NEW Year’s Eve is invariably a time for reflection as well as celebration.
The events of the previous 12 months will often be mulled over before attention turns to the coming year as Big Ben ticks ever closer to midnight.
Depending on which party the old year is being bid farewell to at – or, more pertinently, how rich your neighbours are – a spectacular display of pyrotechnics may also fill the night sky as those present link arms and sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
Last year, however, the fireworks came early in Yorkshire as Barnsley thumped Leeds United 4-1 just a few hours before 2011 drew to a close to complete a memorable double over their rivals from up the M1. That the visitors’ goal came in stoppage time via Luciano Becchio did little to ease the misery felt by those from the West Riding.
Following on from the 5-2 thrashing meted out to Simon Grayson’s side at Oakwell the previous season, the manner of the Reds’ victory meant the New Year’s celebrations went with a bang in Barnsley.
In contrast, the United contingent could only drown their sorrows and hope for a much happier 2012.
With a little under three months of the year remaining, whether those hopes have come to fruition at Elland Road is a moot point. But what Leeds can do today is exact revenge for the New Year’s mauling at the hands of Keith Hill’s men, as Michael Brown is well aware.
“Things didn’t go well last season for us against Barnsley,” the veteran midfielder told the Yorkshire Post about last season’s 4-1 and 2-1 defeats against the Reds.
“The game down there is one that sticks in the mind. To be fair, in the first few minutes I thought, ‘We might have them here’. I didn’t think Barnsley were going to bother us.
“But then we were horrific once the first goal went against us. Everything went wrong. I think that was a bad trait that we had last season.
“One setback and we folded. We were history and that is a bad, bad sign for a team.
“What was great the other night (in United’s 2-2 draw at Bolton) was how we hung in there. They played some really good stuff in the first 20 minutes but we didn’t throw the towel in. We continued to battle and got our rewards in the end.
“If we go a goal behind at home, we have to accept there is still a long time to play. By that, I mean everyone. Not just the team but the fans as well.
“You should only be judged at the end of a game. If we haven’t got the result, then fair enough it’s not gone right. But we have to remember that a game is 90 minutes long.”
As Brown rightly points out, the manner in which the team collapsed at Oakwell was by no means the exception to the rule for Leeds last season.
A month after the defeat at Barnsley, Birmingham City also put four goals past United in what turned out to be Grayson’s final game in charge and Blackpool bagged five and Nottingham Forest an unprecedented seven at Elland Road.
That defeat to Forest was not only a club record reverse on home soil but also one of the craziest nights Elland Road has ever seen with Leeds hitting back to make it 3-3 before Gareth McCleary struck another three quickfire goals to take his tally for the night to four before Dexter Blackstock made it 7-3 at the death.
“That Forest game was absolutely crazy,” said Brown, who netted what remains his only goal in a Leeds shirt that night.
“It turned into a disaster but, at 3-3, I was certain we were going to win. I really was.
“But then everything they hit that night went in. The fourth goal was the clincher. It killed us. We’d come back to 3-3 but that went in and we were dead. End of story.
“We shouldn’t have folded but we did. That was how we were, I’m afraid. Looking at the squad we have now, I don’t think anything like that would happen again. In fact, I know there will be no more of them.”
United, thanks to a four-game unbeaten run, will go into today’s derby confident of ending their poor recent run against the visiting Reds.
League victories over Forest and Bristol City sandwiched a Capital One Cup upset against Everton before Leeds claimed a point from Tuesday’s 2-2 draw at the Reebok.
It means the Yorkshire club are well on their way towards achieving the target, set by manager Neil Warnock, of being no more than three points adrift of the play-offs at the start of the international break.
For Brown, who will be 36 in January, the run has coincided with a welcome return to the team, something that has further justified his decision in the summer to accept the offer of a new one-year contract at Elland Road.
“I love playing,” says the former Sheffield United midfielder. “That is why I am still here when I will be 36 just after Christmas. I never understand anyone who says they have lost that buzz.
“I can’t imagine it happening to me. My thinking is that you are a long time finished. It can get frustrating when you train week in, week out without getting even 15 minutes.
“That can be the hardest part. But you have to keep your head up and make sure you are ready when needed.
“Ideally, I would have liked to get a few more minutes early on this season when on the bench. Just to keep in touch, really. The more minutes you have, the better you are when needed.
“Ten to 15 minutes keeps you up to speed. But I still felt good in the Everton game and ready to play my part. I found a bit extra in the tank and that saw me through.
“Nights like that are the ones you will miss when the time comes to give up. It was one to savour and showed we are going in the right direction. Having said that, the thing we need to do now is stop conceding goals. Sort that and we’ll be okay.”