ON RATING Leeds United’s seasonal hopes in the summer, Sky Sports summariser Don Goodman’s cup was not overflowing with optimism.
With perhaps justifiable reasoning, the former Wolves, Sunderland and Bradford City striker was loathe to talk up the Whites’ prospects, with the appointment of David Hockaday leaving vast swathes of supporters distinctly underwhelmed and fearful of the future.
The Hockaday 70-day ‘experiment’ was all over before the end of August. But what has happened since has generated optimism, albeit of the cautious variety.
Goodman was in attendance for Saturday’s televised derby draw against Sheffield Wednesday, when by general consent, Leeds were considered the better side.
While the Darko Milanic era has not been truly kick-started yet, there were positive signs at the weekend.
Goodman is savvy enough not to make firm predictions given the topsy-turvy nature of Championship fortune, where bottom can regularly beat top and coupon-busting results arrive almost on a weekly basis.
But he has been enthused by what he has seen and heard regarding League of Nations’ Leeds of late, although fans were quick to remind him of his pre-season pessimism at Elland Road on Saturday.
Goodman said: “I got dog’s abuse from some Leeds United fans because before a ball was kicked, I said they would struggle this season.
“It was based on the chaos that was going on at the club and with the greatest of respect, a manager who had got sacked at Forest Green Rovers had been appointed.
“The players must have been all at sea and I looked at some of the players there at the time and thought that squad is going to have a struggle.
“I think I was verified in that because Dave left after six games and I don’t think I was a million miles off the mark.
“But things have changed and if you are in the top half of the Championship, you aren’t going to be a million miles off the play-off spots.
“I think if Leeds can be in the mix in the top half, they won’t be far off and that will represent a very good season, it really will.
“Leeds need to consolidate, get a bit a stability in the club and kick on from there.
“Stability and a top-half finish would be progress. And you never know, if they are in the top half with five or six games to go, they could just sneak a play-off spot. They would represent a really solid season.”
Goodman admits he was ‘pleasantly surprised’ by United’s performance against the Owls, but equally feels that Milanic needs to secure his first victory at the earliest possible juncture to avoid piling a load of pressure onto his shoulders in the 24/7 job that is managing Leeds, where every coaching/managerial decision is broken down and analysed rigorously by legions of supporters.
Goodman said: “I arrived at Elland Road knowing Leeds were struggling for goals and only had one shot on target in their previous two games and was pleasantly surprised they carved out chance after chance.
“It wasn’t (Souleymane) Doukara’s game, but (Mirco) Antenucci impressed me with this work-rate and movement. He missed a couple of chances, but kept getting in there.
“There is still room for improvement, but they played against a decent, well-organised side in Sheffield Wednesday and were the better team.
“If they had been a bit more ruthless in their finishing, they would have won the game. But there was definite cause for optimism, no question.
“But a win is required very quickly by Darko Milanic because the longer that goes on, we all know Dave Hockaday only got six games and the longer he goes, from a personal perspective, without registering a win, the pressure will build up around him, which will mean the pressure builds on his players.
“That means it may be difficult to repeat what is thought was a decent performance on Saturday.”
Milanic’s appointment as Leeds head coach may have been decidedly left-field, but Goodman has learned not to be surprised by too much in the modern-day game, where management, not just in the Premier League, but increasingly the Championship, is becoming a global sphere of interest.
Upon being named as the club’s new head coach a fortnight ago, Milanic added to the growing overseas roster of managers/head coaches from Europe who are working in the second tier, following on from Bob Peeters, Jose Riga, Sami Hyppia, Aitor Karanka, Uwe Rosler and Oscar Garcia, although the latter has since stepped down at Vicarage Road due to health reasons.
In Milanic’s case, the call arrived after interim head coach Neil Redfearn had orchestrated a renaissance in instigating an unbeaten four-match league run and morale-boosting haul of ten points from a possible 12, with the decision to promote the Slovenian and ignore the claims of Redfearn proving conclusive proof that Cellino is very much his own man.
Goodman added: “I learned a long time ago, never try and second guess owners, chairmen or boards at football clubs because there are so many appointments that are left-field.
“You can try and look at logic when there isn’t any and nothing surprises me.
“At the end of the day, there is something in Darko Milanic that Mr Cellino has seen and likes and believes in for now. And that is all there is to it.
“But Redders did a magnificent job with 10 points in four games and the team scoring goals. It must have been tempting to say: ‘Go on, on you go.’ as he knows the club and players.
“But he (Cellino) didn’t go down that avenue and that’s history and is not going to change.”