This season will end soon enough, the only small mercy Leeds United can count on.
Quite when the club’s purgatory will end is impossible to say but no time soon if the first 48 hours of this week are anything to go by.
Massimo Cellino felt the crack of the whip on Monday morning, his takeover rejected by the board of the Football League, and Brian McDermott took the lashes in Bournemouth last night as his squad sold him down the river with a spineless defeat which no manager could explain, less still defend.
United’s manager has reflected on so many beatings this year that he can only conclude that something is terminally wrong, not merely at the very top of the club but among his own dressing room.
If the players were playing for him at Dean Court, their body language and application during a pitiful first hour looked more like mass desertion.
One goal down after 67 seconds and three adrift after 30 minutes, they were never in the game and barely on the pitch.
These are technically two mid-table clubs with a few weeks of dead rubbers ahead of them but Bournemouth’s version of average was vastly superior to United’s.
Granted, there is no turmoil at Dean Court and no mutiny in the stands but the squad at Leeds has caved in on itself in 2014.
Fifth before Christmas, their form since then merits relegation or a scramble to avoid it. McDermott must wonder how it came to this, and so quickly.
United’s death on the south coast was quick last night.
Yann Kermorgant converted a tap-in with almost the first chance of the match and Lewis Grabban scored twice from close range in quick succession.
You knew the game was up when the away end began chanting ‘we might be s**t but we still love Leeds’ before half-time – one of those last-scrap-of-dignity chants which come on evenings so bad.
Kermorgant’s second goal worsened the scoreline early in the second half and McCormack’s 27th of the season did little to soften it.
Leeds have waded through poor seasons before but the past few months have been unique in the number of capitulations and outright massacres suffered by McDermott’s squad.
Even the woeful 2006-07 term, the year when Leeds were relegated to League One, the squad were largely immune to severe embarrassment game-to-game. At present it is customary to prepare for it.
They would call this one of those weeks at Leeds if most other weeks were any different.
Between the blockade of Cellino’s takeover, the recall of Connor Wickham by Sunderland and Lee Peltier’s 10-minute affair with Nottingham Forest, McDermott had distractions all around him.
Minus Wickham, United’s manager trusted an old faithful of his and played Noel Hunt on the left wing, a novel approach in a season which has seen a few.
There were alternatives available to McDermott: Cameron Stewart and Aidan White, involved for the first time in months.
Lewis Walters, the young academy forward, made an appearance on the bench but did not deserve to be blooded in such a debacle.
The nod went Hunt’s way, just days after McDermott claimed that the inexperience of his team was a factor in United’s unrewarding results. All Hunt’s selection did was give Simon Francis the run of the right and four assists.
Another demoralising defeat was in the post after 60 seconds as Leeds gave way at the second time of asking.
Jack Butland got a hand to Marc Pugh’s shot after United made a meal of the kick-off but he was beaten when Kermorgant got a touch to Francis’ volley a yard from goal.
Francis’ arrival outside the box caught McDermott’s defence with their backs turned, unaware of his arrival.
More often than not in the opening exchanges, United’s backline were turned towards their own goal as Bournemouth switched the ball from side to side and attacked space around Butland’s box.
Grabban hacked a shot over the crossbar from 18 yards and made a nuisance of himself at every opportunity.
There was a careful style about Bournemouth, stemming from the safety of a mid-table position minus any of the internal stress bothering Leeds.
Before long, United were staring down the barrel of another thrashing Francis was the instigator again, tearing down the right wing in the 18th minute and cutting the ball back to Grabban who placed a neat side-footed finish past a painfully exposed Butland.
There was a World Cup place at stake when the goalkeeper joined Leeds on loan a month ago; it is hardly worth him crossing his fingers now.
Throughout Elland Road, all hope is gone – or suspended at best.
The takeover looks shot, the season is blown and the squad are losing composure and respect.
These have been hard months for Leeds but last night bordered on a complete no-show, an insult to the 1,300 who travelled to fill the away end.
They were incandescent when Bournemouth scored for a third time on the half hour.
Francis, the former Bradford City full-back, was involved again, advanced and prominent in a way that United’s wide players never were.
His clever backheel ran to Grabban who sized up Butland and beat him with his left foot.
A minute later, Kermorgant rattled the post with a shot from inside the box. It was cricket-score territory with Leeds taking the bat to their head.
There was nothing resembling a chance from United before half-time; nothing for Bournemouth goalkeeper Lee Camp to deal with, other than the odd hanging corner.
McDermott could have replaced 11 players at half-time but replaced none, perhaps leaving his starting line-up to find a way out of their own hole.
It grew deeper on 52 minutes when Kermorgant rose to head home Francis’ free-kick – both men free and unmarked – and the rest of the game passed in a meaningless flash.
Smith almost nodded a McCormack free-kick into Bournemouth’s net but could not get a touch, and striker McCormack pinched a goal in the 70th minute when a mistake let him run clear and slip the ball to the right of Camp.
The captain’s instinctive reaction was to run to the away end and bow down to them, the innocent bystanders in all this mess.