Leeds United: Warnock concerned over relegation talk

Stephen Warnock.
Stephen Warnock.
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Stephen Warnock would call it a self-fulfilling prophecy: convince yourself that relegation is an issue and before long it will be.

The Championship depicts Leeds United as a club with trouble on their heels but their squad and head coach don’t speak in those terms.

“We’re always looking up,” Warnock said.

“The only time (relegation) is thought about is when we’re asked a question about it.”

It’s a fair subject to broach in the circumstances but with Boxing Day here and the 23rd game of the season scheduled against Wigan later, United are in better shape than they might have been: five points above the league’s relegation places, despite 10 defeats from 22 matches and the merry-go-round of head coaches at Elland Road.

This afternoon’s meeting with Wigan – second-from-bottom and in desperate trouble – is an opportunity to move clear of danger but Warnock is more optimistic in his outlook.

It’s not a case of too-good-to-go-down but rather a feeling on his part that an embattled mentality will produce that sort of scenario.

“We can’t look down or be thinking we’re in a relegation scrap,” he said.

“We’ve got to be positive. As soon as you think you’re in a relegation scrap, you’re dragging yourselves into it.

“I’m never going to say we’re too good for that but we do have quality in the squad and we’ll be looking forward.

“Neil Redfearn is very positive that way. I don’t think he’d ever let us think like that.”

It is Warnock’s job to lead in this manner, now more than ever.

At 33 he is the oldest member of the squad at Leeds bar second-choice goalkeeper Stuart Taylor but authority was given to him last month when he inherited the captaincy from Jason Pearce.

Pearce’s appointment at the start of the season was never officially announced and Warnock’s hasn’t been either but Redfearn values the left-back highly.

In the period when United’s head coach was waiting to recruit an assistant, Warnock was one of the senior players who Redfearn looked to for help and support. In a fully-fit squad, he is also more likely to play than Pearce.

“I’ve been fortunate to be captain at Blackburn and Aston Villa,” Warnock said.

“It’s something I didn’t expect here because Jason was captain at the beginning of the season.

“It is always an honour to be captain of a club, especially one as big as this.

“Neil’s rewarded me with that and I appreciate it a lot. I’ll help him as much as I can by helping the young kids on the pitch.

“That’s my role as a senior player and you take it on naturally as you get older but we’re a young squad and there aren’t many players over 30 here so it (the captaincy) is an important role.

“We’re probably seeing the next 10 years of Leeds United coming through at the moment. Things look healthy with the way the academy’s producing players.

“And there are more coming through as well.”

Warnock himself has looked several years younger this season.

After 18 months in which his form and his contentment seemed to ebb and flow, he has developed into one of the few models of consistency at Elland Road.

The England international credits his form in part to David Hockaday, United’s ex-head coach who was maligned by many but found favour with Warnock. Redfearn’s coaching has appealed to the defender too.

Last month, Redfearn questioned publicly whether Warnock was enjoying football at Leeds for the first time.

“At the start of the season I thoroughly enjoyed myself under Dave Hockaday,” Warnock said.

“He got me going again and things snowballed from there. With Redders coming in it’s continued with getting the captaincy. It’s an added boost because you realise you’re a valuable part of the team.”

Warnock is out of contract at the end of the season, a situation which Leeds might seek to address soon.

The defender says he and the club have had no negotiations yet, though he is not banging on Massimo Cellino’s door either.

“To be honest I’ve not even thought about it,” he said.

“It’s a sort of ‘head down, get to the end of the season’ situation and then see where we’re at.

“If anything pops up in between then obviously I’ll sit down and talk. But nothing’s been mentioned so I’ll continue as normal.”

Leeds have plenty of other matters to contend with. Cellino is fighting to prevent the Football League from disqualifying him as owner of the club.

In the meantime, United are looking to sign new players next month, regardless of the fact that they will be under a Financial Fair Play embargo in January.

And aside from anything else, the squad are deprived of the luxury of thinking long term.

Their league position is not critical but it is not satisfactory either. Their last 14 league games have produced two wins.

There is, still, a clear disparity between their results at home and those away from Elland Road but a draw at Nottingham Forest last Saturday showed more of the resistance that Redfearn is asking for.

“We’ve identified that away from home we need to be more solid,” Warnock said.

“Look at the teams who get out of this league – they win the majority of their home games and nick the odd three points away. But they’ll draw a lot of away games.”

Wigan at home is more of a must-win fixture; a six-pointer in a way. It’s the sixth leg in a hard run of seven matches which ends away at Derby next Tuesday.

“We know Wigan aren’t in great form but it’s a potential banana-skin for us,” Warnock said.

“We’ve got to get the crowd up for it as early as we can, get them buzzing and stir us on.

“You always try and get out of the festive period with a good tally of points so you can look back and see it as a good couple of weeks.

“If we’ve got four points (from Forest and Wigan) before the Derby game and then get a result there, it’ll have been good for us.”