Work Ethic: Coach David Hockaday has been pleased with the way the players have ‘bought into’ the squad’s new way of working. Leon Wobschall reports.
IT IS not how you start, but how you finish. Sentiments that usually apply in terms of the success or failure of a league campaign. But also ones that can also carry weight in regards to pre-season.
Sparring before the real stuff, yes, but for Whites fans who attended Leeds United’s only friendly on home soil against Dundee United on Saturday, it was about finding a reason or two to believe seven days from a new league season.
David Hockaday will be savvy enough to appreciate that many United fans were not exactly enamoured with his appointment. The only way he can win them over is by tangible results and performances on the pitch and in that regard, the 2-0 win over their weekend visitors was a step in the right direction.
A double-whammy of a loss and low-key display, in his first home game in the United dug-out and cynics who scoffed at Hockaday’s appointment would have been provided with further fuel.
While he has plenty to do to win over the doubters, he helped his cause on Saturday.
The 56-year-old was not jumping through hoops after the game, but there was a justifiable degree of satisfaction from what he witnessed, with the team and work ethic he has been banging on about consistently since being appointed as head coach in clear evidence.
Plenty of graft and hunting down of the ball when not in possession was a noticeable trait embodied in the likes of Steve Morison, whose chase back in the first half to make a clearance in front of the Kop was evidence of just what Hockaday has been drumming into his charges at Thorp Arch.
It was proof of what Hockaday’s side’s are all about with some sort of a base to build from with the head coach able to claim that incremental progress has been made over the past month, with plenty more to do, mind.
Hockaday said: “We are getting better. Day one, it was a horror show and day two, not so much. We’re at a stage where now when we are training, if a team has not got the ball, they have got to work damned hard to get the ball back.
“We have come a long way, but have a long way to go and are by no means the finished article. We have a lot of work to do, but that is what we are here for.
“This is a team game. Every game, we play as a team and work as a team. We are going to get better with our decision-making and passing.
“But if we go out and put in an honest shift every game, we will be hard to play against. With the quality I also believe the players have and if we get better and keep improving, then we might just surprise a few people.
“I believe that the players have got more quality than even they believe and we are getting better and better. There’s loads still to work on, but we will put in an honest shift and showed that as a team in tracking back and working hard and tackling on Saturday. All the essentials that a good team needs.”
Marco Silvestri, Tommaso Bianchi, Souleymane Doukara and Gaetano Berardi all made their home bows and as first dates go, it could definitely be constituted as a success.
Big names they may not be, but all fitted into the team fabric and dovetailed well enough with their new colleagues to provide hope.
Alongside a work ethic, the three outfield players also displayed vestiges of quality and given time and increased familiarity with their team-mates, that will only improve, according to Hockaday.
He said: “We have not bought in any big-name players yet – and whether that will happen or not, I don’t know.
“But I think the Leeds fans recognise what is happening, what we are trying to do and the way we are trying to do it.
“The Leeds fans are knowledgeable and know what is going on and what we have got. We have not gone and got some big-name players and are working with what we have got.
“But what we have got is not a negative. We have some good players and they are getting better and better. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic.
“What we have to do is earn respect; nobody gives you it. All of the players must show their qualities, be brave on the ball and impose their personality on the game. If we do that, the fans will have you.
“If you make a mistake and it’s an honest mistake and you try and run back and tackle, then any fans will support you.
“At the moment, we are looking reasonably strong. But I want us to be really strong and incredibly competitive. We will keep on endeavouring to do that until such time as we feel we are. But we will never be there!”
“I believe in these players probably more than they do at the moment. If you saw them last year, they played a certain way. Now we are saying, get it down and be brave on the ball.
“They showed some great combination play on Saturday and when you do that, you get the ball into the forwards from a midfield area rather than defensively. Then you can start picking your passes.
“We got Doukara more involved and he was a handful. He is big, strong and getting quicker all the time. That worked really well on Saturday.”
Analysing pre-season in the round, he added: “Given that we didn’t have any friendlies when I came, I have got to be happy to a degree. It could have been better if we had got at least one more game in to give us that little bit more edge, but I have got to be pleased.
“Everybody out there has put a claim in for the shirt. I write the team names down, but I don’t actually ‘pick’ the team as their form in training as well as in games does.
“I think people have to appreciate that just as someone might have had a great game on Saturday, they may look really flat and be carrying something in the week and then that is not good enough. You cannot just switch it on and off.
“We will have a look in the week and go as strong as we can for Millwall.”