Heckingbottom faces tough task to turn round Leeds United fortunes

Paul Heckingbottom
Paul Heckingbottom
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To say that new Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom faces a baptism of fire is something of an understatement.

Bright young manager he may be, but the timing is hardly great for him to walk in at Elland Road following the sacking of Thomas Christiansen and his coaching staff.

The former Barnsley boss first of all has the task of turning round a team that has lost confidence and not won since Boxing Day.

There is no time to feel his way into the job with Leeds having slipped out of the running for promotion with their winless run and by their sacking of Christiansen the board has indicated that a top six place is still the aim.

Achieving that will clearly not be easy as the Whites face a daunting set of fixtures in the next month that sees them face top six sides Bristol City, Derby County and Wolves as well as play-off contenders Middlesbrough and Brentford. And the first match is the little matter of an away Yorkshire derby this Saturday against another of the Whites’ play-off rivals in Sheffield United.

So to say the new boss has got to land running is clear.

What will clearly make his task that much tougher as well at Bramall Lane is that Leeds look like going into the game with only two fit and available first team defenders.

Heckingbottom has got to come up with some kind of plan to cope with a defensive crisis that has been part self-inflicted and part unlucky.

It is unlucky certainly that Pontus Jansson, Luke Ayling and Conor Shaughnessy are all injured at the same time. The latter two are definitely ruled out while Jansson was immediately rated highly unlikely to play within a week after being stretchered off in last Saturday’s Cardiff game.

Liam Cooper sits out the next two matches with his four-match ban and the same games will now be missed by Gaetano Berardi following his red card for two bookable offences against Cardiff.

He was unfortunate to receive his first yellow card from horribly inconsistent referee Graham Scott, but having been booked he should have stayed on his feet when mistiming a challenge to earn his second card and a second sending off of the season.

The result is a two-match ban when he team most need him.

Leeds now only have on-loan Matthew Pennington left standing as a central defender with first team experience – and his first half performance against Cardiff cannot fill United fans with great confidence as he looked off the pace and was poor on the first two Cardiff goals. He did improve after the break when Leeds switched to a back three – otherwise comprised of left-back Laurens De Bock and midfielder Adam Forshaw, who must have wondered what he has let himself in for on his home debut.

The new boss has the defence to sort out first for the trip to Bramall Lane and maybe he can inquire why the club did not bring in a defender before the transfer window closed or why they chose not bring right-back Lewie Coyle back from his loan spell – the kind of mistakes that have not helped Christiansen extend his stay at Elland Road beyond eight months.