Leeds_United_Santa_Hat_u25hstld_0All things considered, 2013 was a good year for Leeds United. Heading into the congested Christmas calendar, Brian McDermott and the new owners had somehow made Leeds genuine promotion contenders, a feat most fans – myself included – thought impossible at the start of the season.

But Christmas is a merciless time when things start to come unstuck for you in football. In a run of fixtures where Leeds stood to contend 12 points in 11 days, the Whites escaped with just two. A disappointing haul that leaves us outside the play-off positions and under no illusions as to the strengthening this squad requires during the January transfer window.

In saying that however, I don’t wish to take away from the efforts of the team we currently have and the brilliant work Brian McDermott et al did throughout 2013. That Leeds United are sitting 8th in this league, just one point outside the play-off places, despite a difficult summer and continuing boardroom upheaval shows how far we’ve come from the Bates and Warnock era (with what is largely the same team).

I don’t wish to dwell on the disappointment of 10 dropped points over Christmas, but I think a bit of bad luck played it’s part in our poor form. 0-0 against Barnsley is to be expected, they’re a hopelessly inadequate team for 44 games per season, but when Leeds United are the opposition, they seem to up their performance to a level which must truly irritate their fans – if they performed week in, week out as well as they always do against Leeds, they’d not be sat bottom of the table right now.

But it’s the away trip to Blackpool where I feel Christmas was lost for The Whites. All told, it was a pretty poor game. Leeds took a 1-0 lead then seemed to take their foot off the gas a bit, but Blackpool never really looked like scoring. Tom Ince however, had other ideas. After the abuse he’d received from the Leeds United faithful (because his Dad played for Manchester United) it seemed somewhat inevitable that he’d score and silence us, despite the poor run of form he’s been in lately.

Ince’s equalising goal shouldn’t have mattered too much though. Just minutes after he’d scored it, Ross McCormack left Kirk Broadfoot flat footed and was through one-on-one with Blackpool’s keeper, absolutely guaranteed to score with the form he’s been in lately. Knowing what was about to happen, Broadfoot did the only thing he could do and “took one for the team,” fouling Ross McCormack and sacrificing himself to prevent a certain goal. I don’t blame Broadfoot for the foul, I’d have done exactly the same thing, but it was unquestionably a red card. Broadfoot was the last man and McCormack was through. Yet the referee somehow saw it differently and only gave a yellow.

To make matters worse, Kirk Broadfoot went on to perform a horror lunge on Marius Zaliukas in added time, which could have done some serious damage to the Leeds defender. Broadfoot did see red this time, but with only added time remaining, it was too little, too late for Leeds.

From there, a bit of fatigue played it’s part and when you’re out-of-form, it’s harder to grind out results with a tired squad whose confidence has taken a dent. Had we beaten Blackpool and carried a bit more confidence into the games against Forest and Blackburn, we’d probably have one eye on the automatic spots right now, but that’s just how Christmas goes. You hit the ground running and you can climb a few places in a week and half, but when you falter early on, you can drop places just as quickly.

Mercifully, Leeds United now have chance to regroup. A trip to Rochdale in the FA Cup tomorrow gives McDermott a chance to rest key players and then there’s a week before our league campaign resumes at Hillsborough. By that point, McDermott will be hoping to have a couple of new signings through the door after receiving assurances that the Football League imposed delay on the club’s latest takeover won’t effect his ability to spend.

2013 was an important year for Leeds United. Elland Road is once again an enjoyable place to watch football, McDermott has provided the fans with a confidence long lost and the whole club seems to be pulling in the right direction. 2014 has a tough act to follow then, but if McDermott can secure the signings he needs and the players we currently have continue to perform well, a promotion party in May should certainly do the trick.

Happy New Year everyone, let’s hope it’s the classic we’re dreaming of. Marching on together.