Leeds United’s protracted takeover saga may be reaching its conclusion, but their on-field problems continued as they slumped to this defeat against Watford at Vicarage Road.
First-half goals from Almen Abdi and Ikechi Anya reflected the Hornets’ dominance, and Troy Deeney added another after half-time as Brian McDermott’s side slumped to an eighth defeat in nine games.
Massimo Cellino officially completed his takeover at Elland Road earlier in the day, with the Italian businessman’s lawyers confirming the news which should at least stave off the threat of administration.
Cellino is hoping the Football League will ratify his takeover, originally rejected after the Italian was convicted of avoiding tax payments on a yacht, at a board meeting tomorrow after winning his appeal against its decision.
Watford were by far the better side in the first half, and fully deserved their two-goal half-time advantage.
They might have been in front as early as the fourth minute, when Abdi broke down the right and picked out Davide Faraoni, who saw his shot from 12 yards well blocked.
Five minutes later the Hornets opened the scoring, Anya beating Scott Wootton down the left flank and picking out Abdi, who timed his run into the box perfectly to thump a header past Jack Butland from six yards for his first goal of the season.
It said much about Leeds’s first-half impotence that their only meaningful effort came when Ross McCormack tried his luck from near the halfway line and Manuel Almunia comfortably held his speculative effort.
Anya doubled Watford’s advantage in the 32nd minute after former Liverpool winger Albert Riera progressed to the byline on the left flank and cut the ball back for Sean Murray, who fed Faraoni to stand up a cross which the Scotland winger headed home from six yards.
A minute after the restart Dominic Poleon played in Noel Hunt, who fired wide from 12 yards when presented with the visitors’ best chance of the match.
Hunt was lucky to stay on the pitch on the hour mark after a late challenge on Faraoni saw him pick up just a yellow card.
The game was put beyond doubt in the 66th minute when hesitant defending from Tom Lees and Wootton allowed Deeney to wriggle into the box and score his 21st league goal of the season.
Cellino’s task of transforming the fortunes of Leeds was brought into sharp focus yesterday when the club revealed losses of £9.5m for the 2012-13 financial year. The 57-year-old has inherited debts of more than £22m, the accounts confirm.
“We’re not in the hospital, we can survive,” said Cellino. “It (the club) is a little bit ill.”
The Football League’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations allow a maximum loss of £8m this season and a January transfer embargo looms for clubs that fail to comply.
Under the terms of Cellino’s deal to buy 75 per cent of the club’s shares from previous owner Gulf Finance House Capital, those debts will increase to around £24m.
Attendances have fallen by nearly eight per cent, gate receipts are down £2m and turnover has fallen from £31.8m to £28.5m.
The latest figures show an operating loss of £11.6m, softened by incoming transfer fees of £2m.
A rival consortium to Cellino’s company Eleonora Sport – Yorkshire-based Together Leeds – had been hoping to resume talks this week on a joint venture.
Cellino said he will talk to Together Leeds, but insists for now he does not want to enter into a partnership.
“I’m driving the bus,” Cellino said. “I have no plans for any other investors, I will tell them no now.”
The Yorkshire Post understands Cellino wants to dispense with the services of managing director David Haigh.
But a spokesman for Haigh said: “As far as David is concerned, he remains managing director of Leeds United and is also aware that under the contract signed between Eleonora and GFH Capital, his position will be that of CEO once the deal takes effect.”
Watford: Almunia, Cassetti, Angella, Ekstrand, Faraoni, Abdi (McGugan 85), Tozser, Murray (Merkel 90), Riera (Pudil 86), Anya, Deeney. Unused substitutes: Belkalem, Ranegie, Bond, Hoban.
Leeds United: Butland, Wootton, Lees, Pearce, Warnock, Poleon, Brown, Tonge, Mowatt (Stewart 46), McCormack (White 82), Hunt (Smith 68). Unused substitutes: Murphy, Pugh, Zaliukas, Cairns.
Referee: G Ward (Surrey).