There is only one crisis club in the Championship. Leeds United have problems and more than they would like but Blackpool are the team sinking without trace.
The white flag flies in west Lancashire and a meagre number of Blackpool’s supporters made a wasted trip to Yorkshire on Saturday. “You must have come on a donkey,” the home crowd mocked and a few of those blundered around the pitch. Leeds were a picture of perfection in comparison.
The last time Elland Road witnessed such a decent afternoon, Neil Redfearn was caretaker and Massimo Cellino was about to hand the first-team squad to Darko Milanic. There were echoes of Leeds’ 3-0 victory over Huddersfield Town – from both sides, in truth – and the less said about Blackpool the better. To their credit, they won the toss.
They were the dominant team after half-time too, not that it mattered at 3-0 down, and to that end Redfearn has something to think about as his squad head into the international break.
Leeds have played well in single halves this season and Saturday’s game was no different but they sparkled in the best of it.
So did the result after eight games without a win.
Redfearn inherited that form from Milanic last month but has quelled it in good time. “From where we were, I’ve got to be happy,” he said. At the end of a week in which he looked mentally exhausted, Cellino seemed happier too, kissing Liam Cooper on the forehead at the end of the game. Cooper’s goal – a well-hit volley on nine minutes – had set the game alight.
“This should give the players confidence,” Redfearn said. “That’s a big thing for us at a time when we’ve been on a bad run.
“If you look at our week, it’s been a gradual process. We got beat at Cardiff, we picked a point up against Charlton on Tuesday and now we’ve won. So we’re taking things in the right direction.
“This is probably as good as I’ve seen us play.”
The scoreline mattered in part because of the fixtures awaiting Leeds on the other side of the international break: Blackburn away, Derby twice, Nottingham Forest, Ipswich and Fulham. Clubs in the Championship are as unpredictable as the turn of a card but that is not a great sequence for a hard-pressed squad.
Blackpool will go down as the right game at the right time, but their lack of resistance on Saturday was not guaranteed.
They led Fulham 2-0 at Craven Cottage three days earlier and should possess more backbone under Lee Clark than they did while Jose Riga was soldiering on as head coach. Leeds broke their back with three goals inside 42 minutes.
Clark’s players had no answer to any of what came at them: the overlapping runs on each side of the field, the movement of Mirco Antenucci and Souleymane Doukara and the space that Adryan found for himself. Antenucci’s partner gave birth to their first child on Friday but the Italian strolled out of the labour ward and onto the field without a hint of sleep-deprivation. His deflected finish three minutes from half-time put the game to bed.
In between that goal and Cooper’s earlier strike, Doukara rounded off an attack which left Redfearn purring. Byram started it by controlling the rebound from a Blackpool corner on 31 minutes, playing the ball out from the edge of his box. Adryan worked it forward and took hold of possession again, breaking over the halfway line and up to the edge of Blackpool’s box.
The Brazilian had Antenucci to his left but slid a pass to Doukara on his right and the striker produced his trademark: a low finish across goalkeeper Joe Lewis, a foot or so beyond Lewis’ reach.
“It was a good finish and a great goal from box to box,” Redfearn said.
Cooper’s effort was a picturebook strike in its own right, a fine goal from a centre-back whose goal made less of a point than his performance as a whole. The 23-year-old has spent much of this season on the bench but it could be argued that Leeds have no better central defender at the club. Giuseppe Bellusci returns from suspension away at Blackburn but has no right to demand a recall.
There’s a captain in Cooper, perhaps in the long term.
Cooper struck in the opening stages of the game, with Leeds running riot. Blackpool’s inability to hold the ball forced them to retreat to their own box and Cooper was given a free hit when Alex Mowatt’s attempted cross deflected to him 20 yards from goal. Cooper took a touch and lashed his left foot through a volley which Lewis barely saw.
“The scary thing for me is that we didn’t heed the warning,” Clark said. “Leeds were getting in behind us constantly in the first half.” Doukara picked them off again and Clark’s defence were found wanting for a third time three minutes before half-time when Mowatt read the run of Doukara. The Frenchman’s cross forced a weak clearance, Antenucci’s shot took a big deflection and beat Lewis hands down, just as a Federico Macheda strike had done to Marco Silvestri at Cardiff. Win some, lose some.
“We never let them off the ropes,” Redfearn said. “We were straight into them but not just with pressure. It was good football from us and we passed them to death in that period.”
Redfearn took time afterwards to talk about the youngsters in his team; “the glue”, as he described them. He drew gentle comparisons with Manchester United’s class of ,92 and in certain respects, the comparison was legitimate. Mowatt, Sam Byram and Lewis Cook; players schooled and developed in the right way, taught to play and play with assurance.
“Cooky was outstanding, he never let Blackpool off the hook,” Redfearn said. “That was down to his positioning and his passing.”
The riot of the first half died down in the second. Clark, who was so unhappy in the first half that he withdrew Andre Blackman – a one-time trialist at Leeds – after 17 minutes, turned to Nile Ranger at half-time and told his players to go for broke.
Ranger missed one free header but buried another when a Jacob Murphy corner found him in the 75th minute. Had Ishmael Miller’s late shot not slipped past a post then chaos might have ensued but even Clark was philosophical. “It was too little too late,” he said.
“We told the players that Blackpool would get a rollicking at half-time,” Redfearn said.
“We had to tough it out but if that’s part of winning then so be it.” His team have discovered the knack again.
Leeds United: Silvestri, Byram, Cooper, Pearce, Warnock, Cook, Mowatt, Bianchi (Tonge 70), Adryan (Austin 64), Doukara, Antenucci (Sharp 89). Subs (not used): S Taylor, Berardi, Del Fabro, Dawson.
Blackpool: Lewis, Lenihan, Daniels, Clarke, Dunne, Blackman (O’Hara 17), Perkins, Lundstram (Mellis 69), Orlandi (Ranger 45), Murphy, Miller. Subs (not used): Parish, Cywka, Zoko, Delfouneso.