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So another season gone and so another review of the performances - it probably says something about the season that there are more players in the indifferent category than anywhere else.
There were also a lot of players, I went off to watch some cricket around Xmas and therefore missed both Nathan Blake's and Leandre Griffit's entire Leeds careers. I can't remember seeing Martin Woods either, and as he skips when he runs, I must have missed that game as well. I did see Andy Keogh's brief appearance and he was faultless. Steve Guppy and Danny Cadamarteri also played but I can't think of anything worth saying about either of them.
Anyway here we go, with the ones who stayed in the memory.
Lucas Radebe 10 - Good as in God. OK we barely saw him on the pitch but his testimonial was as fun as the season got and he's been a legend for us over the years. Will be sadly missed.
Neil Sullivan 8 - Easily our best player this year. Looked a good signing and has proved so, no glaring errors I can think off and a steady presence behind a sometimes dodgy defence. Made a few penalty saves and even punched Paul Butler for us. Best keeper in the division.
David Healy 7.5 - What a waste. We spend a lot of money we don't really have buying one of the best strikers in the division, someone with a touch of class and vision and we stick him on the wing for most of the year. If there's one single reason to be dis-satisfied with Blackwell's management this season, this is it. Healy for his part made an instantly favourable impression and despite being relocated showed some good touches from out wide. However, he faded as the season went on and was probably glad it finished early for him.
Shaun Derry 7.5 - A quiet debut at Wigan but seemed to be improving with every game until his season was cut short with a daft sending off at QPR. Looked like he had the makings of the box to box midfielder we need. That's penalty box to penalty box Gregan, not KFC box to KFC box.
Aaron Lennon 7 - Far from the complete package, in a lot of games he only showed flashes of ability rather than being the constant threat we'd like to think of him as. However, there's no denying firstly the potential and secondly that he was the most exciting thing in a pretty drab team. More willing to run at defenders than even Kewell at his best and showed he could put a decent cross on the end of it at times. Another season in the Nationwide would probably be better for him career wise than sitting on the bench in the Premier, but I doubt we'll see it.
Rob Hulse 7 - Did enough to justify his signing and his goals v Reading were probably the highlight of the season. Big strong, works hard for the team and doesn't mind having a shot. However, his confidence did tend to tail off towards the end of the season (we do that to strikers) and missed a few chances. West Brom probably had it right, a decent Championship striker not a Premier League one.
Clarke Carlisle 7 - Ultimately a bit too inconsistent to be a top centre half and the odd silly mistake let him down but generally he did a good job for us this year. His goals also helped, would be helped by the chance to establish an understanding with...
Matthew Kilgallon 7 - I'm still not totally convinced. He has some great games, when he looks the player we all want him to be, reading the game well and bringing the ball forward at times. But he does have some nightmares. Generally the good games outweigh the poor ones but he needs to play 20 games in a row, at centre-back - so he can settle in the team and we can all find out if he's really got it.
Gary Kelly 6.5 - Has had a good solid season. Helped organise a young defence at times and has made very few mistakes at the back. Would like to see him produce a bit more going forward but its 15 years since he was a winger. If we want to try Richardson at right back then maybe Kells could go in midfield - he's played there before and couldn't do worse than some of the present incumbents.
Paul Butler 5 - I think we probably did need him early on in the season to give some organisation and stability to the team and he did a solid job to start with. However his lack of pace was increasingly exposed and probably only being Captain kept him in the team. His nightmare at Wigan was probably the worst centre-back performance in recent memory and with Duberry and Beasley in our recent past, that's saying something. (Ok Roque Jr was worse but I'm trying to blot him out)
John Oster 5 - Played in some of our better performances and there's obviously some talent there but the last thing we need is more players dragging the clubs name through the mud. So f*** off.
Sean Gregan 4.5 - OK he got better as the season wore on, but we spend more money on him than most teams in this division spend in a year and for that I expect a bit more. Turned up basically unfit and never really looked like an athlete. There is some ability there, he can pass, although a lot of them go backwards but his main talent is pointing. Pointing at other players to tell them where they should have been when he mishits a pass. Pointing at the free man he should be marking. Pointing at the player he's just fouled because he's not quick enough to keep up. Fourteen yellow cards in a less than complete season says something. It's says your not fit enough or good enough to be on the pitch.
Marlon King 4 - Nearly made the invisible pile but popped up and missed a penalty at Leicester to remind us that he'd been playing. Don't think he had any impact on any of the games he played in. Get rid now.
Michael Duberry 4 - He's gone. Hallelujah. The usual headless chicken performances early on until Blackwell sussed him out and dropped him. We thought we'd seen the last of him but reappeared for one last disastrous cameo in the cup, just to remind us what we'd been missing. OK I know we are still paying a lot of his wages, but I'd happily pay all of them to keep him away.
Jermaine Wright 3 - At times I can see the point of Jermaine Wright, there was a little patch around November when he looked like he might be the creative player, getting forward to score the odd goal we needed. It was an illusion. Started the season largely anonymous and by the end of the season was almost totally anonymous and ignored. Added nothing, Did nothing. We'd have been better off with Germaine Greer.
Michael Ricketts 2 - Up there with Paul Okon as one of the worst players I've ever seen. Unfit, lazy, disinterested. Astonishing to think he played for England. He actually showed the odd decent touch on the ground and there were glimpses of a good player in there. Unfortunately a glimpse a game is not good enough. Guess who bet on him to be top scorer in the Nationwide. I'd given up after 2 games. And Stoke have sent him back. God help us.
Simon Walton 6 - Walton does not pass the ball well enough to be a midfielder. This is why he's a centre-back. The couple of times he got a chance there, Wolves and Portsmouth he looked promising. In midfield he struggled, but throughout showed more spirit and desire than anyone else in the team, and you can't blame him for being played out of position. A lot of the time he was frustrating but you could see in his disappointment when he was
Michael Gray 6 - A decent enough initial impression, looks comfortable on the ball and uses it intelligently. However, after coming back from suspension but in a couple of mediocre performances where his lack of pace looked like a problem. If he's happy to join at Nationwide wages I'd keep hold of him but definitely wouldn't break the bank for him.
Brian Deane 6 - In some ways he was still the player he used to be. Missing when it seemed easier to score and hitting the post and bar from a wide variety of positions. Ok he was past it, but that's hardly his fault, signed as a squad player and substitute and due to the ineptness of others found himself starting most weeks.
Brett Omerod 6 - Nearly forgot him. Thought he was a good signing and he tried hard, but he was never going to score for Leeds even if he played for us all year. Joined Healy and King in the crap penalty taker club. Did we miss more than we scored ?
Danny Pugh 6 - I feel a bit sorry for him. Started the season with a bang but thereafter was in and out of the team and was a prime casualty of the switch to 4-3-3. In a straight 4-4-2 he could stay wider and was proving a useful provider of goals but not really combative enough for the narrower role. Still ended up only one goal short of being our topscorer. For a converted left-back you can't complain about that.
Frazer Richardson 5.5 - Another full-back playing in midfield who started well and faded. Again would probably have benefited from a regular position but unlike Lennon doesn't have pace or age on his side. Get the feeling that if he was going to make an impact he'd have done it by now. Been around since the European days after all.
Simon Johnson 5.5 - Never thought he was cut out for the Premiership and his initial appearance at Pompey promised little for the Nationwide. He then had a decent game against Wigan (I think) and disappeared. Though he's never really made much impact anywhere else in multiple loan spells which suggest Blackwell was probably right.
Glyfi Einarsson 5.5 - Made a very good initial impression with a Man of the Match performance at Burnley. Was probably unlucky to lose his place after that but fairly anonymous when given a chance towards the end of the season, though difficult to impress when the rest of the team are just going through the motions. Jury's still out, but only looks like a squad player at the moment.
Stephen Crainey 5.5 - Not quite sure why we played a decent sum of money for him. Played a few competent games, took a couple of crap free-kicks and got injured.
Julian Joachim 5.5 - I was about to say that he deserved more chance to proof himself but I looked it up and he actually played in 31 games - starting 13 of them - so he really should have made more of an impact. I think I might get 2 goals in 31 games - that's about my Lards average.
Matthew Spring - Can't say we've seen enough of him to have an opinion, should be given a run in the team so we can find out something about him.
Jamie McMaster - We need more than a few nice touches in the last ten minutes. Neat but unthreatening footballer.
Eirik Bakke - A few minutes as a sub and that's all we saw of him. If he can get and stay fit he has the ability to be a dominating force in the Nationwide. If !!
Seth Johnson - Had just played his best game at QPR when we were told he was to be benched for the rest of the year. Can't really blame him for being injured so much and I doubt any other players would say don't pay me. Would be a major asset if we could keep him - but I doubt it.
Ian Moore - Made little impact in a few end of season kickabouts. Probably no more than a bench warmer.
Last season ended badly, with Gray's removal. His mistakes? I saw almost all of his games, but didn't see many. He had a paper-thin defence, couldn't get Mills back (say what you like about him, he'd have been worth a few extra points to that defence) - thanks, Peter Reid. He also inherited the job-lo of loan signings that were foisted onto Peter Reid - was Reid really forced to sign them by the board? Couldn't he have had a couple more free transfer instead, a Steve Guppy or two to add to Jody Morris (who was worth trying)? Gray immediately dropped them all, and our improvement was sharp. Perhaps Suleiman and Olembe would have been worth playing - but how much do we know about them, except that they turned out to cost us more than we thought and absented themselves for a big block of time to play in Africa? Side before self, anyone? Surely playing them would have been bad for morale. Anyway, the board choose the young coach with the good reputation in the Nationwide over the man who wouldn't be allowed to manage in the Premiership again. Right, fair enough. We all hoped he'd be good.
And that sets the scene. My misgivings began with soon after the ousting of Matteo, a man who wanted to take a pay cut. At the time I just assumed we couldn't afford to keep him. But soon after Blackwell announced that we were keeping Duberry, as getting rid of him wouldn't save much cash and he wanted to play for us. My tea didn't go everywhere, at that time - that happened when we could afford to sign that [expletives deleted - you know who I mean].
Once the season started I wasn't too worried. Pugh and Richardson on the flanks, Butler and Wright signed on frees, I could appreciate the point. One thing I distinctly recall our naive young manager saying when he signed Sullivan was that Carson would be playing in a lot of games. With hindsight, that's part of the pattern. At the time, I thought we were well set up - goo d young players, who were in the team, a couple of old hands steadying the ship, a bit of cover, loads of useful centre backs, good cover for the defence on the flanks, two good keepers, loads of strikers who know where the goal is. We weren't going to go down, and if we could get one more free transfer to hold the centre of midfield before Seth got back and had some luck we might get into the playoffs. (At least, if we'd kept Matteo...)
But of course that was never the plan. The plan was to go mad with every penny we could scrape up, making loads of signings to save what looks like a man with a profoundly insecure management style from having to use players he hadn't signed. How much have we spent signing people? How much did we get for Carson? If we needed to sell Carson, fine, but we could afford to buy players after that. King and Moore are better than Deane how? Do I need to type out a list of signings that otherwise make little sense? Healy? So he could drop Pugh. Hulse? Good, but done so he wouldn't have to push Healy forward and play Pugh. What does he have against young players he didn't sign?
Ken Bates. OK, he saved the club, he's very good news in the short term, and there is no long term. But that medium term. Why can't we afford the ladies team when we can afford to spend money? And why has my application for an £87 season ticket been ignored? What's this about not sparing the price of our star midfielder's dinner on the womens team and the local charity? The problem with Mr Beast, apart from the tendency to suddenly wave his arms about and do peripheral but annoying things like the above, is that he's not good with managers. If they do well he forces them out. It doesn't look good. [not for posting: Ranieri wasn't exactly popular with his own players, and did not do well] When Vinnie Jones said that he wanted to be our manager, my blood ran cold. Under Bates, I believe we'll stay in the top half of the Nationwide for a few years and reestablish ourselves financially. In that time, we could build a good young team - instead, we'll have a team of Nationwide journeymen, funded by sales and economies with the young players. Show a bit of form in our reserves and you can earn yourself a loan at Darlington and maybe a contract with Tranmere. In let's say 5 years time Bates will go, a new board and manager will come in and start with no decent kids anywhere in sight and a squad of journeymen in their late 20s and early 30s.
WHY DO WE NEED A SQUAD OF 30 OR SO ESTABLISHED NATIONWIDE PLAYERS??? AND WHY DON'T KILGALLON, RICHARDSON AND CO COUNT AS SUCH???
I'll cut the list of sins; this is the moralised, and fit (if we'd kept Eddie) squad - in its entirety - that we should have finished the season with: in goal, Carson, Sullivan; in defence and on the wings, Kelly, Richardson, Carlisle, Kilgallon, Butler, Radebe, Walton, Pugh, Gray, Lennon, Guppy; in central midfield, Derry, Johnson, Bakke, Wright, Matteo; up front, Deane, Healy, Joachim, Simon Johnson, McMaster, Ricketts. Doesn't look bad to me.
There's a couple of obvious departures in there but little wastage, possibly some spare cash, a good solid nucleus of mostly young players and just one major signing needed (another goalscorer).
And this is all really just to say that I bet you the price of a season ticket (and not an £87 one either) that at least half of the above who are still with us won't be by Christmas, and that every penny raised will be spent on a load of nothing, and that we will NOT win promotion and Bates will have to clear up Blackwell's financial crisis when we've spent out and have no parachuet payment behind us next year. (Just pray that Bates decides to tell Blackwell his job is to build around the young players.)
And I haven't even mentioned all that stuff Blackwell said about fitness last summer and how everyone would be superfit.
And I forgot, but could I change my poll entries - the worse moment of the season was when we got a new academy head, or whatever his post is, I'd never heard of, and his qualification turned out to be that Sackwell thought he'd done well at York. I hit the roof. Hard. Downsizing isn't the word.
yours, Disgusted of Hammersmith.
This season was about survival, and everything else would have been a bonus, except, there was nothing else...
Well QPR 6-1, Healy's arrival, Hulse's debut, Walton, Lennon, Killgallon, Richardson, and Pugh. Meeting the old players at the club shop for a signing, and taking my son to meet the current players at various other functions. They are my memories of this season right now, but in five years time 04-05 will be a blank!
Next season we'll shake off the last of the fair weather fans and the real fans will be able to stand up and be proud to say 'I was there'. It's easy to follow a team at the highest level, it's bloody hard following them in the Championship, not least the standard of football is such a huge drop down from the Premiership.
I do believe we've dropped as far as we're going and we're on the way back up, now, it's just a case of how long that's going to take, and I cannot believe we'll succeed in returning next season with the squad we have at present.
I really like what Kevin Blackwell's has to say when he talks to the press, but he still has to prove himself as a manager who can take Leeds to a higher level. I just wonder if Ken Bates will let him invest real money, if he has half an eye on a bigger name taking over, so consequently Kevin will never really get that chance to prove himself.