Phil Hay: Leeds United boss Christiansen deserves chance to learn Championship ropes at own pace

Thomas Christiansen.
Thomas Christiansen.
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IN THE spirit of quantifying experience, as Gareth Barry is making English football do, take a look at the longevity around Thomas Christiansen.

Neil Warnock has seen 1,000 games come and go in his managerial career, every one of them in England and the vast number in its second division. Mick McCarthy is not far off, the loveable cut of Barnsley chop who prides himself on staying in a game which some people think has left him behind.

McCarthy, to adapt an old quote of his, is once again directing “some people” to go forth and multiply. He and Warnock have their fallible sides but Ipswich Town and Cardiff City – as unfancied as Leeds United 10 games ago – are fifth and first in the Championship because their knowledge of the division is there to fall back on.

Flair, or finesse, is neither here nor there. McCarthy and Warnock have built a reputation on knowing what to do, when to do it and indoctrinating their players in the same way of thinking.

Christiansen does not sound complacent about the new environment he is in but he made the transition from continental football to the English game look improbably simple until Millwall and Cardiff got inside his guard.

For a fledgling coach recruited from Cyprus, the alternative scenario seemed more likely: trying days at the start giving way, ideally, to a smoother ride and a steady upward curve but Leeds set out near the top and have been there, give or take, for seven weeks.

Thomas Christiansen shakes hands with Neil Warnock on Tuesday night.

Thomas Christiansen shakes hands with Neil Warnock on Tuesday night.

Garry Monk was raising a low bar at this stage of last season. Christiansen has pushed it higher than many managers before him, Warnock included.

A few weeks ago United’s head coach was asked about the differences between football in England and football in the wider reaches of Europe. He drew a comparison between the way in which corners are perceived.

In Europe, he said, they were often no more than a case of play-the-ball. In England they were opportunities, a potential source of direct goals and fuel for supporters. Patience versus intensity, which is what Leeds’ league defeats have come down to.

Millwall was a lesson that crowds in the Championship don’t need sexy football to go home happy. Cardiff was a lesson that an experience like Millwall should not be disregarded or seen as a one-off. It was never likely to be a one-off on the basis that Millwall’s tack worked so well.

Christiansen does not sound complacent about the new environment he is in but he made the transition from continental football to the English game look improbably simple until Millwall and Cardiff got inside his guard.

The YEP’s Phil Hay

At their best Christiansen’s team take some working out but the division is starting to digest aspects of his philosophy. Ipswich and McCarthy were specific in pressing Felix Wiedwald on Saturday, complicating the goalkeeper’s attempts to direct play from the back.

Warnock had evidently examined Wiedwald’s brave but risky attempts to pass and be damned and had Cardiff’s forward line on his case on Tuesday night. Wiedwald thought twice about pushing his luck and went long instead, to a line-up which was not set up to receive them.

There was imprecision in Leeds’ football around the edge of Cardiff’s box but insufficient control of possession too. Warnock got the game he wanted and United’s mistakes did the rest for him. A slip from Mateusz Klich, a missed tackle from Pontus Jansson, a defence backing off Junior Hoilett and a captain, Liam Cooper, taking a second yellow card in a situation where a foul was unnecessary. A perfect storm with an inevitable outcome, and Sol Bamba in fancy dress as Sergio Busquets.

It falls to Christiansen to take heed of the errors and to reflect on the line-ups fielded at Millwall and Cardiff, but not to become perfect overnight. Two similar losses in the space of a fortnight makes United’s head coach look less than adaptable but they are hard fixtures in a short window for a manager with fewer than 10 Championship games to draw on. The results do not detract from the club’s extended form. And they will only count against him if Leeds are conducting the same post mortems many months down the line.

At Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday, where a managerial counterpart with two Championship seasons behind him is in some distress, the expectation will be of simple things: a line-up with the ability to put a foot in, some tightening up of the left side of Christiansen’s defence, some versatility if Wiedwald is squeezed by Wednesday’s attack and recognition of the fact that a player like Pablo Hernandez can drift and suffer on the wrong occasions away from home.

A thousand games in the Championship makes a lot of that come naturally. Christiansen should not feel guilty about taking time to immerse himself in it.

Gjanni Alioski celebrates scoring Leeds United's second goal against Middlesbrough.

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