Leeds United: McDermott looking for a creative edge

Matt Smith beats Forest's Jamaal Lascelles to a high ball.
Matt Smith beats Forest's Jamaal Lascelles to a high ball.
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Brian McDermott expects Leeds to kick-on in the new year from their better-than-expected seventh place. Leon Wobschall reports.

IT remains to be seen what the fates decree regarding the second half of Leeds United’s season, but Brian McDermott is sure on one thing.

Namely that the club’s supporters, hand on heart, would have taken seventh place in the Championship table going into the New Year.

As ever, January remains a hugely pivotal time for United, who by common consensus need to display a degree of New Year transfer ambition conspicuous in its absence in years gone by to ensure they remain the real play-off deal until May – and aren’t just ultimately cast as wanabees.

Now is the time to kick-on, although for Leeds to be in a position to strike is an achievement in itself, according to McDermott.

United have come a long way since he took the reins in the spring when the club harboured some relegation genuine concerns.

And while former boss Neil Warnock is of the view that Leeds only require just a few choice additions to potentially get over the line as regards a successful promotion crusade, McDermott doesn’t necessarily take that view.

But what cannot be denied is that United have travelled a heck of a long way in the tenure of McDermott, who has rung every last drop out of his charges and the squad options at his disposal.

As it stands, promotion to the top-flight – given the financial parameters he has worked under – would represent an achievement to rank alongside the more remarkable Championship promotions of recent times.

Yet there is plenty of work to do before anything like that materialises. No-one would say any different.

Offering his half-term report for United, who for the second successive campaign go into the New Year with 35 points and within spitting distance of the play-offs, McDermott said: “It’s good, no doubt about it in my opinion.

“When you consider where we were when we took on the club in April and where we were going and where we are now, I’d imagine that the majority of fans would say that seventh at this moment in time is something they would take.

“I think the players have done us proud. They are working really, really hard.

“We know our shortcomings and what we need to do. We know we need to improve and get players in.

“But the most important thing is that the club is united. And that’s probably not been the case over a long period of time.

“I look at where we are now and where we were in April ... I think the previous manager did an article in a paper recently saying that all I needed to do was put the icing on the cake with the squad that he left. I am not sure that is correct.

“When we came in in April, we definitely had issues as far as making sure we stayed in this division. Where the boys and club has come now with the ownership, manager, staff and players and fans, everybody is onside and going in the right direction. There’s no doubt about that.

“No-one said it was going to be an instant job here. It certainly hasn’t been. But in the short period of time; we’re doing alright.”

United’s seasonal form has been solid and substantive for the most part – especially at Elland Road, albeit with the odd bump in the road, particularly on their travels.

A festive haul of one point from admittedly tough Christmas tests at the City Ground and Bloomfield Road represented a disappointment, but you sense it was the goalless stalemate with lowly Barnsley just before Christmas which represented the main source of frustration.

McDermott is the first to admit some offensive aspects of their last few performances could certainly have been better, with the issue of width – or a lack of it – having sporadically flared up.

The Whites boss feels the supply line to the central strikers has left a fair bit to be desired of late, with the propensity to go long in their attempts to pick out Matt Smith having proved counter-productive – both for the team and their big targetman.

A bit more subtlety and invention is required, according to McDermott, with some new options on the wing likely to be near the top of his wish list come the opening of the transfer window. McDermott, whose side welcome Blackburn Rovers at Elland Road to herald in the New Year tomorrow – their fourth game in the space of ten days – admitted: “I don’t think we are playing the way we want to play at this moment in time.

“We need to get the ball through midfield and into the wide areas. It’s about the performance where the fans want to watch us as well. Listen, we all want to win; no-one more than me. But we want to try and evolve and get in a situation where we are playing really good football. That’s the ideal scenario.

“You can get a bit of stick when you don’t win games. That’s fine, we expect that, because we are Leeds United.

“But there’s a certain honesty about the group, which I like. They are trying every single game. With half the season to go, let’s see where we can take this team.

“We have to play on the front foot and take the game to Blackburn and it’s important we get crosses in and attack and get shots in and play exciting football. Predominantly, we’ve done that at home quite well. The Barnsley game was a disappointing result, which we should have nicked, but didn’t. Previous to that, our home form has been really, really good.

“We need to get back to creating things. We’ve had a spell when we’ve gone too long into Matt Smith and we need to play through midfield and get crosses in. I feel really sorry for Matt as he’s challenging and working really hard. But we haven’t had enough crosses in during the past two or three games. That’s what we’ve got to work on for Blackburn.”

Leeds head coach Paul Heckingbottom

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