Having purged Leeds United of their defensive sins, Neil Warnock wants a goal.
Numerous members of his squad would fancy themselves to supply it but none are more keen to do so than Warnock’s first signing, Danny Webber.
The drought under Warnock is barely even that – long enough for him to acknowledge it but not yet serious enough to represent a problem. Three games and 270 minutes have passed since Luciano Becchio pole-axed Doncaster Rovers with an injury-time winner three weeks ago.
Webber, in contrast, last experienced the sensation of scoring in January 2010, during a Premier League fixture between Portsmouth and West Ham United. A forward like him could be consumed by the need to scratch the itch and if Warnock’s first goal as Leeds manager comes at Middlesbrough tomorrow, Webber would delight in claiming it.
“I’m dying for a goal,” he said. “It’s been a long time since it happened and I want to hit the back of the net again. I’d like to remember the feeling.
“The gaffer’s been having a bit of a jest about us not scoring under him yet, but the lads have scored enough times this season to know the goals will come. If we maintain our work-rate and keep clean sheets then the goals will flow, I’m sure of that.
“But the gaffer’s doing the right thing by getting the basics in place first. There’s no point scoring three times if the opposition score four.”
Warnock took that view after watching Becchio’s goal earn a win over Doncaster in the ninth minute of stoppage time.
Watching from the West Stand at Elland Road, hours after agreeing to become United’s new boss, he found it hard to imagine that a team a porous as Leeds would ever meet his defensive needs. He was as surprised as anyone to see a clean sheet registered at Portsmouth the following weekend and again at Hull City on Tuesday night.
The results so far have demonstrated what Warnock will bring to Elland Road over the duration of his contract – organisation, discipline and rigid structure. What they have failed to do is give the club a greater chance of promotion than they had when Simon Grayson, Warnock’s predecessor, was sacked on the first day of February.
There was never more than a faint chance of Warnock conjuring a run to the Championship play-offs over the short course of 14 games. The possibility was so remote that he will take his squad to Middlesbrough believing anything less than a victory on Teesside will essentially bring their season to an end.
Webber could be part of United’s line-up again having unexpectedly appeared from the start of Tuesday’s derby at the KC Stadium.
Warnock claimed before the game he was unsure of Webber’s ability to complete 90 minutes – the forward was without a club for eight months before joining Leeds a fortnight ago – but Webber saw out a scrappy goalless draw in East Yorkshire.
After making his debut in last weekend’s defeat to Southampton, an evening when he had two excellent chances to score, he already feels that his short-term opportunity is gathering speed.
The former Manchester United trainee is not new to Warnock’s management but the past two weeks have reminded him about the 63-year-old’s finer attributes.
“There’s no beating around the bush,” Webber said. “With him it’s exactly what it says on the tin. If you’re not pulling your weight he’ll tell you: ‘pull your finger out!’
“But he knows how to manage players and man-management is probably the biggest thing.
“There are managers who get a lot of out a bunch of players who aren’t necessarily the most technical. On the other hand, there are managers who don’t have good man-management skills and can’t get a lot out of very good players.
“If you do what he asks and do what’s necessary then you’ll get his backing. He’s always like that, whether you’re going through good times or bad times. It’s why so many of his teams have had so much success.”
Webber’s inclusion in the starting line-up at Hull was a surprise to many. It was certainly a surprise to him, four days after his first competitive appearance of the season.
He had featured for little over half-an-hour of Leeds’ unlucky defeat to Southampton, impressing in the time given to him, but did not anticipate a better chance to materialise so soon.
Asked if he was aware of Warnock’s plans against Hull, Webber said: “No, not at all. It surprised me.
“The gaffer told me at five o’clock before the game and just said ‘I’m going to play you – are you up to it?’
“I said ‘yeah’ and I was always going to say that. I need games and I need as many minutes on the pitch as I can. Sometimes it’s easier being told late because there no time to think. An hour or so later you’re out there warming up and then an hour after that you’re playing. You don’t get side-tracked.
“I blew a gasket after 75 minutes but I’m really pleased to have got through 90. You can’t replicate match fitness through training alone. I’m just dying for a goal now.”
Whether it arrives tomorrow, against a club who tried to sign Webber in 2009, remains to be seen but a first victory of Warnock’s reign is imperative if Leeds are to make something of a season which has rarely shown great promise since it began at Southampton on August 6.
Boro’s advantage over Leeds has grown to nine points in the past month and today’s Championship fixtures are likely to nudge United further adrift of sixth place than they were after their draw in Hull. Yet Warnock shows no sign of admitting defeat, even while his team’s prospects remain so slim.
“The manager’s put the fight back in the team,” said Webber.
“I also think there are lads here who are realising they’ve got a lot more fight in them than they thought they had. It’s good to see everyone pulling together.
“For me, that’s made it much easier to settle in. I’ve been accepted and it’s great being part of something like this, gearing up and looking to go forward.”