Leeds United: Whites beginning to get balance right

Steve Morison.
Steve Morison.
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United coach Neil Redfearn tells Phil Hay his team is beginning to hit the right groove, thanks in part to the arrival of his new assistant, Steve Thompson, who came from this Saturday’s hosts Huddersfield Town.

Only once this season have Leeds United registered back-to-back victories in the Championship. The victims on that occasion, far back in September, were Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town.

Neil Redfearn isn’t interested in half-baked omens but the club’s head coach is tempted to think that his squad are edging into the groove which brought six points in his final week as caretaker boss.

Leeds accounted for Bournemouth at Elland Road last Tuesday, outwitting the league leaders for the second time in four months, and they travel to Huddersfield Town this weekend with some overdue momentum behind them.

A 1-0 defeat of Bournemouth was as valuable result as the club have produced this season, a huge shot in the arm just as the Championship’s relegation places seemed to be sucking their players in, but Redfearn did not see it as a freak scoreline or an isolated performance. He is hopeful that once again, Huddersfield will catch his squad at the wrong time.

“That result’s been coming for a few weeks,” Redfearn said. “We’ve been improving bit by bit and we’ve been getting better. If you look at the games since the turn of the year, we’ve been a competitive side; properly competitive.

“Bournemouth was outstanding and to beat a team like that is no mean feat. But we ran Bolton close at their place and we were unlucky not to beat Birmingham at home. You’re talking about three form teams there and it wouldn’t have been an injustice if we’d come out of those games with nine points.

“But in the circumstances and considering the way the season’s gone, five points is good going.

“It’s a step in the right direction and it’s a positive run. I can see our rhythm coming back.

“A few wins back-to-back would make the world of difference now and I want us to be looking for that.

“We’re going to Huddersfield with our tails up.”

Redfearn will go there with two new players after Leeds completed the loan signings of defender Sol Bamba and midfielder Granddi Ngoyi from Palermo over the weekend. The pair should both receive international clearance in time to play at the John Smith’s Stadium and Bamba could start at centre-back with Giuseppe Bellusci beginning a two-game ban.

Redfearn, nonetheless, has conjured United’s upturn in form by using more established or familiar faces.

His line-up against Bournemouth contained just three summer signings and only two from abroad. He has married the best of United’s academy products with players who were essentially surplus a month ago – Luke Murphy, Rodolph Austin and Steve Morison. Leeds would have listened to offers for any of them at the start of the January window.

“I’m looking at the team and seeing round pegs in round holes,” Redfearn said.

“The system at the moment needs a striker who can play up front on his own and Steve Morison’s capable of that. In midfield there’s the right balance between grit, energy and creativity. We look like a balanced side.”

United’s improving results have also coincided with the arrival of Redfearn’s assistant, Steve Thompson, at Thorp Arch.

Leeds took almost two months to talk Huddersfield into a deal for Thompson, who was employed as a first-team coach at the John Smith’s Stadium, and Redfearn has little in the way of experienced coaches beneath him prior to the 50-year-old appointment. He will have the benefit of Thompson’s knowledge of Huddersfield’s squad as United prepare for Saturday’s match.

“The main difference with having Thommo here is the extra work it allows us to do,” Redfearn said. “Before, I was basically looking after the entire group.

“It was very difficult to split the players up and focus on the areas we needed to improve. The messages I wanted to get across were a bit diluted.

“We’re in a position now where he (Thompson) can look at the front end of the team and concentrate on their movement while I take the back four for a proper session. Some of it’s basic stuff but it’s vital too and you need extra pairs of hands to get everything done.

“I’ve known Thommo for years and he’s been around the Championship for years. He knows it and we definitely need that knowledge right the way through the set-up.”

Bamba trained with Leeds for the first time last Friday and will continue to settle in this week, but the Ivory Coast international played next to no football for Palermo in the first half of the Italian season, featuring in a solitary league game in September.

With Bellusci banned, Redfearn has the option of turning instead to former club captain Jason Pearce, a player who is the subject of interest from Wigan Athletic.

United’s suspended president, Massimo Cellino, deemed Pearce surplus to requirements last month but Redfearn is believed to be resistent to the idea of selling him.

Bellusci remains at risk of a lengthy ban from the Football Association after being charged with racially abusing Norwich City striker Cameron Jerome. A date for his hearing is still to be announced but the Italian will be suspended for a minimum of five matches if found guilty. He denies the charge.

Morison, meanwhile, should be fit to start up front at Huddersfield despite limping out of United’s win over Bournemouth.

The striker has a minor injury affecting a hip and a thigh but he was sent to a specialist last week and received an encouraging analysis.

“It doesn’t sound like there’s any great problem,” said Redfearn. “Fingers crossed he’ll be fine for the weekend.”