Leeds United LUFC 2010/11 Season Review
'Leeds United On This Day' author Joe Mewis looks back over Leeds United's first season back in the Championishp
Leeds United: LUFC 2010/11 Season Review
Other Recent Leeds United Articles
At the start of the season we said in this column that we’d take a nice comfortable mid-table finish, a season of consolidation and getting to grips with the Championship before a promotion charge next year. This would also bring the added bonus of not having the stressful cloud of promotion/play-offs/relegation envelop us Leeds fans as it does every season and we might all live longer as a result.
That’s not quite how it panned out however, as the past season has contained its usual share of ups and downs with United narrowly missing out on a play-off spot. Whilst finishing in seventh place would have been a respectable position at the start of the season for the newly promoted cub, it was tinged with disappointment due to the fact that the club occupied a play-off spot for more than half of the season, only just falling away at the last.
START OF THE SEASON
Back in August, the season started with a number of question marks hanging over Simon Grayson’s team. How would we replace Everton-bound Jermaine Beckford’s goal tally? Would the like of Howson, Snodgrass, Kilkenny and Johnson be able to make the step up to the Championship from League One? Would Max Gradel have finally calmed down after his red card against Bristol Rovers?
A solid start to the season saw Leeds steadily picking up points, with Becchio finding the net with ease and nicely complemented by the returning loan-man DavideSomma who began to develop a super-sub label.
Then, one Tuesday night in Barnsley it all went horribly wrong, as the Tykes inflicted a 5-2 defeat on United, live in front of the Sky Sports cameras. Our tin-pot South Yorkshire rivals took great delight in the drubbing, even releasing a special T-shirt and DVD of the match. Questions were now being asked of the defence and three games later they were asked even louder, as Leeds conceded six goals at Elland Road for the first time in their history, in a quite bizarre 6-4 loss to Preston that had seen Leeds coasting 4-1 before half-time.
11 GAMES UNDEFEATRED
This presented Simon Grayson with perhaps the first real crisis of his managerial career at Leeds. Another heavy Elland Road defeat, this time a 4-0 loss to Cardiff represented a sea-change however, as United went 11 games without defeat, often playing some delightful attacking football. Particular high points were a sterling comeback at Burnley, where United came from two goals behind at the interval to win 3-2 and then a dominant 2-0 win over the runaway league leaders QPR at Elland Road in the two games before Christmas.
All of a sudden Leeds had gatecrashed the automatic promotion places. The Whites had shown they were capable of playing some extremely attractive football, with Robert Snodgrass returning to his best after a preseason injury and Max Gradel playing like a man reborn after the ignominious end to the previous season. Jonny Howson was also chipping in with his share of goals and Luciano Becchio’s scoring streak meant that Beckford’s goals were not missed in the slightest.
What’s more, going to Elland Road was fun again; the usual nagging doubts, sense of pessimism and crippling fear of not being able to get out of the third flight that had blighted the fans over the last three seasons was gone. The atmosphere in the ground over the Christmas period was electric, with the ‘Champions of Europe’ chant at the QPR game being a highlight of the season.
United’s lofty position at the turn of the year did mean expectations were now becoming re-assessed and the ‘p’ word of promotion began to be uttered. Many argued that this season presented a good opportunity to go up as the division was weaker than usual, whereas the more pragmatic Leeds fan looked at a squad containing a lot of players who had never played at this level before and wondered if the Premiership next season would be a good idea.
Leeds were able to test their mettle against top class opportunity when they were drawn against Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup in January. A superb team display at the Emirates saw them earn a replay, but the Gunners’ class prevailed back at Elland Road and Leeds were unable to add to their scalp of Manchester United at the same stage in last year’s competition.
Back in the league United began to slowly drop down the table as too many draws saw them move out of contention for automatic promotion. As the evenings drew longer and winter turned to spring, these draws began turning into defeats, as a tired looking squad struggled to impose themselves on lesser sides and the errors at the back reared their ugly head again. Late-season defeats from the likes of strugglers Derby and Crystal Palace and soon-to-be relegated Sheffield United meant that by the time Leeds took on and defeated champions QPR on the last day of the season their fate was out of their hands.
This topsy-turvy season has answered several of the questions posed coming into it, but also raised major issues that need addressing if Leeds are to build on it and launch a promotion push next year.
First off is the defence. Grayson never established a settled centre-back pair all season, trying out all the possible permutations of Naylor, O’Brien, Bromby and Bruce, never really finding the winning formula. Left-back was again a problem, with loanee George McCartney disappointing and is unlikely to be coming back after being singled out by Ken Bates on Yorkshire Radio after the Sunderland man said the squad were tired. Fresh blood is definitely needed at the back, with Naylor already having been released.
Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of this season was that Leeds again faltered at the last. A year ago United stumbled over the finish-line to win promotion and questions should be asked as to why the team again finished the season so poorly. Simon Grayson undoubtedly needs to start using his squad more wisely, as key players such as Becchio and Snodgrass looked dead on their feet as the season reached its climax. A bit more rotation earlier in the season may have kept their legs fresh, especially considering we had the likes of Somma and McCormack sitting unused on the bench for large parts of the season.
SIGNINGS & RUMOURS
As far as additions to the squad go, a quality centre-back is a must and the midfield will need reinforcement, especially with the futures of Neil Kilkenny and Bradley Johnson up in the air. A tough-tackling ball-winner to shield the defence is certainly needed. Going forward there’s not too much wrong so its case of keeping hold our best assets. Becchio signed a new three-year deal with year, but that hasn’t stopped the rumour mongers, who will also likely be talking up the possibility of the likes of Robert Snodgrass, Kasper Schmeichel and player of the year Max Gradel moving to the top flight.
Despite these criticisms, this should not be viewed as a disappointing season for United. Leeds proved they could mix it with anyone at this level and have something to build on for next season. The Championship will likely be a tough league next year, with some quality teams coming down from the Premiership and up from League One, but with a bit of strengthening Leeds can look forward to being a match for anyone.
Joe Mewis’ book Leeds United On This Day is out now and available here
Posted on Monday 16th May 2011
Sending you to Twitter, hold on...