Slow starters: Coach Darko Milanic isn’t the first Leeds United boss not to make a winning start to his tenure at Elland Road. Leon Wobschall reports.
NOT TOO many Leeds United managers have been afforded the luxury of a flying start to fully ingratiate themselves with supporters over the past decade, and Darko Milanic has plenty of company in the opposing respect.
Like David Hockaday, the man he replaced as the new permanent head coach at Elland Road, the Slovenian was left to lament a disappointing afternoon in the capital in his first outing in the dug-out which ended in a lacklustre 2-0 weekend defeat for the Whites at Brentford. Hockaday kicked off with a similarly dispiriting setback by the same scoreline across town at Millwall on August 9.
Gary McAllister and, to a lesser extent, Neil Warnock also didn’t exactly hit the ground running either when both were named as Whites manager and while Brian McDermott did generate some early momentum when he took over at Leeds in April 2013, winning successive home matches against Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley, it proved fleeting.
Like McDermott, Dennis Wise and Kevin Blackwell won their opening matches in charge of the club, against Derby County on August 7, 2004 and Southend United on October 28, 2006 respectively, but the victories were followed by decidedly ordinary results in the next few weeks following that.
The only man to truly crack it early on was Simon Grayson, who denied his former club Leicester City a seventh successive win in a 1-1 draw on Boxing Day 2008 in front of a massive festive crowd of 33,580 and backed up by winning two days later in a 4-2 triumph at Stockport County – one of four victories that he managed in his opening six matches in charge.
Grayson’s successor Warnock started out with a 0-0 bore draw on the south coast at Portsmouth on February 25, 2012 and recorded just one victory in his opening half a dozen games in the hot seat.
His first victory in front of home punters at Elland Road arrived at the sixth time of trying in a 4-1 win against Peterborough United on Grand National Day, April 14, 2012.
Before that, Leeds were beaten four times, with the setbacks including an infamous 7-3 home loss to Nottingham Forest on March 20.
For McAllister, just one win arrived in his first five outings in charge of Leeds on home soil, with the Scot’s reign kicking off with an inauspicious 2-0 loss to Ronnie Moore’s Tranmere Rovers on February 2, 2008.
McAllister’s maiden triumph at the United helm came almost a month after the Tranmere clash, in a 1-0 verdict at Swindon Town on March 1 – the fifth match of his Elland Road tenure which was slow to take off before gathering some late-season speed.
In terms of the reins of Wise and Blackwell, early momentum was also in scant supply. One victory arrived in Blackwell’s first five outings in charge in 2004-05, with Leeds finding themselves as low as sixth from bottom in early December of that campaign and the predicament that Wise encountered in the early stages of his managerial tenure in West Yorkshire in 2006-07 was even more dire.
After goals from Ian Thomas-Moore and Robbie Blake gave Wise a welcome 2-0 win over Southend, first up, just two more victories arrived in 12 matches to the end of the calendar year of 2006 – and it did not get much better in the New Year...
For Milanic, two opportunities to showcase his coaching philosophy arrive at Elland Road this week with a home double-header against Reading and Sheffield Wednesday. Leeds are seeking a third consecutive home victory for the first time since last November when the club were in the midst of a five-match winning streak at home.
It is fair to say the jury remains out regarding his appointment, with little fanfare following his arrival as the club’s first foreign-born coach.
The hard currency of results will be how he is viewed, with the opening instalment at Griffin Park a decidedly underwhelming entrance, moreso after the club’s highly-impressive 3-0 derby victory over Huddersfield Town in the final match of Neil Redfearn’s third spell in temporary charge of the club.
It is probably questionable at this stage whether Milanic views tomorrow night’s appointment with Reading as a good or a bad thing, with the former Sturm Graz and Maribor boss, on the one hand, likely to be happy at having an opportunity to breach the wins column just four days on from Saturday’s setback.
But conversely, a full week getting his ideas across to his new charges on the training ground at Thorp Arch, having only worked with his players for three sessions ahead of the 2-0 defeat to the Bees, will also have been equally, if not more, advantageous.
An additional factor to consider is that weekend opponents Wednesday also have the benefit of an extra day’s rest ahead of Saturday’s televsied lunchtime derby clash at Elland Road.
To his credit, Milanic did not dress up the weekend loss in west London, on a day when Leeds were second-best with his references about the team’s shape suggesting he was far from happy with the way his side set up.
That is likely to dominate his thoughts in the lead-up to the game with Reading, who head into tomorrow’s game without a win in three matches.
Reflecting on the weekend, Milanic said: “It was not a good game and we should play much better.
“We had a few good moments, especially at the beginning of the second half, but in all the game, the home team was better.
“We played wide a lot and did not play forward. We did not have enough of a mentality to go in there, deep and go forward.
“The opponents played quick and we had a lot of problems with them.
“But this was my first game and I know I have to do a lot of things here.
“There are many things to do; we have to stay more compact.
“We were too long (at Brentford).”