After an unbeaten start to the new campaign, it is safe to say Leeds United are in safe hands with Brian McDermott at the helm. After the dismal scenes of last season, the philosophy and belief McDermott has installed into the team have rejuvenated not only the squad, but the fans too.
The pre-season, it is fair to say, was a bit up and down with a few good wins partnered with a few bad losses, most notably a defeat against Walsall, but all was forgotten by the 3rd of August. A packed house of 33,500 watched on as new boy Luke Murphy smashed the winner in against Brighton on the opening day of the season, and every one of those fans came away with a renewed sense of optimism that this maybe, just maybe, could be the year Leeds finally return to the Premier League.
It was obvious from the kick off that McDermott had stamped his ideas on the team, with the players showcasing a new 4-1-2-1-2 (or the diamond midfield as it is affectionately known) formation, much different to that of Neil “Hoof-Ball” Warnock. The new system encouraged passing, attacking and, most importantly for the on-looking fans, entertainment. And this wasn’t just a one off, McDermott has stuck with the formation for the opening four games, resulting in two wins and two draws. The decision to drop Lee Peltier as captain in favour of midfield enforcer Rudy Austin also seems to be a winner with the Elland Road faithful.
The new philosophy taught by McDermott has also brought a new role for fans’ favourite Ross McCormack. Since his move from Cardiff in 2010, McCormack has been used mainly as a striker partnering ex-star Luciano Becchio or as a wide attacker in a 4-3-3. But the new manager has seen McCormack fit to play just off the two front men, as an attacking midfielder. The switch has worked magnificently, with the Scottish international’s flair, guile and creativity becoming the lynchpin of the team; when McCormack plays, Leeds play. Plus by already scoring two goals in three league encounters, it seems like he is revelling in his new role.
The acquisition of players has been a taboo subject over the club’s recent history, mainly due to the tight-fisted ex-Chairman-to-President Ken Bates. But Leeds have been relatively busy in comparison to years gone by. McDermott bolstered the club’s striking options by bringing in Matt Smith and Noel Hunt on free transfers, which inevitably ended Steve Morison’s ill-fated spell at Leeds as he was shipped off to Millwall in a bid to reduce the wage bill. But it is the other two new arrivals which McDermott can class as coups for the club. Midfielder Luke Murphy was brought in from Crewe for £1million, and boy does he live up to his price tag. The 23 year old is a complete midfielder, with the ability to pass, tackle, create, head and more importantly score goals, becoming an instant fans’ favourite after his 94th minute winner against Brighton.
The second impressive deal comes in the form of Scott Wootton. The defender, who can player either central or at right back, joins from Manchester United and is a highly rated young prospect within the game. Many of his admirers are questioning why David Moyes has let Wootton go without giving him a fair crack of the whip, especially with the ageing pair Rio Ferdiand and Nemanja Vidic becoming increasingly injury prone.
But it isn’t just on the pitch the team are reaping the benefits of McDermott’s changes. Little things like making a pitch at the club’s the training facilities the same size as Elland Road, to moving the academy players changing room next to the first teams are all combining to rebuild the club and make it United once again.
McDermott has worked in nearly all the different positions in football, from Scout to Reserve Team Manager and has shown he can already create the formula for promotion after a successful spell as Reading boss. His cool and calm demeanour in interviews suggests he knows what he is doing, and his latest recruits back this up. So let’s hope this is a season to remember, rather than yet another to forget.
Written by Josh Westerman, We Are Going Up’s Leeds United blogger
Josh tweets @JoshuaWesterman