It could be any day now for Brian McDermott and if the tap on the shoulder comes this week, he goes out of Leeds United with an agreeable result behind him.
There are stellar moments in a manager’s career and there are games like Saturday’s win at Birmingham City but in this of all seasons McDermott will take whatever consolation he can.
He is at the stage where every game could conceivably be his last.
If Massimo Cellino thinks otherwise then he has a funny way of showing it. United’s owner did not make the journey to St Andrews but Benito Carbone was there without him, sat in the directors’ box, wearing a club tie and present in a capacity which only he and Cellino knew.
Cellino later revealed that Carbone had come to Leeds as part of the restructuring of the club’s academy and was not being lined up as a replacement for McDermott.
Positioning him in the stands at St Andrews without first defining his role lacked a certain amount of class but the wind is blowing through Elland Road and blowing strongly.
McDermott and Carbone, the former Bradford City striker, met on Friday, though United’s manager claimed he was unaware of Carbone’s intentions or even Cellino’s. McDermott expected to meet Cellino last week and hoped to do so this week, but on Saturday he was unable to say when or if meaningful dialogue would take place.
“I’ve just got to build up to the last game against Derby,” McDermott said. Cellino promises that they will talk.
McDermott has been here before, as recently as January when Gianluca Festa was wandering around the training ground at Thorp Arch with employment on his mind. The signs are ominous but McDermott was happy last week to immerse himself in a match which mattered intensely to Birmingham and acted as a sideshow for Leeds.
He was at pains afterwards to remind everyone that a 3-1 victory was United’s third win in four games, a patch like few others this season.
“We’ve had a tough time over the past few months but since the ownership’s been sorted, we’ve won three out of four,” McDermott said.
“The players haven’t had a lot of credit but I hope they get some for this. They deserve it. We’ve played three teams fighting for their lives, two away from home, and we beat Blackpool who’ve now gone to Wigan and won. That tells you what you need to know about this league.
“My job is to make sure that whatever happens away from the pitch, everything on the footballing side is right. That was the only job I had last week. The only agenda you ever have is to win the next game.”
The muted appraisal of United’s three wins is a reflection of the opposition beaten: two sides in Blackpool and Barnsley who toiled all over the pitch and another in Birmingham whose record as home is comparable with the worst in Europe. When a better calibre of team showed up at Elland Road last Monday, Nottingham Forest won at a defensive canter. McDermott sat up until 3am that night, replaying the game and trying to figure the problems out.
He magicked an improvement at St Andrews, watching a tight first half that City shaded before relaxing in a second which found Leeds at their most carefree and fluent for months. Matt Smith scored a glancing header against his father’s old club and Danny Pugh took a close-range chance two minutes later.
Paul Caddis’ own goal – one which Ross McCormack tried to claim – made Federico Macheda’s late reply irrelevant.
If nothing else, three of the past four games have reminded Leeds that they are not the only club with problems. Birmingham are two games from relegation, stewing in their own depression and haemorrhaging supporters at a scary rate. On average they have lost 10,000 supporters in three years and Smith’s 57th-minute goal exposed brittle bones under wounded skin.
“The nervous tension kicked in and when the first goal went in, you saw our Achilles heel,” said City’s manager, Lee Clark. “A couple of minutes later, it’s two. We’re fighting for our future.”
Birmingham sold themselves short before half-time, particularly in the 10th minute when Tom Adeyemi took Lee Novak’s pass and flicked it with his heel between Tom Lees and Scott Wootton.
Primed to score from 12 yards, he shanked a shot over Jack Butland and the crossbar.
As Carbone tapped away on an iPad, Leeds saw little of the game but Michael Tonge tested Darren Randolph when he anticipated Ross McCormack’s ball and cracked it against the goalkeeper’s legs.
Tonge doubled for Luke Murphy on Saturday, advancing into the box repeatedly as Murphy had against Blackpool.
Murphy’s afternoon never started and McDermott replaced him with Alex Mowatt in the 57th minute, making the most of a concerted period of dominance from his side.
Sixty seconds later, Tonge’s cross picked out Smith who glanced a lovely header inside Randolph’s left-hand post. Within moments of the restart, McCormack knocked a loose ball to Pugh who appeared six yards from goal and couldn’t miss.
“Against Forest we had 65 per cent possession, whatever that meant,” McDermott said.
“It was ineffective. But in this game we got a really good goal and then another.
“Then we started to play and pass. We earned the right.”
He does not need to be told that Leeds have failed to do that enough.
So late in the season, the shortcomings he and others have identified are more likely to be solved through targeted recruitment than day-to-day training. Cellino will not be inclined to dwell on Saturday’s win when the time for ruthless decisions comes.
Caddis confirmed United’s victory on 78 minutes by sliding in and turning McCormack’s cross past Randolph. Lodged on 29 goals, McCormack tried to pinch it by saying his pass was going in anyway.
“If he says that then it’s good enough for me,” said McDermott, his mood unaffected by Macheda’s close-range finish seven minutes from time.
In one more game, a horrible season will be over. “In this year of all years, I’ll probably need a holiday,” McDermott joked. He knows himself that he might have all the time in the world.
Birmingham City: Randolph, Caddis, Spector, Thorpe (Gray 90), Hancox, Adeyemi, Reilly (Macheda 60), Huws, Burke, Zigic, Novak (Allan 70). Subs (not used): Doyle, Martin, Lee, Shinnie.
Leeds United: Butland, Lees, Pearce, Wootton, Pugh (White 88), Tonge, Brown, Austin, Murphy (Mowatt 57), McCormack, Smith (Hunt 79). Subs (not used): Cairns, Poleon, Stewart, Thompson.