LEEDS UNITED head coach Paul Heckingbottom insists that he wants his former club Barnsley to succeed in their Championship survival quest despite revealing that comments that followed his Oakwell departure left a sour taste in his mouth.
The former Reds chief and boyhood fan faces his hometown club in what promises to be a spicy Elland Road occasion tomorrow, 75 days after leaving Barnsley for Leeds in dramatic circumstances in February.
Heckingbottom’s exit drew thinly-veiled criticism from Barnsley in a club statement, which spoke of their surprise at what they saw as an “unexpected” move that left them “thoroughly disappointed”.
The move came just three days after the Reds announced that he had signed a new deal.
Heckingbottom, who stressed that his improved Oakwell contract had been signed several weeks before it was announced, says that his former club’s comments were “bang out of order” with the manner of his exit likely to ensure that emotions will run high among the travelling contingent tomorrow.
The 40-year-old has acknowledged that he is likely to cop some flak from away supporters, but he says he will be rooting for Barnsley to stay up – but not before taking three points at their expense this weekend.
You get trouble caused by people trying to protect themselves and not being big enough or brave enough to just admit what has gone on.Paul Heckingbottom
Heckingbottom, who revealed that some criticism that followed his exit also hurt members of his family, said: “I did not speak about it too much and I am not going to speak about it too much now, but it was bang out of order, some of the things they said. They know that, but they just wanted to save face I suppose.
“That is it, but it upset me. Usually I do not pay attention to social media or what is written, things like that, but it affects your family in a negative way. You get trouble caused by people trying to protect themselves and not being big enough or brave enough to just admit what has gone on.
“That was disappointing, but it does not bother me now.”
On his former club’s desperate bid to stave off relegation, Heckingbottom, who believes that the Reds will achieve their safety mission and secure a third successive season of Championship football, added: “The game in hand is a big one for them. You have got to earn it. I want them to stay up, but I also want to beat them on Saturday, which would only give them three games left. It is a derby game against a team really scrapping for their lives.
“It will be a good game. My job is to push these players here and get a win for these fans.”
An intriguing pre-match subplot is given added piquancy by not just the obvious importance of the game from a Barnsley viewpoint – with the third-from-bottom Reds two points adrift of safety with just four matches remaining – but the game’s significance from a Leeds perspective too.
Having registered just two wins in 13 matches in charge so far at Leeds, Heckingbottom acknowledges the need for him to oversee a victory tomorrow for a number of reasons and is not shying away from the game’s importance.
Wins have been a rare commodity in a testing season for the Yorkshireman, whose Barnsley side won just six league fixtures in 30 games under him this term.
His 43 Championship matches at the helm of two different clubs this term have yielded just eight victories – and he is under no illusions about the need of overseeing a relieving home win this weekend.
Heckingbottom, whose side have taken just one point from the last four games, said: “Yes, 100 per cent. We keep saying it over and over again. The worst and best bit about football is the Saturdays. You cannot recreate that feeling.
“The highs are really good and the defeats hurt. That is the tough part of the job, keeping perspective. It is not nice.
“A win cheers everyone up, but even then you have to be boring about that. It is only one win and we are onto the next one.”
Meanwhile, Reds’ head coach Jose Morais admits that his predecessors’ relatively-recent exit will ensure that the game has an added edge for Barnsley’s fans, but he believes that securing a precious survival win should represent the main motivation at Elland Road,
Morais, whose side triumphed 3-2 in a memorable derby with Sheffield United just under a fortnight ago, added: “I can see there is probably someone extra. But everyone in life takes decisions thinking that they are the best ones for their lives and careers and families, friends and themselves. We have to respect this.
“For the Barnsley fans, I hope that it will mean these three points are ones that can put us in a very good position to achieve the goal of playing in the Championship next season.
“Then there is the happiness to win. I do not want to feel something extra.
“I want us to feel happy at winning the game and going in the direction of our goals and dreams.”