AT the end of the week when Jim Bowen sadly passed away, his catchphrase “super, smashing, great” most definitely does not describe the recent fortunes of the two Yorkshire footballing heavyweights who meet today at Elland Road.
Since starting the post-Christmas period with a Boxing Day win apiece, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday have collected a miserable eight points from 13 league outings.
Even League One-bound Sunderland boast more over the same 80-day period underlining just how badly awry this season has gone for the White Rose duo.
“Here’s what you could have won” – another of Bowen’s famous lines from the hit show Bullseye, uttered when a contestant had blown the chance to win the star prize – just about sums up the goings-on at Leeds and Wednesday during a season both clubs kicked off with the clear aim of making a concerted push for promotion.
Owner Andrea Radrizzani went public with his criticism of the Leeds players earlier this week, striking a chord with many in an equally dejected support base in the process.
Top in late September and still in the top six when 2018 dawned, United are reduced to having little but pride to play for during the run-in. It is a state of affairs Gaetano Berardi admits is hugely frustrating for everyone at the club.
“We have done a lot of mistakes this season,” said the versatile defender ahead of tackling Jos Luhukay’s Wednesday. “But this is an important game because we need to win.
“Positivity comes from winning games. You can do good performances, but we need a win, especially in this next game.”
Leeds’s collapse since beating Burton Albion on Boxing Day has been spectacular. So, too, has that of Wednesday, even allowing for the then managerless club being 14th in the wake of their own post-Christmas triumph at Nottingham Forest as opposed to the fifth place occupied by Leeds.
The White Rose duo have an identical league record since then, featuring one win and five draws.
Wednesday’s slightly worse goal difference over those 13 games mean they prop up a form table that is led by Fulham (33 points), Aston Villa (31) and Cardiff City (29).
One of those desperately poor records can be improved today at Elland Road and Berardi is adamant Leeds will have claimed the bragging rights come 5pm.
“It is a derby and it will be a tough game,” said the defender, likely to again sport the captain’s armband due to Liam Cooper being out with a leg problem.
“But we need to show we are a good team. The season is not over and we have to do our best every time. I know that the manager and staff are doing their best for us like the club is doing its best for us.”
We need to show we are a good team. The season is not over and we have to do our best every time. I know that the manager and staff are doing their best for us like the club is doing its best for us.Leeds UNited’s Gaetano Berardi
Radrizzani’s criticism of the United squad following their inability to remain part of the promotion race despite being top after nine games included an accusation that the players had shown “no commitment, no passion, no spirit” during the recent slump in results.
Berardi, understandably, made clear when asked about his employer’s outburst that if he had anything to say to the Italian on the matter then it would be done behind closed doors rather than through the media.
But as someone who joined United in the first summer of Massimo Cellino’s often chaotic reign in 2014 the 29-year-old can see the bigger picture at Elland Road.
“My first two seasons were not good if you see the results,” he added. “But (this season) we see a lot of good things from the club, a lot of improvement.
“There is a good organisation. Everyone – players and staff at Elland Road – knows what to do. The manager has also come here with a lot of passion, a lot of happiness to be here. That was good to see.
“We could see he came here with his philosophy to play football and that is what we need. We need to follow one way, not three or four ways, to find our style of football. What we need now is some results.”
Leeds have had the better of this fixture at Elland Road since the rivalry resumed following Wednesday’s promotion from League One in 2012.
Two home victories and three 1-1 draws mean recent history is on the side of the hosts. This season’s first meeting, however, went the way of the Owls in a fixture that pretty much summed up United’s season.
Having started firmly in the ascendancy and with Samuel Saiz threatening to pile more derby misery on Wednesday just a week after Chris Wilder’s Blades had triumphed at Hillsborough, Leeds fell behind on 25 minutes and then fell apart.
The lack of on-field leadership when things are going awry that has characterised too much of this campaign saw Thomas Christiansen’s side meekly surrender to a 3-0 defeat. A response is needed this afternoon.
“Sheffield Wednesday will be a tough game,” added Berardi, United’s longest serving player along with Cooper.
“We have to show we can win this type of game. We have to show that we are prepared to work hard.
“Football is 11 v 11, on a Saturday or Sunday. We need everything to be right. If you have a good team and a club not working well it is difficult to get things right.
“For this season we did a lot of mistakes. First, the players. Then the staff and everyone. If we win, we win together. If we lose, we lose together.
“It will be a tough game, a derby game, this weekend. But we are preparing well and working very hard every day. The focus is to try and win the game. That is what we have to do.”
Wednesday may have spent recent weeks looking anxiously over their shoulders, but the continued failings of the bottom three suggest the current eight-point advantage enjoyed by Luhukay’s men will take some overhauling.
Leeds being marooned in mid-table means, as these old Yorkshire foes prepare to go head-to-head once again, there is little more at stake than pride this afternoon.
Or, as Jim Bowen would have probably put it in that voice so familiar to millions in the Eighties: “You win nothing but your BFH…. bus fare home.”