It’s easy to underestimate the start that Darko Milanic has been given at Leeds United.
Brentford away last Saturday was a tough, tough opening – partly because of the results before he arrived and partly because Brentford are a genuinely good side at home – and Reading is never a gimme.
Now it’s a derby against Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow, a toss-of-a-coin match over the years.
Milanic is yet to pick up a win but the thing he’ll take from his first few days in charge is the defensive improvement between Brentford and Reading.
Leeds were lucky not to lose by three or four at Griffin Park but I thought they were worth a point on Wednesday. Granted, Reading had the better chances but they didn’t create too many. Leeds were very compact – which was pretty much what Milanic promised.
That’s the side of the team he needs to get right before anything else but you can’t ignore the lack of creativity in Leeds’ performance.
The game had 0-0 written all over it from 20 minutes onwards and that’s something to evaluate.
If he’s honest with himself, I think Milanic will realise that there were ways in which he could have forced a victory out of it.
For example, I found the substitution of Alex Mowatt a strange one. He was the one midfielder who was finding space around the box, getting shots off and trying to pick passes.
That’s what Casper Sloth should have been doing but apart from a couple of bursts in the box, he wasn’t too effective. Leeds needed a change when Mowatt left the field but he was unlucky to go off ahead of Sloth.
Also, the introduction of Billy Sharp from the bench came too late in my view.
I like Mirco Antenucci but he had a difficult night on Wednesday.
He ran and he tried but nothing worked at any stage. The same was true of Souleymane Doukara and there was a bit more threat with Sharp on the pitch.
As I see it, a partnership of Sharp and Antenucci is a little too lightweight. You really need the power of someone like Doukara to give you variety and give defences a problem. If I was Milanic I’d be tempted to give Sharp a go from the start tomorrow.
And personally I’d partner him with Doukara. It’s a big decision to leave out Antenucci but the only way Milanic will establish his best team is by tweaking his line-up in the early weeks.
It’s going to take time for him to figure everything out, not least because Leeds have such a massive squad.
To be perfectly honest, the time you need to properly assess this group of players from top to bottom might be more time than Milanic gets. But I’d be really wary of trying to judge him after a handful of games. It was always going to be difficult to come in this week with all guns blazing.
He’ll have wanted a win against Reading and he’ll want a win against Sheffield Wednesday.
I’m not going to go as far as saying that he needs three points this weekend but I think it would do everyone good. It lets him go into the international break with a couple of good results behind him, feeling that he’s properly up and running.
I played in this derby myself for Leeds – and scored a goal in 1984 which I won’t forget. I maintain to this day that it wasn’t handball. I scored with my hand, I’ll admit that, but it was purely accidental. I got my head to a chance, the flick struck my forearm and the ball bounced into the net. It got us a 1-1 draw that day.
Martin Hodge, their goalkeeper, ended up chasing me around the pitch, demanding that I tell the referee to rule the goal out. As if! I’m all for professionalism and everything else but you take the rough with the smooth in football.
There was no attempt on my part to cheat and I wasn’t about to stitch my own club up. Can you imagine what the players would have said if I’d had a word with the ref? They’d have bloody killed me!
Dreams aren’t made of goals like that but I tell you this – Milanic would take something similar if it gets him a victory tomorrow.
It’s dog-eat-dog in the Championship. I suspect he realises that already.