Rob Parrish looks at how Neil Warnock has been unable to drive Leeds into the Championship play-off pack.
By Rob Parrish - Follow me on Twitter @skysportsrobp. Last Updated: April 11, 2012 7:02am
When Leeds United sacked Simon Grayson at the start of February, the Elland Road club were three points adrift of the top six in the Championship with 18 games remaining.
Fast forward a little over two months, and with just four of those fixtures still to be played the Whites are now eight points away from the end of season play-off party down in 14th and facing up to the realisation that yet another season outside the Premier League awaits.
The much-heralded appointment of Neil Warnock has done little to improve the malaise in West Yorkshire and many supporters will be wondering what they can expect next term given the mixed messages currently emanating from the Leeds hierarchy.
The statement from chief executive Shaun Harvey which followed Grayson's axe in the wake of a 4-1 home defeat by Birmingham read as follows: "...we needed to make the change at this time in the belief that a new managerial team will be able to get more out of the existing squad of players and make the difference."
That belief appears to have been sadly misguided. Warnock is an experienced manager with a track record of securing promotions, but as yet he has been unable to galvanise the players he inherited into contenders to challenge in the upper reaches of a hugely competitive division where, even at this late stage of the season, there are just nine points between Birmingham in fourth and Hull City in 10th.
The statistics make for grim reading, too. In his 10 games at the helm, Warnock has seen his side beaten in half of their outings and tasted victory just twice. Hardly the kind of response chairman Ken Bates and Harvey would have been looking for when they turned to the former QPR, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United manager.
There have been notable embarrassments too, none more so than the historic 7-3 home humbling by a Nottingham Forest side who arrived at Elland Road mired in the relegation scrap at the foot of the table and who departed having become the first visiting side to score seven times in a league game at Leeds.
Warnock is yet to be in the dugout for a Leeds win on home soil, although he was in the stands and the dressing room at half-time for the comeback success against Doncaster prior to taking charge of team affairs. Having praised the home support on his appointment as being: "...a set of fans who never cease to amaze me with their numbers and their loyalty," the 63-year-old is testing both of those qualities to the limit.
Consecutive defeats in recent matches against Watford, Reading and Derby County have also seen a recurring theme of red card misery, with Paul Connolly's departure in the 90th minute against the Hornets coming when the game was long since lost, but Zac Thompson and Michael Brown's first-half exits against the Royals and the Rams left their team-mates facing mission impossible.
The combustible Warnock placed the blame firmly at the door of referee Darren Drysdale following the 2-0 reverse at the Madejski Stadium, and while the official may not have had the most memorable of afternoons, it would be fair to say the Whites were fortunate to only see one red card issued after other robust challenges from Brown and Danny Pugh.
In the wake of the Watford home defeat, Warnock adopted the well-trodden route of many new managers in calling for a summer of investment, stating: "We will have to invest. It needs major surgery. This is as big a job and challenge as I have ever had." Arguably fair comment after what he had witnessed in recent weeks, but somewhat at odds with the views expressed by Harvey on his appointment.
A meeting has been scheduled for this week when Warnock will state his case to Bates and Harvey over the comprehensive squad overhaul he is planning to embark on this summer, with the Leeds manager having laid out his plans in no uncertain terms in public, admitting after the defeat by Derby: "We had a lot of players playing today that know they won't be here next season. We've not got enough Leeds United-type players."
Quite what Bates makes of a request/demand for what will doubtless be a significant financial outlay remains to be seen, as less than a month ago he had intimated that Warnock already had the tools at his disposal to gatecrash the top six this season.
Following the 2-0 success away to Middlesbrough on 11th March, the Monaco-based octogenarian told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "We've got the players, we've now got the inspiration driving the players and we've got the fans behind the team. It could be an exciting time."
Warnock has already stated that he expects the Leeds job to be his last in football before stepping away from the game, but the jury is still out as to whether he will achieve his goal of guiding a club who were UEFA Champions League semi-finalists just over a decade ago back into the top flight for the first time since 2004.