Ex-Leeds United striker Bobby Davison believes Brian McDermott is already fighting for the long-term support of Massimo Cellino after a 5-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers.
Davison warned that Cellino “won’t have performances like that” as Leeds faced up to the likelihood of a failed play-off bid and an 11th straight year outside the Premier League.
Cellino was present at Elland Road for Saturday’s humiliating loss – United’s 13th of the league season – but the Italian is yet to take full control of Leeds and will not complete his 75 per cent buy-out until the Football League approves the deal.
United’s squad are struggling for form after two wins from 14 matches and their chase of a top-six finish looks every more forlorn with 13 games remaining and eight points between Leeds in 12th and Reading in the final play-off position.
Four second-half goals earned Bolton an easy victory at Elland Road and Davison, who worked as a radio pundit on Saturday, said his experience of European football as coach of Ferencvaros made him fear for McDermott’s position with Cellino hoping to complete his takeover in the next two weeks.
Davison said: “I’ve coached in Europe and I know how owners over there can change things in a flash. When they see a performance like the one against Bolton, some of them would pull the trigger straight away. If the Italian’s in charge, he won’t have performances like that. I really don’t think he will.
“Brian’s got to win matches now and the players under him have got to start performing.
“If Cellino’s coming in, they’ve got to get better. He’ll expect them to get better and he won’t stand for it if they don’t.”
Leeds were stung by the concession of the opening goal at the end of a tame first half, scored by Joe Mason, but Bolton cut them open repeatedly after the interval, adding further goals through Lukas Jutkiewicz, Zat Knight, Mark Davies and Andre Moritz.
Matt Smith’s reply in injury-time was a meagre consolation for McDermott, who said afterwards that his players appeared to be affected by tension.
“It’s a big badge to play for here and I think the players were nervous,” McDermott said.
“They want to do well, you can see that, but it’s a bad day for us.
“We’ve had a couple like that this season and it’s something I’ve never experienced before as a manager.
“With my teams, it doesn’t happen.
“We have to look at the underlying reasons for why it’s happening because it’s not acceptable.”
Davison, who won the Division Two title with Leeds in 1990, said: “Is it the tactics or is it the players? Personally I think it’s a bit of everything.
“The players were poor on Saturday and you can’t afford to have five or six passengers.
“The players who were passengers should take responsibility for that. That’s down to them.
“But tactically Bolton had a back four and two sitting midfielders which meant that the four in front of them had a licence to go off and attack. No-one picked up Neil Danns and someone should be seeing that. He pulled the strings.
“Brian said afterwards that the players are desperate to do well for Leeds United but they’ve had 90 minutes on the pitch to prove it and they haven’t.”
Saturday’s performance led to fresh individual criticism of Jimmy Kebe, the winger signed by Leeds on loan from Crystal Palace in January.
He was targeted by a large crowd at Elland Road when McDermott substituted him in the second half, a reaction which McDermott described as “not pleasant.”
But Davison said: “When Kebe went off, fans had every right to do what they did because there’s no way Kebe or the manager could say the fans had no right to have their say. He didn’t perform, simple as that.”