JANUARY has invariably been a good month for Brian McDermott as a manager.
In his first season at the helm of Reading, for instance, the former winger not only led his side to a stunning FA Cup win at Anfield but the run that would eventually take the Royals from 22nd to a ninth place finish began in the first month of the year.
McDermott, then the Berkshire club’s chief scout, had only succeeded Brendan Rogers a few weeks earlier making that start to 2010 all the more remarkable.
A year later, he was at it again as Reading began a charge from 11th place in the Championship to an eventual play-off final defeat and January 2012 brought a similar upturn in form that, come May, would see the title residing at the Madejski Stadium.
Even 2013, which saw McDermott sacked in March, started in such an impressive fashion that he was named Manager of the Month for January thanks to victories over Newcastle United and West Brom plus a battling draw at Chelsea.
For Leeds United fans, therefore, there are grounds for optimism as McDermott’s side kick-off 2014 with a visit from Blackburn Rovers.
Whether United can enjoy similar January success to that of Reading remains to be seen, but the man himself is just glad to be back on home soil after a tough Christmas week that brought trips to Blackpool and Nottingham Forest.
“It’s good for us to be back at Elland Road,” said McDermott. “I think it’s an advantage for teams to play two home games on the trot over Christmas with no travelling involved.
“We had to travel; it is no excuse (Leeds claimed just one point from those two trips), but it certainly is an advantage to play those two games at home.
“In the past at Reading, we played at home on Boxing Day and the 28th and seemed to win those games at home.
“We have to play on the front foot and take the game to Blackburn. It is important we get crosses in, attack, get shots in and play exciting football.
“Predominantly, we have done that at home quite well. The Barnsley game (a goalless draw) was a disappointing result, which we should have nicked, but didn’t. Previous to that, our home form has been really, really good.”
After taking just two points from their last three games, Leeds will be hoping for a similar upturn in results to the ones McDermott inspired at Reading.
Asked about the secret of his success previously in January – and, in particular, the 2011-12 campaign that ended with the Championship trophy being won – McDermott replied: “I didn’t change the training or anything like that. We were on a good run and Jason Roberts came in at that time. I did feel then that we needed a figurehead player.
“We had a really good bunch, but Jason came into the dressing room and gave off an air of real presence. It was kind of what we needed at the time.
“He did a really good job for me, as did the team.
“At Leeds, we want one, two, three or however many players – maybe even just one – to step up to the mark. Look at Ross (McCormack), he is doing that.
“We need the players to really step on now and really go and say, ‘Let’s take the game by the scruff of the neck’ because, with 23 games to go, we want this to be a season that the supporters will really remember.”
Talk of the impact made by Roberts in that Championship-winning season for Reading is timely with the transfer window now open.
McDermott revealed in the wake of Sunday’s loss to Forest that he had four potential targets in mind and supporters are hoping the planned takeover by David Haigh’s consortium, which is expected to go through in the new year, can herald the arrival of a few new faces. The United chief said: “Transfer deadline day right at the end is exciting, but it doesn’t do it for me.
“I would rather it (Leeds’s transfer work) was done and dusted beforehand. I think it’s important to try and get players in as early as you can.
“I am not one for trying to get one done, so Sky Sports can do a big piece on it at midnight. With this particular one, we think we are fairly (well) down the line. That is a start.”
Alex Mowatt, below left, may return today after being rested for United’s festive games, but Paddy Kenny (ankle) is a doubt. McCormack, though, is expected to have shaken off the tight hamstring that saw United’s top scorer withdrawn before the end at Forest.
Lithuanian international Marius Zaliukas has signed a new, improved contract with Leeds extending to the end of the 2014-15 season.
The central defender initially joined on a contract until the end of the season, but has been rewarded for a string of impressive displays.
The former Hearts captain has made 10 appearances since joining the club in October after impressing on trial.
Last six games: Leeds United WDWDDL, Blackburn Rovers LDWWDL.
Last time: Leeds United 3 Blackburn Rovers 3; September 9, 2012; Championship.
Referee: A Taylor (Cheshire).