NOT so long ago, a headache for Dave Hockaday would invariably mean the latest calamity had befallen Leeds United.
During an often head-spinning summer at Elland Road, if it could go wrong for the Championship club and their new head coach then it did go wrong with one scheduled opponent in pre-season failing even to turn up and a host of transfer deals collapsing at the 11th hour.
Now, however, after a heartening week that has brought not only back-to-back victories but also a trio of new signings that can be filed under the heading ‘quality, not quantity’, suddenly the world seems a happier place for Hockaday.
And if the final few transfer targets – Italian striker Mirco Antenucci was last night understood to be close to joining, while Brazilian midfielder Adryan is also wanted – come to fruition before the window closes at the end of the month, any potential headache is likely to be of the selection variety. Quite a turnaround, as the 56-year-old readily admits.
“Middlesbrough was a hard-earned victory and there was lots of euphoria afterwards,” said the United head coach about the impact of Saturday’s 1-0 triumph at Elland Road.
“I think Boro will have come off the pitch thinking, ‘What a great crowd to play in front of and what a tough place to come’. Now, though, we need to replicate that and carry on the momentum and belief.”
The first test of that new-found belief will come tonight when Brighton & Hove Albion travel to Elland Road.
Sami Hyypia’s Seagulls may be one of four clubs in the Championship still awaiting their first point of the season, but consecutive appearances in the play-offs show they are not a club to be dismissed lightly. Certainly, Hockaday believes tonight will be a tough test.
“Brighton are very awkward opponents,” he said. “They like to get the ball down and they will also flood midfield, so we will have to be patient.”
Patience is something the Leeds chief had to show while waiting for new arrivals earlier in the summer.
Now, though, with Billy Sharp and Liam Cooper joining Giuseppe Bellusci, who was last night still awaiting international clearance over his season-long loan switch, at Elland Road last week, suddenly Hockaday has options.
These are likely to grow further before the window shuts, too.
“We have had a really good look at the players and assessed where we feel we need to strengthen,” said the former Hull City full-back.
“I think if and when we bring players in, I would like to think they are going to be players who are going to challenge the starting XI, instead of (being) squad players.
“We are not going to rush or panic. There are lots of good players out there and, hopefully, lots of good business to be done by the president (Massimo Cellino).
“We have been close to a number of deals, a lot closer than people are aware of.
“I am looking at players who can come in and make a difference. That is the key now. The president and I are talking, texting and meeting every day and looking at options. It is a very considered approach and I think we have done pretty well so far.
“We have to be careful who we get in, but if we can add quality in the right areas to this group, that can only be good for Leeds United. If that gives me the right type of headache, then great.
“I would like to think by the time the international break has finished and the dust has settled, we will have a better idea of where we should be setting our sights.”
Another boost arrived with Matt Smith agreeing a new three-year contract, while club sources are suggesting Sam Byram could remain at Elland Road despite a recent bid from Premier League Southampton.
Two other United players whose futures have been the subject of debate are Paddy Kenny and Noel Hunt.
However, while Kenny yesterday left Leeds via mutual consent, Hunt, yet to score and recently barracked by a section of supporters, is someone Hockaday would like to see stay at the club.
He added: “Noel is a Leeds United player and a great lad. I am not going to hide from the fact that he has been given a hard time by a portion of people, which I think is harsh and unnecessary because he is a great lad who was plagued by injury last year.
“He has said to me, ‘Gaffer, if you need me, I will give you 100 per cent’. That’s all you can ask.
“I would love it, if and when he gets on the field, that the fans get behind him.”
Souleymane Doukara is a doubt for tonight after suffering an ankle injury against Boro.
Last six games: Leeds United LWDLWW, Brighton & Hove Albion WLLLWL.
Last time: Leeds United 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 1; August 3, 2014; Championship.
Referee: J Adcock (Nottinghamshire).