DERBY COUNTY’S stadium has been a house of pain for Leeds United for a good few years but never has the hurt been as acute as on Tuesday.
A 2-0 Rams win may not have implied – statistically speaking – a savage beating for the Whites. But, make no mistake, the collateral damage was just the same as you would receive from a four or five-goal hammering.
Leeds’s seventh straight loss in Derby was the most destructive yet, with Whites fans, after witnessing such a feeble offering, forgiven for wondering just where the next league win is coming from amid the club’s increasingly parlous plight at the foot of the Championship.
As Mark Twain said, it is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog that is all-important in a scrap.
Leeds, despite being the biggest entity in the Championship, lacked mongrel traits in a submissive second half where the belligerent qualities required for any successful survival battle were non-existent.
The defeat carried with it the putrid stench of relegation at a ground where Leeds played their last game in the Championship in May, 2007 before dropping into League One. Tuesday’s defeat, an identical 2-0 loss, bore those same hallmarks.
Manager Neil Redfearn admitted that the dressing room needed ‘a little bit of help’, yet for all continued talk of the season being of the ‘one step forward and two steps back’ variety, a run of two wins in 16 games suggests a more deep-rooted malaise.
Combat fatigues need to be donned, if not by the current group of players, then some replacements, although the issue is made problematic by Leeds being under a Football League transfer embargo for a breach of Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.
Regulations do allow second-tier sides to sign players on free transfers and for wages of £600,000 a year or less, with Serie B striker Leonardo Pavoletti set to join and interest being shown in Slovenian midfielder Rene Krhin and Bulgarian forward Andrey Galabinov.
Their suitability for a Championship dogfight remains another thing entirely, with Leeds’ extensive foreign contingent having wintered poorly with the body language of several telling at Derby.
Mindful that the January roster includes games with Birmingham and Huddersfield, with Millwall, Brighton and Reading following in February, coach Redfearn must pick up the pieces.
He said: “The one thing you can’t do is visibly show your disappointment, there’s got to be a reaction after everything.
“People have got to visibly see you have got that battling fighting desire and spirit.
“It is a young side and at the minute, it is a bit battered and bruised. The club in general have been through the wringer and a lot of changes of head coaches, players and personnel and it is going through it a bit.
“But there is no point me coming in ranting and raving. We need answers now and must make sure the club and supporters stick together because we are only going to get out of it together.
“If we start fragmenting now, it is not going to help.”
Former manager Howard Wilkinson spoke impressively about the passing of former Leeds chairman Leslie Silver on Monday and hailed his ‘strong spine and balls of steel’ in transforming United.
How the present-day Leeds squad could do with some of those qualities in the weeks ahead.