After all the talk and all the hype, the serious matter of Rotherham United’s visit to Elland Road ended in an argument about a car-parking pass.
Neil Redfearn has gone and Massimo Cellino is lying low at Leeds United but the poison between them lingers still.
Someone was bound to suffer yesterday and Redfearn made sure it wasn’t him. He and Steve Evans kept the peace at the final whistle as an ex-Leeds United head coach exchanged a quiet handshake with a former Rotherham United manager and walked off with a 1-0 win but Redfearn was unable to leave without being drawn into an old dispute.
Cellino, he claimed, had denied him permission to park at Elland Road. “Very childish,” he said of the man he fell out with during the summer and who he has not spoken to since his time as Leeds boss ended with bitter words in May. “He needs to grow up. But Paul Warne (Rotherham’s first-team coach) drove my car in for me so they’re not that clever.”
Leeds said afterwards that they had given Rotherham six passes, as they do with every away club. The allocation of those passes was down to the South Yorkshire club. It was a petty, trivial scenario which underlined the antipathy which exists between Redfearn and United’s owner six months on from their parting of ways. That relationship isn’t likely to heal.
Cellino – under a self-imposed ban from United’s games as his mooted plan to sell the club swings backwards and forwards – was not at Elland Road to see Redfearn bank the first win of his seven-game spell as Rotherham boss. The Italian would have been spitting feathers but Evans, Redfearn’s predecessor at the New York Stadium, was gracious, refusing to excuse the result against the Championship’s bottom club or deny that defeat to his old side had stung.
“Of course it hurts,” Evans said. “You take it twice as hard. I always take defeats in a bad way but we’ve lost to a club I served with real pride for three years.
“Neil’s got his first win and we’ll congratulate them and wish them good luck. I hope they win games, I really do, because I know what it took to get them (to the Championship), but we feel we contributed to them getting the points. I don’t think we got going.”
Evans saw no value in arguing about the game’s flashpoint: a 74th-minute incident in which Rotherham’s new signing, Leon Best, bloodied Gaetano Berardi’s nose with a snide elbow in the face. Berardi was incited and pushed Best to the floor. After a few seconds of scuffling, referee Keith Stroud sent both players off.
“You can’t react the way Berardi did,” Evans said. “He’s a good kid and he’s been absolutely smashed when you look back at the footage. It’s quite a horrific elbow. He did react but he shouldn’t react. We’ll deal with him in house.” A three-match ban will not help a defence which is already short of numbers.
Evans conceded that the dismissals were the point in Saturday’s match when Leeds started to play properly. They were 1-0 down by then having conceded a header to Joe Newell in the 54th minute. Badly out of form, Rotherham did not create much but Newell was precise with his accuracy when Richard Smallwood’s cross found him completely free in Marco Silvestri’s box. “He’s the best player they’ve got down there and he sticks a great header in,” Evans said.
The Scot was left scratching his head after recent wins over Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City. The players who excelled in those fixtures, who won those fixtures, were more insipid on Saturday, lacking bite.
“I don’t think we lacked application or effort, we had enough of that, but we looked as if we lacked quality, certainly in midfield and around about the box,” Evans said.
“When you break the game down we probably made six chances of which three are very good. They make one, other than free-kicks or corners. We can look at that but we’re not going to hide behind a performance that was down from where we were beating Cardiff and Huddersfield.”
United’s chances were not figments of Evans’ imagination and the irony after two matches in which Leeds looked like finishing from everywhere was that his players could not strike from any range. Smallwood hit a post in the first half as Stroud – a shambles of an official who made hard work of counting out 10 yards – fussed over a free-kick and booked Mirco Antenucci for infringing but Alex Mowatt was as close at the other end, denied by a brilliant one-handed save from Lee Camp as he tried to tuck away Stuart Dallas’ cut-back.
It went like that from start to finish. Antenucci pulled a shot inches wide less than 10 seconds into the second half. Later in the game, with Leeds chasing an equaliser, he missed the same post by the same margin from a position where the entire ground expected him to score.
Evans was philosophical. “We should score, shouldn’t we? We’ve had a number of chances but we have to up the tempo. We have to be on the front foot more, we have to pass it more and get on the ball.
“I don’t think we really did that until it went to 10 versus 10. Rotherham were in front by then and sitting very deep. You should be doing that at 11 versus 11, forcing the game.”
His midfield struggled to get a foot on the ball and were often bypassed completely. It was not what Evans had expected against a team who, under Redfearn, were struggling to buy a victory. “I thought we’d win,” Evans said, “but then I thought we’d beat Cardiff, Huddersfield, Blackburn, Bolton and Fulham. I really did believe going into each game that we’d win each game.
“I thought we’d win today and if we take our chances we do. But it’s the finest of margins.”
His strategy for swinging those margins in his favour once more is focused largely on the loan market, in spite of the extent to which he seems to be treading water. Evans has been chasing new players for weeks now – Sunderland’s Liam Bridcutt most persistently of all – but something, somewhere is negating his effort.
It was not that Leeds lacked options on Saturday. They had Jordan Botaka on the bench and Will Buckley too and Botaka caused Rotherham some discomfort towards the end, but the tussle with under-pressure opposition exposed weaknesses which were apparent before Evans took charge.
“We’re trying to sign players who can improve what we’ve got and come in and grace the Leeds United shirt,” he said.
“We can sign lots of players who would wish to be here, like possibly everyone on the visitors’ team coach, but you have to add players who you really think can add to what we’re about.”
He has less than four days to find them.