Leeds United: Heckingbottom's reign never threatened to hit lift-off

PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM was sacked as Leeds United head coach after 115 days in charge.

NEVER GOT GOING: Paul Heckingbottom during the match between Leeds United and Bristol City at Elland Road. Picture by James Hardisty.

Longer spells than those afforded to some his predecessors under former chairman Massimo Cellino.

Yet Heckingbottom’s rein simply never got going and as far as the club’s fan base was concerned there were elements of discontent from the start.

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Heckingbottom’s past at Barnsley and moreover well documented comments about Leeds before his arrival hardly made him the most popular choice though that would soon be forgotten if the former Tyke brought Leeds success.

“When I was growing up, where I was from, you were a Barnsley fan or a Leeds fan when you played in the field behind my house,” said Heckingbottom in November of last year.

“It was Leeds against Barnsley and the Leeds lads were always older than us and always used to kick smoke out of us. We hated Leeds and they hated us and that is how it was.”

Under former head coach Thomas Christiansen, Leeds had the last laugh in November’s tie as goals from Samuel Saiz and Gjanni Alioski gave United a 2-0 victory.

The success ignited a six-game winning run which incorporated five victories with no signs of the trouble that lay ahead for United’s Danish head coach.

But by February the former APOEL boss had been fired with Heckingbottom taking charge of his first game in charge in a Yorkshire derby at Sheffield United.

Heckingbottom remained without the services of the suspended Samu Saiz who was still banned following his spitting incident at Robbie Wilmott during the 2-1 loss at Newport County in the FA Cup third round tie on January 7.

Christiansen believed that the episode proved a telling factor in costing him his job and suspensions and injuries were certainly unkind to Heckingbottom who picked up just one point in his first two games in charge as a 2-1 loss at Sheffield United was followed by a 2-2 draw at home to Bristol City in which the Whites fought back from being 2-0 down with second half goals from Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Kemar Roofe.

With Saiz back but only on the bench, Heckingbottom then looked destined to land his first victory in the clash at Derby County who equalised in the 90th minute through Kasey Palmer to bag a 2-2 draw. That late intervention denied the 40-year-old the lift off he needed.

A first win finally arrived in United’s next game at home to Brentford but a 1-0 success through a Liam Cooper strike was hardly convincing and the Whites then went another four games without a victory as 3-0 losses at Middlesbrough and at home to Wolves were followed by a 2-2 draw at Reading and a 2-1 loss at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

The following hosting of Bolton Wanderers was already billed as make or break for Heckingbottom whose side recorded a 2-1 victory, perhaps buying the former Barnsley chief time.

But another three defeats from the next four games followed and the 40-year-old looked to be definitely fighting for his position come the match up with his former club Barnsley on April 21.

Yet the emergence of youngsters Tom Pearce and Bailey Peacock-Farrell were proving shining lights for Heckingbottom and the duo both impressed as United recorded a 2-1 win against the Tykes.

Leeds then had one last opportunity to bag a first away win since Boxing Day in their final away day of the season and matters looked promising when Kalvin Phillips fired United into a 39th-minute lead at Norwich City.

But Leeds completely capitulated after Wes Hoolahan’s deflected equalsier on the stroke of half time en route to a 2-1 defeat - already the eighth of Heckingbottom’s spell in charge.

Heckingbottom then ended with a victory with a 2-0 success at home to QPR but the visiting Hoops side were quite clearly already on the beach.

After taking Leeds on their much criticised post season tour of Myanmar, Heckingbottom himself then headed for the beach on a family holiday in Greece.

It was ultimately towards the end of that holiday that Heckingbottom learned his fate.