Defiant: In the wake of Cellino’s bid collapsing Brian McDermott faced the media but the last thing he wanted was sympathy. Leon Wobschall reports.
BRIAN MCDERMOTT and his Leeds United players have been here before. In a similar part of the country as well.
United players and staff boarded their team coach at Thorp Arch yesterday for a epic trip to the other end of England in Bournemouth, just as they did in early February when they had also an appointment in the deep south at Yeovil.
Five-hour motorway journeys to the likes of Huish Park and Goldsands Stadium may represent one of the more unwelcome facets of being a footballer up north.
But given the intense situation that is consuming Leeds back in West Yorkshire where the main – make that only – topic of conversation is the tortuous off-the-field saga, being well away from that particular toxic environment, even for just a few days, is probably a blessed relief for players and staff.
McDermott pretty much alluded to that in his pre-match press conference yesterday when most of the questions he fielded were ones he had to deflect and which had nothing to do with matters on the pitch.
Questions for a football club’s hierarchy and not the man who runs the team.
As for the subject of a lengthy midweek trek to Bournemouth, he was emphatic in his own way. ‘Can’t wait’ was the reply and he wasn’t joking. Bring it on...
In the week that followed the wholly bizarre sacking and reinstatement of McDermott, with the club plainly in chaos, United found brief sanctuary in wind and rain at Yeovil at the end of the first full week in February by virtue of a 2-1 win in front of the Sky cameras.
Now they have an opportunity for respite fifty miles down the road from Yeovil on the Dorset coast after a similar plethora of headlines all to do with matters off the field as opposed to on it.
McDermott is stoically getting on with things as best he can, refusing to bemoan his lot and focusing on bringing order to what he can control.
Players and staff will have their own worries about what has gone on at the club in recent times for sure, but on it, it’s all about closing ranks and showing a collective desire to fight for the white jersey, their club and their wounded legions of supporters who deserve much better.
And providing a temporary ray of sunshine if it’s possible.
McDermott said: “Everyone is fighting here. For me, that’s a good thing.
“I like that and the mentality that you have got to fight for this football club because it’s worth it.
“I have no sympathy with me at all. I am very, very happy to be Leeds United manager in whatever the circumstances. Yes, it’s difficult and no-one said it’s going to be easy.
“I didn’t think when I signed the contract in April that it was going to be like this. But in a funny kind of way, it’s a real challenge and I am right up for it and I know the fans are and the players are.
“I certainly have not got fear or trepidation. I am relishing the challenge of it all.
“I speak to a lot of people; you go around the streets in and around where I live and they are just solid people. I just want to get this club on an even keel, I really do.”
On the club’s future again being shrouded in uncertainty after Massimo Cellino’s takeover was rejected by the Football League, he added: “There’s nothing for me to say on it, there really isn’t.
“It’s not about how I feel. The only thing that matters for me is Leeds United and where we go from here.
“In the short term, we are going to go to Bournemouth and try and win there.
“You look at that support on Saturday and at Burnley and I know we will travel in big numbers again. I am sure situations like this bring everyone together. That’s how I am seeing it with our fans.
“There’s a lot of reasons to smile. You look at our fans and the way they travel. My God, it’s just incredible.
“We are going to Bournemouth and we went to Yeovil with a 12 o’clock kick-off with a full allocation.
“We went to Reading on a Wednesday night and took a full allocation and it’s just incredible. That’s what makes me smile – that and the players giving me everything.
“These fans deserve an awful lot better. But we’ve had a situation here for I don’t know how many years. It would be lovely to break the cycle of what is going on.”
McDermott must make do at Bournemouth tonight without the services of Connor Wickham, who has been recalled by parent club Sunderland just under a month into his emergency 93-day loan, with the big striker likely to be involved in their Premier League clash at Liverpool tomorrow.
Technically, clubs who loan players out on an emergency loan aren’t able to recall them in the first 28 days without the permission of the other club and despite Wickham technically being available for Leeds tonight after joining on February 26, McDermott responded to the pleas of Gus Poyet, who has just one fit striker for the Anfield trip.
That prompted his call to McDermott on Sunday night, with the Whites chief agreeing to the Uruguayan’s request.
McDermott said: “To be fair to Gus, he rang me at about nine o’clock last night (Sunday) and said he needed to bring Connor back as he was going to be involved in the game on Wednesday.
“I could have played Connor because he had 24 hours (still) to go here. But I have to do right by Connor and obviously Gus and Sunderland.
“I have to do right by Leeds; I know that. But he would have definitely gone back after Tuesday.”
Cameron Stewart is likely to replace Wickham on the left this evening, with McDermott’s main motivation this evening being to manufacture a victory to lift his side above Bournemouth in the table and reach the half-century points mark of a bruising campaign.
He said: “Bournemouth are having a good season and if we win the game, we will go above them.That would be our target. We know we can go up the table and into the top half, with two home games to come after that.
“The Milwall game was a tough one.
“I don’t normally get anxious during games, but I was anxious when they scored and it was an anxious 15 minutes or so.
“I was delighted with the way we dug in and got the win and we need to go to Bournemouth and do exactly the same.”