A caretaker Neil Redfearn might be but Leeds United’s players are not selling him short. A new broom will attack their dressing room soon but in the meantime, the next man’s stand-in is being treated with all the respect he deserves.
The job of head coach is not destined for Redfearn and who knows if United’s academy boss ever wanted the stress or the insecurity but he is seeing Leeds through the interim with stoic resistance.
Unbeaten in three games in spite of everything and in contrast to the record of the coach whose sacking brought him to the touchline in the first place.
Leeds have taken seven points since David Hockaday’s dismissal and as much as their run does not change the need concerted movement off the pitch, Redfearn is holding the club together on it.
Massimo Cellino should be grateful for that. The Italian plan is not promotion at the first attempt but Cellino would like his maiden year in England to be calm and comfortable.
United could scarcely afford to lose the second month of the season as they almost lost the first and their form has turned for the better, however dramatically and however frantically.
A victory at Bournemouth last night – a venue where Leeds once went to town in every sense – required another frantic second-half push but the points when they came were earned and deserved.
No wonder that Cellino wants Hockaday’s replacement to keep Redfearn sweet and keep him close.
Hockaday had been out of a job for fully three weeks and a decision on his successor cannot be delayed forever but Cellino will not mind the status quo continuing for as long as Redfearn keeps the points coming. Some surety would help United to properly click. For now, they are ticking over tidily.
Their win at Dean Court was reminiscent of their draw at Birmingham City: tepid for 45 minutes but purposeful, aggressive and overwhelming in the second.
Alex Mowatt dug a point out of Saturday’s visit to St Andrews but was injured yesterday and in his absence, Souleymane Doukara, Giuseppe Bellusci and Mirco Antenucci stepped up to turn the game with Bournemouth on its head, Bellusci with a late and brilliant free-kick.
The final scoreline defied a desperately slow start and a goal scored in the opening exchanges by Andrew Surman, the former Norwich City midfielder, but United’s fightback took Leeds to a third win of the season and 13th in the league table.
It is a more useful bargaining chip for any coach who Cellino sits down to speak with.
Cellino’s thought-process has gone far enough to rule Redfearn out of contention for the head coach’s post, and people around the Italian say he knows who he wants to take the job on.
Alex Sabella, the former Argentina coach who graced Elland Road in the early 1980s, seemed to imply that he wanted it – quoted as saying he had “unfinished business” at Leeds – but the link to him was described as a “red herring”.
A more likely option is Darko Milanic, the Slovenian coach of Austrian side Sturm Graz. Cellino is understood to have identified Milanic as a potential and capable candidate after failing to tie down Oscar Garcia at the start of the international break.
Milanic has been Sturm Graz’s boss for the past year having previously coached Maribor for a successful, trophy-laden spell, but the Austrian club said last night that there had been “no contact” from Cellino about his availability. They did not say whether they would be willing to talk.
Cellino spoke about the vacancy yesterday but only to say that opportunistic agents trying to maneuver their clients into position would be disappointed and ignored.
Redfearn has followed his own mind for the past three games and he kept the core of his team intact at Dean Court, replacing Mowatt and dropping Casper Sloth on the strength of the last half-hour in Birmingham on Saturday, a period when Doukara and Rodolph Austin gave United a shot in the arm.
Intensity was Redfearn’s overwhelming requirement at Bournemouth, a ground where Leeds took a severe and humiliating beating during the run-in last season.
Given freedom to play, Bournemouth were slick and ruthless after 4-0 up inside 51 minutes. That game ended a manic 48 hours in which the Football League officially moved to block Cellino’s takeover.
Last night’s contest threatened to stoop to that level as Leeds walked into it with the same fragile attitude. Bournemouth had every second of the opening few minutes and scored after six as an unmarked Andrew Surman curled a neat shot around Marco Silvestri from 20 yards.
Bournemouth’s attitude kept Leeds penned in their half for 20 minutes and moments of light relief were few.
Antenucci turned the ball past Lee Camp in Bournemouth’s goal but a while after Doukara’s run had brought an offside flag, and Silvestri intervened again to flick a drive from Matt Ritchie over his crossbar. That chance succeeded in waking Leeds up but only for a time.
Silvestri was dragged back into proceedings in the 25th minute, smothering the ball at Yann Kermorgant’s feet after the striker broke through with the help of a dubious challenge on Jason Pearce, and United’s chances came on the counter-attack as Eddie Howe’s side played with a high line and players up the pitch. Tommaso Bianchi’s high, hopeful attempt 10 minutes before half-time was at least the product of some meaningful pressure.
More came after the interval as an unchanged line-up started to make Bournemouth work. Camp was untested initially – the experience of many goalkeeper who have faced Leeds this season – but the minutes no longer ticked by with a sense of inevitability. Doukara and Austin began to force the pace as they had at St Andrews and Doukara brought the game level with a fine finish on 67 minutes.
The Frenchman timed his run nicely to take the ball in his stride and steady himself 12 yards from goal before pinging a low shot across Camp and into his net. Doukara had barely recovered from his celebration by a corner flag when Sharp broke away, turned his marker inside out and dragged a scuffed effort inches wide.
Bellusci snatched the lead on 82 minutes by crashing a free-kick off the underside of Camp’s bar and Antenucci settled the game at the very end of normal time when he sprinted onto a through ball, left Bournemouth’s defence trailing behind him and slipped the ball past an exposed and apologetic keeper.
Game over, game won. Hockaday’s replacement suddenly has an act to follow.