In Peter Lorimer’s United heyday, the derby with Huddersfield probably meant more to the Terriers and their fans, but in the present day that belief may no longer match the reality. Phil Hay reports.
Not since 1962 have Leeds United finished below Huddersfield Town in the English pyramid. It is so long ago that Peter Lorimer made his senior debut that same year, becoming Leeds’ youngest-ever player aged 15 years and 289 days. This December Lorimer will turn 70.
Leeds were barely a force at that stage of the ’60s, a lower-end team in the old second division, but Don Revie’s injection of philosophy took hold soon enough. Leeds won the title two years later and, over the next five decades, dipped in and out of derbies against Huddersfield, only four of them staged as top-flight fixtures.
“On the day they were big games,” Lorimer said. “When the derbies came round you wanted to win them, that went without saying. In the early ’60s we just started to turn a corner under Don so we weren’t seen as a major club but before long we’d gone on to winning just about everything, not just in England but in Europe as well.
“For us, our main rivals soon became Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United. That’s who we thought about when it came to winning medals. I’d imagine the derby meant more to Huddersfield because people over there must have been sick of seeing Leeds doing so well. But clearly the gap between the teams today isn’t what it was.”
The present-day gap in real terms is nine points; Huddersfield on 13 at the top of the Championship and Leeds on four in 21st place. In the circumstances, Saturday’s derby between the clubs is a keen examination of both squads as Town try to retain a two-point advantage over Fulham and United work to negate an opening month which Lorimer described as “an obvious disappointment”.
A Yorkshire derby was where Leeds performed best in August, winning 2-0 and deservedly away at Sheffield Wednesday. Either side of that result were defeats to Queens Park Rangers, Birmingham City and Nottingham Forest and a draw with Fulham, earned by Chris Wood in the third minute of injury-time. A string of mistakes at the back had Garry Monk tearing his hair out by the time the international break arrived.
Huddersfield in contrast found a way of tipping the balance in their favour, with late and crucial goals in four of their five league games. Wolverhampton Wanderers coach Walter Zenga came away from a 1-0 defeat at the John Smith’s Stadium two weeks ago claiming his side “could have won that game easily” but Town are one of five unbeaten teams in the Football League.
Wagner and United’s head coach, Garry Monk, were as active as each other in the transfer market, signing more than 10 players each before the summer window closed. Most of Wagner’s business was done long before the deadline, several of those players arriving from Germany and picked out for the gegenpressing philosophy which Wagner has rigidly committed himself to.
Lorimer said Huddersfield’s position in the league was only a partial surprise.
“From what I’ve read and seen of them, their manager seems to have a very certain way of doing things,” he said.
“He got some decent players over the summer and physical players who are going to cope in the Championship. You need that if you’re going to do well. It’s fine playing football and you get some nice sides in the Championship but even nice footballing sides have to be able to grind results out. If you look at Huddersfield’s results, they’ve done that. They’ve come up with goals when they needed them and it goes down as a great start.
“With Leeds I feel that Garry Monk is still trying to get his best team settled in his head. He’s new to the club, a lot of players have come in and some of them quite late on. It’ll take him some time to feel like everything is settled. Last month was an obvious disappointment. You always want a good start and we haven’t come up with it.
“But the game at Hillsborough brought the best out of some of the players and it’s a similar sort of occasion on Saturday. To me this is a very big game for Leeds. We could do with a win, no doubt about it. It’s vital that our players call the shots from the first whistle. Huddersfield might be top of the league but we should still be causing them big problems, especially at home.”
Derbies between the two clubs have never really settled into a pattern of dominance. Town have won 30 meetings to Leeds’ 27 and the unpredictable nature of this fixture was summed up last season by United producing a 3-0 victory away from home but incurring a 4-1 defeat at Elland Road midway through March.
Leeds’ problem last month concerned their defence, and specifically the concession of five goals directly from corners. Two of those came away at Forest ahead of the international break, resulting in a 3-1 loss.
Lorimer said he hoped to see Monk hand a league debut to Pontus Jansson this weekend, blooding the centre-back properly after his loan move Torino.
Jansson was an unused substitute for Sweden in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Holland but is returning in time to be considered for Saturday’s derby.
“The worrying thing for me is the familiar mistakes at the back,” Lorimer said. “That was a big problem last season and if we’re being honest, it’s been a problem for many years – the fact that the opposition aren’t often forced to score good goals against us.
“I thought Jansson looked good in the League Cup game at Luton and I’d like to see what he can do. He looks big and strong and we need some mettle in there. I can’t see Huddersfield being over-confident on Saturday because they’re probably surprised by their league position too but they’ll fancy it.
“Our players need to make sure it matters to us more.”
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