leeds united 3 – 0 huddersfield town: get on the good footBack
The last remaining criticism of Neil Redfearn’s latest spell as Leeds manager was that we’ve been poor in first halves. Until we played Huddersfield.
Although the ovations were mostly saved for the final whistle, Redders had made sure he was going out with a bang an hour before that; when the half-time whistle went, as United led Huddersfield 2–0, that, that was Neil Redfearn’s moment.
I can only hope that whatever Redders has done to the side over the last few weeks is not mysterious, is not magical, is not special. He probably won’t be coaching the team for the next game; Darko Milanic probably will. For our sakes, we need the Redfearn plan to be easily replicable by our new Slovenian boss.
From our place in the stands we can’t hope to pinpoint the sources of Redfearn’s influence; we can only comment on the visible changes and the observable effects. The last few weeks at Leeds can’t be reverse engineered; hopefully Redfearn can explain how he did it when Milanic looks to him for help. If he looks to him, that is. Which I hope he will.
If Milanic, like Hockaday, is here to follow Massimo Cellino’s orders, then as long as Cellino’s first order is “Listen to Redders” then we should be okay. It’s quite likely that it will be. One of Redfearn’s most notable achievements has been to vindicate Cellino’s policies on the pitch, and for that Cellino should be grateful.
It’s strange, given that Hockaday was pretty much assumed to be Cellino’s to manipulate, to compare his tenure to Redfearn’s and see which one shows more of Cellino’s thumbprint. Cellino praised Cook over the summer, and young players in general; and he signed more than a dozen new players from abroad. Hockaday’s response was to attempt to build a midfield around Tonge, Murphy and finally Norris, and bemoan the lack of Championship experience in the squad.
Redfearn seems to have taken a more common sense approach to what never really looked like a common sense squad. He was probably also helped by being able to watch the new players without the pressure of being their coach, and of knowing more about the players who were already here than merely what Hockaday had seen on the Football League Show. Flummoxed by all the choice, Hockaday played Norris; confident in his decisions, Redfearn played Cook.
That has been the difference. For a temporary manager, Redfearn has been particularly forthright in his decisions. We can all see Lewis Cook’s quality, but introducing him to the hot world of the Championship in a struggling team was brave. Berardi has proved himself to be a wildcard again with his second sending off, but leaving Sam Byram on the bench on his return from suspension was a powerful message to little Sam from a coach who probably knows him better than anyone at the club. Against Huddersfield, the only change to the starting eleven was to drop Billy Sharp: Billy Sharp, the superstar of our first home game.
It’s not only the selections. In the last three games Souleymane Doukara has gone from the bench, to a position in around the front two where he caused chaos, to a starting berth up front with Casper Sloth coming in behind. Likewise Rodolph Austin, who for the last two years under Warnock then McDermott then Hockaday has been shoved from the front to the back of midfield and eventually out of the side altogether, but under Redfearn has fought his way back in and to a position that suits him: everywhere, as needed, whether it’s charging into a tackle at the back, lashing the ball straight through Alex Smithies in attack, or on an exhilarating sprint from one end to the other with the ball at his feet. With Cook’s class and anticipation anchoring the midfield, Austin is finally free to roam, and his goal today was the kind of goal we signed him for.
If seeing a shot from Austin hit the back of the net instead of the back of the stand wasn’t confusing enough, a second goal before half-time was straight bewildering. A lot of people at half-time seemed convinced Bellusci had scored it; I’d spotted it was Antenucci, but it wasn’t until I saw the replay that I realised Bellusci had provided the brilliant chip onto the crossbar that rebounded to Antenucci. I’d also thought Lewis Cook had played the original through ball, but that was Antenucci too. Maybe it’s been so long since we could expect more than one goal in one first half everyone has stopped paying attention once we’ve got one; maybe it’s just a symptom of how overrun with newness we are (could anyone confidently describe what Dario Del Fabro looks like without doing an image search? I sure couldn’t) that “it was one of the Italians, I know that” is how half our team is still being identified.
The risk now – and good times at Leeds always seem to be tempered by an impending risk – is the new coach. It’s not an idle fear – it’s a genuine problem. Leeds United are in their best, most feelgood spell for several seasons, and it has come about because Neil Redfearn knows the players – even the ones he only first saw a couple of months ago – and knows the club. The Leeds United revival has been built on confidence and knowledge. Darko Milanic will come in with next-to-no knowledge of the players he will find here, and the players here have next-to-no knowledge of him, and straight away one of the pillars of our recent good form will be knocked away.
That needn’t be permanent, but it needs to be worked on; the players and the coach will need to work on it fast. Milanic’s first job if he’d followed Hockaday would have been to rescue the team from oblivion; his first job following Redfearn will be not to impede our course to the stars.
Like Hockaday, he’ll also need to justify Massimo Cellino’s faith in him. Cellino owes Redfearn thanks for establishing the credentials of his recruitment policy: these weren’t just random punts from Serie B, as I certainly feared: some of them are good players, and Redfearn has made it possible for us to see how good they are now, and how good they could be soon.
But it’s his selection of coaches that remains open to questions. After recruiting from the depths of the Conference, Cellino is now recruiting from the depths of Mitteleuropa; at least Milanic had a job. Again, though, his choice of manager will leave fans scratching their heads, because replacing Redfearn with anybody when it’s going so well is a bit of a head-scratcher, no matter who comes in.
The gang running LUFC have been vocal on social media after the wins against Bournemouth and Huddersfield, comfirming what I suspected would happen: Edoardo Cellino, Nicola Salerno and the rest will always be happy to take the credit for the good times – and be nowhere to be seen when we lose to Bradford. The current set-up gives them the opportunity; Massimo Cellino plus the right coach is creating a winning team on the pitch, and it was no surprise to see Massimo on the pitch at the end, lapping up the applause as he strode from the West Stand to the East.
Cellino’s players plus Redfearn is working for Leeds, brilliantly. But soon they’ll be Darko Milanic’s players, and it’ll be that little bit harder to predict brilliance in the next game. But, thanks to Redders, we can hope for it, and hope is more than we’ve had for a while.