First of all I want to wish the fantastic worldwide Leeds United supporters, a very Merry Christmas and it’s great to see us at the top of the league! Getting a last minute winner today saw limbs everywhere and fantastic scenes in the away end and long may it continue.
Last Wednesday I appeared on BBC Radio Leeds with Adam Pope on a Christmas wish special alongside a Bradford and Huddersfield fan. My wish was for Leeds to have some inner strength so we don’t capitulate as we have in the past. I want us to continue doing what we are doing, getting as many points as we can and get a good FA Cup run to keep the momentum going. Our good runs in the past came when we took games seriously in the cup.
On our way to the game today we stopped at a different pub in Sutton Coldfield where we received a good welcome from the landlady. Thanks to Brook and Neil and also Evie for buying my book Back to Reality, 2017-18. Thanks too to Will for buying Once a Leeds fan, always a Leeds fan and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Leeds United, Leeds United in the 1980s. One fella in passing said he’d give me a pound if we beat the Villa today and when I said “only a pound?” he replied he was a pensioner. Just before we were getting ready to leave I got talking to some Villa fans. As I took their photo we were chatting and I mentioned my first visit to Villa to see Leeds play a 0-0 League Cup game in the seventies which ended with our coach coming under attack when stuck in traffic after the game. The barrage of bricks put all the windows bar one through and I had to get down in the aisle to protect myself. As they mentioned something about books I told them I’d already written five. With that they moved over to one of the tables as I brought my books to show them. One of the lads said that he thought what I was doing writing the books and blogs were fantastic and says no one at Villa does that. Of all the years he’d been following Villa he has never taken any photos. I said he should get together with others and write down those memories as it’s important for fans to see how it really was following their team. As I was asked about the score today I said I wouldn’t predict one as I always get it wrong. I want us to carry on as we are, keep getting points, and then see where we are. I also hoped it would be a good game and I wasn’t worried about playing them. One of the Villa fans said that they could score goals but their defence and goalie were rubbish. It was nice to have some good natured banter with their fans and the time passed so quickly that I didn’t realise we were already due to leave.
We arrived at the ground in next to no time and my daughter Dani and I decided to go straight in rather than go down to the Witton pub. As we were stood talking to Brian from Wales, I suddenly saw the cameras pointing at us. Dani went “not again mother, it’s every time I’m with you!!” As I looked up they still had the camera pointed at us, then came nearer and the man was laughing. He said they were looking for Christmas jumpers and so got a close up of the Leeds badge on mine and then went. It was quite funny really.
The team: Peacock-Farrell, Jansson, Phillips, Ayling (back after injury), Roofe, Alioski, Klich, Forshaw, Harrison, Leif Davis (making his first team debut at left back after Douglas had to pull out of the game after the warm up due to illness) and Hernandez. Subs: Clarke for Harrison (45) and Shackleton for Davis (78). Leeds won 3-2 after Villa took an early two goal lead before goals from Clarke (56), Jansson (61) and Roofe (90+5) won the game for us. Attendance was 41,411 with approx. 2,500 Leeds fans.
We got off to the worst start possible when Villa took the lead within the first five minutes of the game. We had a chance to equalise when the ball was passed across the goal but we were unable to capitalize on it. To make matters worse they got a second 12 minutes later to take a two goal lead. Both goals had come from mistakes and at that time I thought we were in for a tough afternoon although there was a pull on young Davis’s shirt which was ignored for one of them. Villa looked strong as we tried to get some fluidity going to our football and we did get a couple more chances on target but there wasn’t enough power in our shots. We were unlucky not to have Villa score an own goal for us but their goalie tipped the ball over the bar. I thought young Davis was playing really well and although he was up against a skillful player, he more or less matched him. It was good to see another of our youngsters coming into the team and not looking out of place. Just before half time we won a free kick and I along with many other Leeds fans, thought the ball had sailed into the net from Hernandez but unfortunately for us it had gone wide.
As I was talking to Craig at half time, he asked me if we were down and out. I said no because we’d had some chances although not been powerful enough with our shots. His daughter Olivia had said it would be 4-3 to Leeds before the game.
The second half saw Clarke come on as sub and it didn’t take us long to start having some impact on the game. It was high intensity and end to end play, before Clarke attacking down the far side to our end got the ball into the penalty area. I was trying to zoom back out to get a photo of the shot but missed it as the ball hit the back of the net. As the Leeds fans celebrated, Alioski got the ball back out of the net and everyone ran back to the centreline to get on with the game. Bielsa was just going to make a substitute but changed his mind then. We started to have so much of the play as we kept attacking and as we won a corner, a young kid ran onto the pitch doing the Leeds salute and put a stop to the momentum. Why would you risk getting banned but also stop play when we were losing? A few minutes later though, Hernandez’s corner was headed into the back of the net by Jansson to equalise as the Leeds support went wild again. Leeds were on a different level to the first half as they came forward to attack, again and again and Klich had a shot saved to prevent us taking the lead. After another attack there was a shout for handball and a penalty although we didn’t get that. I will need to see it myself but others around me were adamant we should have had a penalty. With Alioski leading many of the attacks from the right, he was having a good game and his shot was parried by the goalie. Villa started to have a few attacks before Leeds kept the momentum going with counter attacks. With the final minutes of injury time, many fans had resigned themselves to a draw which in itself would have been a good result. When Alioski crossed the ball, it was cleared only as far as Roofe who slammed the ball into the net for the winner!
There were fantastic scenes of celebrations from the Leeds fans with limbs everywhere. What a turnaround from two goals down; to get the win was absolutely fantastic especially as it meant we went back to the top of the table. This is what is special about following Leeds and long may it continue. I bumped into Craig and Olivia at the end of the game and he couldn’t believe it, saying he was going to post Heidi was right! I said Olivia was too as she said we would win. It was a happy set of Leeds fans leaving the ground and the buzz amongst everyone is great. For once I’m going to enjoy Leeds being top of the league and we couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present. Today was a great advert for football with an end to end game and other teams will, I’m sure, start taking notice of us. Having been live on Sky again today, they will have sat up and taken notice that the Sleeping Giant that was stirring a couple of years ago is now going up a notch under Bielsa. I also thought that maybe Saiz going was a blessing in disguise for Alioski, as he enjoyed so much of the play down the right hand side today.
I’ll spare a thought for friends who are going through a hard time health wise at this moment in time and any other Leeds fan too. Have a great Christmas everyone and see you at Elland Road on Boxing Day for another sellout crowd. LUFC – Marching on Together!