to be made.
For an hour Leeds went at their opponents as if life itself depended on it. Their captain Jonathan Douglas managed twice to head against the crossbar in the same movement. Rob-bie Blake also struck that bar with a 25-yard free kick, but the luck was capricious, and the skill to convert chances into goals almost bereft. However, five minutes into the second half Leeds finally got their just deserts. Cresswell was the scorer, producing a nifty turn to elude Markus Heikkinen just outside the six-yard box and then almost gently rolling the ball beyond the reach of Marlon Beresford.
In the stands, Peter Lorimer, once a wonderful winger on this field, had suggested that it was time the current crop of Leeds forwards delivered. It is not, he reasoned, as if they are nervous beginners. Finally one of them, Cresswell, had done his duty. But now, strangely, Leeds began to drop back, to protect a lead that, frankly, could have been five goals but for the agility and bravery of Beresford.
Once they were entrenched, we even had the contrived petulance of Dennis Wise, the Leeds manager, dastardly trying to waste time. He gathered the ball, offered it to a Luton player to take a throw-in, and then deliberately tossed in the opposite direction. Such skulduggery, reminiscent, some may think, of the days of Don Revie. Well, the gods almost exacted a mighty revenge. In the last 10 minutes Luton, clad from head to toe in tangerine, began to peel away the resistance of the home defence.
They had the chance to equal-ise and blew it. Four minutes from the end, when Leon Barnett was tripped as he was clean through on the goal, the raucous crowd of Leeds fell deadly silent. Up strode Dean Morgan, a Luton substitute, to take the penalty. He was delayed, the hostility of the crowd got to him, and when he shot it was feeble and straight at the grateful Ankergren.
Almighty relief in Elland Road. "Marching on together" rang out the familiar song. And yes there is a chance, now that Leeds have dragged Luton into their mire, but it will take more class than yesterday to complete the escape.
Cresswell keeps hope alive
Amy Lawrence at Elland RdSunday March 11, 2007
If you closed your eyes just for a moment and forgot all about the reality of the league table, the financial meltdown, the off-field bickering, life at Elland Road did not look as crummy as all that. An angelic looking blonde girl with pig tails played tag with her Leeds-shirted brother around Billy Bremner's statue. The queue to get into the club shop that has a sale on was healthy. A couple merrily scoffed their pre-match chips underneath the bronze plaque commemorating Bremner, Don Revie, and the FA Cup won by the old team of legend. There was, believe it or not, a buzz around the place.
Everybody knew this match had the feel of do or die. To the immense elation of the locals, Leeds found it in them to do enough. This win did not come without its moment of high anxiety, as Luton were awarded a penalty with four minutes to go.
The noise that cascaded around the place when Casper Ankergren plunged to parry Dean Morgan's spot kick was raw and wild. It ensured that Richard Cresswell's 50th-minute goal, scored through sheer will as much as skill, gives them glimmer of light.
But only a glimmer. They remain bottom. Now there are nine games to go. Nine games to somehow avoid the drop and prevent the worst nightmare in the history of Leeds United. They have never before sunk as low as English football's third tier. It starts for them at Leicester on Tuesday, followed by a trip on Saturday to Southend, who are one place and one point above them.
How dearly they needed this boost. The last few weeks have been a tale of Leeds disunited as the captain Kevin Nicholls has asked to leave - he was absent here, but not forgotten in understandably rude terrace chants; an unnamed player was accused of leaking details of the team to the opposition and the chairman Ken Bates through a splurge of fighting talk has exacerbated behind-the-scenes problems.
At last weekend's match Bates, in a not untypical show of belligerence, used his programme notes to publish the address of a former club director Melvyn Levi. The two men are entangled in a legal dispute and Bates saw fit to describe Levi as 'the enemy within'.
Levi duly served an injunction on this weekend's programme that was lifted only on the morning of the match. But Bates's latest missive was so abrasive somebody at the club thought it prudent to cross out a paragraph with marker pen in all 8,500 programmes. Not that it was not a doddle to read another of the many jibes about Levi through the hastily applied ink anyway.
Many supporters have a different view about quite who is the enemy within. A worrying number are staying away, unable to bring themselves to come to the games while Bates is running the club. These range from individuals, such as Mark, a former home-and-away season-ticket holder, who won't return to Elland Road under the current regime, to groups, such as the East Anglia supporters club that, not so long ago, would bring three coaches to matches and now struggle to fill a minibus.
The club seldom bother to open the upper tier of the East stand any more. Marching on together? For some it is more akin to trudging off alone and wallowing in disillusionment.
Bates has alienated the official supporters club, preferring to set up a new members' club that costs £47 to join and includes such privileges as the right to buy tickets and gain entry to a smart members' bar on matchday. There is also a 10 per cent discount on purchases in the shop, some free magazines and a Christmas card. Forgive me if my sense of economics is not hugely refined, but that does not seem an awful lot for £47.
The attendance was a respectable 27,138, helped by the reduction in ticket prices to £15. Generally, though, figures suggest that around 10,000 have drifted away since the club dropped out of the Premiership in 2004. The crowds held up quite well at first, averaging 30,000 in their first year of exile. That has fallen to an average of 20,000 in this season of radical decline.
Rank performances on the pitch, a lack of players for supporters to identify with and hiked-up ticket prices have contributed to the number of punters who have drifted away.
Considering this season has been the story of 42 players, three managers, one volatile chairman, thousands of lost supporters and endless tales of woe, is it any wonder the club sit bottom of the table?
Think about it for a moment. Some 42 players have pulled on the shirt for Leeds this season. That is almost enough for four separate teams. There has been a constant stream of loaned journeymen, the latest being yesterday's debutant, Lubomir Michalik, the Slovak who joined from Bolton. It is hardly the blueprint for success. Leeds haven't won successive league games all season.
The financial problems are, according to Bates, coming to an end. He has stated that by the end of this season, the club will be debt-free and no longer paying off ex-employees. It beggars belief that they are still funding salaries for players such as Robbie Fowler and Danny Mills. Up until last year they were still paying three ex-managers in David O'Leary, Terry Venables and Peter Reid.
How far back do we need to go to trace the moment the club's descent became inexorable? Is it when Peter Ridsdale got so out of his depth following the dream? Is it when the debts were reformed into bonds that required the fire sale of a promising team? Is it when Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer were implicated in a protracted court case? Is it when Gerald Krasner's consortium did their bit for the debts by selling the stadium and the Thorp Arch training ground? Or is it when Bates took over and started doing things in his own inimitable style?
Surveying the wreckage of this ailing club, it pays to look at the bigger picture and remind yourself not just that it is six years since they were in the semi-finals of the Champions League with a team of internationals. But also, Leeds have won the English title more recently than Liverpool. Leeds were the team to last conquer the game in this country with an English manager in Howard Wilkinson.
In the cutting words of the travelling Luton fans squeezed into one corner: 'You're not famous any more.' Actually that's not strictly true. The club are still famous. But the team are barely recognisable from the heights of yesteryear.
Yorkshire Evening Post 9/3/07
The happy wanderer
By Phil Hay
LEEDS UNITED today completed their 13th loan signing of the season by capturing centre-back Lubomir Michalik from Bolton Wanderers.
The Slovakian international has signed for Leeds for a month and will be included in their squad for tomorrow's Championship game against Luton Town at Elland Road. The 23-year-old was signed by Bolton from FC Senec during the January transfer window, but he is seen as a long-term prospect by Sam Allardyce and will be given the opportunity of first-team football with United. Meanwhile, the confusion surrounding Kevin Nicholls deepened today after Luton manager Mike Newell accused Leeds of offering to loan the midfielder to QPR. The Kenilworth Road boss has claimed United were willing to lend their former captain to John Gregory's side – despite refusing an identical offer for Nicholls from Luton last week. Nicholls was stripped of the captaincy at Elland Road eight days ago after confirming to Dennis Wise that he wished to return to Kenilworth Road on loan, seven months after leaving Luton for Leeds in a £700,000 deal.
Wise rejected Newell's request to loan Nicholls until the end of the season, saying: "Is he seriously crazy, or what?" But Newell added intrigue to tomorrow's crucial meeting between the clubs at Elland Road by claiming United were ready to release the midfielder to another of their relegation rivals. Leeds issued a statement denying his allegation this morning. Asked whether he appreciated Wise's reluctance to aid Luton's cause, Newell said: "My understanding is that they've offered to loan him to QPR, and as far as I know they're down in the same area as us. "It's never finished. The lad wants to come back to Luton which is great news. "I was only made aware of the situation a week or two ago. As soon as I was made aware of it I made the phone call directly to Dennis Wise, as I would always do. "But if someone says 'no, you can't have him' we just have to bide our time." A United spokesman stressed today: "The club have had no contact with QPR regarding Kevin Nicholls." Nicholls is unlikely to be involved against his former club tomorrow after being dropped for last weekend's game with Sheffield Wednesday, but he will still be considered for selection by United's management team, according to assistant boss Gus Poyet. The Uruguayan insisted the "door was open" for Nicholls to resolve the situation with Wise, but claimed he could not shed further light on the midfielder's reasons for asking to leave Elland Road. Poyet said: "It's up to Nicko to talk. He made a decision so it's up to him to clarify. He's not banned from speaking. "He didn't say anything about any problems with us, or the way we train. "It's up to him. Everyone here can come and talk to the manager, his door is open all the time. If he changes his mind, or if he made a mistake, he can say. "He's available. He's still at the club and he's under contract."It's about picking the right team to play Luton. He wanted to go to Luton and now we might need him to play against Luton.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Wise on the warpath
By DEREK HUNTER
Leeds United 2 Sheff Wed 3
The crisis at Leeds United plumbed new depths yesterday after Dennis Wise’s side crashed at home against 10-man Sheffield Wednesday 48 hours after skipper Kevin Nicholls demanded a return to his former club Luton.
Nicholls was immediately stripped of the captaincy, with Wise claiming he was "gobsmacked" by Nicholls’s attitude.
Luton are one of the clubs struggling for survival whom Leeds are desperate to overhaul and who visit Elland Road for an important Championship head-to-head next Saturday.
Furious Wise said: "Kevin Nicholls came in to see me on Thursday and I had a call from Luton’s manager Mike Newell, who said he was interested in signing Kevin. I said I was not interested in letting him go to Luton. I told Kevin he needed to think about it but he said he had made up his mind, that he made the wrong decision to come to Leeds and wanted to join Luton straight away."
Wise said there was no chance of allowing Nicholls to move to Luton on loan until the end of the season, adding: "I told him he would not be going now, but he could leave at the end of the season."
The news is the latest proof of the turmoil at Elland Road just weeks after Wise accused one of his players of leaking team news to Crystal Palace hours before the sides were due to play each other.
Wise’s immediate concern is that his side are still bottom of the Championship and could not beat a Wednesday side reduced to 10 men after 49 minutes when Marcus Tudgay, scorer of the visitors’ first goal, was sent off for a second bookable offence — kicking the ball away.
By then, though, Brian Laws’ side were already two goals to the good. They took a seventh-minute lead when Tommy Spurr spotted Tudgay in space and crossed for the striker to guide his header wide of goalkeeper Graham Stack.
After Wednesday goalkeeper Iain Turner had made desperate saves from David Healy and Ian Moore, Chris Brunt robbed Leeds defender Frazer Richardson near the touchline, spotted Stack off his line, and scored with a spectacular 40-yard lob after 37 minutes.
Tudgay’s dismissal should have signalled a Leeds revival but they fell further behind when slick passing by Deon Burton and Glenn Whelan enabled Jermaine Johnson to fire past Stack after 54 minutes. Wednesday make a habit of shooting themselves in the foot and, when Lee Bullen hacked the ball into his own net two minutes from the end, it almost proved fatal.
Richard Cresswell set up a nervy finish with an overhead shot to score against his old club, but Wednesday clung on as their fans sang "Leeds are going down".
It is hard to quarrel with that.
Gobsmacked Wise blasts skipper
By CHRIS WHEELER
Leeds United 2 Sheffield Wednesday 3
Under a headline ‘The Enemy Within’, Ken Bates used his programme notes to launch a typically outspoken attack on a former Elland Road director before Saturday’s must-win Yorkshire derby.
Those words could so easily have applied to another extraordinary day in the Leeds United soap opera.
The club that only three weeks ago brought us the dressing-room mole who leaked team news to opponents Crystal Palace, came up with the captain who - manager Dennis Wise revealed – wants to move back to Luton Town instead of staying to steer his ship away from the rocks.
Throw in the fact that Wise gave Kevin Nicholls the skipper’s armband when he first took over in October, Luton are battling with Leeds to avoid relegation, and the two sides meet in a monumental clash next weekend, and it begins to stretch the bounds of credibility. Even by Elland Road standards, you could barely make this up.
No wonder, Wise shook his head in disbelief as he explained the events that led to Nicholls being stripped of the captaincy and frozen out of his plans for Saturday’s game after Luton boss Mike Newell inquired about re-signing the midfielder he sold to Leeds for £750,000 in the summer.
"Kevin made his kind up he felt he’d made the wrong decision in coming to Leeds," said Wise. "But I was gobsmacked he wanted to go to Luton almost straightaway - a team that are fighting us for relegation.
"He must be crazy if he thinks I’m going to loan him to Luton for the rest of the season. Not in a million years. We expected him to dig in like the rest, not jack it in. It’s frightening." It the circumstances, Saturday’s captain’s column attributed to Nicholls read a little strangely. "There is no doubt in my mind we are all in this together," he said.
Apparently not. Nicholls was nowhere to be seen as Leeds went three down to their Yorkshire rivals in a game they simply had to win, saw Wednesday reduced to 10 men, and then threatened the most unlikely of comebacks with two late goals.
Afterwards, a bewildered Ian Moore spoke for his teammates when he discussed the sense of disbelief at Nicholls’ request.
"It’s awful," said Moore. "I’ve never known a captain to do this - it’s part of your job. He’s got to rally the players, and if he’s not pulling in the same direction as the rest of the lads you’re in massive trouble.
"To decide he wants to do that is a bit of a kick in the teeth. Luton are down there as well, and we’re playing them next week. The timing couldn’t possibly be any worse.
"If that’s what he wants to do then so be it, but I’m pretty disappointed and I’m sure most of the rest of the lads will be.
"When Dennis Wise came he, he made a big decision to take the captaincy off Paul Butler and give it to Kevin. For me, that was a surprise at the time.
"If I was made captain of a big club like Leeds, I’d be very proud.
"I just can’t understand his motives and I’m sure the fans won’t be happy when they find out.
"There was no indication at all. The players were asking what had happened on Friday when he wasn’t involved in the team, but it was pretty hush hush.
"It’s one thing after another at the moment. There are so many things, it seems to be snowballing."
Wise handed the armband to Jonathan Douglas, but the Republic of Ireland midfielder was powerless to prevent Leeds tumbling to another disastrous defeat.
Marcus Tudgay headed Wednesday in front before Chris Brunt caught Frazer Richardson in possession and lobbed goalkeeper Graham Stack from fully 40 yards.
Iain Turner frustrated Leeds with a string of fine saves and, although Tudgay was sent off for his second bookable offence soon after the interval, Jermaine Johnson provided a wonderful finish to a sweeping move after 54 minutes.
Lee Bullen’s sliced miss-kick past his own keeper after 88 minutes appeared to be little more than a consolation until Richard Cresswell added a second. Having put their fans through despair and humiliation, Leeds now gave them something even worse – false hope.
Inevitably, the final whistle signalled another defeat and another step nearer League One.
"At 3-0, it was the lowest point of the season," said Moore. "It was embarrassing more than anything.
"The club is going through the worst days it’s probably ever had. Things don’t look good at the moment." Chairman Bates published the address of the former director and mischievously invited fans to contact the man directly. Heaven knows what he has planned for Nicholls.