THE SIGHT of autumn hardening into winter and the days growing ever shorter is something that is not greeted with particular relish by most at this time of year.
For followers of Leeds United and Hull City, the chill has started to bite earlier than usual – and the need to somehow keep the home fires burning is likely to assume major significance to the fates of under-pressure managers Thomas Christiansen and Leonid Slutsky in the weeks ahead.
The strain was evident on both as their respective sides signed off for the third international break of the season with dispiriting and damaging away defeats at Brentford and Sheffield United respectively on Saturday.
Both have plenty to contemplate ahead of the resumption of Championship business where some key appointments await, more especially at Elland Road and the KCOM Stadium.
After reaching the first international hiatus at the end of the summer in third place, Leeds now find themselves in tenth spot during the latest break and are in danger of lurching into freefall after seven defeats in their past nine league outings.
Worryingly too, Hull find themselves just above the danger zone in 20th after being nicely positioned in eighth in late August. Autumn has not been without its travails, compounded by Saturday’s second-half implosion at Sheffield United where Leon Clarke netted four times.
In times of strife, hope is hard to find. Yet recent history does at least provide a spot of solace for both amid troubled times, with Leeds and Hull affording themselves some winter fuel on the home front to rebuild their seasons in 2016-17.
Leeds charged towards the top of the table on the back of some ruthless home statistics that saw them lose just once in nine matches from late November to the end of February, pocketing eight wins and seven clean sheets in the process as Elland Road was turned into a citadel.
Hull, too, showed their obstinate side with Manchester City being the only visiting team to head away from East Yorkshire with three points last winter, and the Tigers’ fine home form extended well into the Spring to give them a puncher’s chance of Premier League survival.
For both Christiansen and Slutsky, the international break is likely to see them preoccupied with working on their teams to cultivate a hard-nosed, results-orientated mindset in a division where points and not performances are king.
The implications of failing to do so will not need spelling out to either and their club’s home meetings with Middlesbrough and Ipswich in their first games after the latest recess promise to be revealing and potentially definitive.
Elland Road is likely to resemble something akin to a bearpit on November 19 for Garry Monk’s first return since dramatically quitting Leeds last May before heading to Teesside.
It will not be an occasion for the faint-hearted and amid the intensity of a derby, Leeds will have a score to settle after limp displays in their recent defeats to Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday, when the charge that Christiansen’s side looked a touch soft appeared a fair one.
On a key few weeks ahead and on the topic of his players developing a more ruthless mindset, Christiansen, critical of his side’s first-half efforts at Griffin Park, acknowledged: “We will work hard to come back.
“We need to work on the mentality and everything and we can analyse also, especially the first half at Brentford.”
While Leeds will be seeking to avoid a fourth successive home loss in their next game, Hull’s run of three defeats in their past four home outings is something that cannot be dressed up either and is somewhat damning.
Only Bolton and Burton have conceded more home goals than Hull in 2017-18, with their overall concession of 30 goals in 16 matches representinging the second-worst record in the division. The critical need to get their form in East Yorkshire back on an even keel is exacerbated by Hull’s away statistics, which have been dreadful for the last 15 months.
Hull face trips to Millwall, Sheffield Wedneaday, Cardiff and Leeds before Christmas and while Slutsky currently admits to not knowing the answers to arresting his side’s slump, the need to somehow find some in-house answers in the next week and a half cannot be overstated.
Slutsky was nothing less than brutally honest in his weekend summations, but it remains to be seen if his candour yields the reaction he is after following his strategic decision to openly question the players’ character.
Slutsky savagely observed: “We do not have a strong mentality and we do not have a team spirit.
“We lost the faith, not for the first time, and really I do not have the answer why.”
Calling out your players is always a dangerous strategy for a manager and time will tell if the gamble pays off for the Russian, who is clearly going for broke in that respect.