The last Leeds United boss who failed to win any of his first six games was the peerless Don Revie so Darko Milanic shared good company but Saturday was no time for omens or tenuous comparisons.
Thirteen years Revie reigned for and when his departure from Elland Road came, it came of his own accord. Sacked on Saturday evening, Milanic survived for 32 days; fewer than Brian Clough and fewer than Jock Stein. Fewer than any other coach in the history of this maddening club.
The Slovenian was fired just after 6pm and little over an hour after a 2-1 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, the final straw in the eyes of an owner who never waits long to break the camel’s back.
Milanic seemed safe with 45 minutes gone but a period of concerted retreat and backtracking did for him at full-time. One surrender too many, as ridiculous as that sounds.
Milanic had a victory within his grasp at Rotherham 10 days ago but a 1-0 lead at half-time evaporated quickly. Leeds collapsed in the same circumstances and the same manner on Saturday, picked off by an 85th-minute goal from Leon Clarke and their own passive attitude.
Massimo Cellino was not alone in venting his annoyance at the final whistle but the speed of Milanic’s sacking was brutal and bewildering. “He had to go,” Cellino said, as if his head coach had been clinging on for months.
The situation at the final whistle was delicate enough for Milanic to face questions about his future during the post-match press conference.
He made it that far, telling the assembled media that he thought he could get a grip the club. “Yes, I believe it,” he said. Who knows if he meant it? “But this is not a good position for me or the team,” was his telling caveat.
Leeds are 18th in the Championship; back where they were, effectively, when Cellino dismissed David Hockaday after the same number of games in August. The team has changed and certain players have drifted in and out of the picture but United look and feel like chaos. There must be other clubs who live this way but only Leeds can go from the satisfaction felt at half-time on Saturday to blood on the boardroom floor by sundown. Neil Redfearn will take up the reins this morning, on a permanent basis this time and via a promotion which tears him away from the academy. That, more than Hockaday or Milanic, is a decision which carries a huge amount of risk.
Milanic leaves behind a team who are showing potential in their own way but falling short as a matter of course.
Leeds worked Wolves off the pitch during the first half, creating a chance which Mirco Antenucci took cleverly in the 18th minute, but Kenny Jackett was honest about his team’s deficiencies and implemented a rethink at the interval.
Leon Clarke came off the bench for the second half and with an extra striker up front, Wolves commandeered the ball.
It was reminiscent of United’s defeat at Rotherham as Milanic’s players shrunk, dropped back and allowed Wolves to call the shots. Milanic delayed in reacting as Jackett had done and his introduction of Luke Murphy shortly before James Henry’s 66th-minute equaliser had negative results, reducing United’s threat to a minimum and giving Wolves the scent of a winning goal. At 1-1, only one side had a decisive strike in them.
Clarke produced it in the 85th minute, converting Matt Doherty’s cut-back with Milanic’s defence badly out of shape. Stephen Warnock appeared to have prevented a crisis seconds earlier, sticking his foot in and ending a slick counter-attack led by Nouha Dicko but Wolves were swarming forward and Leeds could not resist. “It was a deserved victory in the end,” Jackett said.
Why the contrast between the first and the second halves, Milanic was asked. “We lost control,” he replied. “We were without possession, without passes. We didn’t play anymore, not like the first half and not like we have to.
“It was good until the last five minutes of the first half when we began to go backwards. We had a plan in the dressing room that we would begin the second half like we started the first minute, with quick play and possession.
“But from the first minute of the second half we lost control of the game.”
By the time he spoke, the merits of the afternoon had been forgotten.
Steve Morison made his first start for 17 months and ran the right channel brilliantly for the best part of 45 minutes.
The striker had a hand in Antenucci’s goal, knocking a long ball from Alex Mowatt towards the striker who outwitted Ethan Ebanks-Landell on the edge of the box and tucked a precise shot inside Carl Ikeme’s far post.
Adryan contributed to the better moments of interplay and Lewis Cook played like the prospect he is.
At the end of a week when allegations of racism were thrown at him, Giuseppe Bellusci was virtually flawless before half-time.
Even Milanic’s diamond midfield sat beyond reproach and above criticism but the house of cards fell apart.
It might have been different had Mowatt done better in the 25th minute with a chance which Morison served up on a plate but the midfielder hacked straight at Ikeme.
Henry was Wolves’ only outlet before the break and he eventually claimed their equalising goal.
Poor defending and a ricochet off Bellusci allowed the winger to slip into the box and smash the ball into the roof of Marco Silvestri’s net.
The goal had been coming and another one looked likely. Substitute Rajiv van La Parra missed an open net before Clarke kept his head as others lost theirs five minutes from time.
Milanic slipped down the tunnel quickly at full-time, never to be seen again in Leeds.
“We have to get stability,” he said afterwards, talking about his team and their performances but echoing what many think about the club.
Good luck with that.
Leeds United: Silvestri, Berardi, Bellusci, Pearce, Warnock, Bianchi (Montenegro 88), Cook, Mowatt (Murphy 63), Adryan (Sloth 75), Antenucci, Morison. Subs (not used): S Taylor, Byram, Cooper, Tonge.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Ikeme, Doherty, Batth, Ebanks-Landell, Rowe, McDonald, Evans, Henry, Edwards (Clarke 46), Jacobs (van La Parra 64), Dicko (Stearman 87). Subs (not used): Flatt, Golbourne, Saville, Sagbo.