Derby triumph amid Leeds United’s soap opera
BRIAN McDermott was back in charge at Elland Road today after an extraordinary u-turn.
The popular Whites boss was sacked on Friday night only to be reinstated after Saturday’s crushing 5-1 win against Huddersfield Town at Elland Road.
Trying to sift fact from fiction in this extraordinary episode in the club’s history would baffle Hercule Poirot.
The plot thickened late on Saturday night when the prospective new owner, multi-millionaire Massimo Cellino, appeared to come out in support of McDermott – just hours after it seemed as though he wanted the manager removed.
GFH Capital has agreed to sell a 75 per cent stake in the club to Eleonora Sport Ltd, a company owned by the Cellino family who also own Seria A club Cagliari.
It appeared the Italians forced McDermott out on Friday night and attempted to put former Middlesbrough defender Gianluca Festa in charge, but it became clear they had overstepped their authority.
Club sponsors said they would review their backing in protest.
Now Cellino is reported to have told a national newspaper’s website: “I want the coach back and have been trying to call him. I don’t mind this coach. How could I sack anyone anyway? I need the approval of the Football League before I own the club.
“GFH are still running Leeds United. They did not want Brian as manager but didn’t have the courage to sack him.”
GFH announced after United’s thumping of the Terriers that McDermott remained Leeds’ manager. At least that gives him the chance to thank his players personally for delivering a performance that emphatically ended a sequence of eight Championship games without a win.
Despite that awful run, the vast majority inside Elland Road boomed out their support for McDermott as the goals rained in.
They see him as a calm, stable, honourable man, qualities that have been in short supply in the upper echelons of the club in recent years.
On advice from the League Managers’ Association, McDermott didn’t attend the game.
His assistant, Nigel Gibbs, was asked to take charge of the team, picked by McDermott on Friday, less than three hours before the kick-off.
Festa, who had expected to be in the dressing room, had to be content to watch from the East Stand with Cagliari midfielder Andrea Tabanelli. The on-loan player was foisted on McDermott on Friday and added to the squad list on club website.
Cellino’s takeover still has to be ratified by the Football League and it remains to be seen if the controversial figure will pass its fit and proper person test.
Many Leeds fans would say the events of the last few days have shown the 57-year-old agricultural entrepreneur is not the right person to have in charge.
However, with rumours of yet more financial difficulties on the horizon, a deal with Cellino, or other members of the family, no matter how unpalatable, may be a necessity as they plan to invest heavily in the club and buy Elland Road.
It was fitting that against a backdrop of chaos and confusion Saturday’s game was as crazy as the hours building up to it.
Huddersfield should have been out of sight in the first half but only had a Danny Ward strike to show for their dominance before talisman striker Ross McCormack bundled in an undeserved equaliser just before the interval.
Re-energised Leeds didn’t take long to get in front with a well-worked Jimmy Kebe goal.
McCormack notched his second on 64 minutes after a blistering counter-attack led by Sam Byram and Rodolph Austin.
Huddersfield’s defence crumbled again 12 minutes later when the unmarked McCormack at the back post completed his hat-trick with a shot via an upright.
The Terriers’ misery was compounded when goalkeeper Alex Smithies clattered into his own defender, Anthony Gerrard, leaving Alex Mowatt to chip in his first goal for the Whites from 20 yards.
One lucky fan near the press box went wild with delight as his double punt on a McCormack hat-trick and a 5-1 Leeds win at outrageous odds earned him rich rewards.
What’s the betting that Leeds will have an Italian owner and McDermott won’t be United’s boss by the next home game against Bolton on March 8?
Leeds United: Kenny, Byram, Lees, Pearce, Warnock, Stewart, Austin (Brown 90+2), Murphy, Mowatt (Tonge 82), Kebe, McCormack. Subs (not used): Cairns, Peltier, Hunt, Wootton, Poleon.
Huddersfield Town: Smithies, Woods, Smith, Gerrard, Wallace, Dixon (Lolley 70), Gobern (Scannell 60), Norwood, Clayton, Ward, Wells (Paterson 75). Subs (not used): Bennett, Clarke, Southern, Holmes.
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).
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