Following a run of seven matches in all competitions without a win – including a 4-1 defeat against Cardiff City at Elland Road last Saturday – Leeds United decided to sack manager Thomas Christiansen on Sunday.
The Yorkshire outfit dropped down to 10th after that result and are now seven points adrift of the Championship play-off positions having been top of the division earlier in the season, but rather than take his time over a new appointment owner Andrea Radrizzani obviously felt that he needed to act quickly and wasted little time in bringing in the 44-year-old’s successor.
Paul Heckingbottom had only extended his contract with the Whites’ local rivals Barnsley last Friday, but just four days later he had been announced as Leeds’ new boss, and it was a decision that came as a surprise to most of their fans.
The 40-year-old arrives in west Yorkshire at a difficult time, with a team lacking in confidence and many key players missing through injury and suspension.
While Radrizzani obviously feels that Heckingbottom is the man to turn things around, the fact that Barnsley only won one of their last 14 Championship fixtures shows that he may not be the quick fix they are looking for – even if the Tykes do have one of the lowest budgets in the division.
Leeds are currently missing club captain Liam Cooper, Samu Saiz and Gaetano Berardi – who was dismissed against the Bluebirds – because of suspension, while Conor Shaughnessy and Luke Ayling are definitely ruled out through injury, and striker Caleb Ekuban may also not be ready to return just yet.
New managers will often hope for a kind fixture for their first one in charge, and while that isn’t very often the case in the Championship, a derby trip to Sheffield United is going to be a really tough one for the Whites this weekend.
Like Leeds, the Blades were flying high just a few months ago but have now not only dropped away from the automatic promotion spots, but also out of the play-off positions altogether, and they will be determined to get back into them as soon as possible.
There is no doubt that they have quality players like Leon Clarke, Ricky Holmes, James Wilson and the familiar Billy Sharp, and backed by a strong Bramall Lane crowd the atmosphere should be electric on Saturday.
The defensive issues that Heckingbottom currently has means that Vurnon Anita could come in at right-back against Chris Wilder’s men if he intends to play with a back four, and that certainly wouldn’t be a disaster considering the experienced Dutchman often played there for Newcastle United when they won the league last season.
The 40-year-old will also be praying that Pontus Jansson is fine to start having been stretchered off against Cardiff, while he needs the likes of Ronaldo Vieira, Gianni Alioski and Kemar Roofe to regain the form they have shown previously following some disappointing displays from the trio.
The goal for Leeds over the course of the rest of the season will be to reclaim their spot in the top six and look to avoid narrowly missing out on a play-off place again – as they did last term.
With just 16 matches remaining and with the current issues they have, that is already looking like a tough ask, and supporters who are expecting instant results under Heckingbottom need to rein their expectations in immediately.
It is often taken as a given that there will be a ‘new manager bounce’ and more points will automatically be picked up, but that isn’t always the case.
Yes, we all know Leeds are a huge team at this level and the expectations are always high, but the club has appointed a boss who is still learning and is making a big step up to a side where there is far more pressure on his shoulders every week, and far more scrutiny on every decision he makes.
Where the Whites stand now and given the form Barnsley were in, the Elland Road faithful shouldn’t be expecting instant results from Heckingbottom, and they must accept that the 40-year-old could take time to get things right over the remainder of the season – even if it means their play-off hopes have to be sacrificed before the campaign is out.