After a season which has started in pleasantly surprising circumstances, the end of August has seen Leeds United supporters have to take a reality check. On the field the Whites suffered their first defeat of the season at home to QPR on Saturday, a match that took place in front of an almost half empty stadium. Then there was the usual disappointment of a quiet transfer deadline day, with no incomings, and more pertinently, no outgoings.
Let's get the on the field stuff out of the way first. Had you offered me eight points from our opening five league fixture, I would have snatched your hands off. The fact that we are disappointed not to have increased our tally on Saturday shows how well the side are doing under Brian McDermott. With practically the same squad inherited from Neil Warnock, which let's not forget was on the brink of becoming embroiled in the relegation struggle, the current incumbent of the Elland Road hotseat has dragged us to a level which is not that far away from the odds on favourites to walk away with this division.
Harry Redknapp has been allowed to assemble a squad which would more than likely hold it's own in the Premier League this season. Backed by Tony Fernandes, and taking advantage of the ridiculously high parachute payments on offer to relegated he has got rid of the expensive foreign stars assembled in the doomed attempt to stay in the top flight last season and has brought in established players at this level, such as Charlie Austin, Gary O'Neill and Karl Henry.
For vast tracts of Saturday's game, Leeds were as good, if not better, than their opponents. Rudy Austin was a colossus in midfield, frightening Sean Wright-Phillips out of the game with one bone crunching tackle, and keeping Joey Barton quiet for most of the match. At the back Leeds were largely untroubled, but once again it was a set piece failure which saw the points slip away.
The area which caused the most concern was the attacking areas. With Ross McCormack having an off day, he was offered very little in the way of support by the four players who partnered him up front. Noel Hunt has done nothing but pinch Costa's wi-fi since he arrived at Elland Road and Luke Varney had one of his typically industrious performances. Unfortunately, if he was a piece worker he would pick up little in the way of money. For someone who works so hard, he actually produces very little of substance.
When Dom Poleon and Matt Smith came on, Leeds lost their way completely. At least they do offer a bit of pace and an ariel threat, but both are lacking experience at this level, and look unlikely to grab 20 goals between them, never mind apiece. Only when El-Hadji Diouf entered the fray did Leeds cause the QPR defence concern, but it was too little too late. Even if he had been on longer, Dioufy seemed to be carrying a little excess timber, further inhibiting his startling lack of pace.
The crowd left Elland Road grumbling, in fact around me a lot of people had spent the entire match grumbling. Although by the end of the match the focus had turned to the eleven men on the pitch, the early part of the game had seen a lot of haranguing of the 10,000 who had gone missing since the opening day against Brighton.
There are certain factors to be taken into consideration when we discuss the crowds at Elland Road. Up against the crowds of last season, the last three matches (including Chesterfield in the League Cup) stand up quite well. However these were very dark times, with rank bad football being played in a spiteful atmosphere which characterised the final days of the Ken Bates era.
Now with that Chelsea B****** out of our club, it seems some people expected the stayaways to return unquestioningly. The opening day was perhaps a false dawn. Buoyed by the positivity of Bates expulsion from the club, and attracted by Category C prices, the crowd was swelled disproportionally.
The next two games in the League were always going to be difficult sells. Although Sheffield Wednesday was a local derby, the Category A classification coupled with a live TV appearance was never going to see the ground filled to capacity. Again on Saturday, Sky TV in the pub fro the price of a couple of pints was again a much cheaper option than forking out big money to actually attend the ground.
Whilst it is understandable that people may be aggrieved by so called "plastics" turning up for the big games, what has to be remebered is that in the current economic climate, finding the cash to attend matches every week for the casual supporter is a huge ask. We also have the situation where after 8 years of Bates, the club need sustained success on the pitch to attract the fans back on a regular basis. Mid table Championship football is not going to pull in the paying public on a regular basis. Even with tickets at £24 for the Burnley match, I will be surprised if the crowd is over 25K.
GFH have done a lot of good work since coming in and another sign of progress is that for the first window since in a couple of years, Leeds have not sold a big player. Whilst we have been unable to shift the deadwood, we have kept the crown jewels. In his excellent article on this site, Alan Sheehan discusses our transfer window and highlights the areas which he feels need strengthening. This will be GFH's next challenge, to be able to bring in on a consistent basis the players needed to take the team forward. We are not far away from being genuine contenders in this division. Success on the pitch will ensure the stands are full.