Phil Hay: Leeds United boss McDermott deserves a fairer crack of the whip

Brian McDermott
Brian McDermott
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Stand by your man: Neil Warnock failed, current boss is struggling, would Malky Mackay or anyone else do better in the current circumstances?

Malky Mackay. An out-of-work manager with a recent – almost current – record of winning the Championship. He ticks all the boxes, or so the argument will go if Leeds United give up on Brian McDermott.

Mackay, McDermott and Neil Warnock have one thing in common. As a piece of pub trivia, it shouldn’t take much working out. McDermott was seen as the answer to Warnock’s failings last April and some will feel now that Mackay would better McDermott’s performance as manager of Leeds. But on paper, their final 18 months at their previous clubs were identical – a Championship title, an unforgiving time in the Premier League and before long the old heave-ho.

So of the past three managers to win the Championship title, one has been swallowed by Leeds and another is caught between their teeth. Mackay hasn’t had the privilege yet but he will fly up the betting if the job at Elland Road becomes available. And he’ll have the kudos of being new and different while essentially being the same.

McDermott has tried to be different to Warnock. He has invested his energy in infrastructure at Leeds in a way that his predecessor never did. For a while McDermott outlined plans to change the academy and Thorp Arch; to change the club’s ethos and behaviour. He no longer mentions any of that, in part because much of the work had been done but mainly because a spruced-up training ground is no defence for a burnt-out season. For his vision to survive, he needs more immediate stability than Bolton and Reading running riot at Elland Road. Otherwise he is failing to keep his side of the bargain.

Those two results were heavy and horrible but not isolated. They are two of 14 league defeats this season. What marked them out – and the loss to Reading in particular – were the tell-tale signs of an empty well: 3-5-2 employed for the first since Leeds were comprehensively beaten by Blackburn Rovers on New Year’s Day, and Marius Zaliukas recalled for the first time since Hillsborough, Hellsborough, the massacre in Sheffield. Both were abandoned with just cause and their reappearance on Tuesday felt like any port in a storm. Which, in fairness to McDermott, must be how he sees it.

He will know himself that this season could get worse yet. There is no form and no exuberance within his squad and less for Leeds to play for than the majority of other clubs. That said, this season can get worse with some degree of impunity. Leeds are not going down which, as minor a consolation as that sounds, means McDermott’s position can be given proper, patient consideration. The question for United is not whether he is presently struggling because that question answers itself. As a club who gave him three years and room for error, they need to decide how acceptable the errors have been.

A couple of his signings have progressed. There is a useful player in Matt Smith, a weapon up front and a striker with a poacher’s instinct. In the frustratingly brief periods when Luke Murphy takes games by the throat, he does enough to suggest that a hard season might help him acclimatise to the Championship. Several others have made far less of an impact – Noel Hunt none at all and Jimmy Kebe so little that McDermott will struggle to play him again. But even the financial backing McDermott has received – and he has unquestionably had some – is a matter for debate, sporadic and unpredictable; there one day to sign Kebe and Cameron Stewart, gone the next when he asks for Ashley Barnes. Is this season a product of the manager or a product of the club? And does a change of manager fundamentally change the club?

McDermott speaks regularly about Reading and the waves he made there but it feels more and more irrelevant as he gets deeper into Leeds. That is not so much a criticism of him as a reflection of the fact that Leeds are not Reading. Nor and they Cardiff or QPR. Take Mackay for example. If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that studying a track record is a way of missing the point. We know what Mackay did in Wales, just as we know what McDermott did at Reading. But what would Mackay have done at Leeds last summer? What would he have done in the last fortnight of January when United signed nobody? How would he have coped with an attempted sacking in January and how would he have reacted to the promises made to McDermott which never quite came to pass? It is no longer popular to argue that McDermott deserves another summer and another season but I’m inclined to think that he does. At the end of his press conference on Thursday, there was one thought in your head: that in a year’s time you could imagine a manager fighting the same battles with the same rhetoric, fighting for his job. Perhaps McDermott will be backed into that corner again if Leeds stand by him but it could as easily happen to anyone else. United are a bit like a mile-wide sinkhole; proven, capable people get eaten so quickly here.

The main difference now between McDermott and Warnock is that Warnock was always going when the play-offs slipped away. By February of last year, he was recommending to United’s board that they start looking for his successor. McDermott wants to survive this crisis and the hierarchy at Leeds need to take the time to weigh up all that has happened since April 12 and ask themselves one thing: at his best, is United’s manager better than this?

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After watching almost 2,000 United games unbroken, supporter of the year nominee Beeton really has had his ups and downs

Ross McCormack’s nomination for the Championship’s player-of-the-year award took six seasons and 85 goals to materialise.

By comparison, the prize on offer to Phil Beeton at Sunday’s Football League awards ceremony has been 47 years in the making. Beeton – for so long a well-known face of the Leeds United Supporters Club (LUSC) – is part of a three-man shortlist selected by the League for its supporter of the year accolade.

The category might sound a little twee but the candidates this year are examples of genuine loyalty. Should Beeton win the trophy in London tomorrow evening, it could be classed as a lifetime achievement award.

United’s visit to Bournemouth a week on Tuesday will complete an unbroken run of 2,000 league games attended by him. The first in that sequence was a goalless draw at home to Manchester City on March 18, 1967. He passed the 1,000 mark in 1990 and will take up a season ticket at Elland Road for the 50th year in a row next season.

Tomorrow night he is up against Brett Price – a Sheffield United fan who, to his credit, has not missed a game for 21 years – and John Chapman, a volunteer for more a decade-and-a-half at Dagenham and Redbridge.

“I’m a fly-under-the-radar type of bloke so the idea of an award is a bit strange,” Beeton said. “I thought someone was playing a joke on me when the Football League phoned. But if you’re in for a trophy then it would be nice to win it!

“I’ve been arranging Supporters Club trips to games for a long time now and I always say the same thing to people – if I’m going to a game, which I always am, I might as well make sure that other fans get there too.”

Beeton picked out United’s historic win at Anfield in 1969 as the highlight of his many years with Leeds.

“Winning the league (Division One) for the first time is probably the one,” he said.

“Not only that, but Billy Bremner, inset, walking the players up to the Kop at the end of the game and the Liverpool fans giving them a standing ovation – no-one expected that. It was a unique moment.”

The lowlight? “The last 10 years,” he said.

“Going into League One has to be the lowest point in our history, and in parts it’s also been a difficult period for the Supporters Club. The Supporters Club’s been part of my life for many years and it’s made me a lot of great friends.”

Following his nomination by the Football League, Beeton was filmed by the BBC during Leeds’ 5-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers at Elland Road last weekend. “They pick their games,” he joked. “I suffered it as well as I could.”

The cameraman watching him took the risk of setting Beeton up with a microphone for the entire, depressing match.

The Football League is lucky that one of United’s longest-serving supporters is also one of their most mild-mannered.

Gaetano Berardi

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