Leeds United: Play-offs a tall order, says Noel Whelan
BRIAN McDERMOTT and Massimo Cellino may share a love of rock music, but hitting the right notes together in the quest to take Leeds United up the footballing charts is all that matters to Whites supporters.
Among that multitude is Noel Whelan, someone with a special connection to the club and thankful he got the chance to represent his hometown side who he supported as a boy – and still does today.
Watching his former club do battle with another of the teams he represented – Middlesbrough – in a lacklustre weekend stalemate, he would have been entitled to think just how much each have to do to return to the Premier League stage they once graced.
Whelan is not yet giving up the play-off ghost for United this season, but acknowledges it is the tallest of orders and might be destined for another day, realistically.
What he is convinced about is that McDermott is the right man for United and someone who, with all the requisite tools at his disposal and the side-show behind the scenes remedied, can make real things happen.
Long-term, it remains to be seen if prospective new owner Cellino shares his faith, despite public utterances about wanting to work with McDermott.
These, lest we forget, arrived after a disastrous episode which saw McDermott axed at his behest on a crazy night of January 31 before being ‘unsacked’ in a truly shameful episode.
But if recent statements mean anything, both are keen to draw a line in the sand under that episode and, as it stands, they look United’s best bet.
Whelan said: “When Brian came in, I thought he was a good appointment. He did very well at Reading and plays the right style of football and is a good man and person around the club and can get the best out of players. Look at Ross McCormack – if you see how he’s done, Brian must be doing something right
“He started off very well and Leeds were up there. But the Championship is such a close league and hard to get out of.
“He’s had a rough ride with everything that has happened off the pitch and I feel sorry for him and for his coaching staff and players for what they have had to put up with.
“But hopefully, that stuff can be pushed to the background and we can focus for the rest of the season and the saga can get sorted and remain in the background.
“We need stability on and off the field. It makes a difference when you have them both together and they are running smoothly.
“If he (Cellino) is going to put money into the club and give a little bit back to the fans, that’s when we need.
“Leeds are a giant club and we are waiting for it to get back to its glory days, that’s what everybody wants – to go to games watching Liverpool and Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea at Elland Road.
“We attract 25,000 in the Championship at every home game and take our full allocations everywhere. You don’t get fans better than that.
“We just want to see positives now.”
Leeds find themselves pretty much in the exact same position as they were last season, cast in the guise as play-off wanabees rather than bonafide contenders.
On the evidence of Saturday’s tepid performance at Teesside, their aspirations of reaching the top-six don’t look rosy, with the likes of Wigan increasingly looking like the ones who will bloom in the pivotal spring, with others such as Blackburn hoping for a say.
For Leeds to propel themselves firmly into the mix in the last 15 games, they require a few more ‘game-changers’ according to Whelan, with United showing a serious over-reliance on their main man Ross McCormack.
The Scot’s total of 22 Championship goals is just over a half of Leeds total amount of 43 so far in 2013-14, with another telling statistic about how much the club are indebted to McCormack being that they have only won one league game in which he hasn’t scored in so far this season.
Whelan said: “A lot of pressure is on Ross’ shoulders. He’s taken the captain’s armband and done us proud and conducted himself in a professional manner and worn the shirt and put in 100 per cent. Fair play to him.
“But one player in the side is not enough to do that every week. We need more people chipping in.
“On the pitch, we need some more players with flair and some game-changers. They are the ones who win you the big games. You need workers, but also those who win you games.
“Last season was a rebuilding process, as was the season before and this season should have been the time when we were really pushing for it.
“On the face of it, it looks like it will be put back a year really now, as you are not going to get the players in you need for the long-term. You want the quality players there for four or five years to build the team around.
“But I wouldn’t discount Leeds yet and with this division, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were a few shocks from now until the end of the season.
“Leeds can’t look too far ahead, but if they get some consistency and do things nice and quietly and do their jobs each week, you never know. Momentum and confidence is massive.
“Look at Burnley. They have not got any superstars by a long shot, but they are organised, focused and work hard and have shown consistency and that’s the name of the game. If you keep grinding out the results and wins, you have got a hell of a chance. They have a group of winners in there.
“But if we don’t do it this year, it’s not the end of the world. Let’s get the off-the-field situation sorted and then everything else can fall into place and that Brian can get that chance as well.”