The Chief in action

Back by popular demand

Quite how a team that lack goals and can’t defend went from a streak of five losses in six games to absolutely destroying Birmingham City 4-0 is difficult to explain, but we haven’t posted since the eve of that game so it seems as good a place to start our round-up as any.

Things seldom make sense when Leeds United are involved but the Birmingham City game was something else entirely. Before the international break our team lacked width, featured a defence who made mistakes U9’s would be embarrassed by and a strike-force who couldn’t score in a brothel.

There’s no getting away from how poor Birmingham City were, but it shouldn’t detract from a dramatically improved performance by Leeds United worthy of all the praise it received.

Brian McDermott will have been feeling the pressure ahead of this fixture, knowing that managers are regularly dismissed with better form records than Leeds had recently recorded so his decision to switch the formation to a 5-3-2/3-5-2 (with Sam Byram and Stephen Warnock operating as wing-backs) was not only inspired, but incredibly brave.

Nowhere was safe for poor Birmingham, not with the superb Rodolph Austin given license to roam free and destroy anyone who dared to stand in the way of his tireless pursuit of the ball. Contrasted hugely by the clever movement and well-measured passes of Alex Mowatt, Leeds United’s central midfielders were only marginally overshadowed by the return to form of Sam Byram.

Ever since he burst onto the scene, making an impression which almost instantly established him as the first name on our teamsheet there’s been a debate over whether or not Sam should be moved to the right wing. For me, the answer has always been no. Byram has always had an attacking instinct and he’s deadly when in an advanced position, but he’s also an exceptionally good defender – probably the best we’ve had since “livin’ the dream.”

It’s always seemed counter-intuitive to me that we’d compromise an already fragile defence to try and make our attack stronger by playing a full-back out of position. I don’t doubt that Sam would develop into a very good right winger, but full-backs who can win the ball then burst out of defence, immediately putting your opponents on the back-foot, are a deadly weapon to have in your arsenal. On his day, Sam Byram is a game-changer.

But desperately lacking width and with no other options, McDermott rolled the dice and opted for a compromise. The fluid 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation is a difficult one to get right because you need technically gifted wing-backs with exceptional awareness to ensure you don’t get caught on the counter-attack lacking any sort of cover on the wing.

I’ve seen the formation exploited so many times, it didn’t bear considering when we were desperately searching for a miracle cure, not with a defence as badly organised as ours. But McDermott used the two week international break to master a formation which many clubs get very wrong, showing great faith in Byram and Warnock (along with the three centre-backs) and the result was astounding. Byram looked like he was born to play right wing-back while Stephen Warnock had one of his best games for the club on the opposite wing.

It’s only one game of course, so it’s too soon to consider the new formation our saving grace, but in this instance, the result was just reward for McDermott and his players.

To find criticism in such an impressive display would be unfair, and truth be told, there’s very little I could fault. Alex Mowatt, Ross McCormack and Rodolph Austin are all fair contenders for man of the match, but Sam Byram would be my choice. They all played outstandingly well, but it was Byram’s immediate mastery of his new position which gave Leeds United a dimension to our game we’ve so desperately lacked.

Warnock was a solid 8/10 and worthy of another mention too and I’ve just realised that 650~ words in I’ve failed to comment on Matt Smith who had his best game (by far) for Leeds and whose well-taken brace would have won him a man of the match award most weeks. Still not convinced he’ll score regularly enough to set the Championship alight, but given the right service and considering how unpredictable this club is, who knows?

Return of The Chief

“Radebeeee… Radebeee… Radebe, Radebe, Radebeeee…. Radebeee… Radebee-ee-ee-ee, Radebee-ee-ee-ee-ee… LUCAS!”

Perhaps the answer to the question of where the Birmingham performance came from was the presence of Lucas Radebe. The supporters certainly enjoyed his return, singing the Chief’s name loud and proud as our hero returned to grace the hallowed halls of Elland Road. It felt almost spiritual and gave the place a much needed lift.

There’s something godlike about Lucas. I’ve met a lot of Leeds United players over the years and only The Chief left me starstruck. ‘Legend’ is a term I use very rarely, but that’s exactly what Lucas is and the sooner he’s made a permanent fixture of Leeds United, in whatever capacity he damn well chooses, the better.

Above all else, Lucas Radebe makes me proud to be Leeds United. And every single player who’s a part of our first team or coming up through ranks can benefit from his presence, of that I have no doubts. He’s the living embodiment of what every Leeds United player should aspire to.

Actual transfer news

The boy who cried “WOLF!” on imminent Leeds United loan signings has long since been eaten. It’s become so boring, even the Twitter ITK’s have given up. But just when all hope was lost, Brian McDermott makes a move for Dexter Blackstock. Since he rarely kicks a ball these days, it’s hard to say whether he’ll be a good signing or not, but a bit of extra competition can’t hurt.

McDermott is also looking at 29 year old Lithuanian international, Marius Zaliukas. The central defender who spent seven years in the Scottish Premier League with Hearts is due to have talks with Brian McDermott following his recent trial period with the club.