Oh dearie me. A side managed by Peter Reid, previously more used to winning regularly now find themselves struggling. They should’ve seen it coming, they were warned by supporters of his past club – they thought it wouldn’t happen to them. But it is.
Nope – Leeds United (They’re not very happy today, them Leeds supporters, as you’ll see later – keep reading!)
They struggled last season and only a resurgence in the last few matches of the season saw them hang onto their Premiership status by the skin of their metaphorical teeth; Peter Reid so very nearly became arguably the only manager to get two Premiership sides relegated in one season.
The Elland Road faithful prayed that things would improve this season but last night’s 4-0 away defeat to newly-promoted Leicester City must surely mark a new low.
Ironically it was an away defeat to Leicester City that signalled to many Sunderland supporters that all was not well. Remember it? A cold winter’s day – November 3rd, 2001. Sunderland were away at Filbert Street. Me, I was in London for the day – seeing something at the theatre, can’t remember what it was now. So being the responsible person I am, my mobile was switched off but come the interval it got switched straight back on so I could find out the score. We’d lost 1-0, another disappointing display, lost our fifth league game out of 11 so far in the season; and what made this one all the worse was that the Leicester goal came from Ade Akinbiyi who hadn’t scored for Leicester in his last 15 games for them – many Sunderland supporters got the feeling that if Akinbiyi could score against us, anyone could. And so it pretty much turned out – we finished the season avoiding relegation by the skin of our teeth – hey, just like Leeds, last season!
We now know that at the end of that season, the Board of SAFC discussed Reid’s future – sack him then or give him another chance? They gave him another chance but he only lasted until that awful day in early October 2002 that saw a Sunderland side under Reid’s “management” (and I use the term loosely) almost literally roll over and die against Arsenal.
Yes, granted, we’re talking about Arsenal – one of the top teams in Europe and perennial Premiership title contenders, but Sunderland didn’t even put up a fight that day. I’ve seen some dire performances from Sunderland in my time but this was probably the worst I’ve ever seen. If anyone was to ask me what was the worst aspect of our relegation season, I think I’d probably pinpoint that single match because it just showed how bad things had got.
No guts, no passion, no determination, no guile, no skill, no desire, nothing.
And what was worse, it was all being played out live on Sky for the whole country to see. It’s not very often that football in general or SAFC in particular reduces me to raw emotion but that day it did. We were 2-0 down after a mere 9 minutes, but when Viera got their third just before half time it just got too much, seeing the club I love humiliated so, so badly, I admit that the tears came. Last time I got like that was driving up the A1 after visiting family in North Yorkshire, hearing the commentary of us getting beaten 5-0 by Ipswich. Bloody Ipswich!! I turned the radio off when their fifth went in, literally couldn’t bear to listen to it any more.
Back to the Arsenal match though and Reidy gave his now infamous “I must be speaking Swahili” post-match speech and the day afterwards John Fickling drove to Reidy’s base in the north-west to give him the push. Many a mackem breathed a sigh of relief, but it was a case of “out of the frying pan…” when we heard – only days later – that we’d landed Wilko as a replacement. But that’s another story.
Back to today and in the cold light of day, Leeds supporters are facing up to the fact that in all probability could well struggle this season. An established Premiership team of Leeds’s pedigree just shouldn’t be losing to the new boys, relegation favourites, fresh out of administration.
Towards the end of Reidy’s tenure at the Stadium of Light it was a standing joke amongst many supporters that we could practically write his post-match interview responses for him when we lost a game; he’d inevitably reel out the old chestnuts about “second best all over the park”, “not enough desire”, “we just didn’t defend”, etc etc. So last night’s post match interview after what was surely an embarrassing defeat to the Foxes was a comedy gem:
“The better team won…we were second best all over…I’m really disappointed…they wanted it more than us…we just couldn’t defend corners…they had more energy and more desire…football’s not rocket science it’s an attitude and they had more than us…we were lacking in every department…we were second best in too many departments to win.”
The only cliche I can think of that he didn’t use was the “Billy Smart’s circus” one, but maybe he’s saving that for another time. Has Reidy gone stale in the interview department too?
But as a Sunderland supporter I almost (I said ‘almost’!) feel genuinely sorry for the Leeds supporters – it must be the old “rabbit staring into car headlights” scenario for them at the moment. They watched us go through the mire for the best part of two seasons, they knew many of us blamed Reidy for it and now they’re saddled with him and at the moment certainly it doesn’t look good. They must be hoping and praying he hasn’t run out of ideas as many Sunderland supporters said he had with us.
So I’ll end with an extract from the match report from an LUFC fanzine “To Elland back”, which has today reviewed their trouncing at the hands of Leicester. Is history repeating itself at Elland Road? To give you another cliche, only time will tell.
“The only surprise was, how the hell did the shambles that passed for Leeds defence only manage to concede four. This was the sort of awful performance which surely banishes all the recent hype about a bright new future.
“This was as pathetic as the floundering days of Wilkinson. Leeds were a side of shambles,a defence in total disarray, mayhem in midfield and anonymous in attack.
“United’s gross ineptitude and hesitancy spread beyond the defence. In midfield they were overrun. In attack, Viduka and Smith resembled a pair of dallying lovers enduring a tiff in the park. The service from the flanks in the form of Sakho and Pennant was horrendously bleak as well.
“A depressing pattern of play which dictated that Leeds would blindly fumble and surrender posession, then be counting their lucky stars as yet another Leicester chance went begging.
“Leicester’s efforts shamed the team in white, who despite a seemingly never ending sell, sell, sell policy, still possess so-called “stars” in the ranks who no doubt earn vastly superior wages than their East Midland counterparts.
“The old fears of the summer are firmly back to haunt Leeds.”