Leeds’ 5-1 win over local rivals Huddersfield Town last season crowned a madcap few days at the Elland Road club. Phil Hay reports.
The last time Leeds United played Huddersfield Town without a manager or the continental equivalent, they thrashed their neighbours by four clear goals.
Win in the circumstances surrounding that game and Neil Redfearn must think he could outwit Huddersfield on any afternoon. But he is Yorkshire enough to feel the threat of bruised pride down the M62.
The irony of the teams’ most recent meeting is that Huddersfield couldn’t have had it better.
On February 1, they travelled to a club who were imploding dramatically and in disarray for 45 minutes. Inexplicably, Leeds turned in their biggest win of the season.
Redfearn was part of a caretaker team that day – effectively assistant to Nigel Gibbs – and he will manage Leeds in the same capacity tomorrow as the wait goes on for the appointment of a new head coach at Elland Road.
In spite of the lack of clarity, the build-up this time has been a dream in comparison. Leeds head into tomorrow’s derby with no permanent boss but the benefit of form showing two wins and a draw from Redfearn’s games in charge. Strange as it sounds, they look every bit as stable as a Huddersfield side who have already witnessed a change of manager and lie third from bottom in the Championship.
Massimo Cellino is more settled too. Back in February he was a pariah in Leeds after trying to oust Brian McDermott from his job as manager the night before Huddersfield’s visit.
Cellino’s takeover was pending, not complete, and while he and McDermott were absent from Elland Road during the rout of Town – McDermott on legal advice, the Italian for his own safety – McDermott had the support of the crowd and was resumed work within 48 hours.
In the midst of that confusion, Redfearn was told initially that he would look after the squad alongside Gianluca Festa, a close confidante of Cellino’s.
By kick-off, the responsibility had passed to Redfearn and Gibbs after at least two changes to the starting line-up. Quite where a 5-1 scoreline and a Ross McCormack hat-trick came from, even Redfearn can’t say.
“On that morning I took a training session with the group of players who weren’t involved and then went down to Elland Road,” Redfearn said. “There wasn’t much time to put it all together.
“Huddersfield scored first and started really brightly. It looked like it was going to be a difficult game for us. But we turned it around and our finishing was top-drawer. They caught us on a good day, unfortunately for them, but derbies are usually keenly fought. I’m expecting a close game tomorrow.”
Danny Ward opened the scoring for Huddersfield midway through the first half and the final result relied on Nahki Wells’ failure to take other chances.
McCormack replied with an opportunistic goal just before half-time and then led the recovery by claiming twice more. Jimmy Kebe and Alex Mowatt also chipped in as United showboated towards the end.
“The equaliser settled us down but I remember the crowd making the difference as it went one, two and then three,” Redfearn said.
“They affected Huddersfield and the crowd have got a part to play again. But they know that.”
Elland Road might see its biggest attendance of the season tomorrow, with a fair wind behind United and the game starting at the conventional time of 3pm. Redfearn’s playing career took him to almost every Yorkshire club bar Leeds and Huddersfield and he warned that the humiliation of last season’s result would be lingering with any members of Town’s squad who experienced the beating.
In their shoes, what would Redfearn’s reaction be? “I’d want to roll (Leeds) over,” he said. “I’d want to get into them straight away. If you’ve got any pride then you’re pride will be hurt.
“The good thing about Yorkshire derbies is that there’s always an edge to them. Everything goes up a notch – the tempo, the pace of it. I hope it’ll be that type of game tomorrow.”
Huddersfield have a new manager in Chris Powell, a man who Redfearn remembers as an apprentice at Crystal Palace.
“That makes me feel old,” Redfearn joked. A change of manager often prompts a change in form, if only briefly, but two games with Powell in charge have earned Huddersfield a single point.
Where Leeds are concerned, relatively few of their summer signings have experienced local derbies in England. United played Bradford City in the Capital One Cup last month but David Hockaday, their head coach at the time, made little use of them, fielding 10 Englishmen and an unimaginative line-up.
The squad were under pressure and devoid of confidence at that stage but they have found a better rhythm under Redfearn. United’s caretaker also thinks that in the seven months since Leeds and Huddersfield last met, Leeds have amassed a group of players with more energy and potential than they had in February.
McCormack’s hat-trick was indicative of an excessive reliance on his goals.
“I’d say the squad’s more balanced now,” Redfearn said. “It’s got more legs in it, it’s more youthful and it’s got more scope for a coach.
“There are more facets for changing games and changing systems. It’s been a pleasure working with them.”
Mowatt is United’s only doubt with the toe injury which forced him to miss Tuesday’s 3-1 win at Bournemouth.
“He’s a young lad with a good future in front of him so we’ve got to be careful,” Redfearn said. “Mind you, he’s champing at the bit. He wants to play.”