ISOLATED and somewhat demeaned by those in the corridors of power at Leeds United he may be, but Neil Redfearn is not short of respect from those in football away from Elland Road.
Sheffield Wednesday defender and former Whites player Tom Lees, someone who knows Redfearn well from his formative years in the game, counts himself among that number.
While Lees may be trying his level best to extend the Leeds head coach’s winless run to six matches at Hillsborough on Saturday, his take on Redfearn’s spell in charge this season comes with admirable perspective.
Redfearn has had to contend with fraught circumstances that many managers do not experience in their careers, let alone one season and his sterling work in clinching United’s safety with 10 games to go from what looked like a crisis at Christmas is not lost upon those in the know.
Unfortunately, that has not been the cue to safer waters for Redfearn, quite the opposite, with the 49-year-old seeing his assistant coach Steve Thompson be suspended for reasons that still have yet to be explained and his own position undermined at almost every turn.
Lees knows plenty about the chaotic off-the-field headlines from his time at Leeds and while starting afresh has rejuvenated his career somewhat, he believes his former club, on the pitch, at least have shown signs of turning things around under Redfearn.
Lees, who joined the Owls in the summer on a free transfer, said: “I think he’s done very well. They have improved a lot from the start of the season.
“When Neil Redfearn took over, they were in a bit of a sticky situation. They were right in it and people were maybe talking about them being in a relegation battle.
“They are well clear of that now and got themselves out of that now by playing good football and they are improving.
“I like the way they play and have got some good players coming through, so credit to him.”
Lees added: “It seems to always be the case that Leeds are never really out of the news.
“But it is nothing to do with us. Hopefully everything in our camp will be fine and we are ready to go. I don’t think that matters too much when it comes to the game on Saturday.”
Leeds’s playing staff may have changed somewhat since they were on the receiving end of a horrendous 6-0 televised drubbing at S6 on January 11, 2014, but for a handful of those who Lees knows well, the scars will still linger.
Fellow Academy product Alex Mowatt started on that winter’s afternoon, as did Rudy Austin, with Sam Byram on the bench in a game which ex-Leeds boss Brian McDermott labelled as a “public humiliation.”
Lees featured on the right-hand side of a three-man defence before being replaced at the break, with United going onto lose by a 6-0 margin for the first time since 1959.
It was a day no-one present is ever likely to forget in a hurry, more especially those who were involved and who head back down the M1 on Saturday.
Lees said: “They will remember what happened last year. They won’t have forgotten.
“There are a few players who will still be in the team.
“That result had a big, big impact in a lot of ways at the club. It was a real turning point in their season and things started not to go so well after that.
“But we have seen it before. Anything can happen in these derbies. It’s really important we do go and get a positive result.
“It is a local derby, so it will be a big day. They are two famous sides.
“It’s strange that they are playing each other in the Championship, but that’s how it is at the moment.
“There’s a big rivalry and I’m sure Hillsborough will be packed and it’s one we have got to win.
“The manager has mentioned before that it is about trying to be the top team in Yorkshire, so that is what is at stake.”
Lees’s decision to end his association with Leeds has been fully vindicated by a rewarding first season at Hillsborough where he has been a model of consistency and played a leading role in the Owls equalling a club record of 17 clean sheets in a campaign.
As the saying goes, a change is as good as a rest, as Lees can vouch for, although he admits Saturday will be a bit of difficult day, moreso for some watching family members, while many of his friends are United fans.
On leaving Leeds, he added: “I needed a change. I had been there since I was seven or eight, so it was about starting afresh somewhere new and enjoying my football again. I think I have done that this year.
“I have got no bad feelings towards Leeds. I loved my time there and am now loving it here, so hopefully that can continue.
“But I don’t think the family will enjoy it too much. It will be a difficult day for them.
“I will approach it as a normal game and I don’t think it’s a big issue. I’m sure they will be a bit nervous for me!”