Fifty days of work and preparation have brought David Hockaday to the start of the new season and his first meaningful game as head coach of Leeds United.
In 40 years of involvement in professional football, he cannot remember a time when his sense of excitement or anticipation was so intense. It would be natural to feel apprehension too – some concern about how it will go for him when the results matter.
Tomorrow’s visit to Millwall, the first game of the new Championship season, matters on just about every level. It gives Hockaday a chance to start well, to make a point to those who doubt him and to ruffle a club who Leeds like to beat. The 56-year-old would not be human if he was not crossing his fingers slightly.
But apprehension? “No,” he said. “We’re going to go there and we’re going to perform. You cross the line and you perform on demand. That’s the deal.”
Millwall away could easily be classed as an unfavourable fixture for the first weekend of the term. Leeds traditionally struggle at The Den and Hockaday will blood many of his new signings in a feisty, unwelcoming atmosphere. But United’s head coach sees the fixture differently – a fixture about which too much is made.
“We’ve talked to the players about it but not in great depth,” he said. “They’ve been told a little bit of what to expect and we’ll look after ourselves but it’s only when you get there that you really recognise the cauldron and the atmosphere.
“But I think we’re trying to pick this out as some sort of strange event. Every game in the Championship is a test. We’ve been drawn against Millwall for the first day so bring it on.
“The crowd are partisan. They’re brilliant to play for and intimidating to play against. We need to turn the tide and turn them against their team.
“The target is to get a clean sheet and the target is to get three points. If we’re good enough to do that, I’ll be very happy. But Millwall will have to play well to get anything from the game.”
Hockaday again refused to set a target for the season, saying only that he’d be “happy to come home with something” from tomorrow’s match.
United are listed among the bookmakers’ leading candidates for relegation but an optimistic Hockaday said: “This is my 40th season as a professional in senior football and I’m more excited about this than any other. I think you get like that.
“Given the time we’ve had, we’ve done a pretty good job. The players have been superb and I couldn’t have asked for more – although I will be asking for more now. That’s the nature of football.
“Whatever people say about us, we’ll let them worry about that. I know we can get better and that’s our focus.”