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Clarkyboy's Comments - Can We Play You Every Week

Being a Leeds fan was a pleasant experience again on Sunday afternoon as the Whites disposed of their third Premier League side of the season. So why can Leeds turn it on against the big names like Tottenham, yet struggle to perform against Barnsley and Bristol City. Stephen Clark has his theories.

What am I going to do next week? The camera's aren't here!
What am I going to do next week? The camera's aren't here!
Laurence Griffiths

As I travelled to the game on Sunday afternoon, I was devastated to see a line up not featuring Luciano Becchio. Even though it appears clear that his days at Elland Road are numbered, it smacked to me of suicide to face Tottenham Hotspur without our leading goalscorer and talismanic striker.

When I saw the line up, including Michael Brown and Luke Varney, I flipped my lid firing off a tweet claiming that the selection was "pathetic and an insult" to the support, and that Warnock should be fired, no matter what the result.

I'll hold my hands up and admit that on that score I was wrong. The team produced a superb display of grit, determination and no little skill to deservedly knock out the side laying fourth in the Premier League. Whilst, in my opinion, the stand out performers were Tom Lees, Ross McCormack and Sam Byram, all players at the club before Neil Warnock's arrival, it has to be acknowledged that Lee Peltier, Michael Brown and Luke Varney all had superb games.

So how can Leeds perform so well in the big games, yet fail to turn up in those that on paper should be the easier ones? Because have no doubt, if we could play like that every week, we would be in the promotion shake up, even with this less than sparkling side.

The simple fact is that most of the squad are simply going through the motions, following the lead being set for them by the manager. With Warnock knowing his time is up at the end of the season, he doesn't seem to have the stomach for the fight any more. Is he incapable of getting the team up for the weekly drudgery of Championship football, or is he simply not bothered any more?

When the spotlight shines on him though, he is a different character. These cup ties are his last hurrah, a chance to show the world that Neil Warnock still exists. Much like our much loathed former chairman, he is never better when the media want to listen to what he has to say, and the big games are his chance to shine.

Is it a coincidence that our best performances this season have been in our biggest games? Leeds used to be a team that froze on the big occasion, yet in the cup wins over Everton, Southampton and now Tottenham have shown that this United side thrive on the big stage. Even our best league performance of the season came in the "cauldron" of the John Smiths Stadium, as Leeds dismissed the challenge of Huddersfield Town with a superb display of attacking football.

The same goes for some of the players. Michael Brown most weeks is abysmal. Yet the cup games have seen him become even more possessed than normal, actually moving outside the centre circle to clamp down on the opposition midfield. El-Hadji Diouf, quiet in recent weeks, lifted his game on Sunday with the eyes of the world upon him.

Warnock has filled the squad with players like himself, journeymen who have never quite made it at the top. Despite his success at the lower levels, the Leeds manager has never managed for two consecutive seasons in the top flight, with his Notts County and Sheffield United sides relegated after one season and he failed to even see out a campaign at QPR.

Those players, the likes of Varney, Peltier, Green and Tonge are used to playing for sides at this level and understandably have found it difficult to perform at a club where expectations are much higher than anywhere else they have played. We as supporters are culpable as well, maybe expecting too much from these players, who if we had our way would probably be nowhere near our first team.

Whilst we show patience with those who are our own, such as Lees and Byram, or offer something exciting like a Rodolph Austin or indeed Luciano Becchio, the lesser lights are expected to raise their game to how we wish to see them, and we are unforgiving when they fail to impress.

Yet given the chance to succeed on the big stage, they have all risen to the occasion this season. Varney had his best game for the club, a goal capping a performance which was his finest since his display against Southampton. Lee Peltier was superb alongside Lees at the back, his disastrous spell at left back now hopefully a thing of the past.

So what will happen on Saturday against Cardiff. With the crowd likely to be back under 20K and with the eyes of the world elsewhere, will the team go back to their normal crappy self? Without the media spotlight focusing on Neil, will he be able to motivate himself to motivate the team?

Because if it does go back to the mediocre, then we shouldn't be shy in letting them know about it. Sunday proved they are capable of competing and working hard, and that is all we ask of them. The football does not have to be Barcelonaesque but it does have to be attacking and of a high tempo. Believe it or not there still is a chance for this lot to make the play-offs. They just have to believe it themselves. Hopefully this weekend's result can be the stepping stone to better things - a chance to be in the spotlight every week.