With Leeds picking up just two points since the Boxing Day win at Burton, dropping to tenth in the table and seven points off the play-offs, Thomas Christiansen departed the club.
Since the clear intention from the start of the season was to make the top six, the dismissal of Christiansen signals a sense of urgency to still be in the play-offs come May.
The nature of the club’s rut was amplified by a heavy home defeat to Cardiff, as well as being dumped out of the FA Cup by Newport. Losing 1-0 to Birmingham, who were bottom of the table at the time, and the manner of the 4-3 loss to Millwall meant patience finally ran out for the Dane.
With fans beginning to turn on Christiansen during the 4-1 defeat to Cardiff, the atmosphere was becoming too toxic to continue. Bar the extraordinary Millwall game, the goals have dried up, and there has been little adaption to the formation or style of play when things are not working.
Chants of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ towards Christiansen also disguises the fact that he has been incredibly unlucky with suspensions and injuries.
Four red cards in five matches does not help the team’s fortunes at all. Six games without Samu Saiz, who has so often been Leeds’ most creative spark this season, has also coincided with the poor form.
There may be an argument that the head coach did not get the message out to his players, telling them to cut out their reckless decisions on the pitch. However, no manager can ultimately influence his players’ split-second decisions during the heat of battle. Nor could Christiansen envisage Saiz would completely lose his head and spit on a Newport player.
Since the former Barcelona player was brought in as head coach alongside Victor Orta as the club’s director of football, it appears on face-value that Christiansen has received the full brunt of the club’s slump. Orta and Angus Kinnear surely have to be questioned as well since they were also brought in by Andrea Radrizzani as part of a new triumvirate set-up in the summer.
As a result, new manager Paul Heckingbottom will have to fit into this set-up, minus Christiansen of course. With Orta still in place as director of football, it is hoped that Heckingbottom can rejuvenate the players available on the pitch, leaving others to do the background work.
Often a new manager can bring a sense of freshness and uplift the place. Christiansen himself had this way when he first joined the club. Consistency has been the issue though, with two slumps causing the club to drop down the table.
Heckingbottom will need to galvanise the players when they are down, ensuring that one defeat does not suddenly become three of four in succession as it has done with Christiansen.
The new manager agreed to sign a rolling contract at Oakwell only last week, and as Barnsley have recently been taken over by a Chinese billionaire, it is promising for Leeds that they still have an apparent lure when attracting people to the club.
Heckingbottom is certainly a risk for Leeds, as shown by the fact that Barnsley are sitting just one point above the relegation places. The South Yorkshire side have lost their last three games.
Despite this, Heckingbottom was offered a new contract because he has still done an impressive job at the club. He earned promotion with Barnsley through the play-offs in 2016, before guiding them to 14th in the Championship, one place below Aston Villa.
Undoubtedly, Leeds is a step-up for him with expectations at Elland Road leaving any manager little margin for error. The current predicament regarding the lack of players available-especially centre-backs-is also a huge challenge to overcome when looking for instant results.
Perhaps the play-offs are realistically a step too far for Leeds this season, with the new appointment almost being one final act to cling onto this hope.
Only time will tell for fans of the Leeds United rollercoaster.