Leeds United: Cellino must supply answers on return

Neil Redfearn. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Neil Redfearn. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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When Leeds United finally reached it, the end was flat and subdued. Support for Neil Redfearn was audible and some at Elland Road railed against Massimo Cellino but the attitude was that of a club who are ready for the summer.

The riots in English football are breaking out elsewhere – specifically at Blackpool and Newcastle United – while Leeds in contrast watch and wait for Cellino’s return from his Football League ban and his response to a multitude of issues.

The Italian is free to return to Elland Road in his capacity as owner today, though staff at Leeds expect him to move back in in person tomorrow.

He had permission from the Football League to attend Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Rotherham United but he considered his options throughout last week and was nowhere to be seen when kick-off arrived.

If he feared a tirade of abuse towards him, the reality was softer.

Some in a remarkably large crowd of almost 32,000 wore purple clothes and brought purple beach balls – sporting a colour which the superstitious Cellino despises – and chants of ‘time to go, Massimo’ were heard briefly in each half but, as protests go, it did not take off. Charlton last month was vicious. Saturday bore no comparison.

Cellino is back, all the same, with matters to address, starting with the future of his incumbent head coach.

Redfearn had the air of a man saying goodbye and his decision to omit goalkeeper Marco Silvestri – one of the ‘injured six’ – against Rotherham was a political move which will not build bridges.

None of those six players completed the customary lap of the pitch at full-time, even though a few were present and the injured Lewis Cook took part, but no-one is certain about how Cellino feels or who is likely to carry the can for the club’s problems.

In the past week, he has talked only about “doing the right thing.”

United’s draw with Rotherham was not the sort of game that Redfearn would have wanted to sign off with.

The first save of note from either goalkeeper came five minutes from time and the match meandered in chilly conditions and on a slippery pitch.

“It wasn’t a nil-nil game,” Redfearn insisted, “although it wasn’t a great spectacle either. It was workmanlike, a typical Championship game.”

Rotherham were already safe from relegation and their manager, Steve Evans, arrived as promised in a sombrero and beach-wear, only to discover that Redfearn’s warning about the low temperature on the touchline was not a joke.

For Leeds, the point gained left the club 15th in the final Championship table, a repeat of last season and not so far removed from the year before. The truth about this campaign is that it could have been far worse.

“When we were getting beat 2-0 at home by Wigan (on Boxing Day), you’d have taken that all day long,” Redfearn said. “We were one point above the drop at one stage so to get comfortable in mid-table has got to be a plus.

“But I said this last week: I want to stay and I want to be manager of Leeds United but I want to be manager of Leeds United with us successful.

“I don’t want another season where we’re mid-table or fighting relegation. I know it can happen but I want this club to be upwardly mobile and positive.”

The 49-year-old said he expected to speak to Cellino this week about a contract which officially expires at the end of June but is effectively up now.

Redfearn talked about the importance of a good summer in the transfer market, saying United’s recruitment “in this close season maybe needs to recruit better” than it was 12 months ago.

Alongside Redfearn, other situations are waiting to be dealt with. A number of players are out of contract, too, and numerous loans have ended, including that of centre-back Sol Bamba, the outstanding player on the pitch on Saturday.

At the end of the game, Bamba was also the most outspoken, giving in to the urge to talk about what he called the “ridiculous” way in which Leeds stumble around.

Redfearn has been affected by the chaos, particularly when the club moved to suspend his assistant, Steve Thompson, last month, and Leeds’ head coach is never worried about speaking his mind.

Coming from Bamba, the frustration was more eye-opening.

“You say you deal with the stress and all that but it has been stressful,” Redfearn admitted “It’s been a tough season.

“The last thing you want is to have Leeds United in one of those bottom three positions. We had to dig deep and come up with the answers. By and large we’ve had the right answers.”

Neither Leeds nor Rotherham had the answer to a goalless scoreline on Saturday.

Steve Morison put the ball in the net in the first half but was pulled back by an offside flag and Rudy Austin whipped a shot inches wide of Rotherham goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez’s right-hand post.

Rotherham looked more dangerous but did not come closer before half-time than a goalbound shot from Danny Ward which cracked into the face of his team-mate, Matt Derbyshire.

The second half produced the same huff and puff. Mowatt failed by inches to tuck a shot into the far corner of Martinez’s net on 52 minutes and the Argentinian dived at full stretch to keep out Austin’s raking strike five minutes from full-time but an open, end-to-end game was forever lost in the final third.

In the closing minutes, the crowd showed Redfearn their appreciation, well aware that he might not be seen in the home dug-out again.

Would their opinion influence Cellino, Redfearn was asked? “You’d think so but we’ll have to see,” he said.

Cellino stayed away on Saturday and went instead to Southend’s League Two game at Morecambe, a scouting trip of sorts.

“I didn’t know whether he’d come or not,” Redfearn said. “That’s up to Massimo.”

As is everything else at Leeds after the end of his disqualification as owner.

Saturday was not an open revolt against Cellino; more a display of fatigue after an exhausting year.

“You like to plan your future and you’d like to know what’s happening,” Redfearn said.

The entire club looks now for answers.