I won’t dwell for too long on the game against Manchester United last Saturday. We outplayed them for 60 minutes, held a 1-0 lead, missed a number of chances that should have put the game out of sight, conceded an equaliser because a linesman wasn’t looking down the touchline but instead looking for offside, and then heads went down and we let in two more goals. The equaliser that shouldn’t have stood changed the course of the game, but in many ways we only have ourselves to blame for failing to increase our lead in the first half. The result meant that the opportunity to climb the table into third place was lost, and by the end of the weekend we would have been fifth had we won. The Equivalent Fixture Analysis figure comparing results this season against the same games last season fell to +10 points following the defeat.
But we didn’t win and it is hoped that lessons will be learned by the players and management. Considering the difficulty of our fixtures in the first 11 games, we ought to be satisfied with 8th place in the League, having won 5 games and drawn twice. A positive goal difference of +4 with 18 scored and 14 conceded is a good return, although we seem to have missed many good goalscoring opportunities, with Pablo Fornals particularly guilty in this respect. Of course we have missed Michail Antonio, and the debate regarding his replacement Haller continues with statistical analysis of his game seeming to contrast with what we see with our eyes. He is not as bad as many fans make out, but we definitely don’t play to his strengths. Personally I like the look of Said Benrahma in the cameo appearances he has made, and surely he should be given the opportunity soon to show what he can do from the start of a game. Whether it will happen in this game I am not sure.
For the twelfth game in a row we do not kick off at 3pm on a Saturday; this time it is a Friday night, which gives us the opportunity to climb into fifth place with a win. My thoughts on our opponents, Leeds, are tainted by the memories of them when I was growing up in the 1960s. Under Don Revie, who managed them for 13 years, they had probably their most successful period, winning a number of trophies and also being there or thereabouts in all the main competitions during that era. They had a reputation for being the bridesmaids, falling just short on several occasions in league and cup; I think they were runners-up in the league about five times in that period.
But I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like the way they played, or their win at all costs attitude to the game. I know many who hated them despite them being a dominant force in English football. I guess success often breeds contempt, but my dislike of them was enhanced by the perceived way they achieved their position as one of the best teams around. To me they were highly physical and at times brutal and extremely cynical in style. They had a poor disciplinary record as they bullied and kicked their way to the top.
Our historical record in matches against Leeds is a poor one, especially in more recent history. Of course, we haven’t always been in the same division, with Leeds having only just returned to the top flight after 16 years in the second tier, but the last time we beat them was in November 2000, a 1-0 victory at Elland Road with an unlikely goalscorer – Nigel Winterburn, the only goal he scored for us in 94 appearances. I can remember being at the game at Upton Park in 1998, which was the only other time we have beaten them in the last 38 years; we won 3-0 with goals from Hartson. Abou and Ian Pearce. Our keeper that day was Bernard Lama – remember him? Two substitutes came on in the latter stages of the game, Scott Mean and Manny Omoyinmi – do you remember them? Our record in the last 28 fixtures against Leeds is, Won 2, Drawn 8, Lost 18.
I was also there at a game close to the end of the season in 1982 when we beat them 4-3. That was our first season back in the top division following promotion. I believe Leeds were relegated that year. We were almost invincible at home that season losing just twice in our 21 games, a record we equalled in our record breaking campaign of 1985-86.
There was one game against Leeds that I didn’t see but wish I had been there. On a cold Monday evening in November 1966 we beat the (then mighty) Leeds 7-0 in a League Cup tie after putting six goals past Fulham two days earlier. We then went on to win 4-3 at Tottenham the following Saturday. Geoff Hurst scored 8 goals that week. You’d think that would have been quite a season. But despite scoring 80 goals, we conceded 84, and finished 16th in the league!
I haven’t seen too much of the present Leeds team, but under Bielsa they seem to be a highly energetic and attractive side. They have scored 16 of the 36 goals in their 11 matches, and four wins plus two draws equates to 14 points and 14th in the table. But the league is a tight one so far, and if they win they will be level on points with us. 9 of their 14 points have been achieved away from home with victories at Sheffield United, Villa and Everton. They have only won one of their five home games (4-3 v Fulham), but have drawn against Manchester City and Arsenal. Their two home defeats were 1-0 to Wolves and 4-1 to Leicester. Patrick Bamford has been a surprise to many with 8 goals in the league, exactly half of the teams total so far.
I wonder if there will be any changes to our starting eleven for this game? Our lack of pace on the right hand side of our defence was exposed in the latter stages of the Manchester United game. The manager realised this (but too late) and Johnson was introduced towards the end. Perhaps replacing Balbuena with Diop might go some way towards solving this problem, although Balbuena hasn’t played too badly in his run in the team. Fans on social media often urge changes after a defeat, but I doubt Moyes will make many – that’s not his style either before (or during) games.
Leeds are favourites with the bookmakers to win the game at odds of around 6/5. We are about 11/5 with the draw at 5/2. As is often the case, 1-1 is the “favourite” score at 11/2, and unsurprisingly, Bamford is favourite to score the first goal. Despite their league position, I believe this will be a tough game, and a draw would be a good point. We need to match their energy, and if we do this could be a highly entertaining game. My hope is that away victories will continue to outnumber wins for the home sides (for this week anyway!) and we pick up the three points. The players will believe that they are playing for their places and will not want a second consecutive defeat. It would be good to be the fourth team to score four times against Leeds this season; perhaps 4-3 just like the game in 1982? What are the chances?