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Leeds, Ipswich long for Red Letter Days

Leeds United turned back the clock this weekend

Rewind 10 years to May 2001.  Manchester United had just won their English third league title in a row. It was the first time a single manager — Sir Alex Ferguson — managed the feat.  Arsenal came in second, pipping Liverpool to the spot on the last day of the season.  But the Merseysiders shed few tears, winning a treble of trophies — UEFA Cup, FA & League Cups — and earning a third-place finish that would put them in the Champions League, their first foray into top-tier European football since the Hillsborough disaster.

The top of the table was awash in a sea of red.  But just below them were the other colours of the Union Jack: Leeds United white and Ipswich Town blue.  Both teams were riding high. Both teams would find their success short-lived.

Fast forward 10 years to the present day.  Leeds and Ipswich have spent much of the last decade in the lower leagues, unable to replicate the success of 2000-2001.  Now both teams must go through Arsenal to have any chance of cup glory this season.

Ipswich Town
Back in 2001, both clubs were riding high.  Ipswich had only been promoted the previous season and were widely picked to go down again.  But they stayed in the top six for much of the campaign,  finishing fifth and earning George Burley the Manager of the Year award.  They also picked up a place in the UEFA Cup, the trophy they had won 20 years earlier.

George Burley: Manager of the Year 2001

But that success turned out to be a blip.  After their fifth place finish, the Tractor Boys spent much of the next season at the foot of the table and were relegated, entering administration in the process.  They’ve remained in the First Division/Championship ever since. Ipswich came close to coming back up, securing play-off spots in 2004 and 2005, but lost both times to West Ham.  Since then, they’ve have simply floundered.  The hiring of former Ipswich great Jim Magilton, and then Man U giant Roy Keane, did nothing for either the club’s results… or for the idea of using unqualified players as managers.

Leeds United
For Leeds, the heights were even loftier. Although they slipped from the previous season’s third-place finish, they made up for it in 2001 by going all the way to the Champions League semi-finals.  A 3-0 defeat to Valencia prevented them from facing their opponents in the 1975 final, Bayern Munich.

That Leeds side featured several young players who would make names for themselves at other clubs: Robbie Keane, Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell, Lee Bowyer, Paul Robinson, Alan Smith, Dominic Matteo, Rio Ferdinand.

Leeds: Too good to go down…

But like Icarus flying to close to the sun, the Yorkshire side was burned by pride.  Buoyed by Leeds’ domestic and European success, Chairman Peter Risdale borrowed heavily to secure new players. That proved to be short-sighted: their fourth-place league finish meant they had to settle for the UEFA league.  Leeds lost much-need television revenue and they began their descent.

The team was forced to sell star players to fund debts, killing morale at the club.  Leeds were relegated in 2004, and then dropped again to League One in 2007.  After two playoff losses in a row, the Whites finally got promoted to the Championship last season with a second-place finish.

Cup Success?
One club has rebounded, one has not.  The difference between the two was evident this weekend.   Ipswich sacked Keane on Friday, just two days before the East Anglians were to face Chelsea in the FA Cup.  Owner Marcus Evans was unhappy with Ipswich being in 19th place, but his timing was awful.  The champions and cup holders humiliated Evans’ team, 7-0.

Meanwhile, Leeds — who sit in fifth — almost earned a famous win at the Emirates, if not for a Theo Walcott dive in the dying minutes.  United must now fancy their chances with the replay being held in the intimidating environs of Elland Road.  If they win, a West Yorkshire derby awaits at home against Huddersfield Town.

Ipswich still have a chance at redemption.  New gaffer Paul Jewell will lead them out against the Gooners today at home, in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final. Ipswich are 7-1-6 at Portman Road.  But after five trophy-less seasons, Arsene Wenger is hungry for silverware and isn’t likely to let up on the Tractor Boys.

Ten years ago, both Leeds United and Ipswich Town were riding high.  Now, after a decade of being left red-faced, both clubs are hoping for a blue-ribbon day against a formidable opponent, lest they are forced to wave the white flag of surrender.

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under Carling Cup, Champions League, FA Cup

10 Things I Learned This Weekend

What, me worry?

1) Firing your manager before your team faces the defending champions and cup holders = stupid.  Chelsea 7-0 Ipswich Town.

2) Firing your manager before your side faces the team that ripped the World Club Champions a new one = also not smart.   Tottenham 3-0 Charlton.

3) Howard Webb likes to insert himself in games.  Questionable calls against Liverpool this weekend.  Not outrageous… but questionable. 

4) Kenny Dalglish has his work cut out for him at Liverpool, especially since he will be without Steven Gerrard for the next three games.  Blackpool away, Merseyside derby at home, Wolves away… Liverpool have lost to all three teams this season.

5) Arsenal need a keeper.  No kidding.

6) Lionel Messi wins the inaugural FIFA Ballon D’Or as the best player in the world.  No kidding.

7) All of the FIFA Pro XI were chosen from Italian or Spanish clubs.  Stop me when you are sick of me stating the obvious…

Andros Townsend: The Future of the Right

8 ) ‘Arry still hasn’t finalized a deal to bring Becks.  I don’t understand why Spurs would sign him in the first place.

9) Becks and Posh are expecting a fourth child.  Show-offs…

10) El-Hadji Diouf is still a knob.  Discuss.

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under FA Cup, Premier League

Northeast gets Sweet FA from Cup ties

Winning never hurt so good...

The world’s oldest football tournament almost never disappoints, with its share of cracking matches, and sometimes… cracking bones.  Here are some of the highlights from Saturday’s FA Cup fixtures:

– Arsenal will have to travel to the hostile Elland Road for a replay, after barely drawing Leeds United 1-1 at the Emirates.  The only reason the Arse are still alive is because of a penalty given after a Walcott dive.  Kids today…

As if! Diouf can't believe what Neil Warnock said about him

– Speaking of dirty cheaters, El-Hadji Diouf did his best impression of a human heel in Blackburn Rover’s 1-0 win over Queen’s Park Rangers.  According to QPR gaffer Neil Warnock (who is no stranger to jackassery himself),  the Blackburn player stood over Jamie Mackie and taunted him as the young Scot writhed in pain from a broken fibula and tibia.  Diouf should thank his lucky stars it wasn’t Jamie Carragher

– League Two side Stevenage were the giant killers of the Third Round, taking out Newcastle United 3-1.  The Toon Army does not suffer fools — or managers — lightly, but apparently they aren’t as bad as the Stevenage fans.  They get upset even if their team wins!

–  The Newcastle loss means the FA Cup is going nowhere near the Rivers Tyne, Wear, or Tees this season. Sunderland lost 0-1 to Notts County, while Burton Albion beat Middlesbrough 2-1.

– A resurgent Southampton took down a reserve-side Blackpool 2-0.  Saints’ fans taunted Ian Holloway with chants of  “Premier League, you’re having a laugh.”  They should know…

Where Once We Watched King Kenny Play: Liverpool head to Old Trafford with Kenny Dalglish once again at the helm.  The Reds legend takes over from Roy Hodgson, who left after mutual dissent.  Unfortunately for Liverpool, he didn’t take Christian Poulsen, Paul Konchesky or Joe Cole with him…

Also on the Manager Merry-Go-Round:  Ipswich Town head to Stamford Bridge, sans Roy Keane.  They meet a Chelsea team whose manager might be joining Keane in the unemployment line, if the cup holders don’t beat the Tractor Boys, who sit 19th in the Championship.

Manager Merry-Go-Round, Part III: Tottenham Hotspur are hosting a gaffer-less Charlton Athletic  in what will surely be a second-string run-out for ‘Arry’s adolescents.  Look for goals from, um… that guy… off a cross from, uh, that fellow over there…

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under FA Cup

Winter of TFC’s (dis)content?

As rumoured for most of the week, Winter is here at Toronto FC.

After four fruitless seasons under four five failed head coaches, the Klinsmann plan was enacted today with the hiring of former Ajax and Inter midfielder Aron Winter as head coach and Bob De Klerk as his assistant. Winter, a former Dutch international, and De Klerk come to Toronto from Amsterdam, where they were working with Ajax’s academy and assisting the first team. Paul Mariner will serve as director of player development.

Winter wants TFC to play with three up front in a 4-3-3 formation. But he’s never seen this collection of chumps play, and he’s already got to deal with news that designated player Julian De Guzman has “shredded” his meniscus and needs to go under the knife.

Mariner, formerly Steve Nicol’s sidekick when the New England Revolution were good, is back on this side of the Atlantic after 15 TFC-esque months with Plymouth Argyle. In his day, the former England international was a  prolific scorer for Plymouth and Ipswich.

Over at The Globe & Mail, our man Paul Attfield says he likes the moves. Here at At The Rails, we’re waiting for new blogger Ryan Johnston to make his debut with a breakdown of the hirings. He’s a little busy with his day job right now, but has promised to weigh in this weekend. Stay tuned.

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