A few weeks back, things could hardly have looked gloomier at Leeds United. The team’s form was awful, results dire, the football worse – indescribably so in fact, without resorting to the language of the gutter. Manager Neil Warnock, who had brought with him a reputation as somewhat of a magician when it comes to getting promotion, was fresh out of his initial hubris, totally deflated, a tired and rather testy man clearly aching for his Cornwall home and the comforting feeling of his trusty Massey-Ferguson tractor beneath him, rather than the too-hot Elland Road hot-seat. The new owners, who had come in trumpeting their support for Warnock, had subsided into an uneasy silence, seemingly aware of the vultures circling around LS11. The players looked apathetic and un-motivated. The fans were lapsing into coldly mutinous mode. The job was proving too big for a superannuated “Colin”.
Now look at Leeds. As soon as Warnock went, the place perked up a bit, though various misguided and frankly mischievous headlines suggesting Mark Hughes was favourite to replace him had an irritant effect. But hey, it was only The M*rror. When we finally did get our new man, he wasted no time. Officially appointed on the Friday, he was in the dugout on the Saturday to greet a victory over Sheffield Wednesday, and the delight with which he did greet the welcome win – on the back of four hapless defeats – was a joy to behold. The fans were impressed, our cockles were warmed. This bloke appeared to be alright.
Even the post match interviews on what had previously been known as Propaganda FM – the club’s in-house radio station – showed welcome signs of a new protocol. Relations between the Yorkshire Radio broadcasters and Neil Warnock had seemed strained of late; since the forcing into the background of Ken Bates, the interviewers had been pecking at Warnock more than they had previously felt able, and Colin’s giggly evasions and annoyingly cliched excuses were wearing thin. But now Eddie Gray was chatting amiably to a Brian McDermott who was quite open about being a massive fan of the former wing wizard. This promises a working relationship that Eddie will relish, and for Brian’s part, he seems to speak fluently the language of “saying all the right things”.
Two matches, two wins and two mutually cuddly Eddie/Brian exchanges, and things seem vastly better on Planet Leeds United – despite the fact that the play-offs are unattainable, despite the club’s inadequate league placing, despite the undeniably-narrow escape we’ve had from the horror of a humiliating second relegation to the horrors of League One. Some of us are bemoaning the fact that a change wasn’t made earlier, perhaps when Colin first started making “I wanna go home” noises; but McDermott had of course not been available that long, and you’ll have to hunt far afield right now for a Leeds fan who’d have wanted anyone different.
What’s most important now is that the club should adhere to whatever undertakings they have made to McDermott in order to get him on board. We understand that he felt no need for an immediate return to management and that he was determined to wait for the right club, with the right backing and the right degree of ambition. If Leeds United have persuaded him that the club ticks all those boxes, then he must be quietly confident – and this is a man who you feel is big on quiet confidence – that he can deliver for his new employers the progress they will expect in year one, and more tangible success shortly thereafter. McDermott’s record at this level speaks for itself, the ball is very much in the club owners’ court as regards the how and when of promotion. They simply have to provide what any manager needs to get out of this league, and trust in McDermott and his on-field and back-up teams to do the rest.
This Saturday, Leeds face Birmingham City away in a match that – for once – has hardly any real pressure attached to it. Leeds’ away form has been awful, as it almost goes without saying. They have also managed to go a ridiculous amount of time – I’m honestly too depressed about this even to be able to bring myself to look the actual figure up – without a first-half goal. Maybe someone can tell me how long it’s been. But it’s a bloody long time. So maybe Leeds can break a couple of bad runs at Birmingham, and score in the first half to set up a long-overdue away victory. We did manage to win at St Andrews in an FA Cup replay earlier in the season, so it is at least demonstrably possible. But the nice thing is, it doesn’t matter too much if the Whites win, lose or draw. It’s all rather academic now, as far as this season goes, but the players should know that they had better be giving of their best, and listening to his mantra of “Pass the ball.” Because Brian will be sat there, watching, assessing, deciding.
And, more than likely, plotting his assault on the Championship next season.