how do you see tomorrow’s crucial yorkshire derby panning out?
EG: I’m expecting this to be a very tough game. Sheffield United might be at the wrong end of the table and Leeds are towards the top but I’m sure it’s going to be a really hard-fought affair. Micky Adams will be desperate to give the home fans something to shout about because they’ve not had much to cheer. Their supporters will be in good voice because it’s a derby game and their players are going to be very, very focused too. Then, when you consider the fact that both teams are playing for something important, I think it makes it even more significant and intense. Leeds are trying to get promoted and Sheffield United are fighting for their lives.
KE: Games between these two are always important but this one especially so because United are trying to avoid relegation and Leeds will be trying to keep the momentum going as they look to go up. But I didn’t mind playing teams who were going for something at this stage of the season because there is a pressure attached to them. It’s the ones who don’t have anything to gain in a wider sense that are often doubly dangerous because they can go out there and relax. Leeds could be just a nervous as United. Of course, on top of those nerves, United have also got the worry to deal with.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THAT WORRY?
KE: By keeping your self-belief. There is going to be pressure on both teams but of course you’d rather be experiencing the type that Leeds are under under rather than us. For me, the key is for United to accept the situation they are in and come to terms with it. Different people cope in different ways. Some retreat into themselves and some crack jokes. But to keep your belief you’ve got to remind yourself why you’ve become a footballer. Because you are damn good at what you do.
ARE YOU SURPRISED TO SEE SHEFFIELD UNITED IN DANGER OF BEING RELEGATED?
EG: I never like to see Yorkshire clubs struggling, whoever they are. It’s good for the county if they are all doing well. I was in caretaker charge of Leeds when we were relegated from the Premiership and the one thing I’ll admit is that we went down because we didn’t perform. Other factors might come into the equation but, ultimately, you have to be honest and say that’s what it is - performance. When you look at Sheffield as a city, though, and consider the fact that it’s got two great teams, I do think it’s a shame to see them both where they are. They’ve not had the best of times have they, especially when you consider what Sheffield United in particular were doing not so long ago.
KE: I always thought it would be a difficult season. The writing was on the wall at the start because we lost a lot of good players. When we brought in a few recently I thought ‘these lads have got to hit the ground running or we’ll be in trouble’.’To be fair, I don’t think many of them have, although it’s not always easy. Other than Ched Evans, who has played his best football here under Micky, I don’t think many of the players can say they’ve been right on top of their games. Then there have been the injuries. Take Paddy Kenny - who admittedly left of his own accord - Chris Morgan and Darius Henderson out and that’s effectively the spine of your team. Anyone would struggle to cope with that.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE SECRET OF LEEDS’ SUCCESS THIS SEASON?
KE: Well, I’m not surprised to see them where they are. They’ve got the momentum of a promotion behind them and that means they’re in the habit of winning games. They’ve kept the core of a good squad and the manager, like Micky, handles himself well. Plus he’s been able to bring in players who have, by and large, hit the ground running.
EG: I honestly believe we will go up this season. And, if we don’t, then we won’t be far away. There are a number of factors behind their results this season and a lot of them stem from the qualities the manager and his staff have instilled in the players. I know a lot has been made of Leeds’ defence not be the tightest but the flip side of that is they always look like scoring goals. They always appear capable of putting the ball in the back of the net. Obviously the squad is performing ever so well. Someone like (Robert) Snodgrass is, in my opinion, clearly capable of playing at the highest level. Max Gradel has done ever so well too but they’re not the only ones. The key thing is that, even when they’re not playing well, they are prepared to dig in and fight. So there are two sides to their game. And that’s a good quality to have.
LEEDS SPENT THREE SEASONS IN LEAGUE ONE. HOW TOUGH IS IT TO WIN PROMOTION FROM THAT DIVISION?
EG: Reputations count for nothing in football. We know that at Leeds but Sheffield United can take heart from the fact that, even if they do go down, it’s possible to rebuild and come back just as strong. Perhaps even stronger. Leeds have shown that with what they are doing this year. I know a lot of people say that if you are one of the bigger clubs down there that it can be doubly difficult because every game is a cup final for the teams you are playing. But I don’t subscribe to the theory that should necessarily be a hurdle. If you have better players, players who are capable of performing to the level required, then so long as you put the same amount of effort in that the opposition are doing nine times out of ten you will win the game. It shouldn’t be an issue. The likes of Manchester United and Arsenal come-up against that every week and manage. It’s the same principle no matter what division you are in.
MICKY ADAMS, THE SHEFFIELD UNITED MANAGER, MUST BE HURTING AT THE MOMENT?
KE: Yes, but one of the things that’s impressed me so much about him is how he’s handled himself throughout a very difficult time. It’s easy to show character when things are going well but it’s damn harder when they’re not. That’s the mark of someone. He’s inherited an awful lot of problems but he’s never come out and blamed anyone else. He’s not tried to divert the flak. Whenever he has criticised someone he’s done it in a measured way and, as a former player, I know that’s what you respond positively and professionally to. Micky has kept his feelings hidden and been level-headed. Of course, he knows it’s a results-based business. But he can get them.
WHAT ABOUT HIS SELF-CONFIDENCE?
KE: The same goes for Micky as the players. He’ll be hurting, hurting a lot. But he’s only got to look back at the achievements he’s had a places like Leicester, Brighton, Port Vale and Coventry to remind himself that’s he’s damn good manager. I hope people don’t just jump on the bandwagon and start criticising everything he does. Because who motivates the motivator?
AND WHAT QUALITIES DOES SIMON GRAYSON, THE LEEDS MANAGER, POSSESS?
EG: Leeds is a well-run football club now which, as everyone knows, wasn’t always the case. The chairman (Ken Bates) also has to take a huge amount of credit for that. Simon has put together a squad of players which, in my opinion, is as strong as any team in the division. There are very few games that I look at in the Championship and think Leeds are not capable of winning, if any. One of the key things Simon has done is bring in players who are capable of performing in the division Leeds have been in at any given point in time. He’s not looked too far ahead. He’s dealt with the challenge in front of him at that moment, not looked to the one beyond.
CAN THE FACT THAT LEEDS HAVE A SETTLED SQUAD ALSO EXPLAIN THEIR RETURN TO PROMINENCE?
EG: I don’t actually think Leeds have got a settled squad in that sense. Simon has brought in something like 13 players since we went up and, give him credit, he’s not spent a lot of money either. There is a core there and a momentum about the club that is important. But Simon has used the loan market very well too. If someone has been injured he’s moved very quickly to fill the gap. He’s not hung around. And the vast majority of his signings - be they temporary or permanent - have all made an impact. They’ve all worked out. The players are also ever so enthusiastic. I thought Max Gradel would be a bit-part player for us but he’s been absolutely on fire.
KE: A lot of the boxes that you require for success - the ones that Micky couldn’t tick when he came in - Simon can tick. Because he wasn’t fire-fighting from day one, he’s been able to plan well and be very methodical. But that’s not to take anything away from him. Like Micky, he impresses me a lot, as a manager and also as a person.
Date of birth: July 16, 1957
League appearances for Sheffield United: 261 (143 goals)
International honours: England under-23
Club honours: Two Golden Boots (Division Three, Four,) promotion.
Date of birth: January 17, 1948
League appearances for Leeds United: 454 (52 goals)
International honours: Scotland (12 caps).
Club honours: League Championship, League Cup, Fairs Cup.