What if we hadn’t sold Snodgrass?
What if the takeover was completed in the summer?
What if Warnock had left earlier?
These are the sort of questions playing on the minds of Leeds United fans as the Championship campaign goes by with the same sufferable outcome, another season of mid-table mediocrity.
After the poor 2011/12 season, Neil Warnock promised an overhaul of the squad with fresh faces to pull the team out of the second tier of English football and back to where they belong. He even starred in a promotional video for the new kit with the “new shirt, new start” slogan building up the fans hopes of reviving their Premier League status.
With the takeover talk looming over the entire summer, Warnock was left to rummage through the bargain bin. The calibre of players was worse than the standard seen under Simon Grayson in League One, with four of the signings coming from recently relegated Portsmouth. But, that wasn’t the worst of it. The sale of the clubs best player and captain Robert Snodgrass left not only the fans fuming, but Warnock too. He constantly talked up the need of funds to bolster his squad, but the newly crowned ‘President’ Ken Bates threw out his demands. It left Warnock calling for the help of El Hadji Diouf, a man he once described as a sewer rat.
But on the pitch Leeds opened the season well, a demolition on Shrewsbury in the League Cup, followed by an impressive 1-0 victory of Wolves, it seemed as if this could be the year Leeds push onwards and upwards. But that in fact, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. The league form fluctuated, a lack of consistency left Leeds chasing the pack.
The worse came in a 6-1 home defeat to Watford, a loss which struck a sense of déjà vu amongst the fans after Warnock had previously stated a Leeds team would never be humiliated again like the 7-3 defeat to Nottingham Forrest the previous year. Warnock became increasingly under scrutiny. Even the completion of the takeover, a saga which had lasted 7 months, couldn’t turn all the fans.
The team performed admirably in the cup competitions before the Christmas period, defeating Premier League Everton and Southampton, before the Eden Hazard show lead to an unreflective 5-1 battering by Chelsea. But the festival programme in the league did not follow suit, as the mediocre results left Leeds losing more ground on the play-off hunters.
Warnock’s days seemed numbered from then on, promotion was looking unlikely and his ideas were wearing thin. January saw a 2-0 away loss to strugglers and Yorkshire rivals Barnsley, with the fans letting Warnock know exactly what they thought of him. He showed too much loyalty to his old guard, sending Everton’s hot prospect Ross Barkley back to his parent club as he couldn’t guarantee him game time over Michael ‘Browneh’ Brown and Michael ‘Tongeh’ Tonge. The transfer request and sale of tally man Luciano Becchio, which brought the disappointing Steve Morison to the club, left the writing on the wall for Warnock; it was just a matter of when.
The shock 2-1 win over high-flying Spurs in the FA Cup did nothing for the league campaign as results were constantly disappointing, and after the next rounds 4-0 annihilation by Manchester City, Warnock knew himself his tenure was drawing to a close.
A small green patch of results, followed by hugely disappointing displays against Ipswich and Derby, left Leeds out of reach of the play-offs, and only a whisker away from the bottom three. Warnock ‘mutually agreed’ to leave, claiming he could go with his head held high. No manager, no form, no confidence; it began to look like a relegation battle.
But then the club made a massive announcement.
On Friday 12th April it was announced Brian McDermott would be taking over as manager. The signing was seen as a huge coup as McDermott, who was unfairly stripped of his duties at Reading, is known as a well-respected, highly talented and ambitious manager. And he wasted no time getting involved as he was down in the dug-out for Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday’s visit to Elland Road the following day, a game Leeds won 2-1.
McDermott brought with him his ‘entertaining’ football philosophy, and the changes were evident from day one. The hoof ball tactics of Warnock were gone; Leeds United were actually passing the ball around and team began to prosper from it. Even Luke Varney began to be cherished by the fans. The season finished with a dramatic 2-1 victory over promotion chasers Watford, but left Leeds yet again in the wilderness of 13th place.
Amongst a lot of negatives however, there are a few positives. Sam Byram has been exceptional throughout the entire campaign, keeping club captain Lee Peltier out of his natural right back position. The 19 year old is a fantastic prospect, along with midfielder Chris Dawson, who plays with the confidence and guile of Luka Modric.
But as Leeds fans say every May, let us hope and pray it is different next season.
Written by Josh Westerman, We Are Going Up’s Leeds United blogger
Josh tweets @JoshuaWesterman