I don’t know much about Leeds United. I’m in my late twenties but I’ve never been to Elland Road and I’ve seen them only a handful of times at St James’. They’re supposed to be a massive club. I haven’t seen any evidence of it in my adult life time. They’re up there with Aston Villa for telling everyone they’re a massive club. Both Aston Villa and Leeds have less season ticket holders than Huddersfield. Make of that what you will. To give Leeds fans some credit, they’ve suffered more than the handful a difficult years than the ultra-childish supporters in Birmingham. I lived in Leeds from 2007 to 2010 and Leeds United weren’t a draw. There weren’t many Leeds shirts present in the city centre as the club struggled in League One with Denis Wise at the helm. It was a brutal time for supporters.
Today isn’t much better for the West Yorkshire club. A mental chairman not fit for his position continues to play roulette with a populations football club. He seems to have hit lucky in appointing Garry Monk who after a difficult start has lost one of his last seven fixtures. For the first time in Cellino’s troubled reign Leeds find themselves in the play off positions and with genuine hope for a promotion push. Monk, a man so arrogant that many football fans and those within the game were delighted to see his downfall in Wales, is doing a good job. Whether the spell outside of the game has given him the chance to learn some humility, time will tell. At the moment I still consider him another Alex Neil. Arrogant beyond reproach and unwilling or unable to accept any of his teams or his own short comings. British manager disease. They face a rampant United in front of a full house at Elland Road for the first time since a cup game with Chelsea in 2010. Leeds didn’t draw a crowd of over 30,000 in the whole of last season. 38,000 fans will be there on Sunday including just 2,500 mags – a pitiful away allocation. I may be mistaken but this will be Leeds’ highest gate for a league game since 2008 and the second highest since 2004. I’ve no doubt Leeds’ own mini-resurgence has played a major part in the turn out. Many Leeds fans are trying to deny that United and the manager have played any role in this. They’re lying to themselves.
The ongoing feud between the social media of the other Championship clubs and Newcastle United is cringe worthy. I understand where these people are coming from. The Championship is a grind. It’s a brutal league. The majority of teams will go through winless streaks every season. Many don’t want to be in the division. Some sides don’t get remotely close to the play offs for years on end. Then occasionally it all clicks into place. Like Preston and now Leeds with Brentford before them we’ve come up against teams in purple patches. Then we’ve beaten them in third gear. It’s not arrogant. We’ve done what needs to be done. It drives opposition fans insane. They scream ‘parachute payments’ and ‘buying the league’ despite United making a £30 million profit in the transfer window. As if ‘buying promotion’ would be a bad thing as well. Which Burton, Leeds or Barnsley fan would be foaming if their side built a fantastic squad to challenge promotion. Here’s an uncomfortable fact for the fans of other clubs in the division. NUFC have 37,000 season ticket holders and another 16,000 regular attendees at home games. Those kind of figures give as club immense pulling power. Leeds fans can think their club is massive. The truth is that many fans have turned their back on the football club, for good reasons I’m sure. However crying that the biggest club in the division spends money because it can is senseless. You’ve got clubs up and down the division setting record crowds or having their biggest crowd turn up in a decade when NUFC come to town. Not Aston Villa and not Leeds United but Newcastle United. There are fans acknowledging the fact that yes, they’re taking an allocation of 3,200 to Newcastle for their longest trip of the season when normally they take sub 500, but that has NOTHING to do with a small club like NUFC, apparently. The same is happening this weekend. Some Leeds fans are foaming that the suggestion that Leeds’ first sell out a league game in eight years (while the game is also televised) has ANYTHING to do with Newcastle United or Rafa Benitez. Okay, lads.
Leeds have lost twice at home this season in the league to the two highest places teams they’ve played in Huddersfield and Birmingham. Wins have come over Blackburn, Barnsley, Burton and Ipswich. All clubs in the bottom half of the table. Notable wins have come at Sheffield Wednesday and Norwich. As for United you know what’s what. Eight wins in a row. Three away goals conceded all season (all from crosses). We tailed off a little performance wise in the last two games but collected six points. Against higher placed sides this season we’ve fared well at the time these sides were doing well. Comfortable victories were achieved against Bristol City, Brighton, Norwich (not so comfortable) and Brentford when these clubs were flying high so it’ll be interesting to see how United approach this one. Shelvey can play. That’s good. After each international break Rafa has favoured players who’ve been around at the training ground for him to work with. I can see anita possibly starting and Dwight Gayle coming back into the fold. Goufrann and Colback will probably play in midfield. Gayle back is a huge relief. Preston pressed us high up the pitch, as did Cardiff in the second half when they realise they can leave a single centre back with Mitrovic. We struggled on both occasions. Dwight Gayle gives us an outlet and teams drop ten to fifteen yards deeper to defend, creating crucial space for our midfielders.
How will the game go – we can’t continue to win every game. Eight in a row is already outrageous. We have to drop points sometime. After this fixture we play Blackburn and Forest, both of whom are battling relegation. If there’s a game we’ll slip up, it’s this one. Then again it’s Rafa Benitez and a big game. I back the team to deliver on a big pitch which will suit our natural game. I back Dwight Gayle to score and the team to keep yet another clean sheet.
Prediction 1-0 United (Newcastle)
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
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