Last night at The Riverside was on the surface, just another routine, miserable Leeds United away trip – the like of which we have become so accustomed to ever since the team’s last 3 point haul, way back on December 1st in Huddersfield. But in the stands, there was a different atmosphere; that same familiar air or resignation remained as the game headed toward it’s seemingly inevitable conclusion, but the exasperation or downright anger expressed in the closing moments of other games gave way to a sense of “enough is enough”; that any lingering benefit of the doubt had been extinguished, that bridges had been been burned and that Neil Warnock’s tenure in the eyes of supporters had passed the point of no return.
Last night wasn’t the first time this season that the manager left the pitch to chants of “Warnock, time to go!”, but you sensed this time it was really significant, that any aspersions about the dissent leveled at Oakwell being of the ‘knee jerk’ variety would not hold up again.
The fact is, Leeds were not actually that awful (relatively speaking, at least) against Middlesbrough, they were in the game throughout and could’ve conceivably taken or point, maybe even all three on another evening. The problem appeared to be the mindset of the team; having let 2 points slip at the weekend, they were offered the opportunity to redeem themselves in their biggest game of the season; they were facing a Middlesbrough side shot of confidence on the back of five straight defeats and haunted by an inability to beat Leeds at The Riverside (10 games, no wins) – so a golden opportunity to close the gap to the current incumbents of the final play-off place to just 2 points.
Ahead of the game, Warnock bullishly claimed:
“We’ve 16 games left and we’ll be giving it a bloody good go!”
So did Leeds have a “bloody good go?” I think not. The first half was fairly forgettable with McCormack’s miss the only real incident of note, but like at Molineux, Leeds held the edge over their nervy hosts. Come the start of the second though and Boro started on the front foot and Leeds never really responded. Despite having attacking options on the bench, Warnock chose to persevere with the wholly ineffective wide pairing of Green and Varney. The entire traveling support could see his plans were not working, they appreciated the pressing need to push for a win and yet Warnock as the half progressed seemed increasingly happy to try and secure a point. 5 points adrift of the play-offs with games slipping by and the key intention was to ensure to gap didn’t grow further.
That’s not by any description, “giving it a bloody good go” and the Leeds fans knew that; as frustrations grew with every passing minute of inaction, dissent became audible: “Warnock, make a change!” resounded from the away end – the response, a sarcastic clap; patronising those who’d paid money and taken time out to spend a freezing cold evening watching their team
Within 10 minutes, the hosts scored the winning goal that’d been long on the cards – the 2000 fans who traveled – compare that with the 3000+ and 4200+ who attended the last two Boro games, despite TV coverage – vindicated. Warnock was then forced to respond, littering the pitch with fresh legs – it was too late for the game and now also you sense, for him.
It’s been a gradual process, but over recent months five key areas of concern have emerged regarding Warnock’s tenure, and combined they make for a compelling case for his dismissal:
1: DETERIORATING RELATIONS
Upon taking the reigns at the club, Warnock’s initial weapon of choice was the charm offensive; he breezed into Elland Road, full of high spirits and continued references to the size of the club and the amazing support it commanded, almost to the point of parody. But it had the desired effect of initially lifting the mood and then in affording him the patience necessary as last season limped to its conclusion.
The sarcastic clapping gesture last night was the final act in a series of deeds that have succeeded in draining every last ounce of goodwill that remained. In recent times he repeatedly criticised the attitudes of supporters, branding them as the type who always see the glass as “being half empty, as opposed to half full”, while refusing to acknowledge any role his brand of football and the results achieved have influenced views, not to mention how the 7 years that preceded his arrival have shaped the mentality. It appears at first, his mission was to transform the mood, now he’s choosing to adopt it in an effort to deflect blame from himself.
Club and supporters have been at loggerheads for years, it now appears that the manager too has become part of the PR problem.
2: THE BLAME CULTURE
As alluded to above, Warnock loathes to accept any responsibility for the current state of affairs. Notwithstanding the digs at supporters (and the local press) for their role in creating such negativity around the club, any other target, valid or not, is still considered ‘fair game’; officials are a trusted favourite and have been implicated a few times, most memorably, the referee at Barnsley became the scapegoat for the defeat on the basis of overlooking a ‘red card’ decision that everyone else in the stadium also seemed to miss.
Prior to the closure of the transfer window, the takeover also provided a comfort blanket with which to shut out the nasty verbal brick bats that were showering in the direction of the manager. “Judge me at the end of January” was Warnock’s pledge – well, the window closed with a declaration that he now had the squad he wish he’d started the season with… a single point from three games have followed.
Oh but hang on a minute, last week a new statement… “Judge me at the end of the season”. Nobody appears to be listening any more.
3: TREATMENT OF INDIVIDUALS
This has already been touched upon before in this blog, but in the weeks that’ve since passed, it’s only become more relevant as a point.
While every manager appears to have his favourites, Warnock does so more explicitly and shamelessly than pretty much any of his contemporaries. Again, last night was a case in point:
“You can’t miss chances like we did and expect to win a game. We had a couple of great chances and you just have to put them away. It’s been the same story in the last few games. Ross Barkley had one against Cardiff, the keeper at Wolves pulled off a great save to deny Luke Varney a certain goal on Saturday, and Ross McCormack had a great one at Middlesbrough. If Ross scores that, we go on to the win game. They’d gone five without a win and if we get the goal you go on and win the game because their heads drop.”
Like Becchio so often before him, McCormack was scapegoated last night, while Ross Barkley took stick following the Cardiff game. Contrast that to the remarks about Varney – who was also publicly praised ahead of the Middlesbrough game – when the keeper instead credited with a “great save”.
It’s a reoccurring theme where certain players brought to the club by Warnock appear to be looked upon more favourably than everyone else. Byram and Lees for example, arguably the best two players left at the club have faced public criticism, shouldering the burden for defeats, but never a bad word has been spoken about Kenny, Brown, Peltier or Varney, despite countless opportunities to do so.
Whether any splits in the camp exist is purely speculative, but such actions cannot help.
Warnock’s summer purchases have proved to be a mixed bag; there have been some successes (Kenny, Ashdown, Green and recently Peltier have proved their worth) and others who it may be harsh to judge yet (Austin, Pearce and Norris) to counterbalance the likes of Andy Gray, Luke Varney and Adam Drury – but in his defence, the squad at that time was being assembled under very difficult circumstances.
However, the concerns emerged once Warnock was afforded a greater degree of freedom to bring in the players he really did want: Tate, Thomas and Barkley (inexplicably in this case) were all loans that flopped miserably; Michael Tonge fared better but was then brought in on a permanent deal and has barely figure; Ryan Hall “a promising (25 year old) youngster” who’s proving to be anything but…that leaves us with the final day deals to bring in Warnock, Morison and Habibou – the jury must remain out on that trio only a couple of games in, but what’s preceded them doesn’t bode well.
A two-edged sword, as GFH-C are equally as culpable here. Warnock’s future should’ve been resolved on the day the takeover was announced, but wasn’t, and if we are to believe everything that’s been said (or not said) publicly, not talks have subsequently taken place to resolve the issue.
As Warnock is so unafraid to speak out publicly about grievances, you’d feel that if he had any hunger to see the job through for another season, he would’ve made noises in the press about wanting to commit; the only noises emanating from his camp are those of a man going through the motions who’s simply happy now to collect a few final contributions toward his retirement fund. Any talk of next season is rendered incidental by his statements.
With the season all but over now – an 8 point gap is formidable enough an obstacle before even taking into consideration the other four clubs in the way – it is surely imperative to start planning now for August? That requires the man who’ll be leading the team out to be at the helm, not one who is going through the motions.
Reaction today certainly appears to support the theory. A number of polls across twitter and most notably on WACCOE have shown a split of around 98% – 2% in favour of change.
Realistically, Nigel Adkins would be a coup for a Championship loitering Leeds United at any time, to allow him to inevitably move on to another club without even sounding him out at a time when the owners claim to have been inundated with “investment proposals” smacks of short-sightedness on their part.
Every day that passes by without action is another lost opportunity. Time to replace ‘Yesterday’s Man’ with tomorrow’s.