Okay, here comes another heart stopping few weeks in the recent troubled history of Leeds United FC. (There's a lengthy bit about money at the start of this piece, but please don't worry, I will eventually get round to the football, I promise you) Not only is the club two points adrift of safety at the foot of the Premiership table, struggling to keep up with the promoted trio of clubs who were universally predicted to struggle to survive, but the on-off-on-off-off struggle for financial survival has taken another extremely grey and depressing turn with the decision last week by the club's major creditors not to grant the now customary extension to their standstill agreement whereby Leeds United limp on from week to worrying week in their hand to mouth existence. Now hopefully, it's all just going to be a bit of brinkmanship, following the decision by the second Yorkshire Consortium to pull out of negotiations a couple of weeks ago, seemingly leaving the way clear for the long time front running Gerald Krasner consortium to take over. The club continues to teeter on the edge of administration, but even then it seems that former deputy chairman Allan Leighton is waiting in the wings with a rescue bid of all else fails. Leighton is renowned in the City and will not want to be associated in the long term with the financial meltdown of LUFC, and so we have a neat safety net all set to kick in. It also seems that there would be little to be gained by the creditors insisting that the club is plunged into administration because then they would be forced to accept less than what they are owed, so it looks like we'll soldier on for a while yet. It's extremely doubtful anyway that any administrators could do a much better job than the excellent one being delivered by OUR NE
W HERO Trevor Birch, the former Chelsea Chief Executive. Now if good old Trev had been around at Elland Road 4 or 5 years ago then it's a safe bet that Leeds would not be in the dire financial state that they currently are. I was unbelievably impressed by TB's resolve in resisting all the transfer window vulture raids and giving us just the slimmest chance of actually avoiding relegation. Okay, enough of the money chat, let's get round to the footie itself, and at last a slight change of fortunes... Leeds seem to have finally recovered some of their old spirit and guts in recent weeks. There was an initial early burst of improvement when Eddie Gray first came into post, which quickly evaporated, but of late things have started to pick up again. The 4-1 win over Wolves recently, inspired by the attacking partnership of Alan Smith and Mark Viduka was a startling improvement on previous meek performances and this pair finally managed to remind us of exactly how good they used to be as a combination - remember those gorgeous nights of 2000/01 in that memorable Champions League adventure? Well I do... Then even without Viduka and the suspended Paul Robinson Leeds somehow managed to escape from Old Trafford with an astonishing 1-1 draw, and repeated the feat in last weekend's home game with Liverpool. In truth, the Reds had the best of things but the United spirit these days is astonishing and it seems there's life in the old dogs yet. While there are three such crappy sides around like Pompey, Wolves and Leicester plus the rapidly disintegrating Manchester City, Leeds will always have a chance and they have the distinct advantage of having still to face Leicester, Portsmouth and Everton at
Elland Road. Win that lot and they'll be in a pretty good position. Admittedly, Leeds still face awesome away trips to Arsenal and Chelsea, but then I've already discounted any points from those games, so anything whatsoever will be a bonus. I have to say that I considered the Man U game in the same light and look what happened there ... still, there's a lot of gulping still to come... Leeds' remaining fixtures run like this - March 13 - Fulham (A) March 22 - Man C (H) March 27 - Birmingham (A) April 5 - Leicester (H) April 10 - Blackburn (A) April 13 - Everton (H) April 17 - Arsenal (A) April 24 - Portsmouth (H) May 1 - Bolton (A) May 8 - Charlton (H) May 15 - Chelsea (A) Now it would be tempting fate to try and predict the results of these games, so I'm not going to do that, but it is worth saying that Leeds' future is likely to be very clear indeed by the end of April. Much will depend now on the ability of Viduka and Smith to come up with the necessary goals to secure some wins, but I have to say that the new defensive partnership of Dominic Matteo and Stephen Caldwell, the improved form of Didier Domi and Seth Johnson, and the spirit and talent of James Milner still makes me very proud indeed to support Leeds United ... so it's all speed ahead for the roller coaster ride and another bout of white knuckle struggling ... Oooh, I do feel queasy...
The last time I watched Middlesbrough in a cup final, they ended in the losing side. That was in the FA Cup back in 1997. They lose 2 ? 0 to Chelsea with Roberto Di Matteo opening the scoring inside the first minute of play. This Sunday Middlesbrough faces Bolton Wanderers in the Carling Cup final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Middlesbrough was founded back in 1875 and for more that 125 years this club has not won any major silverware. Today Middlesbrough enjoys Premiership status and this is a quite outstanding feature for this club. This Sunday the Boro players have yet another chance to bring the club first piece of silverware home. Back in 1997 they not only lost the FA Cup final, they also managed to lose this Cup final against Leicester City and were as well relegated in that particular season. I did watch both games that year and it was heartbreaking seeing Boro ending the season with a prize known as relegation instead of silverware. Juninho, the little Brazilian, played in those 2 games back in 1997. Tomorrow he will be one of the players who will try his absolute best to win this Cup final. Steve Mclaren leads the Middlesbrough current team. He is a decent manager but by no means an outstanding one. He is too defensive minded and he never succeeded in buying a quality striker and these are reasons why Middlesbrough do not score much. However they did surprise me a few weeks ago by beating Manchester United 3-2 at Old Trafford. Juninho scored twice in that game and Job did the job eventually by scoring the winner in the 80th minutes. They do have a solid defence with Southgate, Riggott, Queudrue and Ehiogu. Zenden, Juninho, Doriva, Greening, Mendieta will be fighting for a place in midfield. Job and Nemeth could be leading the attack tomorrow ahead of Maccrone, Christie and Ricketts. My star player for Boro will be captain Southgate as he is a very consistent at the back and he can also score from corners and set pieces. The t
eam Middlesbrough faces tomorrow is Bolton Wanderers. Big Sam is manager of the wanderers. His main aim is to avoid relegation and at this moment he seems not far away from his goal. Winning this Cup will give Bolton wanderers a massive lift, as they will get the chance of playing in Europe next year. Bolton has a good number of players in their squad. Djorkaeff and Okocha are terrific midfield players. Bolton possesses a hardworking defence and a few players like Nolan, Davies, Pedersen and Stelios who can all contribute tomorrow by scoring goals. My star player for Cup Final will be keeper Jaaskelainen. He does essentially what a keeper should do and he may be the reason for Boro?s failure tomorrow. Cup Finals are always exciting and although I will like to see Boro winning the silverware tomorrow, I know Bolton Wanderers is well capable of winning it as well tomorrow. However I expect Boro to be 2 - 1 winners. One set of fans will be going to go home with a badly broken heart on Sunday 29th of February 2004.