Wednesday, 2 June 2010

From Rockingham Road to Old Trafford

The highs and lows of Leeds United's season
To say that following Leeds this season has been stressful would be a major understatement, on similar proportions to saying that Manchester United are slightly better than Kettering Town (though Leeds could make you think otherwise).

It was our 3rd season in the 3rd tier of English Football and Leeds fans everywhere hoped this would be our season; and automatic promotion was the only option if our last 3 attempts at the play-offs were anything to go by.

With proven manager Simon Grayson at the helm and a host of quality players in the squad (including Beckford, Snodgrass and Kisnorbo) I was more excited than a fat man in a doughnut shop.

The first result of the season didn't exactly fill me with confidence. A 2-1 home win at newly-promoted Exeter (who played the last 35 minutes with 10 men) wasn't the most breathtaking start to the campaign, but a win is a win.
This was swiftly followed by unconvincing wins over League Two Darlington (Carling Cup), newly-promoted Wycombe and Walsall (need I say more).
However, after 8 wins on the bounce (including a 2-1 victory over Championship side Watford) the confidence had definitely returned.

The Whites then went on an extraordinary run right through to the end of December, losing only one match along the way against bitter rivals Millwall, giving us a healthy 8-point lead over Norwich in 2nd by the turn of the year. Not only this, but we also had a game and 8 goals in hand, how could this get any better?


Jermaine Beckford slots home the only goal of the game

A 3rd Round FA Cup tie away to The Scum Man United gave the Leeds players the chance to really test their mettle. I was excited yet extremely nervous about this one; it had taken Leeds 2 attempts and 210 minutes to overcome non-league Kettering in the 2nd round. It was a Mike Grella-inspired performance in extra-time that ensured The Whites a glamour tie with their old Premier League rivals, taking Leeds from Rockingham Road (Kettering's home ground) to Old Trafford.

As the picture and caption above suggest, Leeds' influential striker stepped up to the plate and rolled home the only goal of the game, though not for lack of trying; many would agree that Leeds matched, if not bettered, Man U on that fateful day and had it not been for the crossbar coming to their rescue Robert Snodgrass would have added a 2nd from a free-kick.

Unfortunately, with so much to be happy about things could only go downhill, and my goodness did they go downhill! Despite a fantastic 2-2 draw with Tottenham in the 4th Round of the FA Cup and a 2-0 win over promotion-chasing rivals Colchester in between, Leeds went on a dismal run which saw them slip to 4th for a brief spell and fall a massive 12 points behind leaders Norwich (a 20-point swing).

By the final day of the season Leeds were back in 2nd spot, but a mere 1 point ahead of 3rd-placed Millwall and were facing a home fixture against Bristol Rovers. With recent performances improving and the knowledge that the reverse fixture was a massive 4-0 to The Whites, the 38,000 plus sell-out crowd at Elland Road were expecting a party. But this is Leeds we're talking about, nothing was ever going to be that easy.

BBC Radio 5 painted a good picture of the game (tickets were almost impossible to get hold of). Leeds began the stronger of the 2 sides and completely dominated the first half. It was surely only a matter of time before something big happened. Step up - Max Gradel, on 33 minutes the hot-headed youngster was shown a red card, forcing a collective heart-in-mouth situation for Leeds fans everywhere.

And then the inevitable happened. Leeds went a goal behind and Millwall were winning. It looked like the playoffs were looming once again and 6 dejected Leeds fans sat around the radio, waiting for a glimmer of hope. Johnny Howson has a knack for scoring important goals, but none were more important than the stunner he popped in on the 58th minute. Relief! Leeds were back on top.

And then 5 minutes later....

Jermaine Beckford scrambles home the winning goal!

That feeling I felt after the final whistle was blown is indescribable. At last, we're back in the Championship.

What a day!

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