Neil Redfearn said Leeds United’s line-up was starting to pick itself following a classy victory over league leaders Derby County which he hopes will launch a winning run.
United gave their season a significant shot in the arm by beating Derby 2-0 at Elland Road on Saturday, underlining Redfearn’s recent claims that his side were on the verge of an upturn in form.
Two goals from Mirco Antenucci either side of half-time inflicted a fourth defeat of the season on County and lifted Leeds out of a poor patch of results which had seen the club take one win from 10 matches.
Redfearn kept faith with most of the players who had featured under him during his previous four games in charge and a young side outclassed Derby on an afternoon when Leeds goalkeeper Marco Silvestri had no meaningful saves to make.
“It’s going in the right direction for us,” Redfearn said.
“We’re trying to build a side and we’re trying to settle things down because the club’s gone through a spell of inconsistency with a lot of changes but if you look at this side it’s basically been the same side for the last two or three games.
“The more the lads play together the more they’ll get used to each other and the more they’ll understand our system. The more they’ll be able to rely on it when we’re out of possession and the more they’ll feed off it when we’re in possession.
“The team’s young and the average age is about 23. Sometimes you get mistakes with young teams and young players and they’re still getting used to each other but as a group they’re learning.”
Redfearn made only one change to his team after a 2-1 defeat to Blackburn Rovers seven days earlier, replacing captain Jason Pearce with Giuseppe Bellusci in the centre of defence.
United’s head coach said he had dropped Pearce to make way for a natural “right-footer” in the right-sided central defensive role, and Derby’s struggle to threaten Silvestri justified his decision.
“It was just about balance,” Redfearn said. “I wanted a right-footer on the right and a left-footer on the left. We got the benefit of that.
“I spoke to Jason through the week and obviously he was disappointed but he’s a good pro and he’s trained right. He was right behind the boys and he knows he’ll get his chance again.”
Derby manager Steve McClaren admitted that his side could have “been here until midnight” without scoring and he singled out Antenucci as the difference between the teams.
The Italian striker opened the scoring in the 43rd minute with a clinical finish from inside Derby’s box and he converted a similar chance from an identical range five minutes into the second half after Derby failed to track the long run of Stephen Warnock.
Antenucci has claimed seven league goals this season, his first in English football, and he came closest to completing a hat-trick with two efforts late in the game.
“Mirco’s a great player,” Redfearn said. “He’s got this touch and awareness around the box and he gives you energy.
“He runs the channels, he gets in behind people and nothing’s a lost cause with him.
“We defended better from the front and Adryan and Souleymane (Doukara) really put themselves about. It made it easier for the lads in midfield and at the back.”
United’s victory put five points between them and the Championship’s relegation places and moved the club up towards the top half of the table.
Redfearn, who took charge of four matches as caretaker earlier in the season and has handled five as full-time head coach, said: “The run’s not bad. It stands up well.
“I’ve had nine games in charge, five wins, two draws and two defeats. It doesn’t stack up bad.”