Football

Leeds looking to escape the past

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Tough times ahead for McDermott?  (©GettyImages)
Tough times ahead for McDermott? (©GettyImages).

It's been a typically inconsistent start to the season for Leeds United, with the curiously optimistic start to the campaign under Brian McDermott gradually sinking into the same air of stale mediocrity that Leeds fans are only too used to.

In truth, some have already resigned themselves to an abject mid-table finish and it's easy to see why. The team, as it stands, remains much the same side that Neil Warnock slogged through much of last season - and boy was it a slog.

Last year was perhaps the worst season in terms of footballing quality I have ever witnessed as a Leeds fan. Warnock's medieval slugball wasn't helped by poor decision-making. In the January window, for instance, Warnock elected to shoehorn listless Norwich striker Steve Morison into the deal that saw Luciano Becchio (the only man scoring goals) move to the Canaries.

Morison's resulting spell at Leeds was marked by a lack of goals and, more disappointingly, a lack of effort. Another unforgivable error was sending erstwhile middling Everton youngster Ross Barkley back to his parent club, claiming in so many words that he could not guarantee the youngster football.

This bizarre admission was made with Leeds' midfield populated with the likes of Michael Brown, David Norris and Michael Tonge. Barkley's sparkling performances at Everton only serve to highlight how Warnock had probably passed his managerial sell-by-date.

In many ways, McDermott is still cleaning up after his predecessor. Peppering the Irishman's squad like unwelcome squatters are many uninspired purchases made by Warnock during a spending spree in the summer of 2012. If the term "spending spree" confers unto it a sense of forward-thinking ambitiousness, Warnock's own splurge was a trawl through the bargain basement, rooting out names every other right-minded Championship manager had overlooked.

It was a cumbersome foray that portrayed a man eager for one last exercise in self-glorification. These journeymen are easy to identify within the Leeds squad. Their best days lie behind them, in fact, some never had any (Norris, Luke Varney, Danny Pugh) to begin with.

At one stage last season, it looked as if these tiresome chuggers would take us down last season and they very nearly did, as Warnock's reign dissolved quite rapidly with the Whites sliding down the table.

But then Mcdermott stepped into the breach, his amenable niceness an obvious contrast from Warnock's gruff drawling. It was this shift in psyche that was seen to have played a large part in the transformation of the team, fuelling an optimism that has only just now reverted back to a familiar feeling of frustration. It is this strength of personality and the motivational effect of McDermott's persona that Leeds fans will have to hope remains as the defeats and draws will surely arrive after another spirited 1-0 victory.

It looks like the same cycle will repeat itself, unless, unless unless ... that magical word I often see repeated on Leeds fans forums all over the internet. Two wingers and a striker is the most propounded thesis. These deals still seem far-off however, with transfer rumours as yet failing to make the jump from "linked to" to "set to". It's all a bit maddening, knowing the players your team needs but failing to see them arrive.

Clearly, McDermott is working with 'limited means'. Just how 'limited' they have become is also a bane for supporters, some of whom have blamed the manager for spending the little money he did have more adequately. With the team crying out for natural wide men, McDermott reinforced the spine of the squad, and whilst fans were inclined to believe in Brian's ability to a winger-less formation work, the chronic lack of pace in the side has become bone-shudderingly clear.

At the moment, Alex Mowatt is one of the only players in the entire Leeds squad to inspire hope, with Sam Byram still to reach peak fitness and Ross McCormack starved of service. This is also encouraging however, considering Mowatt is still only 18-years-of-age. McDermott may be blamed by some for failing to level out the squad, one which is overloaded with central midfielders, starved of commanding centre-halves and scarce in the width department.

But the former Reading manager is known for his patience in the transfer market and great knowledge of the game from his years as a scout. Perhaps he saw little value in the wide players on offer, or he sees greater value to be had in the loan market. Either way, McDermott is at least overseeing a more organic tenure than the toxic one over which Warnock presided.

We know now from his interest in Serge Gnabry, Becchio and Will Keane that width and striking power is what he will look to bring in next. These types of players can only help the team, as long as they come in. Most of the games played this season have been tight affairs, which, although dull, have proved Leeds can compete with most teams in this league. Pace on the wings and the return of a goalscorer like Becchio could tip the balance.

If these things happen, then events could turn around very quickly, with the Championship a notoriously capricious league. The men I want? Marc Albrighton and Ryo Miyaichi on loan supplying the crosses and flare for Becchio to feed off.

The hope and optimism remains, but Leeds fans have are grounded in a reality that tells us money is indeed thin on the ground, with 'investment' a word to be feared as well as gazed at longingly. Sunday's match against Birmingham City will probably herald a return to the slog, but we have to remain hopeful that McDermott will lead us through. Here is a man not looking for a last shot at glory blinkered in its concept, but building for something greater. It will probably take time, but just to have a manager willing to implement such a vision is refreshing. 

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Topics:
Football
Championship
Leeds United
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