Leeds United: We’re taking ‘steps forward’ – Milanic

Darko Milanic.
Darko Milanic.
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Darko Milanic’s winless streak is not extraordinary or especially unprecedented.

Gary McAllister took five games to register his first win as Leeds United boss and Neil Warnock needed four. McAllister famously greeted a 1-0 victory at Swindon Town with a relieved shout of ‘Hallelujah.’

Milanic will feel the same sense of release when a maiden win presents itself and the search for that result moves on to Saturday’s meeting with Wolves after a 1-1 draw at Norwich City on Tuesday. But the Slovenian is enthused by “steps forward” and said he could see improvements in United’s football with each passing game.

Milanic was forced to reflect on another fixture without a win on Tuesday, saying he “cannot be happy” to be without one four weeks after his appointment as head coach at Elland Road, but he insisted again that his team were growing and adapting to his ideas and his mindset.

Leeds took a point away from Norwich, forcing a result at Carrow Road through a second-half equaliser from Souleymane Doukara, and the irony of a patchy run under Milanic is that the club have lost little ground on the Championship’s play-off positions.

Six points back and lodged in mid-table, United are in a position where results like Tuesday’s draw with Norwich will prove valuable enough if Milanic’s squad can find a way of establishing some proper form.

“I cannot be happy that in this time and in this month I have no win with my team,” he said. “But if you look at it another way, we are playing well.

“We were maybe not good in my first game but since then we have made steps forward. It’s important. I think the team is alive.

“Everybody can see that this team will make good performances. In the moments when you are under pressure, when it’s difficult, you have to fight.

“I congratulate my players for giving everything.”

Milanic’s first match in charge, a 2-0 defeat away at Brentford, was a sorry procession and a game which Leeds deserved to lose more heavily. Since then, their contests have been tight and cagey – tense draws with Norwich, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday and 2-1 loss at Rotherham United last week on a night when Leeds put themselves within 45 minutes of a victory.

Milanic has kept faith in a diamond midfield from the outset, changing personnel regularly while sticking to that formation, but he broke from it in the second half at Carrow Road, reacting to a laboured onslaught from Norwich by moving Adryan and Doukara out wide and stemming City’s attacks.

Adryan and Doukara were both involved in United’s 63rd-minute equaliser, Adryan playing Doukara into space and the Frenchman curling a sweet finish around Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy.

“The goal was good from our three offensive players,” Milanic said. “Mirco (Antenucci) first, then Adryan and a great finish from Doukara.

“We were playing against a good team and we changed our formation to make it easier to control the game.

“My players had spirit and you could see that they wanted to do well. We had to fight, run and defend and this point is good for us.

“Like a sportsman you want to win, you want to take three points, but when you see the game, the strength of the opposition and the way the game went, I’m happy with the performance, the team spirit and the draw.”

Sam Byram, United’s right-back who returned to their starting line-up at Carrow Road, was also satisfied to take a point from a team who led the Championship going into the recent international break.

“The majority of the lads in the changing room were happy with a point,” Byram said.

“We were under a lot of pressure in the first half and we struggled to get out at times but in the second half we were more solid and we had a bit more about us.

“It was great to get the goal and Doukara kept his head in front of goal. He’s a great finisher.

“You saw the togetherness with the defending at the end and we were hard to get past. Against a very good team, a draw was a good result for us.”

Milanic was frustrated by Norwich’s goal, scored by Russell Martin four minutes before Doukara’s reply, and claimed a foul by Cameron Jerome on Rodolph Austin had given City’s captain a free header as Nathan Redmond swept a corner into the box.

“I saw it,” Milanic said. “Not live but afterwards on the video.

“The referee was 10 metres away when it happened. He has to see that.”

Attention at the end of a drab contest in Norwich was diverted at full-time by claims from Jerome that United defender Giuseppe Bellusci racially abused him midway through the first half.

Milanic declined to comment on the incident and the Football Association is considering what action to take against Bellusci, if any, having received referee Mark Clattenburg’s match report yesterday morning.

The allegation arose during a confrontation between Bellusci and Jerome in the 25th minute and Jerome was booked by Clattenburg following a second clash between them moments later.

Bellusci, who is one yellow card away from a one-match suspension, avoided any punishment from Clattenburg and will retain his starting place for Saturday’s game at home to Wolves.

Wolves climbed to fourth in the Championship on Tuesday evening, one place above Norwich, after inflicting an impressive 2-0 defeat on Middlesbrough.

Kyle Bartley

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