In the absence of a Yorkshire twang, can we ask how you became a Leeds fan?
My dad is a lifelong Leeds fan, his dad was the same, and that was quickly passed down to me! Despite living in London, I spent six years in the North-West and, during that time, my dad and I were season ticket holders and would make the trip down the M62. Once I experienced Elland Road, there was no turning back really.
After a couple of ‘nearly’ seasons, how much confidence was there that Leeds could win promotion this year?
I think for most Leeds fans, despite the disappointment of last year’s Play-Offs, there was still a really positive feel around the club. And with Marcelo Bielsa staying, I reckon most were pretty confident, including myself. I think the worry that a lot of fans have is that if you’d asked them which areas needed strengthening at the end of last season, most would have said that Leeds needed a proven goalscorer and a safe pair of hands in goal. A year later and the position has pretty much remained the same, which is a concern, particularly as Patrick Bamford is still missing too many chances and Kiko Casilla was still making the same mistakes before his ban. Also, in my opinion, the squad is far too thin, which could become a factor as the games come thick and fast. It’s going to go down to whether the players have learnt from last year and can hold it together as the pressure inevitably rises.
You were on a great run prior to lockdown, so the postponement didn’t exactly come at a great time…
Yeah, I remember being disappointed when the season was bought to a halt but ultimately there are things more important than football. Leeds were flying. The 4-0 away win against Hull City was as good as I’ve seen them play and that was followed up by a 2-0 win against Huddersfield Town, with Luke Ayling scoring one of the best goals of the season! Leeds fans were hoping the club would pick up where they left off but clearly that hasn’t happened.
What happened against Cardiff?
The pattern of Sunday’s game was all too familiar for Leeds fans. Despite being away from home (not that that means as much anymore), we dominated possession and were on top but fell victim to some ridiculously clinical finishing. I saw a lot of Leeds fans complaining about this and that on Twitter, but if I’m being perfectly honest, I didn’t expect us to win the game. We haven’t beaten Cardiff since September 2016 and have lost four of our last five against them, with one draw. They’re the definition of a bogey team! Throw in our shocking record against any team managed by Neil Harris and you have a recipe for disaster. I think one of the worries is fitness, and whether Leeds can continue to play the style of football they enjoy. Squad depth is quite limited too.
With a foot in either camp, what will Leeds-Fulham be like for you?
Weird. It’s impossible to be as close to the Fulham players as I am and not feel part of the team and want the best for the players and supporters. While some Fulham fans will be fearful of facing Leeds at Elland Road, rest assured, Leeds fans are feeling just as nervous. Man for man, Fulham are arguably the stronger. Before Bielsa joined, Leeds finished mid-table with pretty much the same side.
What sort of game are you anticipating at Elland Road?
This is an easy one to answer because usually every game that Leeds are involved in is the same. Leeds will dominate possession but struggle to convert chances, and most teams follow the well-known blueprint for beating Leeds which is to play quick, counter-attacking football while defending in numbers resolutely. Virtually every game that Leeds have lost has been in this way. Fulham are brilliantly equipped to achieve this with plenty of pacey, skilful, attacking players, and when you’ve got Aleksandar Mitrović up top to stick the chances away, it’s pretty helpful.
With a strong knowledge of both teams, where do you think the game can be won or lost?
I think Fulham’s task is immediately easier when you get rid of the crowd. A packed Elland Road is far more intimidating than an empty one. I thought Harrison Reed was superb on Saturday against Brentford and he’ll need to be again to get the better of Kalvin Phillips and Mateusz Klich. Leeds are vulnerable to long diagonal balls towards wingers because the wing-backs often push forward to create overloads. I imagine Fulham will be looking to exploit Leeds down the right-hand side as Stuart Dallas, despite having a strong season, isn’t technically a natural left-back. He might struggle to contain players like Bobby De Cordova-Reid and Anthony Knockaert. Most teams that find success against Leeds work hard to press the defenders and stop them from playing out from the back, and Fulham will need to do this I feel. Having said all that, it’s been pretty clear what Bielsa’s tactics are, yet not many have managed to stop them. Fulham will need to be at their best to pick up a result. It’s become a much bigger game now with both teams having lost their first fixture back.
The big question – who do you want to win?
Brutal question. I can honestly say I’d be happy with a draw, particularly as Brentford are playing West Brom on Friday. Ultimately, my dream scenario would be for Leeds and Fulham to go up automatically together. Sorry for sitting on the fence, but what do you expect from a question like that!