When the highlight of the afternoon’s entertainment is the mascot winning £200 for charity by scoring a goal from 35 yards out, you know things have gone badly, badly wrong. The chants of “sign him up” sung by the Kop at Elland Road on Monday afternoon were only slightly ironic. Leeds fans are desperate for any signing to improve the team and Lucas the Kop Cat is available as far as I am aware and he certainly looked like he had a modicum of skill, and his desire to see the club succeed cannot be questioned. That is more than can be said for most of the team on display against Derby. What the owner of the club wants to achieve on the field is anyone’s guess.
Things have been bad at Leeds United for the last 18 months, but 2012 has been an unmitigated disaster. Monday’s 2-0 home defeat to Derby County was a record equalling 10th of the season, meaning the Whites have now lost more times at home this season than in the relegation season of 2006/7, but at least that Leeds team had some fight in it. Bar a particularly inept display in a 3-0 defeat to Stoke City that side did at least keep games close. This season has been a series of damp squibs and gutless performances . Pitiful defeats to Blackpool (0-5), Birmingham City (1-4) and Nottingham Forest (3-7) are now coupled with some of the most horrible football witnessed at Elland Road in the last 25 years.
Neil Warnock’s arrival was supposed to galvanise the squad. The reason for his appointment by the board was to get more out of the players than Simon Grayson could do. Let’s not forget the Whites were on the fringe of a play-off place when the man who got Leeds back into this division after three years in the wilderness of League One was relieved of his duties. Now without the points gained under his tenure before Christmas, Leeds could have been dragged into a battle to avoid a quick return to the third tier of English football.
Rather than improve the performances of the rag-tag unit Grayson had been left with due to the decisions to strip the squad of any real quality, Warnock seems to have destroyed the team, turning them into a team bereft of ideas and seemingly wishing to finish their own seasons, and that of members of the opposition, prematurely with a succession of ridiculous challenges that have brought three red cards (and there should have been more) in successive fixtures.
The Leeds boss is constantly saying that the majority of the squad won’t be playing for him next season, yet has made minimal changes to the starting line-ups. He should have plenty of players to choose from, with the playing staff pronounced as being the largest in the Championship by the chairman, who has spent the last few weeks rubbishing the achievements of his previous appointment.
The season has an end of an era feeling around it, similar to the last knockings of the Howard Wilkinson era in 1996. Then Wilko had seen his side tipped as one of the favourites for the Premier League title and reached a cup final. However a 3-0 defeat at Wembley to Aston Villa precipitated an awful run of form in the league. He cleared the decks at the end of the season and spent heavily in the summer, only to be sacked after losing 4-0 at home to Manchester United in September.
Where Wilko’s replacement, George Graham, moulded Leeds into a miserly outfit who were incredibly hard to beat, Warnock has curbed the attacking instincts which were the hallmark of Simon Grayson’s team and has made no real impact on an already leaky defence.
There has reportedly been a series of meetings between Warnock and Ken Bates this week to discuss the planning for next season, Leeds’s 9th outside the top flight. With the ground improvements which seem to have been of more importance than investment on the field now completed, surely it is time for the chairman to put some of the recently announced profits into the playing side of the football club.
What is needed is for the ownership of Leeds United to realise that success on the field will bring the commercial rewards they so brazenly desire. Two years ago we were on the verge of exciting times. On the brink of promotion it felt like we were on our way back after falling down to the deepest depths in the history of the club. We had a young vibrant side, backed by a reinvigorated support who felt vindication for sticking with the team was about to be forthcoming. Within 12 months a side who just missed out on the playoffs has been decimated, the support is disillusioned and back on the brink of rebellion and the club feels like it is about to go down the next dip of the roller coaster, one which may be a drop too far.
The end of the 2011/12 season cannot come quick enough, but the start of the following season begins after the final whistle against Leicester City in two and a half weeks’ time. Leeds need to be fast out of the blocks if their ambition is to match that of its supporters. If they aren’t then they may be left in the blocks forever.