Leeds United 2 Blackpool 0: Murphy finally lives up to his price tag

Luke Murphy is congratulated by Noel Hunt after scoring his second goal against Blackpool.
Luke Murphy is congratulated by Noel Hunt after scoring his second goal against Blackpool.
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Brian McDermott’s daughter thinks suits are for politics, which explains why he has been wearing one on the touchline all season. His appearance in casual attire on Saturday could be taken as a sign that in his mind the scheming and game-playing at Elland Road is over.

His daughter told him to ditch his collar-and-tie for Leeds United’s game against Blackpool so McDermott did.

Dressed in a tracksuit, the change of outfit coincided with a bounce in the club’s football and a break in their horrible cycle of defeats.

Vittoria, as Massimo Cellino would say. Leeds were in danger of forgetting the feeling.

Cellino is a superstitious man and the idea of a lucky tracksuit will amuse him.

But there were differences everywhere: a new owner and president tucked away in one corner of the East Stand and a scoreboard which highlighted a crisis among United’s opponents, rather than trouble closer to home.

From day one in his job, McDermott has been glued to the front of his technical area but he stood quietly in the dug-out throughout Saturday’s win and let his assistant, Nigel Gibbs, direct the troops.

Perhaps he was conscious of comments made by Cellino which teased McDermott about his habit of sipping of water and tossing the bottle to the ground ad infinitum during every game.

Perhaps his players were enamoured by the Italian’s staunch defence of them and his insistence that they were “better than this, much better.”

Wages deferred by the squad two weeks ago were paid in full on Friday and the following afternoon, the club bought a result – albeit against a Blackpool team with creeping death around them.

“All of a sudden it feels like a new time,” McDermott said. “Everything that’s gone on here, it’s been really tough. I couldn’t say that before but I can say it now. Going forward it feels like a different place – like we’re secure as a club.”

Leeds are secure as a Championship club with 50 points to their name and an adequate lead over clubs like Blackpool who are drowning in the mire. McDermott dug United out of a relegation pit last April and the sight of that threat subsiding again on Saturday said everything about the year he has had in the job.

He did not anticipate that life with Leeds would be so political, so fraught or so unmanageable.

He did not expect that it would take someone like Luke Murphy – his most expensive signing at Elland Road and the costliest cash-purchase made by Leeds since 2005 – 42 games to play as he did against Blackpool; as he used to play week-to-week at Crewe Alexandra.

For the first time the midfielder’s ducks were in a row and his aggressive running beyond the last man brought him two slick goals, the first scored on 21 minutes and the second 17 minutes from the end.

The reason Leeds have leaned so heavily on Ross McCormack and his finishing is that McDermott’s midfield rarely stray within shooting range, but Murphy found the courage to gamble on Saturday and was played in perfectly three times.

Only a desperate tackle from Tangerines’ Craig Cathcart robbed him of a third goal.

Murphy’s first – slotted into the net after McCormack slipped a pass through and Murphy dummied David Perkins and Matt Gilks – broke a barren period of 252 days since his injury-time strike poleaxed Brighton on the first day of the season. The statistics don’t lie.

“When he plays like that, he goes forward and scores goals,” McDermott said. “He scored plenty of goals for Crewe and his finishing was terrific.

“He was at Crewe from the age of 12 and he was with the same set of players all the way through.

“You know what it’s like at Crewe. But when you come to a massive club like Leeds, it can take time.

“What I’ve learned about Leeds is that sometimes you need a bit more time with young players.

“It’s hard to find players who can hit the ground running and have the mentality to play in this stadium. But I’m really pleased for him.”

Barry Ferguson, Blackpool’s badly exposed caretaker, invited Leeds to come at his team by naming himself in the visiting midfield. Now 36, he is no longer the juvenile pillar of excellence who tormented Scotland’s Premier League with Mikael Arteta and Rangers. Blackpool were the right opposition at the right time for McDermott, and short in every department.

They had their chances and didn’t take them. Neal Bishop should have scored with a free header in the first half but nodded the ball over the crossbar and David Goodwillie made a mess of picking out Chris Basham with Leeds in disarray in the first minute after half-time.

Waiting for a tap-in, Basham met the ball at the same time as Jack Butland and watched it trundle wide of a post.

Leeds were a goal to the good at that stage and scored a second in the 73rd minute.

Noel Hunt – subjected to crass booing when he appeared as a substitute – flicked Tom Lees’ flighted pass into the path of Murphy who had arrived unnoticed on the right side of Blackpool’s box.

Gilks sprinted out to narrow the angle but was easily beaten by a precise and measured chip. For once, the afternoon did not look like getting messy and the tail-end of United’s season won’t either. Relegation is no longer on the cards and with Cellino holed up at Elland Road, administration is not a topic of conversation. McDermott’s future as manager will doubtless be discussed but Leeds can exist for a while without the shattering urgency of every day since Christmas.

“I dread to think what might have happened here if Massimo hadn’t come in,” McDermott said, hinting at the club’s parlous financial state.

“People were talking about my position but that was never the issue for me.

“It was all about the football club and making sure the club are safe.

“Massimo got a great reception and he deserved it. It’s been an important week.”

Leeds United: Butland, Lees, Zaliukas (White 81), Pearce, Wootton, Brown, Tonge, Murphy, Warnock, McCormack, Smith (Hunt 65). Subs (not used): Cairns, Poleon, Stewart, Mowatt, Pugh.

Blackpool: Gilks, McMahon, MacKenzie, Cathcart, Robinson, Ferguson, Perkins, Basham (Haroun 67), Bishop, Halliday (Keogh 75), Goodwillie. Subs (not used): Halstead, Osbourne, Grandin, Dobbie, Barkhuizen.

Chris Wood controls a high ball against Fulham at Elland Road on Tuesday night. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

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