Leeds United: Heckingbottom highlights valuable role played by fans

Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom know the true value of the 'Elland Road faithful'. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom know the true value of the 'Elland Road faithful'. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM will be hoping the wait for one personal Leeds United ‘first’ coincides with another this weekend.

Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Sheffield United means Heckingbottom is still waiting for his first Whites win ahead of his first outing at Elland Road as Leeds United head coach.

Leeds United supporters at Elland Road. PIC: Simon Hulme

Leeds United supporters at Elland Road. PIC: Simon Hulme

It goes without saying that United’s new boss knows the importance of having the club’s home fan-base on his side.

But Heckingbottom admits he and his players will be responsible for creating a strong affinity with the Elland Road crowd, with the former Barnsley boss urging his men to give United’s fans something to shout about in the run-up to his own home debut in Sunday’s Championship clash with Bristol City.

Heckingbottom has already set foot inside Leeds United’s famous home on several occasions for visiting sides, first as a player and then as Barnsley head coach.

The Royston-born boss took his Reds side to Elland Road as Tykes head coach back in October 2016, a game in which United earned a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Kyle Bartley and Pablo Hernandez.

Flag-waving Leeds United fans 'marching on together'. PIC: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

Flag-waving Leeds United fans 'marching on together'. PIC: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

A crowd of 27,350 witnessed that fixture but Heckingbottom knows all too well the potential for sell-outs on a regular basis at Elland Road.

The 40-year-old might have grown up as a Barnsley fan but United’s new head coach is fully aware of the importance of having his new club’s passionate supporters on his side.

The first chance to bond with United’s home fans will come in four days’ time when the Whites take on the Robins and with Leeds now eight points off the play-offs, the importance of a victory is obvious.

As too, in Heckingbottom’s eyes, is the need for his men to inspire United’s fans by ‘stirring up the crowd’ with United’s new head coach highly respectful of United’s fan base and insisting that a strong bond and connection with his club’s supporters will have to be earned.

“It is never a coincidence that when a team is successful that everyone is aligned,” said Heckingbottom.

“The owners’ expectations are aligned with the playing side, the fans’ expectations are aligned with those of the club.

“Everyone has a role to play in that, probably the fans more so than anyone.

“I have never been at Elland Road with the fans behind me yet so I am looking forward to that.

“I have experienced it the other way around and know what a fantastic place it can be to play, regardless of which side you are on.

“So to have that support pushing the team forward can only benefit us.

“We, though, have a big role to play in that, in how the players stir up the crowd and how they build that emotion within the crowd.

“Yes, it can change game to game but, hopefully, over time a connection can be built.

“And that the fans can relate to the players on the pitch, and how they perform.

“That is what we all want.”

There was naturally also the want for the perfect start as Whites head coach in Saturday’s derby at Sheffield United but a brace of goals from former Leeds striker Billy Sharp instead condemned the new head coach to a first defeat.

That outing came just four days after the 40-year-old’s appointment but an honest Heckingbottom says that even four days was long enough to make an impression.

Nonetheless, the Whites head coach is now reaping the benefit of his first full week’s training with the Whites – something that Heckingbottom was clearly looking forward to.

Heckingbottom reasoned: “I’ve said it all along, you can look at any interview I have done and the bit I always say I enjoy is being with the players.

“As soon as I am on the grass with the players you are like in a bubble and that’s what I enjoy doing. We want to build and make something better here over a long time.

“We introduced a few things and messages that were important for Sheffield United but the bigger picture is the things that we want to try and do now with these players that they have to commit to are for how we improve and how we play going forwards. We’ll see, I’ve got to get to know the players.”

Sunday will then present the first opportunity to get to know his new club’s home supporters and Heckingbottom is hoping that he can put a smile on faces at Elland Road.

Above all else, the head coach has promised energy and work rate to the core.

Asked if he had a message for the club’s fans, Heckingbottom said simply: “To enjoy it, to enjoy the games.

“To come supporting the club and the players because one thing I have always wanted in my team and I will definitely get it, however long it takes I will definitely get it, is something I know the Leeds fans will love and enjoy, which is an intensity to our play. With the ball, without the ball, I want that and I want the team that I pick and the team that I put out to reflect what I want to see.

“Being from the area or being from a similar area, should I say, fans around here can forgive anything if they see that energy and that work rate.

“If we can build into that a speed and intensity to how we pass the ball and in creating chances then I think everyone will be happy.”