Leeds United: Dig deep Ken, the fans deserve better

UPS AND DOWNS: Luciano Becchio's brave header wasn't enough to earn a win over West Ham.

UPS AND DOWNS: Luciano Becchio's brave header wasn't enough to earn a win over West Ham.

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So new Leeds United boss Neil Warnock is not, after all, a magician or miracle worker. Shame that.

It’s a shame because he probably needed to be one or the other to get a squad which, no matter what the previous result or what the personnel, is always likely to implode defensively into the play-offs.

The situation he inherited meant he had a mountain to climb just to reach the top-six, but three clean sheets in his first five games suggested Warnock and coach Ronnie Jepson had applied more than just a sticking plaster to United’s long-standing Achilles heel.Particularly when those five games featured home fixtures against the Championship’s free-scoring leaders, Southampton, and fellow automatic-promotion chasers West Ham.

United did more than enough to win both matches but ended up with just a point to show for all their efforts, having contrived to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory against the Hammers at the weekend and having been thwarted by an inspired display from Saints keeper Kelvin Davis previously.

Drubbing

The inability to hold onto a lead, even for just a matter of minutes, and close out the game against Sam Allardyce’s men merely emphasised the lack of nous, mental toughness, doggedness, call it what you will, within the Whites’ ranks.

There was bound to be disappointment in the camp at failing to claim three crucial points, particularly when results elsewhere over the weekend went United’s way, but how can anyone explain shipping seven goals at home to struggling Nottingham Forest four days later?

The answer, of course, is you can’t and, more importantly, you shouldn’t have to.

For his part, Warnock revealed afterwards he’d learned more about his players during Tuesday’s shocking drubbing than he had over his first month at the helm.

“I don’t think you learn much about your players when you’re winning games,” the 63-year-old said. “I think you learn things when things go against you, who stands up and who you want in the trenches with you.”

Little wonder, then, that he has labelled this weekend’s trip to Millwall as make or break for some of his players. About time too, because results like the Forest one have happened far too often for a club like Leeds United in the last two terms.

Supporters have tried to blank them out, but the 6-4 loss to lowly Preston and the 5-0 capitulation, admittedly aided in no small part by a horror show from goalkeeper Paul Rachubka, to Blackpool at Elland Road are simply embarrassing and unacceptable.

No disrespect but – a couple of hammerings in successive seasons in the 1980s at Stoke apart – you expect those sort of defeats to happen to much smaller, less ambitious clubs from footballing backwaters, the likes of a Hereford or Dagenham and Redbridge.

Some fans claim results like this show Leeds can raise their game to play the division’s bigger teams but drop their standards when facing the lesser lights. That may be true up to a point, but it’s unforgiveable and confirms that United just don’t have enough players capable of handling the expectations.

Consistency, the occasional flash of inspiration and plenty of perspiration are required to win promotion. It may be a cliche but a two points per game ratio really does work – the league table, the only reliable barometer of form over a gruelling programme, confirms that season after season.

The current crop of players at Elland Road clearly isn’t capable of that consistency and an endless stream of loan signings have failed to mask or solve the deficiency.

What, then, must chairman Ken Bates make of all this? The club’s owner was in the stands for both the West Ham and Forest games – his first visit to Elland Road in 2012 incidentally.

He doesn’t buy the players, train the players or coach them and he doesn’t pick the team or dictate the tactics of course, but he sets the playing budget and hires and fires the managers and after eight seasons out of the Premier League it is as far way as ever.

To my mind he owes it to the long-suffering supporters to give Warnock as much room for manoeuvre as possible this summer. Why? Well, the supporters have continued to pay near top-flight ticket prices for second and even third division football and have turned up in huge numbers to support a variety of line-ups and a handful of managers.

The fact that more than 33,000 packed out Elland Road for the West Ham game last week when their side has only an outside chance of reaching the play-offs, is proof of their commitment to the cause.

It also shows what Mr Bates can expect every fortnight next season if his finances allows Warnock to build a team capable of pushing for promotion and sustaining a challenge.

And while we’re on the subject of fans it really wouldn’t hurt him to at least have a conversation, or arrange a meeting, with the board of the Leeds United Supporters Trust.

It’s membership continues to grow and is made up of Leeds followers who, for a whole host of reasons already detailed in this column, have lost patience with Mr Bates and doubt his ability to deliver a return to the Premiership.

So dig a little deeper Ken, save any more big ground improvements for the 2012-13 close season, and prove the critics wrong. And if you can make peace with LUST the club really can go marching on together, something your new manager wants and needs.

gary.walker@ypn.co.uk

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