Richard Sutcliffe examines the state of play at Elland Road after another collapse leaves question marks over the future of head coach Steve Evans.
WITH Leeds United on course to win more games away from Elland Road this season than on home soil for the first time in the club’s history, visits to LS11 have become almost as interesting for what happens off the field as on it.
A section of the club’s support is in open revolt against owner Massimo Cellino, those fans intent on forcing out the Italian having adopted the novel approach of beaming protest images on to the side of the East Stand before last month’s goalless draw against Middlesbrough and then following that with a flyover and funeral procession when Bolton Wanderers were in town on March 5.
For the visit of Huddersfield Town, a new stunt was dreamed up that saw a 20m cinema screen erected in the Council-owned car park that sits alongside the Old Peacock pub and a video reel broadcast outlining the many issues that the ‘Time to Go Massimo’ group have with Cellino.
Fifty yards away, the alternative viewpoint was put by supporters carrying a huge banner that read ‘In Massimo We Trust’.
Such division jars with an anthem that boasts proudly of marching together but, by the final whistle, even those at polar opposites of the Cellino debate were in agreement on one thing: United’s second-half collapse against the Terriers had been shockingly awful.
Ahead for the best part of 20 minutes in the first half and still hopeful of claiming a fourth straight win as the derby entered the final quarter, Leeds imploded in a manner similar to the debacle that was last month’s 4-0 thrashing at Brighton & Hove Albion.
On the south coast, the United defence went AWOL as Marco Silvestri was beaten four times in 20 minutes. Here, the goals came at an even quicker pace with Harry Bunn, Karim Matmour and Nahki Wells all getting their names on the scoresheet in the space of just eight minutes.
For United, it was an embarrassment and one that left huge swathes of Elland Road’s biggest crowd of the season heading for the exits long before the end.
Steve Evans suggested afterwards that it hadn’t been “a 4-1 game”. He was right. Town could – and, by rights, really should – have won more convincingly, Wells having missed a first-half penalty and Silvestri twice being called into action to prevent further damage at the finish as Bunn and James Husband were presented with glorious one-on-one chances against the United goalkeeper.
A sorry episode in another season of under-achievement at Elland Road and one that left Evans facing questions about his long-term future at the final whistle.
“When I joined the club, the job I got was to keep Leeds in the Championship,” said the Scot, whose side have four more opportunities to rectify a record that has brought six wins on the road compared to just five at Elland Road. “That sometimes gets forgotten.
“But we will do that and we will do that comfortably. We have become a mid-table side, in my opinion. I never spoke about the top part of the table because it was never going to be happening after we had a run of games where we weren’t winning. We were also never, in my opinion, going to get involved at the bottom end of the table.
“We are a mid-table side for a reason – not good enough to get out of it, too good to go down. We are not good enough to break into the top group and our failures are fairly evident to most people who watch us.”
Pressed on his future, the United head coach added: “I have got no reason to ask for guidance. You have to take it from the remit when you came in as head coach and that is what I am doing. I am trying to make sure that this club is a Championship club going forward.”
United sit 13th in the table and head to Evans’s old club Rotherham United next, when the Championship resumes, after the international break, on April 2.
That trip to the New York Stadium will bring a reunion with Neil Warnock, sacked by Leeds after a little over 12 months at the helm. That was three years ago and there is an argument to suggest that the club is no further forward than it was back then.