Wigan Athletic 1 Leeds United 0: Another loss but story was off the field

Ross McCormack in action against Wigan.
Ross McCormack in action against Wigan.
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A mobile phone rang halfway through Brian McDermott’s press conference, disturbing him in full flow. “That’ll be Massimo,” he joked. You’ve got a new eight-year contract, the guilty party replied. “Oh. I had a seven-year one last week,” McDermott said.

It will be like that with Massimo Cellino – a frenetic, impulsive lifestyle where the Italian says what he thinks and does what he wants – but Leeds United’s manager can deal with those traits when the time comes.

On Saturday he was able to raise a smile, the picture of a man freed from three months of dark, solitary confinement.

McDermott did not know the outcome of Cellino’s appeal against the Football League when he appeared to discuss United’s 1-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic but news of Cellino’s victory had spread like wildfire around him, and he realised quickly that a line had been drawn.

He looked pleased and content, even if the start of Cellino’s reign as owner of Leeds might some day soon be fatal for him.

That decision is unequivocally Cellino’s with his takeover of United free of any obstacles, and McDermott accepts that he will be judged.

After so many defeats in the intervening weeks, he is bound to be.

“I welcome the stability of a man who’s got clout and I’ve spoken to him on a number of occasions,” McDermott said.

“For me, the most important thing is not the position of the manager or any individual player. It’s Leeds United Football Club going forward.

“I can work with Massimo, definitely, but it’s the prerogative of any owner to choose the manager he wants and I understand that.

“We’ll see what happens. But when I’m not manager, I’ll come back and support Leeds United. It’s a fantastic club and I’m a Leeds fan now.”

It sounded like an amicable goodbye but McDermott has not reached that point yet. His job offers little security as it has since Cellino tried to sack him in January – a controversy they have long since smoothed over – but United’s season is finished and games like Saturday’s have lost all meaning against the backdrop of Cellino’s bloody refusal to give Leeds up.

Much as the next six matches will feel like an audition for McDermott, the future for him will come down to what his Italian owner feels in his gut.

McDermott’s view is that he has spent too long speculating about what will happen to him, his job or the club in general.

Those questions can now be deferred to a president above him who will quickly fill the vacuum of authority at Elland Road.

“It’s a weight off my shoulders in as much as I don’t have to front up at every press conference and talk about the ownership,” McDermott said.

“That’s all I’ve been doing for three months.

“I’ve never ducked an interview, I’ve done every one, and I’ve tried to the best of my ability to answer questions as honestly as I can. It’ll be nice to talk about the next game, how we’re going to get some points and where we see ourselves going as a football team. Because that’s my job.”

The next game is Watford away tomorrow, at the end of which Leeds will most likely be mathematically divorced from the play-offs.

They are closer than they should be to the last relegation place but under no real threat unless McDermott fails to eke a point or two out of the final month of the season.

Cellino did not go to the DW Stadium on Saturday. None of United’s directors did. He was in Sardinia, awaiting a verdict from his appeal which began to filter through in the hour after Wigan rode their own mediocrity to subject Leeds to another defeat, their seventh in eight games.

Uwe Rosler, Wigan’s manager, criticised his own decision to field a team largely unchanged from a midweek draw with Leicester City, and the legs of his players looked empty. United were in the game either side of the only goal, scored by Martyn Waghorn after 33 minutes, and pressed Wigan back throughout the second half.

In amongst the beatings Leeds have taken, McDermott has seen so many contest like this – close enough to be won but often lost to absence of players good enough to force the issue.

It is Ross McCormack or bust for Leeds and struggling with illness and behind a front two of Matt Smith and Noel Hunt, the Scotland international became peripheral.

“He was sick three times during the game,” McDermott said. “He really wasn’t well.

“But he can play that role or he can play up front, it’s not a problem for him.

“Of course he’s scored a lot of goals further forward but he can do either role because he’s a top player.

“Overall I felt we deserved something from the game but we didn’t get the breaks and it was bitty. The referee blew his whistle a lot. But I’m not disappointed with the players. I thought they gave everything. I’m not having any negativity in the dressing room or around me.”

Waghorn scored with a helping hand from Jack Butland whose left glove failed to keep out a curling finish from 20 yards after James McArthur was tackled on the edge of United’s box. Butland took the blame for the error and the game was lost in that instant but Wigan seemed strangely uncomfortable.

The second half became a one-way episode as Smith headed wide, Tom Lees headed over, Michael Tonge brought a save from Ali Al-Habsi and McCormack dinked a delightful chip narrowly beyond the keeper’s far post.

You wonder what Cellino would have made of it. Or, indeed, what he makes of a club where players are still to be paid in full for March and the results fall well below his stated aims.

“There’s a lot to be done,” McDermott said. “You can talk about off-the-field stuff too. It’s a big job to be taking on.

“Do I feel he’s right for the club? That’s a time thing. You have to wait and see. But from what I know, he’s a leader and he’s got clout – financial clout.

“That’s something we haven’t had here for many, many years.” Leeds might just have it now.

Wigan Athletic: Al Habsi, Crainey, Gomez, McManaman (McClean 62), McArthur, Boyce, Powell (Collison 55), Ramis, Perch, Kiernan, Waghorn (Fortune 68). Subs (not used): Carson, Maloney, Barnett, Maynard.

Leeds United: Butland, Wootton, Lees, Pearce, Byram, Brown, Tonge, Warnock, McCormack, Smith, Hunt (Poleon 69). Subs (not used): Cairns, Mowatt, Zaliukas, Pugh, Murphy, Stewart.

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