Classy: United’s win over Blackpool hinted at the way Neil Redfearn wants to play. Leon Wobschall spoke to Liam Cooper about the new boss’ impact.
IF EVER a club was craving a bit of light on Saturday, it was Leeds United and while Neil Redfearn’s powers can hardly be described as celestial, his impact on his charges has been divine in its own way.
A breath of fresh air is the phrase of choice uttered by a fair few Whites players about the presence of Redfearn on a full-time basis co-ordinating first-team matters on the training ground at Thorp Arch and on a match-day – and Saturday’s much-needed three points against Blackpool was certainly reinvigorating.
At the end of another week when the club had received more headlines they could have done without, the need for United’s players to provide an on-pitch lift could not have been overstated.
They say the style of a manager’s football can often reflect the personality of the man. That was unquestionably the case in the first half of United’s 3-1 victory over the Seasiders, when the influence of Redfearn permeated throughout an effervescent performance which had his stamp all over it, even accounting for the early stage of his reign.
Leeds may have headed into the game without a win in eight matches since September 20, but Redfearn’s instincts were attacking and bold.
Be brave was his war cry to his players and he was emphatically answered in the affirmative in a first half which ended in his charges being given a standing ovation at the break, even accounting for the lacklustre nature of the visitors’ display.
It rewound the clock in some respects to United’s previous win on September 20, again under Redfearn’s command, where a vibrant and enthusiastic performance backed up by a fair amount of quality left fans with plenty to savour after a comprehensive 3-0 derby victory over Huddersfield Town.
Just as Leeds’ players enjoyed their work and revelled in expressing themselves that day, so they displayed a noticeable swagger against Blackpool for 45 intoxicating minutes at least.
It perhaps not too much of a surprise that the crop of academy gold that Redfearn has nurtured in Lewis Cook, Alex Mowatt and Sam Byram should have led the way, with they more than anyone mindful of how he works and what he expects.
But maybe more significant was the fact that others across the pitch stepped up to the plate, with the likes of Souleymane Doukara producing his best performance in weeks, while at the back, Liam Cooper and Jason Pearce produced compelling evidence that they currently look the club’s best pairing in the heart of the back four.
For Cooper, the Redfearn approach is right up his street and while the competitive juices of himself and his team-mates will not truly be flowing again until they return to action from the international break at Blackburn Rovers 11 days time, you get the impression that heading into the work-place for training between now and then is something that Leeds players are genuinely relishing.
Much of that is clearly down to the presence of Redfearn, whose honest and straightforward approach in dealing with players and telling them exactly where they stand, allied to the training culture and togetherness he is fostering at Thorp Arch, is being thoroughly appreciated with people buying into it.
Cooper said: “The man (Redfearn) is brilliant and like a breath of fresh air.
“He’s honest as they come and tells us how it is. If we are not quite up to it, he will get stuck into us.
“It is exactly what the lads need because we didn’t really get that in the past few months.”
As good as United looked in the first half against Blackpool, much more meaningful challenges and barometers of their progress lie on the immediate horizon as Redfearn would be the first to acknowledge. The saying goes that you can only beat what is in front of you and Leeds did that impressively enough in the final analysis against Blackpool, but replicating that performance against more accomplished Championship opponents in the weeks and months ahead represents the real trick.
But the intensity, bravery on the ball, forward passing, energy and work-rate and efforts on goal which Redfearn has demanded, both in his caretaker spell earlier this term and now as full-time head coach, was clearly there at the weekend and represents the template to follow.
Speaking after the weekend game, Redfearn said: “They have shown me this performance now.
“They have shown me this level.
“As head coach, I should be able to expect that.
“The intensity was there and the determination was matched by the quality.
“We’re difficult to play like this.”
Saturday’s high-yield first-half performance would have been enough to account for better sides than Blackpool and it left one of the weekend heroes in Cooper emboldened with a few degrees of confidence for the winter slog ahead.
Piecing it all together in a consistent run is now United’s brief with the quality having been sporadically evident previously. Think of the Huddersfield game, first half showings against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Rotherham United and the final half-hour against Bournemouth.
Do that and according to Cooper, plenty is still possible this season in a division whose watchword is unpredictability.
Cooper said: “I think if you ask anybody in the team; the staff, the players, we know we are a top-six side and we have the quality in the side to be that.
“We have just got to put the results together and if you go three, four or five games on the bounce with wins, you are straight back up there.
“That is what we are aiming for and hopefully we can do that.
“If anyone had given us 3-1 at the start of the game on Saturday, we would have taken it. I think the performance was the biggest thing; especially the first-half performance when I don’t think Blackpool got out of their half.
“It is great to see that in front of you and see that going on with the midfielders working hard and the strikers creating chances. It was a brilliant one to watch.”