David Hockaday secured his first league victory as Leeds United head coach and then vowed to vindicate Massimo Cellino’s controversial decision to pick him for the job at Elland Road.
United got their season moving with a dramatic 1-0 win over Middlesbrough on Saturday, earned by an 88th-minute goal from new signing Billy Sharp and produced seven days after a dismal opening day at Millwall.
Hockaday and his players came in for criticism after a 2-0 loss at The Den but a competitive performance against Boro saw Sharp claim three points with a poacher’s effort.
Hockaday, whose previous job in professional football was as manager of non-league Forest Green Rovers, said he was “proud” of Saturday’s victory and “fortunate” to be occupying the position of head coach at Leeds.
The 56-year-old was an obscure appointment when Cellino unveiled him as his replacement for former boss Brian McDermott in June, but Hockaday said: “I want to prove the president right.
“The president did his homework and he picked a British coach. We’re great at knocking ourselves in this country but there are great coaches here if they’re given a chance.
“I’m head coach at Leeds United so really, how tough is that? I love it. I’m genuinely honoured and for someone to give me the opportunity, I can’t thank (Cellino) enough.
“I’ve been in football for 40 years so pressure’s my middle name. If you’ve been in football this long, you’re used to it. It’s a results-based business and I know that. This is a very good start at home.”
Middlesbrough dominated the early stages of a tight game and were denied the opening goal when referee Stuart Attwell ruled out an overhead kick by Albert Adomah.
But Leeds played their way into the contest and Sharp – one of two debutants on Saturday – snatched a 1-0 win when he punished an error by Boro goalkeeper Tomas Mejias two minutes from time.
“My players were different class and whatever the quality, nobody can say they didn’t sweat for the shirt,” Hockaday said. “I don’t know a top team that doesn’t work hard and you have to get the fundamentals right.
“You’re not going to dominate a team like Middlesbrough for 95 minutes but we weathered the storm and got a break. I don’t know about their goal, I don’t know why it was disallowed, but we came out stronger in the second half.”
Hockaday also paid tribute to Sharp, saying: “That’s what he does but there’s more to his game than scoring goals. His was a complete performance.”
Sharp became United’s 10th summer signing when he joined the club from Southampton last week but Leeds are continuing to look for other recruits ahead of the closure of the transfer window in a fortnight’s time.
The club are being strongly linked with a deal for Mirco Antenucci, a striker who is involved in a complicated co-ownership deal between Catania and Ternana, and they are keenly interested in Adryan, a Brazilian midfielder at Cagliari. Cellino was responsible for taking Adryan on loan to Cagliari from Flamengo last season and the 20-year-old’s future is unclear after he was omitted from friendly between Cagliari and Celta Vigo on Saturday night.
Hockaday said: “We need to strengthen but I’m not going to name names or positions. The players we’ve brought in have added to the mix and I’m happy with them. I think between us we’ve got an eye for a good player.”
Noel Hunt appears to be surplus to requirements, however, after Sheffield United boss Nigel Clough revealed that he declined an offer to take the forward from Leeds last week.
Striker Souleymane Doukara is a doubt for tomorrow’s game at home to Brighton after suffering an ankle injury in the second half against Middlesbrough.