United boss Brian McDermott insists side’s recent poor form doesn’t mean the squad have stopped playing for him. Leon Wobschall reports.
NOTHING can be certain at Leeds United these days, but Brian McDermott remains clear in his own mind on one thing.
Namely that the dreaded term which makes many managers cold and often sick with worry doesn’t apply, even in his thoroughly unique case.
It’s known simply as ‘losing the dressing room.’
Some fans have openly speculated about that fact amid the absolute chaos that is Leeds United since January 31 when McDermott was crazily ‘fired’ at the behest of prospective new owner Massimo Cellino, only to be reinstated the following day.
Earlier undermined by the presence of Cellino’s coaching ‘advisor’ in Gianluca Festa ahead of the Ipswich game on January 28, it is safe to say that the new year has represented the most difficult and bizarre chapter of McDermott’s managerial career.
Some would go further and say excruciating.
On the pitch, results and performances haven’t been kind to the Whites manager, who has been present for just one home win at Elland Road since early December 4.
He wasn’t even at the stadium on the day of emphatically Leeds’ best ninety minutes on the pitch in 2014 when they hammered neighbours Huddersfield Town 5-1 in a madcap afternoon on February 1.
United head into tonight’s clash with relegation-haunted Charlton Athletic seeking to avoid a fourth home defeat in five outings and with everything passing poor result, so more bruised supporters lose faith with both the team and manager.
McDermott has suffered plenty of collateral damage from the whole Cellino affair, but not at the cost of the working relationship between manager and players, according to the Whites chief.
McDermott, whose side have lost five of their last six matches and won just three of their last 19 games, said: “I am confident they are still with me.
“It’s a common theme that people say when you have had a bad run of results that the manager has lost the dressing room. I don’t even know what that means.
“Get a result, the manager has got the dressing-room again. Get another result, he’s really got the dressing room again. That’s how it works.
“It’s just a cliché. It doesn’t mean anything to me. I have got good people in the dressing room and they are as disappointed as me.
“But I am determined and fighting and they (players) will be the same.”
McDermott took solace if no points from United’s positive second-half performance against derby rivals Doncaster Rovers, with the minimum that fans will be expecting tonight will be a replication of that, but for ninety minutes, against a side scraping for their lives.
Talk is becoming cheap and actions and not words are all that United fans will be concerned with tonight as McDermott knows only too well.
He said: “The most important thing we can do is just get some unity at this football club as best as we possibly can. Especially in that dressing room before we go out.
“I have said to the players if you run and give everything for this shirt, the fans will back you and they did that in the second half against Doncaster.
“We’ve had a bad spell over a period of time, we know that. No-one is more disappointed than the players themselves.
“The first-half performance against Doncaster was really disappointing. But I felt we came out fighting in the second half and should have got something. And we’ve got to come out fighting again and get the result against Charlton.
“It will be a test. They are fighting for their lives and we need to start the game in the way we finished it on Saturday. That’s the most important thing.
“We have to play with that intensity. I said to the players at half-time that the fans will get behind you if they see you giving everything and running around and doing what you have got to do and trying to pass it and getting crosses into the box. And they did.
“The fans gave them everything and the players came back with a great response. I felt that at half-time, the fans weren’t happy and vented their anger and rightly so.
“But they didn’t afterwards and stayed with them because they saw us trying to play the right way.”
A perfect storm may have gathered at Leeds since January, with 2014 pretty much an annus horribilis so far, but McDermott insists he is no quitter.
He has been in rough situations before at Reading, but while nothing can probably compare to what he is currently experiencing, the fight is still there within him to be a success at a club that has seeped into his soul.
He said: “It’s difficult; there’s no doubt about it. I would not lie. It’s a difficult situation.
“But you either relish it and come out fighting or you give up.
“Most people don’t succeed and the reason that they don’t succeed is that they give up.
“They give up before they get to the finishing line. I have had this before and had five games (in 2011-12) where we couldn’t win at Reading.
“I could have given up and stopped and said: ‘We can’t do this.’ We ended up winning the league.
“I got to a play-off final the year before and eighth in the league when we were bottom the year before.
“I know this league and what is required in this league and am not planning to give up any time soon.
“I am relishing the challenge and it really is a challenge here.”
The major on-pitch positive on Saturday came in the second-half display of interval substitute Michael Tonge, who produced an accomplished performance in the heart of midfield and displayed some vestige of leadership in the middle of the park which United have been lacking in recent months.
It’s called stepping up to the plate and now, more than ever, United need their senior players to take charge in the view of McDermott.
“Especially when you are having a bit of a tough time, you need your senior players to really come to the fore.
“Michael Tonge came on Saturday and I thought he was absolutely outstanding.
“He’s a really good man and came in and did really well. Your senior players at the football club are so important.”