Leeds United: Whites’ plight underlines the division’s toughness

Leeds United goalkeeper Marco Silvestri clears his lines.
Leeds United goalkeeper Marco Silvestri clears his lines.
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By my reckoning the Championship gets tougher and tougher each season.

It’s England’s second division but not as we used to know it. The lure of the Premier League and the money it offers – to clubs, players, managers, everyone – has transformed the Championship into a massively competitive environment.

You can’t bluff in the Championship. You can’t get by on a wing and a prayer. It’s a league which finds you out quite easily and, at times this season, Leeds United have been exposed. It’s been a learning curve for a few people, not least Massimo Cellino.

If you don’t know a great deal about the Championship, it must be very easy to under-estimate the standard of football you’ll encounter in it. I do think that when he first bought Leeds, Massimo thought it would be less of a challenge to master the division than it has been.

I sat with him at the Bradford City cup game in August and we spoke about it then. I was pretty honest and I said to him ‘the Championship is better than you think it is.’ To be fair to him, he basically agreed. I think at that stage he knew that getting to the Premier League might take longer than he hoped.

No doubt he believed that the clutch of players brought in last summer would be good enough to make for a comfortable season, if not necessarily good enough to get us challenging right away, but the reality’s been different. So I agree with the view that a rethink is needed when we get to the end of this term.

That’s not to say that our squad doesn’t have talent in it. Genuinely it does. I’ve said before that our goalkeeper, Marco Silvestri, is my choice for player of the year and I’m not about to change my mind. And we’ve spoken about the ability of the young kids endlessly.

They’ve been a breath of fresh air for the club, on and off the pitch. They’ve helped with the performances but I also think they’ve given a bit of energy and excitement to the fans.

This has been a really tough year for the supporters and they haven’t had much to cheer about. You can tell that they’ve warmed to the youngsters and that’s one of the things that’s giving them hope.

But Neil Redfearn’s right when he says that our best starting line-up could do with four or five additions. Our defence has been up and down this season but, if I’m totally honest, I’ve never felt happy with it. We always look like conceding goals. The back four could do with work from left to right and that’s probably the biggest job facing the club in terms of team building in the summer.

We also need a couple of goalscorers; two forwards who between them will score 30-odd goals. That’s essential in the Championship and it’s got to be a major priority in the transfer window.

There aren’t many outstanding defences in this league but every side going for promotion has someone up front who regularly hits the net.

This Leeds team are very much a work in progress and there’s plenty of work to be done. But as we near the end of the season, I’m inclined to think that the players haven’t done too badly.

When you consider the financial problems the owner’s been facing, the fact that he’s been banned by the Football League, the fact that we were under a transfer embargo and all the other things that have happened, this season could have ended very differently. Hopefully the players can take some positives from that.

As for the supporters, I’ve been so impressed by their patience and their loyalty. They have been patient; unbelievably so. Yes, we heard a bit of booing at the end of the Cardiff game last weekend but that’s not been the norm.

The players really can’t argue with the backing they’ve been getting. And they deserved some stick on Saturday. It seemed to me that a few of them were counting down the days to the end of the season – and that’s not acceptable.

I really hope for the supporters’ sake that better times are around the corner.

I hope that sticking with it through thick and thin this season will be worth the effort.

This team will only improve with investment in the right areas. But it can get better.