It was Saturday 18th February 2012 when Neil Warnock was appointed as the man to lead Leeds United back to the promised land of the Premier League. Leeds were facing Doncaster Rovers at Elland Road as Warnock watched his new side from the stands, only to witness a 1-0 deficit at half-time to one of the divisions relegation battlers. He took it on himself to delegate second half tactics on the team, going down to the dressing room to make the needed amendments. Leeds won the game 3-2, and Warnock was presented as this fallen giant’s saviour. One year on, it looks much bleaker.
After being dumped out of the FA Cup through Sunday’s 4-0 thrashing by Manchester City, Leeds are left in Championship mid-table mediocrity with chances of a play-off finish slowly diminishing. But where has it gone oh-so-wrong for Warnock, the man described as a promotion Messiah?
Warnock succeeded the popular Simon Grayson, who had taken the club to the cusp of the promotion places, yet a weak winter period led Ken Bates to wield the axe. With seven promotions to his name already, Warnock was the perfect replacement.
But things rarely work out in football, especially at Leeds United.
The remainder of the season was a disaster. Leeds plummeted down the league places, with a string of embarrassing results, the worst a club record 7-3 home defeat to Nottingham Forrest. Leeds ended the campaign in the wilderness of 14th position.
The close season became one of much uncertainty, with a prospective takeover not being completed during the summer. Warnock was left relying on mainly free transfers, and a bizarre advert for the clubs new home shirt, to invigorate the fans. However, after an opening day 1-0 over recently relegated Wolves, it seemed as if Warnock was waving his magic wand over Elland Road, and a promotion pushing season beckoned.
But the fantasy of a return to the high table of English football has all but gone.
Leeds sit in mid-table, eight points of the play-offs and eight points off relegation with some tough fixtures coming up. The much anticipated Warnock magic has failed to create the needed spark. The heavy reliance on Luciano Becchio’s goals was evident and after his January move to Norwich, the future looks dreary.
Warnock, who is still referred to by many Leeds supporters by an unaffectionate anagram of his name, seems to have run out of ideas. The style of play he has implemented on the team is out-dated, the long ball hoof being no-where near as effective as the ‘tippy-tappy’ pass-and-move style. In recent games, the Leeds faithful have cried “Warnock, change the team,” with the Leeds boss rarely making substitutions until the final minutes. Many saw the mid-week clash with Middlesbrough as a must win, yet Warnock’s lack on intent was questioned, by only making changes after the home side took the lead, in the 81st minute.
The decision to send Everton starlet Ross Barkley back to his parent club also baffled fans, a player who is said to go on to great things in the game, yet Warnock could not guarantee him games over the ageing Michael Brown.
In the FA Cup post-match interview, Warnock, who is contracted until the end of the current season, admitted the future of his job is dependent on promotion, but says he deserves a medal due to the background circumstances he has faced. Simon Grayson created a competitive decent Leeds outfit, even from the tiny funds from Bates’ tight fist, and he never complained. He claims to have brought ‘stability’ to the club, but Leeds are in a much worse situation in terms of the league positioning now than before he was appointed.
With play-off chances fading vastly, I only see one solution; Warnock needs to leave, now. His reign at Leeds has been built on false promises and poor results, and is now partnered with the loss of the fans’ faith. Although a top six finish is still mathematically possible, a new man needs to be at the helm.
With games still left of the season, a new manager would be able to assess the team and gain an idea of funds available from the clubs new owners, GFH Capital, for the next campaign. The likes of former Southampton boss Nigel Adkins, Swindon’s Paolo Di Canio and former Leeds assistant and current Brighton manager, Gus Poyet have all been touted for the role. All three would be a more popular choice than sticking with Warnock.
But for now, see thee later Neil, thanks for trying.
Written by Josh Westerman, We Are Going Up’s Leeds United blogger
Josh tweets @JoshuaWesterman