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Marcotti's Musings

Leeds fans bask in their renaissance

It is some time since their anthem 'Marching On Together' has been sung with such resonance. United has often been an inappropriate suffix for Leeds, but it is not now.

With a siege mentality fostered by the perception of unfair treatment, there is a greater sense of unity than at any time since the heady days of the Champions League semi-final. As Leeds prove that a 15-point deduction may be no impediment to promotion, their supporters are savouring life in the lowest league they have ever encountered.

With attendances approaching 30,000, Leeds are proving a more popular draw than eight Premier League clubs; indeed, only four Euro 2008 qualifiers drew a higher gate than the League One side on Saturday. That was despite, unlike their immediate rivals, opting to kick off at the same time as England.

The chants of 'Yorkshire, Yorkshire' that came from the stands appeared a statement of independence. God's Own County - or at least part of it - was content to turn its back on the rest of the nation. As Leeds revel in their status as self-proclaimed pariahs, it seemed all too apt.

Yet, at the same time, Leeds have started to attract more compliments than they have done for several seasons. They are unaccustomed to popularity outside West Yorkshire and their manager is unused to acclaim within it. Now, with nine wins and two draws from their 11 matches, they are the only unbeaten team in the Football League and Dennis Wise's name has been heard from the stands.

Calls for Wise's head have ended. A mention of 'a club I used to play for' was a diplomatic, and even a wry, way of avoiding mention of Chelsea, but approval has come with results, rather than from his past. While Wise floundered last season, he has, for the first time, a side that is demonstrably his.

They are notable for the differences with their predecessors. Consistency in team selection is one significant alteration. So, too, is the addition of speed to a side who were regularly outpaced in the Championship.

The strike pairing of Jermaine Beckford and Tresor Kandol may be callow and can lack sophistication, but both are quick. Moreover, with a combined tally of one league goal for Leeds prior to this campaign and 11 thus far, they are players championed by Wise and performing for him.

Seb Carole was another marginal figure as Leeds were relegated, yet he, too, is decidedly rapid. The winger was the most influential figure in the second half against Leyton Orient on Saturday which, after being the most ineffectual before then, prompted one observer to wonder if he had undergone a talent transplant at the interval.

The injection of energy was required. Now those, such as Alan Thompson, who relies on his passing and allows others to do his running, are in the minority and the balance of the side is consequently better. Whereas Kevin Blackwell favoured a side composed of senior professionals, there is a youthful look to Wise's collective. An increase in fitness, together with the obvious improvement in team spirit, help account for Leeds' remarkable record of turning draws into victories. In five matches already, late goals have transformed one point into three.

There are alternative explanations for their revival. It may sound bizarre to brand a side who have been deducted 25 points in the last six months fortunate, but Leeds were lucky against Orient. They benefited from a remarkable refereeing performance from Nigel Miller.

The most obvious of several significant errors was his refusal to allow what would have been a winning goal from Adam Boyd, from a shot that clearly crossed the line. There may have been a sense of déjà vu at Elland Road. Earlier this season, Hartlepool's Richie Barker claimed a goal with a header that, once again, the officials deemed had not entered the net.

Leeds could be forgiven for thinking they were owed some good fortune. They are also reaping the rewards for their dedication to the cause. Several of Wise's signings spent the summer at Elland Road and played during pre-season when the club was unable to pay them. Their eventual prize was one denied to many players of their ability.

Like Nottingham Forest, Leeds still have a gravitational pull. The prestige of playing for them outweighs that of representing, say, Orient. Players who would not be considered by Everton or Manchester City, let alone Liverpool and Manchester United, can join a big club.

By the standards of League One, they are also a wealthy one. Poverty has afflicted Leeds for several seasons but the size of their support gives Leeds a financial advantage over their rivals.

It is apparent in the composition of a side with a sprinkling of internationals, as well as with a glance at the players' car park: Frazer Richardson, for instance, may well be the only League One right-back with an Aston Martin.

But after several years of stalling or being stuck in reverse, Leeds look as though they have finally found top gear.

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