Noel Hunt admitted tonight that the failure of his time at Leeds United had left him “gutted” and “sad” but said he was leaving the club with no grudges held against the fans or owner Massimo Cellino.
Hunt and Leeds agreed to sever his contract six months ahead of schedule today, ending the striker’s frustrating spell as an Elland Road player.
The 32-year-old joined from Reading in July 2013, brought to Leeds on a free transfer by then manager Brian McDermott, but he made just 22 appearances for the club’s first team and failed to score a single competitive goal.
Hunt suffered from injury at stages of his stay in West Yorkshire and his disappointing form drew increasingly vocal criticism from United’s support.
The Republic of Ireland international was the target of booing by a section of the Elland Road crowd when he appeared as a substitute during a 2-0 win over Blackpool towards the end of last season.
His salary also came under scrutiny after Cellino mistakenly suggested that the forward was earning £25,000 a week but in an interview with the YEP, Hunt said United’s president had been “brilliant with me” and insisted he had no argument with criticism of his form.
“I’m sad that it’s over and I’m gutted it didn’t work out here,” Hunt said.
“In my head I really wanted it to work and there were a few things that didn’t go for me but I’m not about to blame anyone else for that. I’ve got to look at myself first.
“I had a few injuries and the injury to my back at the start of my first season was a setback. I tried to play with it but the manager (McDermott) pulled me eventually and said ‘you’re not right. Be careful you don’t become a hindrance.’
“He was right but that’s the way I am. I wanted to be in the team and even this season, when I wasn’t in the team, I wanted to be in the Under-21s. I tried to help the club any way I could.
“The president’s been brilliant with me, honestly he has, and our relationship’s been great. When I sat down with him to ask if I could go out on loan before Christmas, it wasn’t a problem. He wasn’t difficult.
“There’s no grudge on my part, not with anyone. When you see what this club’s gone through in the past 10 years or so, you see why fans get frustrated. The only thing I’d say is that players get frustrated too. A lot of us live and breathe this place and we suffer when it’s not going well.
“There were a couple of moments, like getting booed on the pitch, when I thought ‘wow.’ You’re never prepared for that. I got a bit more at the start of this season when I thought it was all in the past. But the supporters have been brilliant with me really. I can’t talk highly enough of the club or the people.”
Hunt made two appearances in the first week of this season but failed to make United’s team again and he began training with their development squad following Neil Redfearn’s appointment as head coach in November. He was loaned to Ipswich Town later that month.
The termination of his two-year deal, which was due to end in June, leaves Hunt free to find another club, potentially lining him up for a return to Portman Road this month.
Hunt questioned whether the style of play under McDermott and other coaches - many of whom relied on a midfield diamond - had truly suited him, saying: “I’m not really built for that.
“It’s not a bad way or the wrong way for a team to play because lots of clubs do it and do it well. It’s not a criticism and I’m not into making excuse but it probably didn’t suit me best.
“There were times when I thought I made a good contribution but I’m not pretending that it hasn’t been disappointing. The first thing a player should always do is look at his own performance and for whatever reason it didn’t go well for me.
“When Neil (Redfearn) put me in the 21s, I was fine with that. We spoke in his office and I told him he had to do what he thought was best. He had to focus on the 18 players he’d be using on a Saturday because the squad’s big and he can’t look after everyone. But in fairness to him, he was never unfair with me. I respected what he was doing.
“There’ve been occasions when I’ve been out in Leeds and people have come up to me and had a go about my fitness or the way I’ve been playing. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion but there were times when my missus were there too. I started to realise that I’d be best to take myself out of this and going on loan to Ipswich was good for me.
“But I understand the frustration because all anyone here wants is for the club to do well. I’ve been like that since I joined and I’m still like that now.”