Relegation not being entertained by new boss McDermott

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FOR Brian McDermott, a leap of faith. And for Leeds United, the latest throw of the dice in a quest to return to what, even after an exile of nine years and counting, the club believes is their rightful place among the Premier League elite.

The 52-year-old yesterday became the sixth man to be handed the task of bringing top-flight football back to Elland Road for the first time since 2004.

Before setting about that task, however, he must claim the one victory that will surely, even in this the craziest of Championship seasons, be enough to ensure United do not become embroiled in the relegation fight.

Providing that happens – and back-to-back home games in the next four days offer as good a chance as any – attention will soon turn to next season as expectation levels, once again, soar sky high.

And one man who will be mighty glad of that is McDermott.

“What is wrong with having expectations?” asked the new Leeds manager when speaking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s derby with Sheffield Wednesday.

“Expectations were high at Reading. I don’t know if it was as intense as here, but I do know that I have no problem with supporters wanting their team to be successful.

“We had that at Reading. We lost a play-off final (in 2011), then sold Matt Mills and Shane Long, almost £10m worth of talent. Matt was our captain and Shane a phenomenal player.

“But the expectation from the crowd was still that we would be challenging at the top after losing two of our better players – plus Zurab Khizanishilli, another important player who played every game. Was that realistic? Well, we won the league.

“I had no problem with the expectation, as that is what football is all about for me.”

McDermott’s ability to drive Reading forward even when the club’s best players had to be sold is something that could, as his two most recent predecessors in the role would surely attest, prove invaluable at Elland Road.

A host of star names have left Elland Road with Luciano Becchio last January becoming the most recent addition to a list that also includes Jermaine Beckford, Bradley Johnson, Jonny Howson and Max Gradel.

Sam Byram, whose emergence has been a rare high point in an otherwise disappointing campaign, is likely to be a big money target for Manchester City this summer, while Everton manager David Moyes is also a big fan.

McDermott is yet to discuss budgets with the club’s board, instead revealing that he has taken the job on “a lot of goodwill”. Such a leap of faith is admirable, though his time at Reading did teach him one important lesson when it came to squad building.

“I lost Gylfi Sigurdsson,” he said, “and he was a player who scored 20 goals for me. I also lost Shane Long. When he left, I thought there was no way we could win the league, but we did.

“And that showed me you can never rely on one player. But I don’t want to lose anyone. The best place for the young players is here, playing in front of these fans.”

McDermott’s career in football began with Arsenal as a teenager. Moves to Oxford United, Cardiff City, Exeter City and Yeovil Town followed before a switch to management in 1996 brought two-year stints with Slough Town and Woking.

An offer to become Reading’s chief scout then proved too tempting to turn down and for the next nine years in Berkshire he would fill a variety of roles, including spells in charge of the youth and reserve teams.

The sacking of Brendan Rogers in December, 2009, then brought elevation to the top job at the Madejski Stadium, where he led the Royals to the 2011 play-off final and then the Championship title 12 months later.

His appointment at Elland Road is very different, of course, with McDermott not having had the benefit of such a long apprenticeship as at Reading. Not that the man himself sees this as a problem.

“It is right to say I did my 10,000 hours at Reading,” said McDermott. “I did every job at the club – the youth, the 17s, and 19s the chief scout, the reserves, first-team manager.

“I did all the jobs, so that is what held me in good stead. But, equally, in the last three and-a half years, the turnaround of players was high. People might think I only worked with players I had known for a long time, but that is not quite true.”

McDermott’s appointment has been welcomed by supporters concerned that, by being inactive during a time when results were poor, United were guilty of sleep-walking into trouble.

The man himself, however, insists that the prospect of relegation has never once entered his head.

“Nothing surprises me in the Championship,” he said. “Nothing at all. But relegation is something I haven’t thought about. Not at all. The only thing in my mind has been Sheffield Wednesday.

“Nigel Gibbs (McDermott’s new assistant at Elland Road) was at their game on Tuesday night (when the Owls won 2-1 at Millwall).

“They are one of the form teams. Dave Jones has done really, really well. Dave is someone I know well so they are a threat.

“Steve Howard is very good in the air, while (Leroy) Lita is someone I know all about from at Reading.”

The first sighting of the new manager will bring a warm ovation from the Leeds faithful. That much is guaranteed, with even Dennis Wise – hardly a popular figure down Elland Road way following his time with Chelsea – being welcomed initially.

For McDermott, it will be a special moment. “The atmosphere is always special. I have been here with Reading and thought to myself, ‘We’ll do well to get a result here’. We need to make Sheffield Wednesday feel like that.”