Kick start: United head coach hoping work on training ground during international break will start to pay dividends. Leon Wobschall reports.
CONSISTENCY, THAT oh-so-precious footballing quality governing the fortunes of a host of Championship sides, with Leeds United no different.
For a side still evolving after being almost thrown together in the close-season when United made a spate of signings in the build-up to the start of the campaign at Millwall on August 9, it is something that has proved elusive to the club, onto their third permanent head coach already in 2014-15 with the season not yet three-and-a-half months old.
The Whites nation are hoping, some probably praying, that some continuity and coherence, both on the pitch and in the dug-out following the arrival of Neil Redfearn, will provide some order in United’s season in the coming weeks to stabilise matters.
In a line-up which contains a number of continental players still acclimatising to Championship life and young stars aiming to make their mark on a regular basis in a man’s league, getting consistency is no mean feat.
November has been a time in the recent past when United had flirted with consistency, only to fall back into bad habits.
Back in the nearly-season of 2010-11, a powerhouse run in late autumn and winter saw Leeds flex their muscles and go 12 matches unbeaten to make a statement in the Championship promotion race, only to fall away in the spring.
In the following campaign, in 2011-12, United shrugged aside a calamitous 5-0 home drubbing to Blackpool to win four of their next five games, winning successive away fixtures at Leicester City, Burnley and Nottingham Forest.
The latter win represented the perfect on-pitch tribute following the tragic passing of Gary Speed, who died two days prior to Leeds’ 4-0 triumph on an emotionally-wrought night at the City Ground on November 29, 2011.
Three consecutive losses, including a 6-1 home capitulation to Watford, represented the worst introduction to November of 2012, but back-to-back home wins over promotion contenders Crystal Palace and Leicester City provided some order and hope for the months ahead.
Twelve months ago, November also represented a time to look forward for Brian McDermott’s side in a month which saw Ross McCormack plunder seven goals.
That golden haul included a four-goal showing at Charlton when the Scot became the first Leeds player to hit four goals in a game since veteran Brian Deane dined out at QPR’s expense on November 20, 2004 in a 6-1 triumph for United.
After beating Middlesbrough 2-1 at Elland Road on November 23 of last year, Leeds were well placed in sixth spot in the Championship.
But the less said about the rest of the season, the better.
The challenge now for United is to fare better, grow into a season and avoid what has happened in previous years. It won’t be straightforward
Redfearn is fully aware of the need to find some hitherto elusive consistency, not just over the course of a run of fixtures, but during each individual game with Leeds veering from excellence to the moribund on several occasions or vice versa so far in 2014-15.
Think Bournemouth, Rotherham, Wolves, Blackpool and you get the drift.
Redfearn said: “What we have got to try and be with a young side who have been put together in a short space of time is be as consistent as we can.
“That is why these international breaks and little breathers of space are important as you can start putting things back in place.
“If you are off track a little bit, you can put things back on track or kick on a bit. We have got to take every game as it comes as there’s no easy games in the Championship. I think we have proved on our day that when we do play well, we are a decent side. But we have got to be more consistent.
“The deficiencies that have shown themselves have mainly been because the squad is new.
“Sometimes, one half has gone away from us and if you are a side who have played together or been together for a while and understand one and other’s games, those sort of games are easier to stop being wrestled away than for sides which have just been put together.”
Whisper it gently, but it has been a quiet international break so far at Elland Road and for that many will be grateful.
Certainly Redfearn, who has been using the valuable time afforded him in a fortnight’s break between fixtures to fully ingratiate himself with his charges and get his coaching ethos across ahead of a busy run-in to the end of the year.
He said: “The break lets you settle things down and concentrate on the areas where you want to improve and get back to the stuff you want to do.
“It was difficult before the break and the (Wolves) game and then the rest and recovery and then the Cardiff game and the three games in a week with Cardiff, Charlton and Blackpool.
“Really everything was based around the games and the management of players and making sure everything was right in preparation. It wasn’t time where you could really get your ethos and ideas across.
“This has handed a space in time and breather to work and give the young lads a rest as well as a lot of them have played a lot of football as well.
“This has given us a real opportunity to do the things we have wanted to do.”
Starting with Saturday’s Roses test at Ewood Park, Leeds have a daunting looking fixture list to negotiate up to the New Year.
A double-header with bogey side Derby awaits along with tough trips to Ipswich and Forest, not forgetting a home clash with Fulham, who are showing signs of getting their act together.
Not that Redfearn is reading anything into the forthcoming itinerary.
He added: “I looked at the Blackpool game and everyone spoke about it is as being a given.
“But I can see Blackpool beating teams and sides at the bottom starting to pick up results.
“Bolton are a prime example of that, while Birmingham have a new manager who has come in and are picking up.
“All the teams are capable of beating one and other on any given day.”