Christmas cometh and so does another takeover of Leeds United, albeit one involving a man who already has a seat in the boardroom at Elland Road. There must be something in the air at this time of year, or something in the water.
Between now and the end of December, a consortium brought together and led by United’s managing director, David Haigh, will buy a majority stake in the club and begin another chapter in a never-ending story. Speed is seemingly of the essence for them with January around the corner.
The group are making promises of funds for the transfer window, a guarantee which always deserves a pinch of salt. New owners rarely embark on a footballing journey by pointing to a bare cupboard and a hard road ahead. But if next month is to be a time of expenditure and relative wealth – relative by United’s standards – then it is in the club’s interests to be a main player in the Championship as and when the market opens.
Leeds are well positioned in eighth after 17 games, though not as high up the table as they would have been had a fourth straight win materialised at Ewood Park on Saturday.
The past few weeks have been kind to United but the squad under Brian McDermott is an unfinished article and their 1-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers proved it. Increased spending power would be helpful and advantageous in January, even if the club’s manager is not crying out for it.
He was asked about the takeover deal immediately after the loss to Blackburn and the implications it might have for his own ends next month. “I’m not going to talk about whether there’ll be more funds for the window,” he said. “All I’d say is that the most important thing for me is Leeds United going forward in the long term – getting our club back to where we want it to be.
“This is a long-term thing for me, not just about the next transfer window. If it is the case (that a takeover is pending) then that stabilises the club even more. There’s a bigger picture here.”
One of the challenges for managers at Leeds is finding a way to make football speak while so much else goes on around it.
Saturday morning was dominated by news of Haigh’s bid for equity, news which rolled on until an hour before kick-off. Attention was divided for as long as it took an away crowd of 6,813 to buzz through the turnstiles and bring the priority into focus.
The following was United’s biggest for league game away from home in eight years, though surprisingly not the Football League’s largest of the season after Coventry City amassed 7,000 at MK Dons over the weekend.
The swathes in Lancashire were deflated by a laboured Leeds side who gave Blackburn the run of the pitch towards the end of the first half and conceded the only goal to Tommy Spurr seconds before the interval.
The match was touted as Jordan Rhodes versus Ross McCormack, the Championship’s second highest scorer pitted against its first, and irony abounded when the knee of a full-back bundled the ball past Paddy Kenny. Leeds had things to rue at full-time – Danny Pugh’s costly first-half miss and the maddening influence of referee Craig Pawson – but two shots on target and much huffing and puffing were the traits of an ordinary day.
Leeds have not had many of those recently and McDermott offered a calm perspective. “We didn’t deserve to lose,” he said. “A draw would have been right.
“If we’d scored in the first half we’d have won the game because we looked very comfortable for half-an-hour but they took the ascendency in the last 15 minutes and scored from a set-play. That was disappointing.
“It became a real battle after that and our players tried to get something from the game. It wasn’t pretty and we couldn’t quite do it.
“But I never get too down after a defeat or too high after a victory.
“You’re never the world’s worst when you lose or the world’s best when you win.
“So we take the result and get on with it.”
Blackburn’s league position earns them little kudos but they are staking their season on their form at Ewood Park, a ground where they have conceded just once since August.
Leeds were missing Dexter Blackstock – lost to a knee injury – and his absence was telling. Where Blackstock had caused a degree of uncertainty for the defences of Charlton Athletic and Middlesbrough, Blackburn were able to zone in on McCormack and usher him around. The Scot, to his credit, contributed more to the game than Rhodes at the other end of the field.
Pugh, meanwhile, will struggle to explain how he failed to finish off United’s most incisive move of the match: a header down by Luke Varney and a backheel from McCormack which played Pugh in on 34 minutes.
The left-back had Jake Kean to beat and three quarters of the goal to aim at but his shot struck the goalkeeper’s legs and looped over the crossbar.
“Players miss chances,” McDermott said. “It happens. But if that goes in then it’s a different game. The first goal proved to be the most important.”
Blackburn looked more likely to score it throughout the first half. David Dunn stung Kenny’s fingertips with a volley inside five minutes and the goalkeeper had the measure of Chris Taylor’s low shot on the turn three minutes before half-time.
Leeds were playing for the interval at that stage, fending Blackburn off desperately, but Spurr’s effort was a chance too many and his finish from Dunn’s corner bounced beyond Kenny before he could move.
Kenny’s parry from Josh King in the second half was the pick of his saves, a full-blooded block beneath his bar, but the ball was drawn more often to the other end of the field as Leeds fought the scoreline and Pawson. The official saw no issue with a high tackle by Todd Kane on Pugh inside the box or with Jason Lowe pulling Matt Smith as the substitute reached for a hanging cross. He was unmoved by much that Leeds claimed for. Rudy Austin hacked a finish into the side netting and other efforts flew wide but time ticked on and ran out. The 6,813 departed at the end with their bubble burst.
“I’m gutted for them,” McDermott said. “I always am when we lose. But the players gave everything. I’m sure the supporters can live with that.”
Blackburn: Kean, Kane, Dann, Hanley, Spurr, Taylor, Lowe, Cairney, King, Dunn (Marshall 63), Rhodes (Campbell 85). Subs (not used): Eastwood, Kilgallon, Marrow, Rochina, Henley.