SLIGHT SIGNS of a thaw in an on-pitch winter of discontent could be detected at the appropriately named Stadium of Light in mid-afternoon on Sunday – although the rays of decent sunshine are still a fair way on the horizon.
Leeds United, for the second successive start to a year, are doing it tough with recent statistics enough to make any supporter grimace.
Five defeats in their last six matches, no wins and no goal from open play since December 6. A grand total of 536 minutes to be precise, or almost nine hours.
The fightback had to start somewhere after a dismal December to forget and the second half of the FA Cup defeat at Sunderland has at least given a little bit of reason to believe again among the United faithful, who have provided an admirable wall of noise from the stands in losing causes in the past week to the Black Cats and Derby County.
Given the past month, few would begrudge Leeds players from taking solace in a far more presentable 45 minutes on Wearside.
But collective frowns and low spirits at Thorp Arch despite some dispiriting results are simply not options ahead of some imperative assignments, starting at Bolton on Saturday.
Natural concern yes, but no ‘moping around’ in the words of defender Liam Cooper.
Cooper has endured a bitter-sweet time of late, scoring a wretched own goal in the damaging Boxing Day reverse to Wigan, but being afforded the personal kudos of being named stand-in captain in the cup clash at Sunderland, with regular skipper Stephen Warnock out injured.
Understandably, the accolade ranks very highly in the career of the Yorkshireman, although you sense he would have swapped wearing the armband for his late header flying into the net instead of hitting the post in stoppage-time on Sunday and denying Leeds a morale-boosting and perhaps deserved replay.
In the final analysis, it could not prevent another defeat for Leeds, with Cooper at least fronting up to the challenges ahead and not shying away from Leeds’ predicament or what is required.
He said: “We know ourselves we are under pressure at the minute and we need to start getting some results together and we aren’t going to get that by all moping around.
“We have got to get around each other and get each other up and we will definitely be doing that this week. We need to be winning games now.
“We did it performance wise, but not results wise at Sunderland. We don’t want to be getting the plaudits for a spirited defeat, we now want it for a good win as we need one of those.
“It is always disappointing seeing ourselves down there in the table as we know ourselves we are not a bottom-half (Championship) team.
“But we have to get everyone together, round up the troops and go again on Saturday. We can look forward now.
“Football is always a tough test of character and a tough game to be and around. It is not a nice environment sometimes and you can get your head down.
“But the manager has told us not to be moping around as it will not get you anywhere.
“You have to believe in your ability and we showed that in the second half at Sunderland.
“Bolton are one of the teams in form, but we are looking forward to the game and going and getting a good result.”
For boyhood Leeds fan Cooper, Sunday’s cup exit at Sunderland will carry a memorable footnote with it in the shape of being bestowed with the captain’s armband.
It could well be that Cooper has plenty more opportunities to skipper Leeds in his Elland Road, but you always remember the first time.
It’s something that would have also served as a proud moment for Cooper’s father who was watching proceedings at the Stadium of Light.
He said: “It is definitely one of the proudest moments of my life.
“It’s good to be thought of in high regard like that and whether I am captain or not (in future), I’ll always put in 100 per cent for the club. That is that.
“It’s a dream come true to captain a club like Leeds United. It’s brilliant and good to be thought of in high regard like that. I had a great day and enjoyed being captain.
When the teamsheet went up in the morning, I saw the ‘c’ next to my name and I will always go and give 100 per cent and hopefully it will rub off on a few other players as well.
“I’d like to think the lads think a lot of me and I think a lot of them too and it was a nice accolade.
I have plenty more learning to do in the game, but I am getting that with each and every game I am playing. It’s great experience and long may it continue.”
On letting his father know about his news before the game, he added: “I didn’t tell him, so it will have been a nice surprise for my dad, who was there and a couple of my friends.
“It was nice for them and hopefully I have put a smiles on their faces.”
Despite the defeat, there was also something positive to take from it for a number of players on the fringes for most of the late autumn and early winter in Luke Murphy and Casper Sloth, who made their first appearances in the first team since October 25 and November 4 respectively on Sunday.
As it signalling a genuine renaissance, that remains to be seen, but it has at least given Redfearn food for thought.
Cooper added: “It is good for the lads to get some game time which they have not been getting and I thought everyone stood up to the task and put of a good display.
“Everyone has stepped in and done a great job and given the manager a bit of a headache in his team selection. But I think he will want that.”