JASON PEARCE heard good reports about the coaching credentials of Dave Hockaday before he arrived at Elland Road – and those words are ringing true.
The Leeds United centre-half is being put through his paces with his team-mates at a two-week training camp at Santa Cristina in the Val Gardena region of northern Italy – with a new face at the helm in head coach Hockaday.
The former Forest Green boss may be far from a household name, but Pearce says he received a positive ‘heads-up’ on the 56-year-old from a former team-mate who worked with him at Watford. And he hasn’t been left disappointed.
Pearce said: “It’s been good. The gaffer has come in and rejuvenated the lads and I think it’s going to be a fresh start for everyone.
“I knew of him (Hockaday) to be fair. I spoke to one of my mates who plays for another team and he let me know what he was like and said he was a brilliant coach and the best he has trained with. That was a positive sign for me.
“But whoever came in, you give them a chance to show what they can do and he has had a positive reaction on the boys and hopefully that will continue.
“The training has been tough, so we should be a very fit team, which will be good, for the start of the Championship season.”
The case for United’s defence was distinctly underwhelming in 2013-14, with Pearce, after a pretty average first season in West Yorkshire, representing the shining light in many respects.
But the 26-year-old insists he took limited satisfaction out of his personal upturn, with his only concern being that Leeds develop a resilient streak in front of their own goal after some horror concessions last term – with sorting the defence a declared big target area for Hockaday.
He added: “Every season I just try and do my best. Last season, I did okay, but we conceded a lot of goals which I wasn’t pleased about and neither were the other defenders.
“It was a difficult season and we massively underachieved for a club of this size. We should be doing better.
“We have started from the basics with the new gaffer. He said we have got to get the basics right and we must go again next season. What I do know is we will be a fit team and tough to play against and we’ll see what happens.
“The lads who are in the defence are mainly young boys. I am probably one of the oldest in the back four at 26 and that is still quite young. We all want to improve and get better and with the young lads we have got with their ability, I think we can forge quite a strong back four.
“I am sure other players will also come in to provide competition and that can only help us.
“The fans expect us to be extremely tough to play against and everybody coming off the pitch having given everything they can. That’s what they expect as a minimum.
“We need to get that from 1 to 11 from the subs coming on as well and then who knows what can happen. Look at Burnley last year. They had a tight-knit squad and didn’t use many players and got promoted and were brilliant. They are a team you want to emulate.”
After a torrid second-half of last season, on and off the pitch, Leeds fans are craving stability this time around, with most sensible enough to appreciate that improvement is likely to come at a gradual pace in 2014-15.
But while patience will be a virtue, Pearce feels Leeds might surprise a few people if they get their summer recruitment right.
He said: “It might take the club a few years to get where it wants to be. But at least it’s going in the right direction now.
“The fans have been patient. You have to take everything into perspective in terms of what is going on and the lads are doing their best. But we need reinforcements to make us a better team and hopefully we will get that and have a good go.”