A change of formation after the Christmas defeat at Derby saw players brought in from the cold and hours of painstaking work at Thorp Arch which has turned United’s season round. Leon Wobschall reports.
the art of successful management – let alone just professional football – is possessing that innate ability to problem solve.
Despite turning fifty in the summer, the frontline dug-out experience of Neil Redfearn may not be extensive, but he has already worked out that golden rule.
A manager or head coach earns his corn when things are not going well. As they most definitely were not for Leeds United at the end of 2014, which culminated in a truly worrying defeat at Derby when the alarm bells regarding Championship relegation were starting to reverberate with gusto.
Leeds started 2015 just one point above the drop zone and reeling after five defeats in seven league games which yielded a haul of four points from 21.
In terms of finding a successful formula to engineer a solution, Redfearn may not have started with a blank piece of paper in the wake of that sorry defeat at the iPro Stadium, but it was still very much a taxing puzzle to solve.
An answer has been found since, with Redfearn realising that diamonds aren’t forever in ditching that system and moving to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Defensively, it has yielded the most manifest rewards, with Leeds having conceded just four goals in their past eight matches – including two from penalties and one from a corner.
United’s team shape and discipline has been pronounced this calendar year and it’s no coincidence, with painstaking hours at Thorp Arch yielding its rewards for Redfearn.
Leeds may have had the rub of the green in some respects at certain junctures, but as the saying goes, the harder you work, the luckier you get – and Redfearn and his re-energised troops have earned that and should make no apologies for it.
On the transformation at Leeds, Redfearn said: “What you do is you find a way. We found a way to begin with, playing with the diamond and then it ran out of steam and legs a little bit and people worked us out.
“We have found another way of playing which suits the majority and I think that the biggest thing in management is that you have to go and find a way to get results.
“I think over the course of my time in charge that is what I have done.”
He added: “I have worked with the back four and midfield two for the past month or so.
“It’s basically been about our shape out of possession and getting up the pitch and about being balanced – and when to press and when to come out of shape.
“We also work on how we attack and recover and get back into shape to be difficult to play against. The lads have really bought into it.”
Some players may have proved instrumental in orchestrating an uplifting return of five wins from the past six games, most notably Sol Bamba, with Leeds appearing to have found the true defensive leader they had been craving.
The supporting cast at the back in the likes of Scott Wootton and Charlie Taylor have also stepped out of the shadows, but in truth, every man jack of the Leeds side is playing their part.
Up front, Steve Morison has assumed responsibilty, with the team ethic having radiantly shone through since that fractured night in Derby when defending from front was conspicuous by its absence.
Attacking wise, the energy in the shape of Rudy Austin, Sam Byram and Cook has offered Leeds a threat on the counter as well, which Redfearn believes should not be lost upon people either.
He said: “Big Sol coming in has made a big difference. He has given us that physical presence that perhaps we needed.
“Whoever has partnered him has seemed to play better because of it, whether it be Bellusci or Cooper.
“Scotty Wootton and Taylor coming in at full-backs has also made a big difference because they have given us physical presence as well.
“Both players are young, athletic and can play and it just looks a better back four who are more together and stronger and solid.
“I also think the two midfield players in front in this system have suited it because you have got athleticism and craft in there in Murph and Cooky. It looks good.
“That resilience and toughness of being difficult to play against has actually got us wins.
“At this level, you will always get chances and I think if you have players who work hard and have ‘legs’ in your midfield, which we have and our team gets up the pitch well, then we will always have chances.”
The resilience has also been displayed between the posts by Marco Silvestri, a splendid last line of defence in the 1-0 win at Boro, with Redfearn confident that United also possess a goalkeeper of some repute in their midst.
A work in progress he may still be in certain departments, but Redfearn believes the Italian is coming along nicely, especially given it is just his first year in English football.
Redfearn added: “Marco is an outstanding shot-stopper, no two ways about it and his all-around game is improving bit by bit – in his game-management and presence in his own six-yard box at set-plays and things like that.
“I just think he is a top young keeper and I think he is going to get better and better.
“We look at him as a keeper and still forget his age, but he is still only young.”