Consistency: Neil Redfearn says his squad can only worry about onfield matters and need to start racking up victories. Phil Hay reports.
Massimo Cellino spent most of yesterday in London, listening to his lawyers argue the case for overturning his ban as owner of Leeds United.
The Italian’s mind was fixed on that hearing as it has been since his return from Miami last weekend but it says everything about the club’s grave league position that his fight with the Football League is not the only show in town.
Cellino’s appeal in March against a previous attempt to bar him was all-consuming – and in terms of the senior management of Leeds, this latest battle has been no different – but attention in the city is more fixated on the club’s proximity to relegation and the hell of League One.
Where Cellino’s fate is concerned, public opinion seems indifferent; what will be will be. United’s head coach Neil Redfearn left him to it yesterday and applied himself to most pressing matter facing him: tomorrow’s game against Birmingham City and the severe impact of Leeds’ extended run without a league win.
In an interview with the YEP, Cellino bemoaned the timing of his proposed suspension and the League’s decision to announce it on December 1. It came two days after United had outclassed Derby County, then the Championship’s leaders and a veritable scalp.
Cellino bemoaned the cost of the “instability” which followed and whether or not he has a point, Leeds have not won a game since then. They played well at Bolton Wanderers last weekend but relied on other results – Millwall’s defeat at Blackpool to be precise – to keep them out of the Championship’s bottom three.
In Redfearn’s mind, Cellino’s business is complex. His business is also his own. Leeds do not have the luxury, as they did at the worst points of last season, of forgetting about the football and dealing only in politics.
“Whatever will happen will happen,” Redfearn said when asked about Cellino’s hearing. “It’ll take its course. We’ve got to concentrate on the football. We’ve got a big task ahead of us and a tough game on Saturday. I’ve got to make sure we’re concentrated on that.
“Whatever’s happening or isn’t happening, when you get to Saturday at three o’clock, it’s the most important thing for the club – that one game.
“There’s still a lot of football to play this season and I want us to be playing well and to get some momentum. I want to get a run going.”
The feeling after Bolton was that the value of a creditable draw in Lancashire would depend on the outcome of the fixtures that followed it.
Leeds host a rapidly-improving Birmingham side this weekend – a side who, like Bolton, are not the sorry shambles they were a few months ago – and play league leaders Bournemouth at home in a rearranged fixture next Tuesday.
“We do need to put a run together,” Redfearn said. “We’ve got to get consistency and back-to-back results. We’ve done it before this season but it won’t be easy.
“Birmingham have found some momentum and they’ll be on the front foot – confident and aggressive. But we’ve found a bit of confidence and spirit in this system of ours. I think the lads trust it.”
Redfearn was visibly pleased by United’s performance at Bolton. His use of a 4-2-3-1 formation gave Neil Lennon’s players no peace and Lennon admitted afterwards that a point had been as much as his team deserved.
The selections made by Redfearn were unpredictable in certain areas, not least the selection of Steve Morison up front, and his reserves hinted at reasonable strength in depth: Alex Mowatt, Billy Sharp and Mirco Antenucci on the bench; Souleymane Doukara and Adryan left out of the 18 altogether and told by Redfearn that both of them had to “do more” to merit inclusion.
“The thing is, as head coach you want to put a side together who’ll win games,” Redfearn said. “We’ve got to the point now where we need to start winning and we need to be consistent.
“I haven’t got any favourites here. If lads are playing well then they’ll get into the team. The others then have to fight for a place. That doesn’t mean I don’t rate the lads who aren’t in the team because I do. It’s just the way it should be.
“To be fair to Souleymane, he’s worked hard and he’s done extra this week. Adryan’s finding something extra in his game which he probably didn’t know he had, and that’s good. We’re dragging it out of them.
“This is a young squad, they’re learning about themselves and some of them have had their noses pushed out of joint. Now they’ve got to come up with the goods. That’s the way forward.”
Nothing about the Bolton game will encourage Redfearn to turn back to the midfield diamond tomorrow. “As daft as it seems we went to Bolton to be solid and difficult to beat and we probably created as many chances as we have for a long time,” he said. “The systems lends itself to that.
“We were unlucky at times with the diamond but we were vulnerable in wide areas too. Teams come onto us too easily and it got to the point where people had worked us out.
“Birmingham will play with confidence and they’ve got a striker who’s playing with confidence in (Clayton) Donaldson. He’ll be a handful. But we’ve got to do to them what they’ll try do to us – be on the front foot, be positive and play.”
Redfearn was asked if the crowd could play a part tomorrow but the 49-year-old conceded that the crowd have not been an issue this season. In spite of the club’s form, United’s Boxing Day defeat to Wigan Athletic – their last home game – pulled in more than 28,000. The 4,000 who stood in freezing sleet and brutal gales at Bolton were a magnet for Redfearn’s players in an engaging second half.
“They’ve been different class,” Redfearn said. “This is their club and it will be for years and years. They’ve shown great loyalty and it’s tough at the moment. It’s difficult for everyone concerned. But they’ve stuck with us.
“They’ve been frustrated at times and understandably so. That’s a given right. But we’re trying to get it right. It’s difficult here but we’re trying. I know what they want.”