sheffield wednesday 1 – 2 leeds united: individual buildingBack
Last time Leeds United were at Hillsborough, a call came to the ground from on high at halftime: sack the manager.
If Massimo Cellino has a big red sacking button – and someone must have bought him one as a joke at least once in the last twenty years – his finger might have been hovering over it during Saturday’s game. Or even at full time; sure, we won, but why should that stop him?
To be fair to Cellino, he can’t do a right lot about Leeds United at the moment; at least that’s the theory. Like Hisham Alrayes, the best he can do is send a message and hope the guys at the ground follow it through. He’s asking permission to attend the game against Rotherham, just days before he can once again wield influence (and axes) at Elland Road; why? Search me. The way he’s been carrying on, it seems like he just wants to take the piss.
It might also be to reestablish a culture of intimidation and prevent Andrew Umbers making any stupid end-of-season decisions in his absence. After all, if there are any stupid decisions to be made around here, Massimo will make them himself.
Sacking Neil Redfearn would be one such stupid decision, and Redfearn managed – at last – to again show a few more reasons why against Sheffield Wednesday. The last few weeks have made it difficult to keep arguing that Redders should continue in charge (in name) of Leeds, but in true Leeds fashion, he isn’t giving up the fight, and neither are the players.
In the grand scheme of things beating Sheffield Wednesday in a meaningless end of season game shouldn’t mean a right lot, but it did achieve a few things. It ended a long run of defeats. It spoiled Wednesday’s end of season party. And it allowed Neil Redfearn to relax, and present a cooler, calmer demeanour to the media after the game.
Perhaps having a win on the board again just gave him something to point to; or cling to, depending on your perspective. Or perhaps he knows what’s coming when Massimo takes charge again and simply doesn’t care anymore. “The plan now is I’ve got training next week, and the game against Rotherham,” Redders told Phil Hay. “Then I’ve got to sit down with the owner and see what he wants to do.”
Whether the owner wants to keep Redfearn isn’t clear, but Neil can at least be clear on a couple of points. He has the support of the vast majority of the fans, who appreciate the job he’s done to keep Leeds United in the Championship this season. He has the support of the observers in the game and in the media, both those local and well-informed and those national and incredulous at how he’s been treated. And he has the support, if not of all the players, then of the players that are playing.
Those players right now, for better or worse, are forming a closed-ranks group that is bringing the best out of them. How else do you explain two goals in two games for Steve Morison? Continuing the theme of twos, it took him two attempts to score it; and it took him level on two goals this season with young half-seasoned left-back Charlie Taylor. Not that I’m still bitter about Becchio or anything.
But even someone with as entrenched a dislike of Morison as me has to admit that, okay, he helped pull as through for the points at Hillsborough; and he actually looked like he was some actual use, at last. That’s been the theme of 2015 under Redfearn – he (and Steve Thompson, until, y’know) built a framework in which individuals who had either struggled or not been part of the team could blossom; in which individual improvement has come about through an improved team ethic.
That has not, it seems, been appreciated by everyone; but this has been very much about buying-in, and the players who have bought in have reaped the rewards. Those who haven’t… well. We’ll see who turns out for the Lap of Whatever against Rotherham, and we’ll see what kind of reception they get.
We can predict what reception Neil Redfearn will get, although it probably won’t make any difference to his future in the long run. Neil Redfearn has, anyway, nothing to lose. Leeds United might look like it’s crumbling again – if indeed there was ever a time when it didn’t look like it was crumbling – but Redders is coming through this season not just intact, but stronger than ever. Certainly, he’s the strongest thing at the club right now. If anything, Leeds United should look at the sanity, the stability and the support structure that surrounds One Neil Redfearn, and be jealous.
That’s not his fault. This has become a season about individuals – in too many ways, it has been about individuals from the start, and you can write your own cast list from Massimo Cellino at the top right down to Junior Lewis at the bottom, with Verne Troyer somewhere in between. It was noticeable that when Lewis Cook won Championship Apprentice of the Year last week, much of the credit went individually to Neil Redfearn, Lucy Ward and the staff at the Academy; by managing to release a statement about the Sicknote Six at the exact same moment, Leeds United the club seemed to separate itself from what should have been a superb, United, moment for the club.
Along with Steve Thompson’s, Lewis Cook’s absence has been felt in recent weeks, and the run of five defeats without him shows what a risk the club takes by not paying more attention to the young players Redfearn and co. have nurtured and brought through. Players like Cook are individual shining stars around which a coherent galaxy can be arranged, but the attention of the individual at the top seems to be focused on individuals elsewhere.
McDermott survived that tormenting afternoon at Hillsborough despite the 6–0 result, and Redfearn survived his afternoon at Hillsborough on Saturday, in spite of, well, everything. He has one more game to survive, and then what will be will be. It’s paring down to an individual face-off – Cellino vs Redfearn – which is not something that should happen at Billy Bremner’s club. But the difference between the two is that only one understands that individual attention is only useful if it builds towards a team goal.