Leeds United are better than their current results, according to Neil Redfearn, and he knows that to be true. A month or so ago the club were turning over victories instead of counting games without a win.
Saturday’s defeat away to Cardiff City took that count to seven and dragged Leeds down to 19th in the Championship. Redfearn had his squad on point six weeks ago, a caretaker on a roll, but as head coach he is starting from scratch again.
“Nobody likes being down there,” he said when asked about an unhappy league table.
“But that’s due to a culmination of things. We got beat by Cardiff but we’d been six games without a win so it’s not just about what’s happened here.”
Leeds festered and stagnated between the end of Redfearn’s temporary reign and his full-time appointment as first-team boss, so much so that the team he left behind on September 22 – in 12th place and two points from the play-offs – are well down the league and 10 points below sixth.
“Maybe that’s taken it toll,” Redfearn said. “But that’s football. We have to be brave.”
If United and their new boss are regrouping then this week is a good opportunity to settle down.
Leeds rarely win in Cardiff and the stage was not set for a first victory in the Welsh capital for 30 years on Saturday, but the next six days are kinder: Charlton Athletic at home and Blackpool at home. Redfearn can fancy his chances without counting his chickens.
His contract was signed at Cardiff’s stadium an hour before kick-off and his first defeat soon followed but while the buck seems to stop with head coaches at Elland Road, the explanation for their form should not.
Massimo Cellino is backing Redfearn to do what David Hockaday and Darko Milanic failed to do – at least in the six matches they were given – but the issue for United’s owner is more fundamental than that. The problem goes further.
“It’s a new side and a young side, and with that you get inconsistency,” Redfearn said. Fifteen games and three coaches on from the start of the season, the lack of familiarity, predictability and the mix of experience is apparent still and shone through at Cardiff. City pressed for their victory and deserved it, without being made to work for any of their goals.
At half-time Leeds had a foot in a goalless match. With 13 minutes to go and a 2-0 deficit facing them, a beautiful finish from Alex Mowatt gave Redfearn’s side the sniff of a point. Cardiff’s pressure was concerted but all three goals were avoidable, particularly the game-ending third on 83 minutes.
Mowatt’s strike six minutes earlier prompted a change in the mindset of Cardiff’s players. Two-nil up through goals from Bruno Manga and Federico Macheda, Russell Slade’s side were happily playing out time until Souleymane Doukara slipped down the left wing and cut a pass to Mowatt who took his time, stepped away from his marker and swept the ball into David Marshall’s net.
“At 2-1, it looked like we were going to get at least a point,” Redfearn said. Cardiff began to think the same but substitute Kenwyne Jones cured their anxiety when United goalkeeper Marco Silvestri collided with defender Giuseppe Bellusci as an ugly hoof forward landed on the edge of Leeds’ box. The ball fell kindly for Jones who saw an empty net in front of him and picked it out.
“The third goal was a mistake which you can’t legislate for and that was that,” said Redfearn. “These things happen. You just hope they don’t happen to you.”
The error stood out at the end but it was not the whole of the story. As Redfearn admitted, the set-up of his team and their fleeting impact in Cardiff’s half created a game in which Leeds were always looking for anything they could get, rather than running the show. In the depths of south Wales it is often that way.
The first half belonged to Cardiff without any show of wit or conviction. Slade called it a “non-event” and conceded that the exchange of four goals after the interval was unforeseen. His instruction at half-time was for Cardiff’s strikers – Macheda and Adam Le Fondre – to ask more of Bellusci and Jason Pearce, United’s centre-backs. It was a wise ploy and in that area where Leeds were made to buckle.
Minus the injured Adryan, Redfearn accommodated three strikers in a formation which allowed Steve Morison to lead the line but width was in short supply and service to him was minimal. “The first half wasn’t a dazzling performance but it was a good away performance,” Redfearn said.
“We restricted them but I didn’t think we threatened enough and that was discussed at half-time. But in the 20 minutes at the start of the second half, the damage was done.”
Until Manga opened the scoring in the 61st minute, Cardiff strayed forward with the same lack of precision but when Sean Morrison met Craig Noone’s high delivery towards the back post, Manga was unmarked and waiting to nod the centre-back’s header past a flat-footed Silvestri.
Cardiff’s second goal six minutes later was just as soft in its own way. Bellusci backed off Macheda as the striker came at him and a low shot hit the legs of Pearce before flying over Silvestri and into the net. Redfearn looked at his options on the bench but chose not to throw the kitchen sink, replacing Morison – an outlet for direct football if United’s head coach had chosen to give into it – with a natural ball-player, Chris Dawson.
With Dawson lodged between Cardiff’s midfield and defence, Leeds inched further up field. City were happy to give them space while their two-goal lead remained intact but Slade’s instructions became more urgent when Mowatt skipped into the box and beat a helpless Marshall with 13 minutes to play.
A trait of the performances during Redfearn’s stint as caretaker was the tendency for rousing finishes and he readied himself for another, but Silvestri and Bellusci dithered in a risky area and Jones bundled his way through to bury Cardiff’s third and bury Leeds. That was indeed that. “The frustration isn’t so much the manner of the defeat or the fact that we got beat,” Redfearn said. “It’s the fact that we were right in it – at 0-0 at half-time and again at 2-1.
“The young lads here will get better and so will the signings who’ve come in. But it’s important that I’m strong for them too. The philosophy here mustn’t change. We need to play our football.”
Cardiff City: Marshall, Brayford, Fabio, Ecuele Manga, S Morrison, Whittingham, Gunnarsson, Noone, Pilkington (Ralls 46), Le Fondre (R Morrison 81), Macheda (Jones 75). Subs (not used): Moore, Gabbidon, Connolly, Maynard.
Leeds United: Silvestri, Berardi (Byram 85), Bellusci, Pearce, Warnock, Bianchi (Sloth 76), Cook, Mowatt, Doukara, Antenucci, Morison (Dawson 69). Subs (not used): S Taylor, Cooper, Tonge, Montenegro.