There are times when football takes a back-row seat at Leeds United but at present and in the circumstances, nothing matters more. Eight games without a victory have created a situation where all other agendas and arguments can wait.
The proposed repurchase of Elland Road dominated the news yesterday afternoon but on the blindside, the club are quietly slipping into a ominous position in the Championship.
The need to eke points out of two home matches this week was not lost on anyone, least of all Massimo Cellino, and a 2-2 draw with Charlton Athletic was no-one’s idea of a valuable result.
Two Alex Mowatt goals came close to forcing the issue on a night at Elland Road when football seemed scared to make itself heard; classy finishes from a teenager who picks his moments and has a habit of scoring with panache. But a contentious penalty slipped Charlton a point nine minutes from time.
Referee Graham Salisbury waded into a burning topic of discussion when he punished defender Giuseppe Bellusci for a foul inside United’s box as both sets of players waited for Johnnie Jackson’s corner to drop.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who had scrambled an earlier equaliser just after the hour, swept the penalty home to deny Leeds a victory which their effort merited by then.
Redfearn would not deny that United’s form is out. Sadly, so is their good fortune. Seventeen points, 17th position with 17 goals scored: Cellino’s unlucky number is everywhere at Leeds.
Mowatt deserved more for his performance alone. The midfielder opened the scoring in the 49th minute and responded quickly to Gudmundsson’s 61st-minute effort with another fine, curling finish six minutes later.
He was the nerveless presence United needed. Salisbury was the needle they could have done without.
More than six weeks have passed since the club’s rousing defeat of Huddersfield Town on September 22 and the club’s anxious search for a win leads them into a crucial fixture against Blackpool this weekend, the worst team in the league. Redfearn, Leeds’ new head coach, must have thought he had freed himself from the troubling sequence of form he inherited. If either team were worth a victory last night, that team were his.
Some of his pre-match decisions were enforced and others were tactical. Jason Pearce’s suspension gave a rare start to Liam Cooper – a centre-back whose form in August merited more than a seat on the bench – and Adryan and Sam Byram came into a team who missed their positivity in Cardiff on Saturday.
The impression of Redfearn’s line-up as a very young team was not misplaced. Seven of the players who started against Charlton were under 23, the youngest – Lewis Cook – just 17 years old.
Stephen Warnock was the veteran of the piece and took the captain’s armband in the absence of Pearce.
The evening gave the first warning of winter coming, a shivering night under the lights, and the game struggled to warm a subdued crowd.
The earliest chance fell to Souleyman Doukara, who was at full stretch as Tommaso Bianchi’s cross flew at him and could not turn the ball goalwards, but the respective styles of the two teams were almost identical: fluid, patient and countered by pressing high up the field.
Charlton sit beneath the play-off positions but under the management of Bob Peeters, the club have been as difficult as any other Championship side to beat.
Repeatedly, Leeds found them in the right place at the right time – on hand to clear a dangerous Warnock cut-back after 10 minutes and in position again to negate good interplay between Adryan and Mowatt.
At the other end of the pitch the threat to Marco Silvestri was minimal throughout the first half. George Tucudean backheeled Callum Harriott’s low cross wide, a difficult opportunity which the Romanian didn’t look like taking, and Harriott’s shot on 19 minutes deflected into the crowd after he lost his footing on the edge of the box.
The best moments in Redfearn’s eyes were the short passages of passing which took Leeds up the field in a few movements. Stephen Henderson, the Charlton goalkeeper, remained a long distance from harm’s way but the intent and the “philosophy”, as their new head coach calls it, was easy to identify. Potency was missing at the crucial moments.
Mirco Antenucci almost created something from nothing on the half-hour with a turn and pass on the edge of Charlton’s box but Jordan Cousin flicked out a toe as Adryan prepared to strike the loose ball. Warnock, however, averted the first moment of real crisis when he appeared on the goalline to hack away Andre Bikey’s touch after Silvestri failed to gather a corner.
The exchange of half-chances went back and forward throughout. Mowatt’s rising shot from 20 yards flashed beyond Henderson’s right-hand post and Antenucci found the side-netting after Charlton left themselves short of numbers during a counter attack but at half-time it was almost a question of which team wanted a 50-50 game more.
The visitors kept Leeds waiting on the pitch at the end of the interval but their night took a turn for the worse four minutes into the second half.
Adryan, Antenucci and Warnock did the damage by slicing open Charlton with one-touch passing and Warnock’s cross created havoc inside Henderson’s box. Mowatt missed a chance to shoot with his right foot but worked the ball onto his left and picked out the top corner of the net with a finish which mirrored his slick goal at Cardiff on Saturday.
As it had been in several games under Redfearn’s predecessor, Darko Milanic, the invitation was there for Leeds to strike at the jugular but Charlton soon found a way back into the game, helped by muddled defending on 62 minutes.
Bellusci’s attempt to clear a routine cross bounced against the legs of Liam Cooper, gifting possession to Gudmundsson.
The forward was pushed wide but forced a low shot through the legs of Silvestri at his near post.
Aware of the error, the keeper made no attempt to blame anyone else. Once again, Mowatt put his hand up and stepped forward with a curling finish from the corner of the box which bamboozled Henderson and dipped beyond him. But as time began to run out, Salisbury spotted a foul by Bellusci as a Charlton corner dropped and Gudmundsson buried a low penalty in front of a bewildered South Stand. Leeds made nothing of the time that remained as Charlton fought on with 10 men in the absence of the injured Rhoys Wiggins.
A frustrated Redfearn said: “It’s a performance gained, definitely. We were the better side and we deserved to win.
“But referees have got to be more consistent. A thousand incidents like the penalty happen every weekend and the people the Football League send out have got to be more consistent.
“You can’t isolate one decision because it looks unfair and it looked to me like both players were at it.
“But we looked more like ourselves tonight and in the second half we really went after them. That’s pleasing.”