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Neil Warnock's Barmy Army

Tuesday 20th March 2012
You may love him or you may hate him, but there is no denying that since Neil Warnock has been at Leeds a stunning transformation has taken place.

A tightly fought contest against West Ham on Saturday, in front of a rejuvenated 30,000 plus crowd at Elland Road was clear evidence of what Warnock has brought to the club. Passion and belief are the hallmarks of Warnock's Leeds, with a back to basics approach making the team difficult to beat.

The Warnock effect has begun and it has brought with it a new found belief. Despite conceding a late goal to draw 1-1 against the Hammers, fans still see a chance of making the playoffs with nine games left to play.

The positive atmosphere at Leeds is a rather pleasant change, especially compared to the state the club was in a mere five weeks ago. Back then, the club were without a manager and a defeat to bottom of the table Coventry meant hopes of promotion were fading fast. To top it all off, there were protests by fans against the board. Hope and belief were at a record low.

The arrival of Warnock has changed all that. During his short reign as Leeds boss, Warnock and his backroom staff have managed to change the style and mindset of the players and given the fans something to shout about. Performances have improved 100%. The players are now playing like their lives depend on it, closing the opposition down when they are without the ball and when they get the ball, actually keeping possession. Giving your all for the club is all Leeds fans want, and under Warnock they are certainly seeing it.

The defence under Simon Grayson was quite simply a shambles. It didn't matter who was in the back four, goals flew in by the dozen. Watching the Doncaster game a few weeks back, Warnock would have witnessed this disaster of a defence and identified it as his most important problem to solve. After five games in charge his defence has conceded just twice, against the top two sides in the division.

Many will be wondering what magic has Neil Warnock delved in to bring this incredible turnaround in the back four. In fact, it is quite simple. The key problem with the Leeds defence was how exposed it was, especially in the full-back areas. Warnock has made the team a lot more compact, allowing less space for opposition sides to get into and infiltrate the back line.

Another reason is the signing of Paul Robinson from Bolton. The veteran left-back is the sort of player Warnock loves: hard working and loves a battle. I've been very impressed with Robinson. He provides leadership at the back that the team have missed all season, talking to the two young centre-backs and applying a no-nonsense approach when it comes to defending. In addition to that, he loves to make a tackle - again, something that the Leeds fans appreciate. It is these small changes that have boosted confidence, and helped the defence to become more solid.

However, the biggest change that Neil Warnock has brought in is the confidence he has given the players, especially those who had been out of form or out of the side altogether. Since his first game in charge against Portsmouth the players seem to be a yard quicker, working that bit harder, working as a team and seem to actually enjoy their football.

Warnock is known for his ability to get the best out of players, and one player who has really stood out since Warnock's arrival is Michael Brown. Brown was brought in by Simon Grayson to give a bit of bite and steel to the Leeds midfield. Sadly, up until now, the former Portsmouth man had been very poor. However, under the stewardship of his former Sheffield United boss, Brown is now the tough tackling player he was in the Premiership. He isn't going to be the box to box midfielder who made his name under Warnock at Sheffield United, but the role of sitting in front of the Leeds back four is now a position he is starting to excel at.

It is not just Brown who has been given a new lease of life. Luciano Becchio, Paul Connolly and the centre half pairing of Darren O'Dea and Tom Lees have all made huge strides in their recent performances. The centre halfs in particular now show a resilience and assurance that has helped the club to three clean sheets in five games. Connolly, a player who Grayson cast aside to train with the kids, has come back a totally different player while Becchio is back to his best, scoring goals and terrifying defences in the Championship. The same can't yet be said for fellow striker Billy Paynter but there is still time for him to show off his talents, even if that is being the back-up goalkeeper for the remainder of the season.

In Neil Warnock, Leeds have a manager who has the experience of getting a club promoted to the top flight. With seven promotions already under his belt, Warnock sees Leeds as his ultimate challenge and his last chance to get a record eighth promotion. The confidence and belief he has brought to the club in a short period of time has given fans the hope he can get promotion this season. Realistically that looks very difficult to achieve this season, given that a few teams have games in hand and are five points above Leeds.

If the top six are to evade Leeds for the second year in a row then the pressure will be on Warnock to deliver automatic promotion next season, something he is fully aware of but very capable of achieving. For now, Neil Warnock is steadily transforming Leeds into his team, a team capable of mounting a promotion push.

The biggest indication of the positive impact Warnock has had on Leeds United is the warm reaction the fans have had since he arrived. In fact, after just a few matches in charge supporters have started to sing ‘there's only one Neil Warnock' - who would have thought that name would be sung by Leeds fans a few years ago?
Michael Wood

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