Watford 3 Leeds United 0: Cellino’s revolution desperately needed

PIC: Bruce Rollinson
PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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Watford are England’s Italian model but as of today the club have company.

Two hundred miles north is an owner of the same nationality, intent on driving Leeds United forward at a quicker rate than the Pozzos’ revolution.

Massimo Cellino took in United’s effortless loss at Vicarage Road last night and was on the road in no time, chauffer-driven to Leeds where he will start stamping his name and authority today.

Things will be very different next time the Championship’s two Italian-owned teams meet and few beyond Cellino himself know how much United are about to change.

The Pozzo family were quick and decisive at Watford, removing Sean Dyche as manager within days of their takeover and using their foreign sides, Udinese and Granada, to bring the club’s squad up to strength.

Their first season in charge ended in the play-off final and their second has nearly ground to a halt. Cellino thinks two is all he needs to smash Leeds through the ceiling beneath the Premier League. Any longer will feel like failure to him.

His takeover of United was formally completed on Monday night after a meeting of the board of LUFC Holding Limited, the offshore firm used by Gulf Finance House to buy out Ken Bates in 2012.

What comes next is down to Cellino but it is late enough in the season for him to take Leeds – as a business and a club – by the throat and act as dramatically as the Pozzos did, without risking much. No excuses, no prisoners; it is Cellino’s mantra and his reputation.

This morning he will ask himself where best to start – on a set of accounts which showed a loss of almost £10m for the 2012-13 financial year yesterday, a hole that has grown deeper at Elland Road since then, or on a team who were beaten for the 20th time this season last night and folded without a peep.

No-one is safe and no-one ought to be.

Passengers will soon be thrown from the bus.

Cellino spoke to United’s manager, Brian McDermott, yesterday morning for the first time since winning his appeal against the Football League, and the 57-year-old has given everyone the impression that McDermott will survive longer than Dyche; perhaps until the end of the season with a view to convincing Cellino that he has more to offer.

Whether last night’s timid result brings a decision forward remains to be seen.

Private conversations between the pair have been amicable recently but comments by Cellino, particularly in the past few days, made it clear to McDermott that he has little leeway or scope for error if he expects to keep his job.

He came under Cellino’s direct gaze at Vicarage Road, the first league game the Italian has attended for over a month, and the viewing was not pleasant for either of them.

There was talk on Monday of Cellino looking to Gianfranco Zola – the Pozzos’ first choice as manager of Watford and latterly replaced by Beppe Sannino – if he and McDermott part company, though a mixed relationship with Zola would make that choice unlikely.

Whatever his thinking, McDermott looks less and less like the answer for Cellino. United played last night as if mass alterations are imminent.

Cellino and McDermott sat together on the away bench for a while before kick-off, discussing a game which went wrong from the outset.

McDermott reverted to a four-man defence having lost Sam Byram to a hamstring strain and looked for stability from a midfield diamond, but his team were picked open in the eighth minute after some steady probing from Watford.

Stephen Warnock threw his body in front of an early shot from Davide Faraoni after Almen Abdi worked space for himself on the right wing but Jack Butland had no-one to help him when Ikechi Anya appeared in the same position out wide, free from the attention of right-back Scott Wootton, and teed up Abdi for a simple header from six yards.

It was easy, basic and painfully unimpressive.

Those descriptions have applied to many of United’s results since Christmas.

How aware the players were of critical eyes on them in the directors’ box was difficult to say but their tentative football got them nowhere, in spite of ample possession.

Watford stood off a narrow midfield and put up the shutters on the edge of Manuel Almunia’s box. The former Arsenal goalkeeper hardly saw the ball before half-time.

He plucked a 50-yard lob from Ross McCormack out of the air on the half-hour, a moment which summed up United’s laboured performance.

The away end cheered ironically.

But 60 seconds later, Watford scored for a second time as Abdi hooked the ball to the far post and Anya ran into bury another free header.

Forty yards away, McDermott looked down and scribbled notes on a piece of paper. Others in the ground were already writing him off. His half-time team-talk went on far longer than Sannino’s and when his players finally appeared, Alex Mowatt was missing and Cameron Stewart took to the field. United’s best chance came within a minute as Dominic Poleon slipped a pass through to Noel Hunt and Hunt hammered the ball wide of Almunia’s near post, and Stewart soon tested the keepers handling with a shot from an angle but Watford’s comfort at the back was almost absolute. There was, at least, some guided effort in the early stages of the second half, distinguishing it from the first, but McDermott’s players embodied a team chasing a dead season and no obvious cause.

With 68 minutes gone, Troy Deeney walked through a defence which outnumbered him three to one and smashed the ball high into Jack Butland’s net.

Judgement is coming and when it does, it will touch more people than McDermott alone.

Winger Paul Anderson boosted Ipswich’s play-off hopes with an early belter to help his side claim a 2-0 win at lacklustre Huddersfield.

The visitors had already gone close twice through Daryl Murphy when Anderson curled in a beauty from the edge of the box after just six minutes.

Murphy, who also had other efforts in the first half, then doubled the lead on 33 minutes by poking home.

Ashley Barnes headed his second goal for Burnley early in the first half to edge the Lancashire club one step closer to automatic promotion as they won 1-0 at struggling Barnsley.

Samuel Saiz celebrates scoring the opening goal against Bristol City.

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