David Prutton: Leeds United can learn from Rowett's blueprint at Derby
Football players, or most of them, are optimistic animals. You have to be to survive the ups and downs that come in a season.
I heard Pablo Hernandez say on Tuesday that 10 wins from 14 games would get Leeds United into the play-offs and it reminded me that in a player’s head, it’s never over until it’s over.
You owe your club that attitude and if negativity seeps into a dressing room then you really are going nowhere, but from the outside it’s easier to apply some realism.
In looking for a run like that you’re calling on reserves of performance and strength which you haven’t been showing, or not recently. It’s a problem for sides in a relegation fight too. To put it plainly, if Leeds were capable of winning 10 games in 14 then they wouldn’t need a streak like that in the first place.
Without being defeatist – because unlikely things do happen and many of us thought Leeds were locked into the play-offs this time last year – I see the next couple of months as a prime opportunity for Paul Heckingbottom to find his feet at Elland Road.
There was a manager in the opposite dug-out to him at Pride Park on Wednesday who had the same opportunity last season. Gary Rowett got the Derby County job in March, at a time when Derby were off the pace, and I’d imagine that the chance to get inside the door and have a look around without results weighing too heavily on him was an absolute godsend.
Gary’s a talented manager, that’s the first thing to say, but Derby’s position in the league suggests he went into last summer with a very clear idea of what needed to happen.
If Leeds don’t make the play-offs, then Paul needs to gain the same insight: what’s working, what’s going wrong, whose face fits and whose face doesn’t. Get your head around that and the path in front of you must look an awful lot clearer.
What helped at Derby, I think, was that Gary was allowed not only to come up with his ideas but to implement them fully. He had the money to sign Curtis Davies, Tom Huddlestone, Tom Lawrence, Joe Ledley and latterly Cameron Jerome.
Those are top-end signings in the Championship and Derby have been a top-end club since August. However the season ends for them, I don’t imagine we’ll hear Gary complaining about a failure by the club to back him.
At Leeds, Paul needs the same support. I’m not saying he should have sole responsibility for transfers because Leeds, with Victor Orta as director of football, don’t work like that anymore and Paul said himself that he lacked the right infrastructure for recruitment at Barnsley, but I’m absolutely sure he needs to lead on signings to some degree.
He’s here now, he’s got 13 more games and if it’s another season in the Championship to come then you’d expect him to know what’s necessary.
Listen to him, take up his plan and run with it.
There seems to be a certain amount of negativity around Leeds, which I know comes directly from poor results, but I don’t see this as an unsuccessful season so far.
I just couldn’t call it anything more than transitional. A new regime have settled in and we’ve seen teething problems.
To my mind certain things have to change if the team and the squad are to improve significantly. Watching the draw at Derby on Wednesday night, nothing stood out more than the defence.
It’s all over the place and when I think about how solid Leeds were last season, that feels like the biggest backwards step.
It’s not just about ability. It’s about responsibility too.
When the ball was pumped into their box at the death, who in there stepped forward and said ‘I’m going to make sure I smash this 40 yards up the pitch’?
Where was the goalkeeper coming and cleaning three or four players out?
Was there enough communication and enough of a will to see Derby off at a time in the game when, let’s be fair, the only plan of attack was to pump the ball into the penalty area?
As the equaliser went in, I noticed the number of empty seats behind the goal.
Derby’s crowd, in part anyway, had already given up.
It makes you feel that this squad at Leeds are too prone to beating themselves and, as a way of remedying their form, that is a good place to start.
Upcoming Sky-televised Championship fixtures: Tonight: Hull City v Sheffield United (7.45pm).
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