It’s not that often you get to see two Leeds United triumphs in Barnsley, over the space of one wintry week.
But that’s what this past seven days has provided for me, starting off with last weekend’s welcome and surprisingly straightforward victory for United over the Tykes at Oakwell. I’d written in the days before the Barnsley match that there was no call to push the panic button despite Leeds’ 1-4 reversal at Wolves the previous midweek. Not many will take anything away from Molineux this season, as Wolves look equipped to mount a sustained promotion challenge – and so they should with the cash they’ve splashed.
And yet Leeds had come strongly back into the game despite going two behind early on and, after Ezgjan Alioski’s spectacular finish reduced the arrears, United were pressing hard. It was only the dismissal of young Ronaldo Vieira that put paid to the Whites’ resurgence and, overall, the evening was not as bad as the scoreline might have suggested.
So I was actually cautiously optimistic that we’d get something at Oakwell, but I didn’t expect it to be quite such a stroll. In truth, Barnsley were pretty awful, which is a sharp contrast to their usual up and at ‘em approach when United are in town. Still, you can only beat what you’re pitted against, and Leeds dealt with the Tykes firmly and professionally.
Alioski provided another picture book goal to add to a Samu Saiz opener, and it was job done just before half time. In the second half, Barnsley huffed and puffed but never really got anywhere near troubling Leeds, who closed the match out uneventfully.
Added to the previous weekend’s dismissal of Garry Monk’s Middlesbrough, three points prised out of South Yorkshire added up to a more than reasonable week for Thomas Christiansen’s troops, who are again showing signs of putting their recent calamitous run behind them.
On Thursday night, it was back to Barnsley, this time for a theatrical rather than sporting treat, but still with a football theme, as Red Ladder Theatre Company gave us a production of “The Damned United” at Shaw Lane Sports Club.
I’m on record as not having much time for the film of the same name, based on Huddersfield Town fan David Peace’s bleak book. Despite Michael Sheen’s uncanny Brian Clough impression, it was a movie that took too many liberties with history, and tended to jump aboard the traditional anti-Leeds bandwagon. But the play was a horse of a different colour, with Luke Dickson and David Chafer brilliant in the roles of Clough and Taylor, and a more moderate, less stridently Leeds-hating tone overall. The third member of the cast, Jamie Smelt, portrayed Derby chairman Sam Longson, his United counterpart Manny Cussins, as well as Leeds coach Syd Owen, who viewed Clough’s Elland Road arrival with an amusingly jaundiced eye. These three actors succeeded where the large cast of the movie didn’t, in this contemporary fan’s opinion at least.
After enjoying the three points from Oakwell, it was almost as enjoyable to see the story of Clough’s 44 day reign at Elland Road so eloquently told by such a small, talented cast. It prompted reflections too, about how different United’s post-Revie history might have been had Cussins somehow been able to recruit both Clough and Taylor. History shows that either one without the other was competent at best – but the two together were well nigh unstoppable, wherever they went.
Sadly for Leeds, it would be Nottingham Forest and not United who went on to benefit from the restoration of that legendary partnership; it’s difficult, even at this distance in time, not to sigh for what might have been. Still, we beat Barnsley in their Cup Final, and that was enough to make me smile going into last night’s fixture against Aston Villa.