Frank: Darko Milanic says every manager in the Championship is under pressure thanks to the nature of the competition. Leon Wobschall reports
FIRST impressions would suggest that when it comes to pressure ahead of tonight’s Championship clash at Carrow Road, it all rests squarely on the shoulders of Darko Milanic and Leeds United.
Not so, according to the Slovenian, who believes it is part of the territory not just at a monster-sized 24/7 club like United but across the Championship landscape.
It is a division where fortunes of sides can change, almost without outside observers noticing with pressure prevalent in all kinds of places – both in lofty climbs and down among the dead men.
Take Norwich. Fourth in the table they may be, but they are currently under the microscope after a run of just one victory in six games, having not won in four league matches at Carrow Road since beating Blackburn Rovers 3-1 on August 19.
Given the squad at Neil Adams’ disposal, their financial wherewithal and the expectation among many in Norfolk that they should return to the Premier League at the first time of asking, it is maybe not just the visitors who have pressure to contend with tonight.
Norwich have failed to score in the opening period of a league game since playing Bournemouth at Carrow Road on August 30, with their last 13 Championship goals all coming in the second half of games.
Meanwhile, the last time they took the lead in a game was at Brentford back on September 16.
It is statistics like that which suggest that pressure is indeed all relative and something shared a little this evening.
Milanic said: “Their head coach/manager and players and everyone there also has pressure.
“Some have pressure to be first, some to not be on the bottom and some to improve themselves. It’s normal, our daily job.”
Pitted in the middle of a tough schedule of games, Leeds head to Norfolk with a character and aptitude examination in full view at a ground where they have won just once since August 1980.
It was a case of ‘some things good, some not so good’ in Friday’s televised loss at Rotherham United after Leeds’ defensive discipline let them down in a 2-1 reverse in a game which they controlled almost totally in the first half.
It left Milanic with plenty to ponder in a ninety minutes where the game management of the visitors ultimately let them down.
Not for the first time in recent years, a Leeds manager/head coach was left to rue fine margins going against his side, something Milanic was certainly conscious of on Friday.
Training may have been a little subdued over the weekend, understandably so given what was a painful and self-inflicted reverse in some respects, but it was bright on Monday with players having moved on and keen to make amends, according to Milanic.
The challenge now is to heed the mistakes of Rotherham and against a team in Norwich who have been saving their recent best for the second half, it is likely to require increased focus from the first whistle until the last.
Milanic said: “In the first day after the defeat, it was not easy. But today (Monday) we had great training.
“We try and improve ourselves in training and make analysis from the game and the next game and we are focused for Norwich.
“We played part of the game at Rotherham extremely good. But when we made a little mistake, we were punished.
“We have to cut out the mistakes and when we have the chances to score, we have to score. Against Rotherham, we had to score the second goal.”
Speaking ahead of the trip to East Anglia yesterday, Milanic admitted that he had yet to decide upon his starting line-up with issues to mull over on the long journey down.
While game-management issues and defensive discipline and shape across the pitch are likely to be at the forefront of his mind, Milanic insists desire and a readiness to fight and battle for the cause is not the issue.
He is the first to acknowledge that a haul of two points from 12 under his watch is far from ideal, but equally he believes that it could – and should – have been a much better tally.
He said: “In the four games, we have not made a lot of points. But we are not a bad team without nothing (winning). We are competitive and the differences are not too big in each game.
“In part of the Rotherham game, we were very good and created chances and did very well.
“The opponent were not really in the game, but it was 15 or maybe twenty minutes of the game where the opponent were really good and we had bad possession. We have to play our game for ninety minutes.
“When you play against one team at the top and bottom, there is not much difference. Every game is extremely difficult in this league.
“But I see my players and they want to play good and fight also.”
“But we must not forget that the team is very young and some players don’t have much experience. When we compare to our opponents, maybe they have a little bit more experience like what we have.”
Milanic believes Norwich will offer different threats to the ones posed by Rotherham, with pace, chiefly in the shape of Nathan Redmond and Lewis Grabban and plenty of Championship savvy across the park marking them out as dangerous opponents, if slightly wounded ones given their recent form.
Milanic added: “It won’t be the same as Rotherham. But If I think it will an easy game, it won’t be. It will be extremely difficult.
“We know that Norwich are one team who have experience in the Premier League and in the first-team squad is one young player and all the rest are experienced.
“They are quick and play a good English style of football with a lot of power and overlaps down the sides. They are dangerous and a good team.
“But we know that in the last three league games that there have been parts where we have been very good and controlled the games and had chances.
“We have to give our maximum and we have to run, play good and fight and be tough in our challenges against a good team.
“We must also have a little luck to win the game.”