Darko Milanic will be happy enough with his start as Leeds United head coach. Not delighted, not ecstatic but fairly satisfied with the progress so far.
Three wins from three would have been the perfect scenario but the timing of his appointment gave him little chance of that. To see it from his perspective, three games in eight days was some way to acclimatise to England and the Championship.
You have to play the hand you’re dealt and clubs and their supporters don’t want sob stories. But the first couple of weeks were difficult for him. The training days must have been few in number – and trust me, you need them when you take on a new squad – and the turnaround between games gave him very little time to analyse the opposition.
A British-based coach always has the advantage of local knowledge. Take Russ Wilcox, the new manager of York City. He’s gone into that job this week with York struggling but he was at Scunthorpe until recently and he managed them in League Two last season.
The players at York might be slightly unfamiliar to him but he’ll know some of them and he knows their division inside out. This, for Milanic, is more of a learning curve and a completely new experience. It’s extremely tough to get a full picture of Sheffield Wednesday before a lunchtime kick-off on Saturday when you’ve had to play Reading a couple of days earlier.
So in fairness to him, a point apiece from those two games was not a desperately bad return – and without doubt the performances were more organised than Milanic’s first game in charge. He looks like a coach who knows what he’s doing defensively and the priority for him now is to find a formation or a line-up which allows Leeds to carry more threat. There are goals in this squad, I’m certain of that, and the problem at the moment is service. If Milanic intends to stick with a diamond midfield – and he does seem to like that system – then he needs to work out who is most suited to doing damage in behind the front two. On the basis of Casper Sloth’s contribution against Reading and Wednesday, I don’t expect him to get another chance at Rotherham tonight. There’s something about Sloth, definitely, but he isn’t on his game at the moment.
The wildcard, of course, is Adryan and the supporters seem desperate for him to play. I can appreciate why. He’s a Brazilian, he’s a playmaker and from what they say in Brazil, he was very highly rated a few years ago. On paper it looks like a no-brainer.
But, with my manager’s hat on, Neil Redfearn didn’t use him and Milanic hasn’t rushed to get him into the team either. That, to me, suggests Adryan isn’t quite the ready-made match-winner we all think he could be.
To put it another way, if the kid was tearing up training at Thorp Arch, he’d be in the starting line-up already. Either that or we’d be talking about a coach who needs his head examined. Adryan’s time will come and maybe we’ll see him at some stage tonight but he’d be thrown in at the deep end with a start at Rotherham.
The atmosphere will be tasty down there and Rotherham like to put themselves about. It’ll be very interesting to see how Milanic counters that. Does he go for a strong, hard midfield? Or does he look for the flair in his squad to speak for itself? Personally I think someone like Alex Mowatt could be the right player to link with the strikers this evening. He seems to be at his best with a licence to get forward and attack.
Milanic learned on the job during his first couple of weeks as head coach but the difference tonight is that he’s had time on his side; time to work with the players, time to think about ways in which his team could be better and also time to pay close attention to how Rotherham play and the danger they pose. This game is probably our first chance to see what Milanic is all about. There are no injuries or suspensions to speak of and he’s got a very big squad at his disposal. That can complicate matters sometimes because you’ve got so many players to assess but we probably all agree that Leeds are blessed with a fair bit of talent.
Milanic will be aiming for a win tonight. Of course he will. No victories from three games is not a big deal, especially when you’re new to the job, but as a manager I found out that people liked to count. They liked to tot up wins, unbeaten runs and – perhaps more than anything – winless runs (or worse still, a sequence of defeats). They like to remind you when you need a result. A good one at Rotherham will really set Milanic rolling.