Football club owners, even the most volatile, are never so keen to sack winning managers.
Brian McDermott was nothing of the sort on the night when Massimo Cellino gave him an invalid P45 but he and Cellino will meet again this week with more to keep the Italian happy.
Cellino is not officially Leeds United’s owner but the lie of the land and the way McDermott speaks of him is a sure sign that his £25m takeover is a matter of days away.
The Italian will be present at tomorrow’s game against Brighton, ready for a Football League hearing the following morning. Ticks in the right boxes will give McDermott a new boss by the end of the week.
He has contemplated that scenario for the best part of a month, and more than ever in the past 10 days.
It is apparent too that he is devoting more time to thinking about the task of working productively with Cellino than he is to the possibility of someone else buying the club.
“What happened to me was a set of circumstances,” he said after a win at Yeovil Town on Saturday. “I’ve got no reason to bad-mouth anybody.”
He has the perfect reason to bad-mouth Cellino, the man who sacked him without authority on transfer deadline day, but McDermott is a diplomat and a pragmatist. Rebellion at this stage would end one way and he is not inclined to talk himself out of a job he wants to keep. In the spirit of football’s finest traditions, he would prefer his neck to depend on results.
On Friday he spoke at length to Gianluca Festa, extending goodwill to the former Middlesbrough defender who was involved in a brash attempt by Cellino to place him on McDermott’s bench for a 1-1 draw with Ipswich last month. If United’s manager feels threatened then he is keeping his enemies sweet and keeping them close. Football, in any case, is giving him more defence than he had when Cellino first tried to oust him on January 31.
The irony of recent, unflattering events at Elland Road – staggering even by the standards of a club as unfortunate as Leeds – is that their unravelling season has recovered in the meantime. United turned over Huddersfield Town while their board and McDermott were smoothing over Cellino’s attempt to dismiss him, and with McDermott back on the touchline at a wet and windy Yeovil, a second straight win followed. Beat Brighton tomorrow and he and Cellino will spend dinner discussing a gap of two points to the Championship play-offs.
“It’s never been any different for a football manager,” McDermott said. “You can talk as much as you like about off-field stuff but the only thing that matters for a manager is winning games and getting results. If you win games and get results, things always feel a little bit easier.
“The common ground between us is that a new owner will want to take Leeds United back to where we belong. I also want to take Leeds United back to where we belong. So there’s some common ground.
“But any relationship has to be built. It doesn’t just happen. We’ll see what happens in the next two weeks or so and then we’ll go from there. From his point of view, every owner has got the choice to make whatever decision he wants to make. All I can do is the best I possibly can, day in, day out. That never changes.”
Wet and windy was a flattering description of Huish Park on Saturday. The ferocious wind was man-of-the-match and the rain would have stripped paint; conditions unlike any Cellino is used to in Sardinia or Miami. “It was very, very difficult,” McDermott said. “You couldn’t get out of your own half.”
The gale from one end of the pitch to the other created a game in which the club who scored most often with the wind were destined to win it.
Yeovil led by a goal at half-time but were pressed back from there on in a 45-minute period when Leeds, regardless of their advantage, managed the contest skillfully by playing at Yeovil’s end and allowing extended pressure to tell.
It told soon enough with a sweet finish 35 seconds into the second half from McDermott’s guardian angel, Ross McCormack, and a wind-assisted free-kick from Stephen Warnock shortly after the hour won the game. Yeovil by then were lamenting their inability to make more of the conditions and the struggling to get close enough to Paddy Kenny to threaten an equaliser.
“We made mistakes against the wind that they didn’t make,” said Yeovil’s manager, Gary Johnson afterwards.
They also made one telling one with the wind behind them – Ishmael Miller hacking a reckless penalty high over the crossbar two minutes before the interval with Johnson’s side already a goal to the good.
“I was relieved that it was 1-0 because I felt we were going to score,” McDermott said. “If you’ve got Ross McCormack, you know you’re going to score.”
Miller had shown a sharper finish on 32 minutes, running free of Rudy Austin and rising to head John Lundstram’s corner past Kenny, but his wasteful shot after Sam Byram slid in and clipped the heels of Kevin Dawson inside United’s box had more influence on the result.
The wind outwitted Yeovil at the first time of asking after the interval as Marek Stech’s clearance hung in the breeze and then arced back towards his box, creating a chance which McCormack whipped brilliantly around him from 20 yards.
The goalkeeper was at fault again 21 minutes later, taking a couple of steps off his line as Warnock hung a distant free-kick high in the air.
The wind caught it kindly and pulled the ball down under Stech’s crossbar.
“Marek’s been a great goalkeeper but for him I’d put them down as two mistakes,” Johnson said.
“We’d said in the dressing room not to let that missed penalty affect us.”
But affect them it did and the storms that have devastated parts of Somerset did likewise to Yeovil’s attempt to salvage a point from the game.
Salvaging is not their forte. Leeds had the chances, all of which which went begging, but the conviction of their pressure and patience pleased McDermott.
It might also have registered with United’s incoming owner.
“All I know about Mr Cellino is that he loves football,” McDermott said.
“He loves his football.
“He wants his teams to do well, and all the history he has – there’s nothing I can do about that.
“As long as we’ve got common ground, we’ve got a chance of being a major force.”
Yeovil Town: Stech, Ayling, Webster, Duffy, McAllister, Dawson (Lawrence 83), Edwards, Lundstram (Hayter 89), Grant (Morgan 83), Miller, Moore. Subs (not used): Dunn, Foley, Lanzoni, Twumasi.