Elland Road is not the only ground where thoughts of the summer weigh heavily. For Sheffield Wednesday the coming close season will count – and count for little unless they get it right.
Leeds United got what they wanted at Hillsborough – an overdue win and redemption for their annihilation at the same stadium last year – but they and Wednesday are both gazing ahead; Wednesday with a new owner and Leeds with an incumbent steward who will be retake control of the club a week today.
If Massimo Cellino had been in Sheffield, and it is not yet known if the Football League will grant permission for him to attend the last game of the season against Rotherham United, he would have taken comfort from the fact that pound-for-pound, Wednesday have no more to work with than Leeds this summer. And on the evidence of a pleasing second half, arguably less.
He would have seen too how the club’s players stood up for their head coach, prising out a win at a stage of the season where five straight losses and the fragility of Neil Redfearn’s job might have encouraged every man to fend for himself. The crowd were with Redfearn again but the crowd have been with him for a while. Only deaf ears can fail to register that.
In short, the frustration was all Wednesday’s as they finished Saturday’s game with five strikers on the pitch and not a single idea about how to break open Leeds’ defence.
Stuart Gray’s squad is devoid of goals and the whole of the Championship knows it but their blunt prodding was excruciating as United recovered from a first-half penalty and picked Wednesday off.
Leeds made the most of the moment at full-time, massed in celebration at the Leppings Lane end, but the result which matters depends on what comes next. As Redfearn admitted, an awful lot of clubs are planning for next season and planning as he speaks. Sheffield Wednesday are one of them. He will look for decisive movement from Cellino – with his own position and other matters – when the Italian’s ban as owner of United ends next week.
There is little more that Redfearn can say about his contract. It ends shortly and the extension of it depends entirely on the tone and spirit of discussions between him and Cellino, but his message to Leeds was that time is of the essence.
“If you’re going to plan and put things in place, the idea of planning is to do things early,” Redfearn said. “You should try and get things in place early on.
“Everyone else is going through the same process. Leeds United aren’t on their own. The rest of the sides in the Championship are planning for next season and planning to get promoted. We’ve got to be ahead of them. In the name of planning and preparing, it (a decision on his future) has got to be done early.
“I’ve got training next week, then the game against Rotherham, and then I’ve got to sit down with the owner and see what he wants to do. I’ve got to have a good think about what I want to do, too.
“I want to be at Leeds United and be successful. I don’t want to be at Leeds United and be a mid-table side or a side who are fighting relegation every year. I want to get this side out of this division. Because it’s good enough.”
It is patently not good enough as it stands but Saturday reminded everyone of the talent that Leeds could build around with well-targeted transfers. It could be said, also, that the relationship between the current team and United’s support is, in the main, tighter and healthier than it was a year ago when Brian McDermott was counting down the days to the end of his tenure as manager. The win at Hillsborough in a mid-table derby counted for nothing in a competitive sense but when it came, it felt like it mattered.
Steve Morison won it with a 72nd-minute finish, his second in two games after months and months spent scratching around for a goal. The joke afterwards was that he was coming into form at the perfect time but Morison has been an under-appreciated part of United’s season; involved in the better stages of it and a reliable figure at the front of a formation which worked when it needed to.
The striker took two attempts to beat Keiren Westwood, drawing a save from the Wednesday goalkeeper before stabbing the rebound into a badly-guarded net, but the goal was coming. Leeds were bringing Gray’s side onto them, waiting for any chance to counter-attack at pace. Sam Byram, who conceded the penalty before half-time, made the winning goal by tearing over the halfway line and picking out Morison when a crossfield pass to Charlie Taylor looked more obvious.
“I thought we were the better side even at 1-0 down,” Redfearn said. “We got in front of goal half-a-dozen times when perhaps we should have scored.
“We spoke at half-time about raising our game a little bit. We needed to step it up and we started getting about them. They started to crack.”
Wednesday’s defence is renowned as one of the best in the Championship but Leeds did not find it in that state. Alex Mowatt should have scored in the first minute, played in by the excellent Byram but denied by the legs of Westwood, and they kept the game goalless for half an hour by choosing the wrong passes and overlooking unmarked players.
Wednesday pressed in periods but their goal on 36 minutes came from a cheap penalty, conceded when Byram tripped Lloyd Isgrove as the forward tried to retrieve a corner. The decision was tight and debatable and both Redfearn and Sol Bamba ranted at referee Robert Madley, Bamba to the brink of a red card. Replays showed later that the decision was as good as difficult penalty calls get and Chris Maguire converted from the spot.
Redfearn was as upset when Jeremy Helan’s earlier sliding tackle took out Byram on the very edge of Wednesday’s area. “I thought ours was a penalty and I thought there’s wasn’t,” he said. “But then I looked on the video at half-time and realised I got both wrong. The referee got both right, to the point where I collared him in the tunnel and apologised to him. I got a little bit irate.”
Gray claimed Wednesday were worth their advantage at the interval but Maguire’s strike was a reward for a very ordinary half. Leeds played further up the pitch after the restart and turned the game through Charlie Taylor’s equaliser on 57 minutes.
There was nothing magical about the build-up – a free-kick from Murphy which hit the wall, bundled on by Morison and tapped in by Taylor – but it asked an awkward question of Wednesday’s strikers. Nothing in the Owls’ performance suggested a second goal was coming and even after Morison’s winner, both Taylor and Rodolph Austin could have killed Wednesday off in the dying minutes. The home crowd struggled to swallow what they were watching.
They, naturally, yearn for better from an owner who has already committed £1m to replacing an awful pitch at Hillsborough. Redfearn’s ambition at this stage is simply that Leeds find a way to move forward from here.
“I’m hoping that what’s been put in place is utilised, whether I’m here or not,” he said. “That’s the idea. All along the message from the owner was that I was building. We’ve kept the side in this division and then some. We’ve made strides forward in a difficult season. If we can harness that and add players to it, it could get us out of this division.”