SEVEN of Neil Redfearn’s starting XI at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday were aged 23 or under.
Leeds United’s potential cannot be questioned yet there’s fears a gut-wrenching loss at Ewood Park will leave the club’s young guns shattered.
But not if Stephen Warnock has his way with the 32-year-old vowing to stand up and be counted alongside 30-year-old Mirco Antenucci and lead the club’s crestfallen starlets through a difficult time.
A youthful Whites looked like taking Ewood Park by storm on Saturday when a crisp first-half performance gave United a 1-0 interval lead.
Souleymane Doukara – aged 23 – was the goal-getter for a team featuring two more 23-year-olds in Liam Cooper and Marco Silvestri plus Sam Byram, 21, Adryan, 20, Alex Mowatt, 19 and the baby of the group Lewis Cook, 17.
But it was errors from three of United’s young stars that ultimately led to Leeds’ undoing with Cooper and Silvestri making a Horlicks of a long ball to allow Jordan Rhodes a simple tap in and Byram’s albeit soft challenge on an artistic Luke Varney leading to a late Rovers penalty and heart-breaking Blackburn winner. Warnock knows United should have been out of sight at Ewood Park – such was their first-half dominance. With a bit more know-how and guile in the side, the Whites might well have been home and hosed.
And after several years of being the baby of the group at first club Liverpool, Warnock is ready to stand up and be counted in United’s search for valuable experience and a helping hand to the club’s bruised young stars.
Warnock told the YEP: “I have been at plenty of clubs when I was younger where the senior players step up and sort of try and help out and put an arm around the young lads if you like and try and nurse them through it a bit.
“We are a young team aside from myself and probably Mirco and us and the rest of the lads around the place such as Tongey and Stewie Taylor have got to try and lift the place and get them going. We are senior players and that is what senior players do. We need a result and to get points on the board and need to start climbing the table. I am sure Redders will try and lift the lads this week and I am sure the senior boys will do that as well and try and help us.”
Warnock will turn 33 on December 12 and the left-back was the oldest member of United’s starting XI at Blackburn by two years.
Club captain Jason Pearce is himself only 26 – the same age as combative midfielder Tommaso Bianchi.
Mirco Antenucci is four years older at 30 and even allowing for Cooper and Silvestri’s mix-up, the Whites would likely have taken all three points anyhow had the Italian’s second-half effort not cannoned back off the post soon after Rhodes’ equaliser.
Warnock admits Saturday’s loss was incredibly hard to take – especially in front of such a magnificent travelling contingent of nearly 7,000 – the largest away following of the Championship campaign.
“It was a great following and all credit to the fans,” said Warnock. “They deserved a lot more and I think up until the goal we were probably going to give them that. Mistakes changed the game and we are disappointed for both the fans and ourselves.
“The fans were incredible, to think you have that type of following coming down to the game. It is amazing and Leeds are probably one of the only clubs that will do it. I think there only a handful of teams you could mention who actually bring that many fans.
“We knew we had them and you could hear them throughout the game. I fully thought we’d get the result to send them home happy.”
Instead – for the sixth time this season – United’s fans were left with that sinking feeling of defeat and a result that left the Whites in 16th place and just two points above the dropzone.
Derby County – top of the Championship – are next.
But Warnock says his men will soon patch themselves up in training this week – righting the wrongs of Saturday’s second-half sucker punches and hopeful the comforts of home can get his football club back to winning ways this weekend.
With a winning mentality needed, the defender has also called on Leeds to win ugly rather than lose pretty.
“You would rather play rubbish and win a game,” said Warnock. “That is one of the disappointing things and one of the sides we need to sort of get into ourselves. A lot of teams in this league are good at sucking up the pressure and then getting a couple of goals and all of a sudden, winning the game. They won’t care how they played after the game, they get three points and go home happy.
“We have put in some great first-half displays and played well for spells in the second half, but never carry it out for 90 minutes. It is something that Redders said that he wants to address and knock out of us. We will keep working hard on the training pitch to sort that out.
“We look dynamic and a threat every time we go forward but sometimes, our decision-making in the final third is not quite there at the moment.
“We are maybe trying to be more difficult when maybe we can just go with another pass to pass our way in a little bit more. But on the flipside, there’s times when we are probably passing it a bit too much. It’s finding that balance.
“I think it is the same at any club when you lose a game and when you lose a game in this way, it’s how you bounce back from it and react to it.
“We have got to be resilient and pick ourselves up and try and work our where we are going wrong and how to win games. We know we are strong at home and no-one will want to come to Elland Road and think they are going to try and walk over us. That just won’t happen.”