CARETAKER manager Neil Redfearn has warned Leeds United to be wary of the “wounded animal” that will be Huddersfield Town in tomorrow’s eagerly-anticipated West Yorkshire derby.
A bumper Elland Road crowd is expected for the first meeting between the two clubs since the Terriers slumped to a 5-1 defeat on a weekend that was bizarre even by the often chaotic standards of Leeds.
On the eve of the February 1 game, Brian McDermott was sacked only to then be reinstated on the Sunday. In his absence, Redfearn and McDermott’s assistant took the team and oversaw United’s second biggest win over Huddersfield in the club’s history.
Six of the 13 Leeds players who took to the field in that match have since moved on, while 11 of the Town players are still at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Redfearn, who has overseen a three-game unbeaten run since taking charge in the wake of Dave Hockaday’s dismissal, believes that makes Town dangerous opponents tomorrow.
“I would have wanted to roll them over,” said Redfearn in response to The Yorkshire Post’s enquiry as to how he, in his days as a tough-tackling midfielder, would have reacted to such a heavy derby loss.
“I would want to get into them straight away the next time we played. If you have got any pride then your pride will be hurt after a result like that. Huddersfield are a wounded animal from last season so it will be tough.
“In derby games, form goes right out of the window. No-one would ever have said it would be 5-1 that day (in February). Derby matches throw up quirks like that and you really have got to be switched on.
“It is going to be a new experience for some of these players. Bradford (in the Capital One Cup) was a taste and I think that showed what a leveller derbies can be. I saw the game (which Leeds lost 2-1) and thought we acquitted ourselves quite well. It was a difficult game and the sending off (Luke Murphy) didn’t help.
“I am pretty sure some of these players will have played in Italian derbies but there will be a big crowd at Elland Road and they will be full of expectation. It will be a good game to play in.
“That said, I respect Huddersfield and I respect what they stand for as a club. They are a Yorkshire club and I am pro Yorkshire.”
United go into the game – unusually for 2014 – on something of a high after the impressive manner of Tuesday night’s 3-1 win at Bournemouth.
Following on from last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Birmingham City and the 1-0 win over Bolton Wanderers that preceded the recent international break, Redfearn has done an admirable job in steadying matters at Elland Road.
The seven-point haul has not only lifted Leeds into mid-table but also bought president Massimo Cellino time in his search for a permanent replacement to Hockaday.
Darko Milanic, the coach of Austrian side Strum Graz, emerged this week as a leading contender, while former United player – and Argentina coach in this year’s World Cup – Alex Sabella has also expressed an interest.
Redfearn, for his part, is in the dark as to who Cellino has set his sights on. The club’s Academy coach – a role Cellino wants to keep him in – is just happy to help out until the new man arrives.
Asked if this was his last game, the caretaker chief said: “I honestly don’t know. I will speak to Massimo and he will tell me which way we are going to go.
“I have enjoyed it, no two ways about that. But the overriding thing isn’t me. What I think is irrelevant. It is what is right for the club.”
Regardless of what happens tomorrow at Elland Road, in terms of drama it will have to be some game to eclipse the bizarre goings-on that surrounded the February meeting of the two clubs when pre-match protests against Cellino – blamed by fans for sacking McDermott despite not having taken charge – were followed by Huddersfield bossing much of the first half only to be over-run after the break.
Redfearn, drafted in to take the team that day, remembers it well.
He said: “I took the group in the morning that wasn’t involved (against Huddersfield). I then came down to Elland Road and got on with it from there. There wasn’t much time together. We put the side together and played the game.
“The big thing was that for the first 15 minutes, Huddersfield came out the traps. We went 1-0 down and it looked like it was going to be two or three.
“The equaliser on half-time settled us down and I do remember on that day the crowd making the difference as it went one, two, three. It affected Huddersfield so the supporters have got a part to play. But they know that.”
As for taking on Chris Powell’s Town, Redfearn added: “I played with Chris at Charlton and he was an apprentice at Palace when I was there which makes me feel old.
“He is a great guy and a good footballer, a great player with a lot of football knowledge.
“He has earned the right from what he did at Charlton. He is more than capable of taking on a club like Huddersfield and doing well. Chris understands this division and this level. With it being a Yorkshire derby, form will go out the window because it’s about the day and getting across the line.”