“Let’s not talk about transfers,” pleaded Brian McDermott as everyone’s favourite topic came to the fore again. The subject of Ross McCormack’s future drained him too. “You know my view on that,” he said, referring to many previous answers.
On those two issues Leeds United’s manager can find no way of reassuring the thousands who hang on his words. When it comes to expressing himself, he prefers to fall back on the football. “I’m a pragmatist and I do what I have to,” he remarked after a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday. “There’s no point in me moaning and I don’t ever get frustrated. I just live in the moment.”
The result at home to Wednesday – Leeds’ third league game without defeat – was something that McDermott was happy to answer for; his way of showing that he is making the best of a challenging situation. Leeds trailed for part of a tight, even derby but banked another point through a goal created by McCormack’s genius. Five from three matches leaves United ninth in the Championship.
McDermott can see with his own eyes the restrictions, the shortcomings and the limitations of his team but his pragmatism is found in his reluctance to use them as easy excuses.
On the contrary, he has given United the backbone needed to fight back from a goal down against Brighton and Wednesday and dig out a draw at Leicester City. It is not necessarily the stuff of promotion but McDermott is some way from thinking about that.
In the two weeks before the transfer window closes he will deal with more immediate matters: keeping McCormack in the face of persistence from Middlesbrough and find a way of cracking the transfer market, in spite of a one out, one in policy at Elland Road. And all the while, ensure that games at Ipswich Town and at home to Queens Park Rangers do not fall by the wayside.
“The most important thing at the moment is to get results and put as many points on the board as quickly as we can,” McDermott said. “I’m pleased with the desire, the determination, the resolve.
“We want to win but, having said that, we’ve got five points from three games. Do we want to be better in the final third? Yes. Do we want a bit more quality? Yes. But if we work and keep going then we’ll get better and better. I’m sure of that.”
There is the skeleton of a good team at Elland Road if United can find a way to strengthen it. McCormack, United’s creative forward, has come to represent the wish-bone. His 58th-minute equaliser was beautifully crafted, created from nothing more than a Luke Varney knockdown close to the halfway line.
McCormack advanced at Kamil Zayatte, Wednesday’s goalscorer, and beat him with a kick-and-run touch which is tried without success in playgrounds across the country every day.
He left Zayatte for dead and sprinted towards Chris Kirkland, slipping a shot under the goalkeeper’s body before Lewis Buxton could close him down from the other side of the pitch.
It was a champagne moment and McCormack later walked off with the man-of-the-match bottle.
In celebration, the 27-year-old Scot – the subject of failed bids from Middlesbrough and Blackpool – ran towards the East Stand with his ears cupped, a gesture which seemed at first glance to be aimed directly at United’s board – the men who control the money.
McCormack denied that afterwards and so did McDermott. “I don’t think that was the case,” the Leeds boss insisted. “He just loves playing football and he loves this football club. I want him to stay.”
With 32 minutes left after McCormack scored, Wednesday were seemingly caught in the sort of onslaught that swallowed Brighton at Elland Road on the first day of the season.
The afternoon started well enough for them with Zayatte on hand in the 36th minute to punish disorder in United’s box.
Michail Antonio was left unmarked and headed Jeremy Helan’s corner across goal, into Zayatte’s path. The centre-back found himself free and looped another header inside Paddy Kenny’s right-hand post as Stephen Warnock strayed off the goalline. McDermott described the first half as “flat” and he was right. The 86th derby between the clubs did not bare its teeth until after the interval.
A 19th-minute tangle between Lewis Buxton and Dominic Poleon – preferred to Noel Hunt by McDermott on Saturday – gave Wednesday the jitters but referee Roger East awarded Leeds no penalty.
As a whole, he gave United very little. He and his linesmen had moments where they appeared to be watching different games. At the interval, Paul Green complained of injury and Michael Tonge took his place. It was a change that McDermott might have felt compelled to make anyway.
United’s passing was perfunctory in the first half but more punishing in the second. The atmosphere rose, the waves of attacks came and McCormack scored at the perfect time with the tide behind him.
But the final half-hour did enough to suggest that a share of the points at full-time was fair. McCormack had another shot blocked and an effort from Tonge deflected wide. Kenny redeemed some ball-watching by Tom Lees by diving to smother Antonio’s strike and Jason Pearce shed blood after clearing the ball from a messy scramble in front of Kenny’s net.
Dave Jones, Wednesday’s manager, claimed Pearce had handled the ball, saying: “Maybe if the referee looked the right way we might have got what we deserved.
“If the ball’s going into the back of the net and it hits his arm, it’s a penalty. It doesn’t matter if it was intentional.”
There was a sense of players running themselves into the ground during five minutes of injury-time, something the crowd appreciated.
“They stayed with us again,” said McDermott, “and I think they could see at 1-0 down that we were trying to get a result.
“It’s not an easy situation here but I want to take the fans with us and I feel like they’re coming with us.
“This is a great club, a really great club, and it means such a lot to me.
“I’m just trying to find a way to get us to where we need to be.”
Leeds United: Kenny, Peltier, Lees, Pearce, Warnock, Austin, Green (Tonge 46), Murphy, McCormack, Poleon (Diouf 85), Varney (Smith 72). Subs (not used): Ashdown, Brown, Drury, Hunt.
Sheffield Wednesday: Kirkland, Buxton, Gardner, Zayatte, Palmer, Prutton, Coke, Helan, Antonio, McGuire (Johnson 65), Nuhiu (Maghoma 69). Subs (not used): Semedo, Davies, McCabe, Lavery, Llera.