Promotion isn’t in the script this time around for Leeds United according to former Whites striker Ian Baird. Phil Hay reports.
As he clung to the possibility of a late run to the play-offs, Brian McDermott conceded that Leeds United’s current league position – 11th in the Championship and five points adrift of the real battleground – was “ probably about right”.
Ian Baird watched their tight, laboured defeat to Brighton on Tuesday and thought the same. Much is possible in a mathematical sense but United’s performance and their negative off-field state told the ex-United striker that promotion this season is beyond his old club.
“I agree that they’re still in the running,” he said, “but I’m only saying that on the basis of the league table, not the way things are at Leeds.
“Clubs who get into the Premier League and clubs who stay there are clubs with continuity. Leeds don’t have any of that at the moment. Little about them lends itself to the results they’ll need to go up. In my opinion it (promotion) is just about unachievable with everything that’s going on.”
Baird has seen relatively few of United’s games this season and, based in the south of England, he is also a little detached from the full extent of the crazy landscape at Elland Road. What he witnessed at Brighton was an organised, committed but limited team who were devoid of the attacking precision needed to make their counter-attacking strategy work.
On the touchline he observed a manager who came back to Leeds in a blaze of glory after a mishandled attempt to sack him on transfer deadline day but is patently suffering the stress of a slow, shambolic attempt by Leeds owner Gulf Finance House to sell the club and relinquish control.
United are almost Massimo Cellino’s to run but the Italian businessman will only complete his takeover if and when the Football League allows him to do so. McDermott has done his best to be cordial about the proposed takeover, despite Cellino’s attempt to dismiss him, but he cut a downbeat figure at The Amex, insisting again that the change of ownership “needs to be sorted.”
“I can well imagine that him getting sacked and then taking his job back galvanised the players,” Baird said. “They won’t have been happy about that and they’ll have tried to fight his corner. It’s what you do.
“But the off-field stuff hasn’t gone away and over time the concern and the uncertainty starts to creep in again. We’re two weeks on from Brian’s sacking, or attempted sacking, and we still don’t know whether the Italian is definitely buying the club, what that will mean for Leeds or what it will mean for McDermott.
“Those questions must get to a manager. They have to. He’s being asked about the future all the time and in layman’s terms, he’s probably pretty p***** off with the situation. If everything was rosy in the garden I think he’d be under pressure to get loan signings in and get a fantastic run of form going. But can Leeds as they are put a fantastic run of form together? I can’t see it.
“They were organised at Brighton and I actually thought that the tactics were good. Brighton like to keep the ball and Leeds tried to get at them on the counter-attack. The problem was that they had very little in the final third – no quality out wide to do damage to Brighton.
“That tends to be what keeps a team out of the promotion picture and I’ll be surprised if Leeds get themselves involved from here on. The circumstances aren’t right.”
Baird’s sympathy for McDermott stems in part from the contact the two men had in 2012 when Baird was manager of non-league Eastleigh and McDermott was in charge of Reading.
The clubs agreed to contest a pre-season friendly after Eastleigh allowed striker Brett Williams – now playing with Aldershot Town – to join Reading in 2011.
“We’d arranged that match but something happened with Reading’s fixture list and they tried to pull out,” Baird said.
“To be fair to Brian, he insisted not only that the game went ahead but that they bring a strong team and do what was promised in the first place.
“He knows non-league and he appreciated how important the money from that game was to us. They’d made a commitment and he wanted to honour it. He’s got a lot of integrity.
“He’s also a very good manager and I don’t think Leeds are seeing the best of him. I don’t think the circumstances are letting them see the best of him. You can tell he’s been bitten by the Leeds United bug in the way that I was when I played for them. It’s got him like it got me.
“As I say, if everything at the club was perfect then you could understand why people would be looking for a better league position. But it’s miles away from perfect.”
United have no game this weekend and do not play again until their match at Middlesbrough on Saturday week, by which time the gap to sixth place could have increased to eight points.
Cellino, the owner of Cagliari, will look for progress with the Football League during that period having requested that the governing body hold a hearing about his takeover on Wednesday. The Italian anticipated initially that the League might ratify his 75 per cent buy-out there and then but the three-hour meeting was used to offer direction about documents and information the League requires to make a final decision.
“They say that nothing surprises you in football but some of this is very odd,” Baird said. “I’ve never seen anything like Brian’s sacking and the message I got about the takeover on Tuesday was that very few people are really sure about how it’s going to end.
“A lot of things need sorting and a lot of decisions need to be made. It’s really sad to say but the club won’t go anywhere for as long as it’s like this.”