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Elland Road was the site of many depressing evenings after Leeds
United's loss of Premiership status in 2004, but few rivalled
the lows of one Tuesday evening in November 2011 when Paul Rachubka's
first team career with the Whites was cruelly brought to a sorry
conclusion by a hapless and nervy performance in front of the
The 30-year-old American keeper, who had joined United from Blackpool
in the close season, had not exactly covered himself with glory
in his previous appearances for the club.
His first game, in the Carling Cup at Doncaster on 23 August,
had an inauspicious start with Rachubka beaten inside two minutes
by a simple effort. James Hayter deflected a cross to the keeper's
left with Rachubka committed to a dive to his other side.
His Championship debut for United came as substitute against
the same side on 14 October. With Leeds sitting on a 3-0 lead,
regular keeper Andy Lonergan fractured his finger in the 73rd
minute and Rachubka came off the bench to replace him.
The injury offered a major opportunity for Rachubka to stake
his claim to a regular first team place. Manager Simon Grayson
commented, "I know I've got a capable goalkeeper in Paul Rachubka,
who has got fantastic experience. He played for Blackpool for
me and has been very sharp in training and he has been waiting
for that opportunity if it comes around."
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He came to grief in the following game, at Elland Road against
struggling Coventry. United were a goal to the good as the game
ticked into its third minute of stoppage time and Rachubka shimmied
across his box to gather a simple waist high catch. Inexplicably,
he allowed it to spill from his grasp as he went down and City
defender Richard Wood scrambled the loose ball
Simon Grayson commented afterwards: "Goalkeeper is a position
where you make a mistake and you get punished. He won't let me
down again. It's just one of those things. His head is in his
hands, but he'll pick himself up. He'll be fine, I've no problems
"He had nothing to do really on Tuesday night. He made a couple
of good saves from Sammy Clingan, he was commanding of his box
when he needed to be, and he had little else to do. But keepers
are judged on a mistake when they make one unfortunately. Defenders
and midfielders can make a mistake and maybe not get punished,
but goalkeepers do. Paul made one mistake, but he's a strong character
and he'll carry on.
"I worked with Paul at Blackpool and I don't think he ever made
a mistake that could be highlighted so I have no problem there.
He's a good, experienced lad, and he's a more than capable goalkeeper.
"Andy Lonergan has had an operation on his finger that he fractured
on Friday night and it is a blow for the lad because he's been
outstanding since he's been here. I've got a good, capable goalkeeper
in Paul Rachubka who will stand in for him. I'm not going to be
bringing anybody else in. I've got Paul who I trust to play at
the weekend and however long Lonners is going to be out for Alex
Cairns will sit on the bench.
"I'm not going to tempt fate but the most he'll probably play
is 89 minutes of a game and then we'll go out and get somebody
else if and when required. Hopefully that will never be the case."
Four days later, United were at Peterborough; Rachubka was at
fault when the Posh scored their first equaliser, failing to come
for a Grant McCann corner and thus allowing Gabriel Zakuani to
head home. When United conceded a second equaliser two minutes
from time, Rachubka was caught hesitating in no man's land as
a ball sailed in to his box and he got tangled up with his defenders,
allowing Mark Little to bundle the ball in from six yards.
Another Rachubka error saw United lose at Birmingham. The keeper
stretched clumsily for Stephen Carr's cross but could only palm
it clumsily into the path of Nikolai Zigic, and though the tall
Serb's shot on the turn was half blocked, the ball still found
The media relentlessly snapped at Rachubka's heels, nibbling
away at his self-confidence. There were no major accidents four
days later against Cardiff, but his demeanour was anxious, the
sign of a player who knows people are waiting for the next error.
"I am disappointed with some mistakes I made, but I want to impress,"
said Rachubka. "I've got a long way to go to make up for that,
but I know that. It is frustrating, but I am working hard and
I'm enjoying it. As a goalkeeper when you do something well you're
doing your job, if you make a mistake it costs you and you've
let your team down.
"It's a tough position. It is a battle. You have to put it behind
you, but you can't and it
isn't that easy. You work your socks off not to do that and you
can't change it. It helps motivate you to be better. You try and
flip it on its head, look in a positive light, and make sure you
don't do it again.
"Everything is scrutinised. At this level nothing gets missed.
It's the Championship and that's why you want to play in it. You
come under scrutiny and in goal it's magnified even more.
"Leeds has a great history of great keepers. There's been a long
line of good goalkeepers and the fans compare you to that. I know
that and accept that and I am working hard in everything I do.
That's all I can do, week in week out.
"I want to improve my level of performance and keep improving.
I want to test myself at a massive club. The team's doing well
and I want to be a part of that, and for me that's keeping clean
sheets while the strikers do all the interviews and get all the
"It's what happens in goalkeeping. You can be stood there in
a frozen yellow jersey and you are exposed if you do things wrong.
If you do things right, it's a case of 'well done', but you are
expected to do things right. You are in a bit of a no win situation
- why be a goalkeeper?
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"But I enjoy my job and work hard in training to try and eliminate
stuff like that during a game.
"You've just got to believe in yourself and keep going and that's
what I've done. I know I've got a long way to climb back with
my reputation and have got to prove it all to the fans again that
it was a one off. You keep that sort of thing focused in your
mind and I won't forget about that in a long time.
"You think: 'What an idiot for doing it.' But that's the way
it is; you can't change the fact. It's recorded on all sorts of
media and it's instant access these days and you have to live
"You just have to work hard to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Football can be a cruel mistress and Rachubka's experience in
the Championship fixture against Blackpool two days later was
a nightmare, making him the butt of newspaper mockery the next
day, the hapless fall guy in an embarrassing humiliation.
United's starting eleven for the match showed only one change
from the draw with Cardiff, Paddy Kisnorbo replacing Darren O'Dea,
who had gone off during the game with concussion. It was the first
time that Simon Grayson had come up against his former club since
parting company with the Seasiders three years previously and
he had some nice things to say about them.
"I had six happy years at Blackpool and have some very good memories,"
he said. "I was there as a player, then player-manager, and then
manager, and they were the club that gave me an opportunity.
"I will always remember the 10-game winning run we had that took
us into the Play Offs and eventually into the Championship.
"I learnt a lot at Blackpool and it was a time I really enjoyed.
There were some great
challenges and by winning promotion to the Championship, I'd like
to think the foundations were laid for what the club went on to
Grayson made over 150 appearances as a player and managed the
club for three years before resigning his post to join United
in December 2008 to take over from Gary McAllister.
"A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then," he said.
"I don't have any regrets about leaving Blackpool because I came
here and became manager of the club I supported since I was a
kid. We won promotion here during my first full season which was
the first goal, and now we're looking to move things onto the
Blackpool had experienced a mixed start to the season, but still
had a strong squad. "They have some quality players who are capable
of hurting you," said Grayson. "They are a good team who have
maybe slipped under the radar a little bit this season. They are
a team who will fancy their chances of getting back in the Premier
League and they will provide a good test for us."
The game opened quietly and there was little excitement until
the tenth minute, when Blackpool keeper Matt Gilks failed to hold
a free kick from Robert Snodgrass. Kisnorbo reacted quickest in
a crowded penalty area but was thwarted first by Gilks and then
centre-back Craig Cathcart.
Blackpool responded in fine style and opened the scoring two
minutes later. Former United left-back Stephen Crainey released
Jonjo Shelvey down the inside-left channel with a delightful through
ball. Shelvey's shot came in at a comfortable height but Rachubka
could only palm the effort straight to Lomana Lua Lua. The striker,
making his first start for the Seasiders, coolly poked the ball
United were quickly threatening to get back into the contest
with some useful crosses coming in from the right as Snodgrass
and right-back Paul Connolly pressed on. Gilks collected one Snodgrass
centre and then Kisnorbo rose well to nod down another one, but
as it bounced across the box there was no one able to convert
the chance. When Snodgrass found Andy Keogh with another angled
ball, the Irish striker was penalised for offside.
But it was the visitors who got the game's second goal in farcical
circumstances after 26 minutes. Rachubka was found wanting once
more when a cross came in from Alex Baptiste. As it came into
his chest he spilled a routine catch, teeing the ball up for Ludovic
Sylvestre to strike at goal. Centre-back Tom Lees was ruled to
have stopped the effort on the line with his hand and was dismissed
by referee Roger East after the penalty was awarded. Shelvey's
first effort from the spot found the net, but the referee ordered
that it be retaken because of encroachment. The midfielder, on
loan from Liverpool, kept his nerves and slotted home.
On the half hour, United were dead and buried as they went 3-0
down and again Rachubka was at fault, fumbling a speculative 25-yard
effort from Lua Lua. The ball fell to Shelvey who rounded the
beleaguered keeper before slipping it home.
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Elland Road had seen enough. Si Hughes in The Independent:
"Vitriol gushed from the terraces, his every nervous touch booed.
Blackpool supporters, with their team in need of luck after just
one away win this season, saw the funny side: 'USA, USA, USA,'
they cackled. Grayson responded by telling Rachubka's deputy to
warm up. At first it seemed a mere warning; Alex Cairns, just
18-years-old, had not made his first team debut. Yet at half time,
Rachubka's indignity was complete. He did not return for the second
The half time whistle couldn't come quickly enough for Grayson,
who put Rachubka out of his misery, sending Cairns out in his
place. He also replaced Keogh with Luciano Becchio.
The interval gave United the opportunity to regroup and they
came out with attacking intent, Ross McCormack firing in a wayward
cross and Jonny Howson seeing a shot blocked. Then Blackpool keeper
Gilks sprinted out to avert danger when Adam Clayton burst through
the defence, and Ross McCormack had a shot blocked amid optimistic
appeals for handball.
But the concentration on attack and lack of numbers made United
an easy target for the quick break and Blackpool were able to
pick them off.
Cairns gave some evidence of his talent on the hour when he got
down well to a low drive, but he could do nothing five minutes
later when Lua Lua cut inside Paul Connelly and drove in left
footed from the edge of the area to make it 4-0.
After 79 minutes, the humiliation was absolute when Shelvey completed
his hat trick, receiving the ball through the middle from substitute
Angel Martinez before slipping it past the advancing Cairns.
The young keeper had little chance with either effort but reacted
well with two good saves to deny further goals.
The 5-0 defeat was the heaviest at Elland Road in the League
since November 1981, when Arsenal achieved
the same result.
In an interview immediately after the game, asked whether Rachubka's
error-strewn performance was a big influence on the outcome, Simon
Grayson replied: "It certainly was, there's no getting away from
the fact. I will protect my players, and I'll back them, but certain
instances I can't do that. It wasn't down to any other people's
mistakes, or tactics or people giving away sloppy goals, bad defending,
etc. We didn't recover from three mistakes Paul made and then
obviously it's affected him. I had to take him off at half time
because I felt that any shot that went in would have been a really
difficult occasion for him."
Grayson said later, "There's no hiding place for goalkeepers
and it has been a difficult game for him. We haven't gone into
deep conversation but he's obviously really down. I thought it
was best I took him out the limelight because if I was on the
other side you'd want to work him with his confidence being low.
It will take a lot to pick him up but he's a strong character.
"It's something I have to consider for the weekend… Do I play
Paul, do I play Alex Cairns, who is a young kid, or do I go into
the loan market? If we're going to do something we'll do it before
the weekend but we'll have to see what's out there and if I decide
to do it or not. I've got a good young goalkeeper in Alex Cairns.
Is the game too big for him on Saturday? We'll have to wait and
Grayson quickly brought in Reading keeper Alex McCarthy but refused
to confirm that Rachubka's Elland Road career was over: "I'm not
going to say he's finished here. He feels he's let me down, the
players down and the supporters but he's a thorough professional
who analyses everything and I've never known him have 45 minutes
"Confidence plays a massive part in a sportsman's life and you
can be affected mentally very quickly. That's obviously drained
away from him. Alex McCarthy will start tomorrow and
Alex Cairns will be on the bench.
"I'll be writing him off in terms of the next couple of games
but I'm not going to say he's never going to play for the club
again. He's my signing and I believed in him when I signed him.
I still do now.
"Down the line there'll be options for us. Do we keep training
him and put him back on the bench when he regathers his confidence
or does he go out on loan? Like a bike, once you come off you
need to get back on quickly. I know that's what he wants to do.
"He's very shaken up by the whole thing and the criticism of
him on the night was a bit unfair. Supporters are entitled to
their opinions but they were a bit harsh. He doesn't go out to
make mistakes. I'll keep him out of the limelight for a bit and
we'll work out what we need to do for his long term future."
On 24 November, Rachubka moved on loan to Tranmere and later
had a spell at Leyton Orient before being transfer listed at the
end of the season by new manager Neil Warnock.
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