A PENNY for the thoughts of Eddie Davies and Phil Gartside as they viewed another fruitless afternoon’s work down on the pitch at Elland Road.
Wanderers’ owner and chairman will have a had a good view from the directors’ box as their manager Dougie Freedman twisted, grimaced and gritted his teeth through 90 tortuous minutes of football.
The man cutting such a crestfallen figure in front of the dugouts was the one they installed just under two years ago to change the face of a football club.
Such was the task at hand, whoever took the post needed to have rhino-thick skin and more than a degree of ruthlessness about them. Some unpopular decisions needed to be made.
By 4.50pm on Saturday, Davies and Gartside faced another season-defining choice: Admit their appointment had failed, or batten down the hatches.
Evidence over the weekend suggests the club’s hierarchy are prepared to hold firm, regardless of the manager’s dwindling support on the terraces or the evidence presented by the league table after five games.
Even had Wanderers found an answer to Stephen Warnock’s early goal during a largely one-sided contest, Freedman would have found it hard to escape his critics over the international break.
That Joe Mason, Jermaine Beckford and Chung-Yong Lee failed to convert clear-cut chances is symptomatic of a campaign that is somehow managing to be less palatable than 12 months ago.
Freedman has played the “bad guy” through most of his time at Wanderers, whether that has been by cutting popular players from the squad, providing reasoning for dwindling finances far beyond his remit as a football manager, or by explaining away performances just like this.
His defence of recent results has conflicted somewhat with empirical evidence, and yet in this instance, he was entirely right to say his team should have won.
When the young manager really needed a break, he got a kick in the teeth.
Perhaps it’s the Glaswegian genes but Freedman came out fighting, insisting that he would not “give up” and that both Davies and Gartside knew the size of the task at hand.
“I have been asked to do a job and that’s to lower the wage bill but also try and keep the football club moving forward – it’s very difficult,” he reflected after the match.
Some fans are still to grasp the full magnitude of cost-cutting measures that Freedman has undertaken compared to the luxuries involved in the Premier League days.
It has been a very bitter pill to swallow.
But whether you sympathise with the manager’s plight or not, the situation boils down to a simple question: Will someone else do a better job with the available resources?
Cash for new signings, we are led to believe, is non-existent, although Freedman still has his eyes on the loan window for salvation.
Where the Scot has to be judged is on the squad he has whittled down in the last 22 months. And on that front, it is hard to make a positive case.
As the old adage goes, football is a results business. Saturday’s defeat means that Wanderers have made their worst start to a season for 30 years, beating even last year’s annus horribils in the first five games.
Freedman knows the assertion that his team are “not far away” has worn paper thin. If he has, as we are led to believe, been given a stay of execution, it is very much the exception in the modern game.
Dave Hockaday had precisely 70 days in the Leeds post before being gobbled up by Leeds chairman Massimo Cellino, known back home in Italy as “The Manager Eater.”
His temporary replacement is Wanderers youth team graduate Neil Redfearn – an honest coach who fully deserves to be considered for the Elland Road post full-time based on the fight he seemed to inspire in his side over the course of Saturday’s game.
Mason had already seen one shot pushed on to the bar by Marco Silvestri before Warnock, the former Wanderers loanee, opened the scoring with a cross-shot that nestled into the bottom corner.
Marking around the penalty box had been non-existent, and Warnock strolled nonchalantly into space rather like Carlos Alberto’s famous strike in the heat of Mexico 1970.
Leeds looked susceptible to pace but both centre halves Jason Pearce and Giuseppe Bellusci used every trick in the book to keep Wanderers at bay.
Mason was having the kind of day strikers dread. Twice more he found a clear route on goal before the break only to stab a shot straight down Silvestri’s throat.
Spearing signalled Bolton’s intent in the second half with a fierce drive that was pushed away by the Leeds keeper, later helped out by Pearce who made a fine last-ditch tackle to block Mason’s follow-up.
Puzzlingly, Jermaine Beckford only entered the fray with 10 minutes to go despite having been stripped off and ready for significantly longer.
When he came on for Craig Davies it was no surprise the reception he got from the Leeds fans, who remember fondly his incredible scoring exploits in their League One days.
Quite what the striker was thinking acknowledging their chants during the game is another matter.
His “thumbs up” gesture to the home support is hardly the heresy it is being made out to be in some quarters but won’t be found in the pages of any public relations manual. All the bad feeling would have washed away had Beckford found the target with a late header, clawed away by Silvestri who then performed more heroics to block Chung-Yong’s snap-shot on the line.
Freedman – who had defended his striker from the terrace boo-boys during the week – shook his head in despair when the matter was raised with him after the game. But in fairness, he had bigger fish to fry.
It is unfortunate that the Scot has become so singularly vilified in what has been a thankless task. From top to bottom, the whole football club is culpable for what has happened since they tumbled out of the Premier League.
Fans’ frustration is both obvious and understandable. But it isn’t just Freedman who has failed in his task to move the club forward thus far.