Rematch with Owls rekindles emotion for McDermott

Brian McDermott looks back to his first game in charge - against Wednesday
Brian McDermott looks back to his first game in charge - against Wednesday
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No matter what Brian McDermott goes on to achieve at Leeds United – and early signs suggest only positive things – he will always recall with great emotion the first time he locked horns with Sheffield Wednesday.

It was April 13 of this year, just 24 hours after he had been hurriedly installed as the new Whites boss after Neil Warnock’s dismissal amid an alarming slide in results.

In the previous month Leeds had gone from harbouring faint play-off hopes to looking nervously over their shoulders at the relegation places, in an unfathomably tight Championship.

McDermott had wanted to come to Elland Road in the summer, but such was the club’s plight, he was parachuted in early. He initially came in as a symbolic gesture to lift the players and the fans. He was supposed to sit in the stands for that first game, but such was its magnitude, McDermott took his place alongside Neil Redfearn in the dugout.

That derby with Sheffield Wednesday would prove a pivotal fixture in United’s season, and how ever far McDermott takes them, it will always be remembered as a springboard.

Had Leeds lost, Wednesday – who had been battling the drop all season – would have climbed above them, and that growing anxiety among the Elland Road faithful would have quickly exacerbated.

At the break, that is exactly how it was looking as Wednesday led through Jermaine Johnson.

But a stirring half-time team talk roused the home side and to the relief of McDermott and the majority of the near-24,000 in the stadium that day, Luke Varney struck twice in the second half to turn the match on its head and get the new era off and running.

The enormity of the game and the occasion was not lost on McDermott, who in the summer described it as one of the biggest he has ever taken charge of, right up there with play-off finals and relegation showdowns.

And as he looked ahead to the latest instalment of one of Yorkshire’s fiercest rivalries, which comes just eight games later in his tenure, the memories of that Spring day are still vivid.

“It wasn’t particularly good at half-time but it was good memories on the whole,” began McDermott.

“I’d just turned up on the Friday, Nigel (Gibbs – assistant) and I were on the bench and we were lucky we had Neil Redfearn with us.

“He knew the players better than us and we managed to get a result.

“Having said that, the first half was difficult. We’d lost a few games previously and the only thing that mattered was the right result.

“It was very important to get the win that day. Who knows what would have happened if we hadn’t won that.

“I didn’t feel tense. It was just trying to affect the game. We made a change at half-time, Dioufy came on and made a difference.

“David Norris was playing with a bit of a knock so we had to take him off at half-time. We changed the shape of the team and scored two really good goals.

“What I said at half-time I actually can’t remember.

“But we played well second half. In the next game we played very well against Burnley which secured what we had to do, which was important.

“When we lost to Birmingham that was the game when we were okay as far as staying in this League went. That was the only job I had in my mind. And it was vitally important.”

Having used that win as a springboard on the pitch, the broom that swept through the boardroom in the summer has left only smiling faces at Elland Road.

The post-Ken Bates era has begun with two wins and a draw, which has only enhanced the mood of optimism in a one-club city that yearns for a return to the big time.

The size of the task is not lost on McDermott, but he is not a man to throw around words like promotion, choosing instead to focus all his efforts on the next game and the next challenge.

That is the Owls, who come into the fixture in dire need of kick-starting a season that is stuck in neutral.

“I like the atmosphere of derby games, I really do,” said McDermott.

“It’s not about coping, it’s about enjoying the game and the atmosphere. We’ve got a lot of derbies in this league and I like that. There was good banter last season, especially coming my way, it was quite good fun.

“We’re okay with friendly rivalry.”

As for his side’s promising start, McDermott is not one to get carried away.

“We’ve got four points and won a cup game and we’re looking for the right performance,” said the former Reading manager.

“We’re well equipped. We’re happy with the week we have had. We’re going to need the fans again today.”

As well as a derby to prepare for and a start to build on, August would not be complete without talk of the transfer window.

McDermott, like most managers including his opposite number Dave Jones, needs to release players before he can replenish his stocks.

Both Diouf and Norris are the likely candidates to leave while Ross McCormack continues to be the subject of interest from Middlesbrough, who have had two seven-figure bids knocked back.

McDermott said: “If there is interest from a certain club for a certain player then we put it to the board and make a decision in the interests of the football club.

“You’re always making difficult decisions, always. My ideal scenario is that we keep our squad together and add to the squad.

“That’s the ideal scenario but you don’t often get that. I have one particular deal that can be done and hopefully will be done and we’ll see what happens after that.”

“Numbers wise, we are short in certain areas. It’s obvious for everyone to see.”