Paul Heckingbottom has said all the right things, played some young players, and has appeared to be a good manager since taking over for Thomas Christiansen. However, the results on the pitch have not changed at all. Heckingbottom has got to start winning matches if he is to be taken seriously by fans, media, and the players.
Leeds have been on a dire run of form in calendar 2018. The club has won one match since Boxing Day, despite the change of head coaches and new players recruited in the January transfer window.
The Championship form table since Boxing Day. No way of dressing this up. pic.twitter.com/o9mCnAqfjF— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) March 18, 2018
Christiansen was let go after the 4-1 home loss to Cardiff City on 3 February. Since taking over for him, Heckingbottom has seen Leeds win one match, draw three, and lose four. Not exactly playoff contention stuff from the former Barnsley FC manager.
Before the season began, Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani said that top six would be the goal for the team this season, and one of the reasons for letting Christiansen was his inability to stop the slide out of the playoff positions that occurred in January. However, the current run that Leeds are on is no better than the run that Christiansen was on that got him sacked.
Heckingbottom was seen as a curious choice by Leeds supporters, given that Barnsley have been poor this season, but his work with young players was cited as the reason he’s been given a chance at Leeds. And Heckingbottom has brought in a couple new faces into the team in Tom Pearce and Bailey Peacock-Farrell. However, both of those changes were necessitated by a loss of form by the first team player, not out of a desire to blood the youth and bring them along.
Heckingbottom on blooding kids for the rest of the season: "I wouldn't want to give opportunities away because it sends the wrong message. People need to earn it. You can undo lots of good work by putting people in for the sake of it."— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) March 5, 2018
The U23s have been in sparkling form as of late, and some of the performers in that team might be ready for the first team as well. Heckingbottom has said he’d like for youth players to “earn” their spot in the first team, but the only reason Peacock-Farrell is playing is because Andy Lonergan is injured and Felix Wiedwald has completely lost his form. Pearce had a solid debut against Sheffield Wednesday, despite the loss, but again, Laurens De Bock and Vurnon Anita were both given multiple chances despite looking awful.
It’s all well and good for Heckingbottom to say that “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” but until youth players are given a chance on their merits, not the lack of options ahead of them, will the youth players, and the first team players, really get the message that the youth will be able to integrated into the first team and given opportunities.
Heckingbottom now has a international break of almost two full weeks to work on implementing his style of play on the squad. He has often played the same 4-2-3-1 formation that was favoured by Christiasen, with similar results. A change in formation could create a change in fortune, but Heckingbottom has got to do something to get the results to turn around.
If Leeds continue their slide down the table, Heckingbottom will start to have the fans turn on as much as they turned on Christiansen. And while the recruitment of players still falls on Director of Football Victor Orta, the point remains that this team was flying high in August and September with almost the same exact lineup.
Heckingbottom may give great soundbites to the press and say all the right things at the press conferences, but given that Christiansen, and the players, said all the right things, the pressure from the media and those who cover the club will start to ramp up if Leeds continue to come up short against opposition. After all, what was the point of sacking Christiansen if the new guy was going to have the same problems?
Leeds is a sinking ship, and while the playoff places are a distant memory for Leeds fans, the point remains that while the pressure to make the playoffs might be off Heckingbottom, the pressure remains to actually look like a team that could, one day, actually make the playoffs. The continued poor results, with almost no introduction of young players, isn’t making Heckingbottom’s job an easier or any safer. In fact, if Heckinbottom continues on this run, the case can be made that maybe Leeds should be looking for yet another new head coach in the summer.