Dave Hockaday did his duty, and attempted to put a positive spin on an abject defeat. His optimism was bleak and unconvincing, because his views are secondary to those of his employer, a pantomime villain named Massimo Cellino.
Defeat by Millwall is the sort of indignity that can brand a Leeds manager as a failure, even in less fraught circumstances. The travelling supporters were largely mute, but greeted the final whistle with sporadic booing. This could turn ugly very quickly.
Sam Byram, Leeds’ only player of definable quality, is likely to be sold to Southampton this week. They will meet much better teams than Millwall, who were earnest, hard-working and more than deserved a rapturously received victory.
Dressed in a light grey suit, with open necked shirt, Cellino was a respectful, friendly guest in the Millwall boardroom before heading for the car park for a calming cigarette. He then migrated to the touchline, where, aware of the adjacent photographers, he removed his sunglasses.
Hockaday’s name may be on the team sheet, but everyone understands the selection strategy. Cellino was drawn down the tunnel, towards the tight, claustrophobic away dressing room. He shook Hockaday’s hand afterwards, but any verdict, delivered in today’s debrief, is unlikely to be flattering.
Leeds lacked creativity and defensive organisation. Hockaday admitted his team were “caught in the headlights.” Asked directly whether he will be given time to manage change, he admitted: “All I can do is work to the best of my ability. I can’t concentrate on things that are outside my control.”
Ian Holloway, a manager well acquainted with football’s cruelty, chose to use the platform of victory to criticise home supporters for their relentless baiting of visiting supporters with chants of “Jimmy Saville. He’s one of your own.”
Holloway argued: “Let’s stop and think about what he’s actually done. That goes beyond what football is about. I find it offensive.” He spoke of mutual respect, citing the demeaning ritual Millwall fans have to undergo to attend a match at Elland Road, where tickets must be picked up in a motorway service station.
The previous afternoon, Holloway had sat in his small office at Millwall’s suburban training ground, and contemplated his nineteenth season in management. He was in the midst of moving into the 32nd house he has occupied during a career shaped by adversity and defined by achievement at unfashionable clubs.
“Football clubs are all about energy,” he mused. “Ours has a fantastic energy. We know the world is waiting for us to fuck up, but I want us to show control and discipline, and be the force we can be. Anyone who writes us off is as thick as a canteen cup.”
A poster which featured a merged image of a boy and a lion was on the wall behind his head. “Stronger Together” the slogan proclaimed, in a revealing echo of Leeds’ own battle cry, “Marching On Together”. The clubs have more in common than they dare admit; the difference between them is in quality of management rather than purity of passion.
Holloway is the perfect fit for Millwall. He has an underdog’s mentality, a survivor’s cunning and a missionary’s zeal. He has faced a series of professional and personal challenges, ranging from clubs in administration through malevolent owners to his wife’s cancer, with equanimity.
Footballers are natural cynics, yet they speak of his honesty and positivity with unabashed enthusiasm. His management style is crystallised by the following rallying call: “Inside every one of us I believe there is someone who can shine. I want to be the most encouraging thing in your life because I believe in you.”
As Alan Dunne, newly installed as Millwall captain, reflected: “He’s honest, real. He trusts me. That means a lot.”
Trust is the last thing generated by a man of Cellino’s incendiary personality. No one doubts the authenticity of his football knowledge, acquired over 23 years in Serie A, but his application of power is perverse, and he appears to relish the imposition of authority through fear.
His willingness to belittle his chosen coach does not augur well. Nigel Gibbs, a hugely respected coach who assisted the sacked McDermott, left the club this week, citing breach of contract. A messy court case looms. The disrespect he has been shown has been noted within football, and will make Hockaday’s job harder, because it will cut the number of favours he will be able to call in.
He entered the game promising to “blaze a trail” for British coaches. Judging by the imperfections of a team in transition, and their lack of defensive organisation at set pieces, he may struggle to survive the month. Cellino, ominously, has announced that he will know within three matches whether Leeds will get promoted.
There is an air of chaos and chronic disorganisation. Leeds informed Millwall officials that only three officials supporters’ coaches, would arrive. In the event 20 turned up, and that threatened to jeopardise a carefully-rehearsed security strategy.
An unmarked Lee Beevers gave Millwall an eighth-minute lead, sweeping in a sharply taken left-wing corner. The ground echoed to chants of “No one likes us” as tradition demands. Dunne cleared a Noel Hunt effort off the line, but any threat was sporadic.
Millwall couldn’t put Leeds away, and it was not until the 88th minute that the substitute Lee Gregory was brought down by Lewis Cook. Shaun Williams’ emphatic penalty left Hockaday facing yet another difficult, unpredictable day.
Millwall (4-1-4-1): Forde; Edwards, Dunne, Beevers, Malone; Williams; Martin (Gueye, 67), Abdou, Williams, McDonald, Woolford (Easter, 67); Fuller (Gregory, 80)
Leeds (4-2-3-1): Silvestri; Byram, Pearce, Wootton, Warnock: Austin, Murphy; Tonge, Ajose (Poleon, 79); Hunt (Smith, 58), Doukara (Cook, 64).
Referee: Oliver Langford
Man of the match: McDonald (Millwall)
Match rating: 6/10