Leeds United: Hockaday to roll up the welcome mat

David Hockaday.
David Hockaday.
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The sight of the welcome mat being laid out at Elland Road with regularity by Leeds United for several years has been galling in the extreme.

More a House of Pain for the hosts as opposed to many gleeful visitors.

In days of yore, that was never the way at LS11 and if away sides got anything, it had to be seriously earned.

David Hockaday’s desire is to go back to the future in that respect. And the sight of a Middlesbrough side lamenting their fortune at full-time on Saturday against persistent hosts, who may not be perfectly polished yet, but never went away, was a pleasing one.

Next up are Brighton, another patient, probing side in the mould of Aitor Karanka’s Boro and if Leeds can replicate the industry that ultimately rattled the Teessiders tonight and marry that with a touch or two of innovation, then back-to-back Championship victories for the first time since December is a decent shout.

Hockaday said: “We have been talking about making Elland Road a fortress. When I was a player and you came here, you knew you were going to be in for a fight and that was before you got on the pitch.

“We need to make this a really tough place and make people uncomfortable coming here and not enjoying the experience.

“I think Middlesbrough went off the pitch on Saturday thinking: ‘Leeds are a hard-working team and what a great set of fans to play in front of and what a tough place to come.’ We need to replicate that as many times as we can.

“It would be great to carry on that momentum and belief and get it growing, both on and off the pitch.”

Hockaday is savvy enough to realise that much of the goodwill engendered by a commendable win over a side who have splashed the cash this summer in Boro will dissipate if Brighton do a number of Leeds this evening.

While the south-coast outfit have endured some teething problems in the early sparrings in the second-tier under a new manager in Sami Hyypia in 2014-15, courtesy of defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham, Hockaday isn’t fooled and feels that tonight’s test will represent an even more arduous examination that Saturday’s clash with Boro.

But if the high-octane energy continues from Saturday, Hockaday is hopeful things will take care of themselves positively for Leeds.

Statistics in that respect in 2014-15 have provided him with succour, manifested in the likes of summer signing Tomasso Bianchi, a ball-playing midfielder primarily brought in for his creativity, but with a work ethic to match, if the early signs are anything to go by.

Hockaday said: “Physically and mentally, we are in a good place at the moment and need to make sure that continues.

“We have had three games and have worked very hard. We have figures that show us we are running more and harder, at a higher intensity, than any previous game last season.

“The fitness levels are there, but it’s ok being fit, but it’s how you use your fitness.

“If you see the stats on the (Boro) game, Tomasso Bianchi ran more and did more high-intensity runs than anybody.

“He’s a player that you don’t sometimes recognise what he does until he’s not there and then you think: ‘oh, we’re missing that.’ He put in a really unselfish shift and I thought the whole team were superb, to a man, with their effort. Their teamwork ethic was super.

“But the hard reality is that games come thick and fast in the Championship with the cup games as well. Saturday was a good feeling, but it has to be tempered and we must be humble in what we do because we have tough opponents on Tuesday.

“I believe in my players. They are putting in a shift and working incredibly hard. If they work as hard or even harder than they did against Middlesbrough, Accrington and Millwall to a degree, it will take a good team to beat us.”

On tonight’s opponents, he added: “I think Brighton will be tougher (than Middlesbrough) because when you are playing one of the favourites, it is easier to get yourself up for it.

“We are coming in on a high after winning our last two games and Brighton haven’t. They will be smarting after two narrow defeats and need to get points on the board.

“It’s mine and the players’ job to make sure we come in grounded and put in the same sort of shift in, if not more as they are very tricky opponents with some very good players and they made the play-offs last year which everyone forgets.

“We need to make sure we look after ourselves and get that honesty, hard work and humility in our display and then hopefully what quality we have will get us over the line with three points.”

Humility and honesty in performance and attitude is something Hockaday is big on and while the start of the season has been another difficult one, second time around, for striker Noel Hunt, the United head coach has paid tribute to his exemplary character – and feels some fans’ criticism of him is harsh.

Hunt was reportedly offered to Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United last week, with Blades boss Nigel Clough declining the chance to sign him, but despite it looking like the forward’s future may be elsewhere, Hockaday says while ever he is at Leeds, he is very much in the fold.

Hockaday added: “Noel is a Leeds United player and a great lad. I am not going to hide from the fact that he has been given a hard time by a portion of people, which is think is harsh and unnecessary because he is a great lad who was plagued by injury last year.

“He has said to me: ‘Gaffer, if you need me, I will give you 100 per cent.’ That’s all you can ask.

“I would love it, if and when he gets on the field, that the fans get behind him and I would love it if he ripped it up as he is a super human being and one of the best lads in the dressing room.”

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