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Leeds United boss Paul Heckingbottom is already looking ahead to the 2018/19 season

paul-heckingbottom

Leeds United boss Paul Heckingbottom is already looking ahead to the 2018/19 season and claims the Peacocks need to be ready to fight for promotion.

After an outstanding start to the season, Leeds faded ultimately costing Thomas Christiansen lost his job.

Leeds’ slide from the playoff places to mid-table obscurity continues with their form in 2018 showing just one win in the Championship.

As per a report from Yorkshire Evening Post, Heckingbottom told the media at this afternoon’s press conference that the club needs to “fight tooth and nail to get into the Premier League.”

Everyone connected with the club must “know [their] role in helping the club to get back up there.”

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“The fans will outstay everyone, and the team must understand their importance,” the Leeds boss’ battle cry continued. “In any way we achieve success the fans will be a part of that. We have to earn the right to get them back in.”

According to Heckingbottom, it’s vital the team finishes the season in a positive manner to give the fans something to believe in over the summer. If previous transfer windows are anything to go by, there will be plenty of activity at Elland Road, both in terms of incoming and outgoing players.

The painful lesson of the start of this season, that beginning fast counts for nothing, has been learned. It is consistency which is the problem to be overcome.

Since the 2 – 1 win at Burton Albion on Boxing Day, Leeds only three points were claimed against Brentford. The other games are a litany of defeats interspersed with occasional draws; it’s not good enough for the manager, owner or fans.

And supporters are voting with their feet. The only bright spot in 2018 was the derby match against Sheffield Wednesday with 31,628 watching the 2 – 1 defeat. In the two months preceding that, the attendance has dropped by 7,000 supporters from the 33,564 against Millwall to 26,434 for the visit of leaders Wolves.

Heckingbottom is fighting a losing battle on the pitch and in the stands. Until he wins the former, empty seats will remain a familiar sight around Elland Road.

Cardiff City are up in Warnock’s nifty footwork

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Neil Warnock will see Cardiff City promoted to the Premier League in one of the automatic places if his tactics are as devious as his money-making skills, reckons Paul Peschisolido.

Warnock already has a record seven promotions to his name and is on course for his eighth as the Bluebirds chirp happily in second, seven points clear of third-placed Fulham.

But the Canadian striker recalls a tale from his Sheffield United days which underlines just what a wily character Warnock is.

A team-building weekend in Scarborough saw the Sheffield-born manager organise a ten-pin bowling match. Peschisolido takes up the story in his wife, Karen Brady’s column in The Sun,

“He convinced us all to put £10 in the pot, winner takes all.

“We agreed for some fun, then he pulled out his own bowling shoes and custom ball, shot 250 and took all our money!”

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Warnock is a marmite character with his abrasive outbursts winning him as many fans as detractors. Few can argue with his footballing nous as he lifted a Cardiff City squad which finished 12th in 2016/17 to 2nd this season, all with a net spend of £10m during the season’s two transfer windows.

Add into that, when his players needed him to react, he found the answers. Four consecutive defeats, including a damaging 4 – 2 home loss to Fulham, brought nine wins in eleven unbeaten matches, with seven on the bounce.

Cardiff City are not to be under-estimated. Wolverhampton Wanderers visit south Wales next week followed by a match which may seal the Bluebirds return to the top-flight: Aston Villa away.

No-one is left in any doubt with Warnock about who is boss. His motto is “Work hard, listen to what I say, do what I say and we can achieve something together.”

After arriving at the club, he told the squad he wanted his eighth promotion with them despite witnessing their 2 – 1 Carabao Cup defeat at home to Burton Albion.

Warnock weaved his magic so far but can he find the spell to cast over his Midlands rivals when it counts?

Aston Villa legend Nigel Spink gives Steve Bruce his full backing for Premier League promotion

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Steve Bruce received the unqualified backing of Aston Villa legend Nigel Spink as the man to get the club back into the Premier League.

A member of the Aston Villa side which won the 1982 European Club Champions Cup final, Spink isn’t convinced that his former club will qualify via the automatic promotion places.

Second-placed Cardiff City are seven points clear of Villa and firmly in control of the final promotion place. Despite some tricky fixtures ahead, including a meeting with leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers next week, the Bluebirds are expected to take the final automatic promotion place.

Not only that, Villa need Fulham in third to slip-up as well.

In Spink’s view, Villa will benefit from the situation resolving itself quickly. “If it is to be the play-offs,” he said. “In a way it would be better to find out sooner rather than later.”

Mile Jedinak for Aston Villa
Mile Jedinak for Aston Villa

The disappointment of missing out on the final place is tough to cope with, he told the Express and Star. “I always feel it is difficult for teams who get close and miss out on the final game to refocus.”

Not that Spink expects Bruce or the squad to give up. “Steve will still believe they can do it until it is no longer mathematically possible,” the former Villa goalkeeper said.

Bruce has been through the playoffs before, winning the final twice, once with Birmingham City in 2002 and then with Hull City in 2016.

Spink, who worked with the Villa boss as a goalkeeping coach when he was in charge at Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, and Sunderland, believes the pressure of the promotion race won’t undermine Bruce.

“Steve knows what the play-offs are all about and how to handle them,” he said. “There is definitely a way to approach them and he knows how to prepare,” he declared, before adding, “he is the best manager you could ask for in that situation.”

Neil Warnock may disagree about that as he heads toward another promotion to the Premier League. Even so, Aston Villa are in good hands and few around the B6 postcode will argue with Spink’s view.

Reading appoint former Swansea boss Paul Clement as new manager after Jaap Staam sacking

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Reading appointed Paul Clement as their new boss yesterday and the former Swansea manager wasted no time in declaring that his experience with the Welsh club will be put to good use in Berkshire.

“It’s a great opportunity at a club I’ve always respected in my years in coaching,” he said.

The man who shot to prominence as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, oversaw a dramatic turnaround in fortunes. Two away wins in his first three games in charge – including one at Anfield – is the sort of impact Reading hope to see.

“This is a club that’s always been competitive at this level,” he said. “The ambition in the immediate term is to secure the club in the Championship.

“Beyond that, there’s a lot of ambition to take this club back into the Premier League after it came so close last season. My ambition is to coach at that level again.

“But, the focus has to be on the next eight games.”

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His first game in charge of the Royals is sure to an emotionally-charged affair for Clement. Queens Park Rangers are the visitors to the Madejski Stadium, and Clement’s late father Dave, was an accomplished servant of the club, making over 500 appearances for the R’s between 1965 and 1979.

Reading reacted quickly to the departure of Jaap Stam as coach, bringing Clement in within 48 hours of the Dutchman’s dismissal. Clement himself was in California and cut short a holiday to return to action.

The international break affords him some time to familiarise himself with the squad and he is under no illusions about Reading’s situation. The former PE teacher knows the club needs to pull together and that includes the fans.

With the relegation battle proving more unpredictable as the promotion race, Clement will need all the help he can get to reach safety.

Official: Reading announce sacking of manager Jaap Stam after one win in 18 games

Reading v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship Play Off: Second Leg

Faced with a run of one win in the last 18 games, Reading sacked Jaap Stam today, as per a report from The Telegraph.

The official statement from the Royals said, “Reading Football Club announce that Jaap Stam has left his position as manager of the club with immediate effect.

“Majority shareholders, Mr Yongge Dai and Ms Xiu Li Dai, had wanted to give Jaap every opportunity to turn around what has been a difficult and challenging Championship campaign.

“Jaap has not wavered in the time, effort and sheer determination he has put in to try to steer the team away from the position we find ourselves in. However, after careful consideration, the decision has been made that a change is now necessary.

“We would like to thank Jaap for his hard work and commitment to the club, in particular noting what he achieved in a memorable first season in club management, and we wish him the very best of luck in his future endeavours.”

Stam took Reading to the play-off final last season where only a missed penalty kick prevented them from returning to the Premier League.

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However, this season, the Royals tumbled toward relegation. With games fast running out and the club sitting just three points above the bottom three, the board decided to act.

Football is littered with teams which respond positively to a change at the helm, and Reading’s owners are hoping for that to happen in this instance.

The net will be cast far and wide in the search for a replacement, with bookmakers immediately installed former Swansea City boss Paul Clement as favourite.

There are plenty of experienced unemployed coaches in the mix, with former England coach Steve McLaren high on the list alongside ex-Watford coach Marco Silva.

Reading’s situation requires experience of the Championship and the fans hope, a seasoned winner in relegation battles.

Some like Mark Warburton, formerly of Brentford and Nottingham Forest, ticks the boxes while Nigel Pearson, who led Leicester to the Premier League, is a more traditional football man. Dubious incidents with the media may preclude his appointment.

Will Reading’s owners follow that well-trodden path or take an alternative route, making a hipster appointment in Graham Potter whose Ostersunds side won at Arsenal recently.

Whoever takes over, the club needs an immediate turnaround in results or next season will be spent in League One.

Destined for the top: Benik Afobe helps Wolves to glory second time around

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He was the one who got away, according to Arsenal fans at the time. After impressing at MK Dons on loan and during his first season at Wolves on loan, that assessment seemed to be right. Benik Afobe was destined for the top.

Things haven’t quite worked out as planned and now the Bournemouth striker finds himself on loan once more, at his former stomping ground Molineux.

And Afobe couldn’t be happier. “As a centre-forward, when you score, and your team wins, and you’re top of the league, you’re in dreamland,” he said during a BBC WM interview.

It’s hardly been a dream few seasons for him. He never hit the heights at Bournemouth, managing 10 Premier League goals in two seasons with the club. Afobe plateaued and nothing the Cherries did could lift him from that level.

This season, his 17 appearances – mainly from the bench – failed to yield a single goal so looking to the future, he didn’t hesitate to return to the Black Country. And once again, he’s begun to fire on all cylinders in the famous old gold.

Not that it’s been plain sailing. “The more I’ve trained with the boys, I’ve adapted to the way they play, and they’ve adapted to me,” he said.

“I would have liked to have hit the ground running but it’s a different team to when I was here before. A lot of different players. But that’s four goals for me now. When you get out on the pitch and see the movement and the passes you’re given, you can see it work.”

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His first goal arrived in the 3 – 0 win at Elland Road which got Wolves back to winning ways after a rocky spell. Afobe followed that up quickly with a goal against Reading and a brace in the weekend’s 3 – 1 win over Burton Albion. As quickly as Wolves form returned, it seeped away from their rivals as Fulham and Aston Villa both dropped points.

Not bad for a player whose only 90 minutes came in Bournemouth’s abject FA Cup defeat at Wigan. With opportunities arising as Leo Bonatini’s slough runs into 18 games while Diego Jota is injured, Afobe is proving once again to be the man of the hour.

And a Premier League return for the powerful striker is once more on the cards. This time, he’ll be ready.

Aston Villa’s promotion hopes crushed, claims Championship rival

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Aston Villa’s hopes of finishing in the automatic promotion places crashed against the rocks with consecutive defeats against Queens Park Rangers and Bolton Wanderers, with no-one else but Steve Bruce to blame.

Those were the combative words of Kevin Phillips, an assistant coach at Derby County in his weekly column for the Express & Star.

A legendary Premier League marksman, Phillips spent the latter years of his playing days in the Championship with Blackpool, Crystal Palace and Leicester City. A member of the Foxes side which won the division that year, Phillips knows the toll the 46-game campaign takes on the players.

Phillips claimed that “he should have changed two or three players in the midweek fixture against QPR,” highlighting age as the issue. “It’s not a young squad he’s got there, and he probably should have freshened it up.”

It’s a problem that Derby are familiar with, and Phillips declared hindsight as 20/20 vision. “A lot of these things become apparent after the event.”

There is a second reason, and it’s one that Bruce and his coaches not should have been aware of but stamping out: complacency.

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It’s easily done, according to the former striker who made 660 career appearances, including 27 for Aston Villa.

“After the big win over Wolves you’ve got QPR and Bolton next up, two teams who’ve not done well this season,” he said. “You look at it and think ‘we should just turn up and we’ll beat them.”

Villa found out the hard way that focus is what divides the champions from the also-rans.

Those two defeats combined with Wolves and Cardiff City winning signalled the end of Villa’s dream of a top-two finish.

“At the end of it all they’ve maybe ruined their chances of getting the second spot,” declared Phillips.

He was full of praise for Nuno Espirito Santo’s Molineux squad.

“As for Wolves, well they’ve been outstanding all season. Yes, they had a blip, but their quality has shone through again.”

Derby’s own experience mirrors that of Aston Villa’s. The Rams are out of contention for the top two and busy looking over their shoulders at Sheffield United, Preston North End and Bristol City who are all eyeing their play-off place.

The automatic promotion places may be all but settled but there are plenty of twists and turns remaining in the playoff chase.

Sunderland manager Chris Coleman’s future is uncertain – new owners to decide his fate

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When Chris Coleman walked away from the Wales job to join Sunderland in November 2017, he knew he had a huge task on his hands to save the club from a second successive relegation.

Four months later, he is no less enamoured with the club but knows his future is in the hands of others.

“My contract is this season plus two more,” he told the Sunderland Echo, ahead of the visit of Preston North End.

“I want to be here, that’s what I signed up for. I wouldn’t have signed the contract otherwise,” he added, hinting that he knew there was uncertainty over the club’s future ownership.

The Black Cats must win tomorrow if they are to keep their slender hopes of staying in the Championship alive. Sunderland are six points from safety and still in the bottom three, a position they occupied when Coleman took over.

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“I came here when we were in the bottom three, there was no guarantee that we would stay up, I was hoping that we would pull away [from the relegation zone] on the back of some good work with Wales, but it hasn’t quite materialised.”

Wearing his heart on his sleeve, Coleman gave an honest assessment of his performance. “I’ve not pulled up any trees here yet,” the former centre-back declared.

He emphasized his desire to retain control at the Stadium of Light.

“I came here because I wanted to be manager of Sunderland AFC, and it will still be Sunderland AFC at the end of the season no matter where it is, and I very much want to be a part of that.

“I don’t know who is going to come in and buy the club if someone buys the club, but that is the uncertainty, not me saying ‘that’s it’ – absolutely not.”

Sunderland’s run-in includes matches against promotion-chasing Derby County and Fulham, as well as relegation rivals Reading and Burton. Coleman is desperate to resolve the club’s status before the final game against league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Stadium of Light.

He’s been in the game long enough to know that the decision over his future may be taken out of his hands.

“I have to be careful what I say because I don’t want people to think I am being defeatist – which I’m certainly not – but it’s not about what league we are in, it will be about who owns the club and what is the plan.

“Because they might not have me in their plans.

“If I’m not here, it won’t be because I have said ‘that’s it’.”

And that is music to the fans on Wearside.