When Paul Heckingbottom was announced as the new head coach of Leeds United on an 18-month contract, some Leeds fans were left scratching their heads, whilst others were filled with a sense of optimism. Both attitudes are justified; though the Royston-born Heckingbottom won the then-named Johnstone's Paint Trophy with Barnsley in 2016 and guided the South Yorkshire club to promotion in the same year, he is a relatively unknown quantity in the managerial world. But, Leeds fans have a number of reasons to be hopeful that the club have finally found the right man to take United forward.

Baptism of fire

Heckingbottom was born in Barnsley and played for the club towards the end of his professional career before he began coaching the Tykes' Under-14s on a part-time basis seven years ago. Twice Heckingbottom stepped into the role of caretaker boss at Barnsley, first, in 2015 after the departure of Danny Wilson and then again in February 2016 when the then head coach Lee Johnson left to join Bristol City.

It was this second spell as caretaker coach that Heckingbottom burst onto the managerial scene, guiding the Tykes to victory in the Football League Cup Final - the club's first cup final win since 1912 - as well as promotion to the second-tier of English football. Unbelievably, Heckingbottom achieved both of these feats whilst studying for a MSc in Sport Coaching at Leeds Beckett University.

For these impressive exploits, Heckingbottom was rewarded with a 12-month rolling contract in June 2016.

Promotion is one thing, but keeping a club in the Championship is another; local-lad Heckingbottom, however, took to the new league like a duck to water, taking Barnsley to the lofty heights of ninth by the end of 2016. The club were, remarkably, fighting for a top-half finish last season before a disastrous January transfer window, in which they sold their best players - including captain, Conor Hourihane, and top scorer, Sam Winnall - left Heckingbottom clutching at straws to grind wins out.

Though the Tykes eventually finished 14th, they were seven points clear of the drop-zone with ten teams below them - not exactly bad for a newly-promoted side.

Brave managerial move

Inevitably, Heckingbottom became an attraction for other clubs; Nottingham Forest and Sunderland were seemingly interested before Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani made his move just six days after Heckingbottom had signed a new rolling contract extension at Barnsley.

The pull of Leeds was clearly too much; a club with momentous history, a fantastic stadium, 30,000 plus fans, a now stable off-the-field outlook, an ambitious owner and a youth pedigree that could rival any in the country, even a 'Red', growing up surrounded by a hatred of the 'Whites' just 20 miles away, could not resist.

It is a bold change, but with the Tykes 21st in the Championship table and flirting with relegation when he departed, Heckingbottom probably felt as though he had taken the South Yorkshire club as far as he could. The 40-year-old however, has joined a club rife with expectation; after all, United had been Champions League semi-finalists nearly 18 years ago and a Premier League side as recent as 2004.

At Barnsley, Heckingbottom had time and very little pressure, now at Leeds, it is firmly the opposite. Leeds have had seven managers in four years; Heckingbottom therefore knows he has to deliver.

And, he is up against it from the very start; owner Andrea Radrizzani has repeatedly outlined his desire to reach the play-offs. Indeed, making it to the Championship play-offs was the bare minimum expectation given to Christiansen before the 2017/18 season had begun. The stats do not look promising for Heckingbottom either; 13 permanent managers have attempted to gain promotion back to the top flight since 2004, only to fail and be replaced. Heckingbottom will also, to add to the pressure, have to deal with director of football, Victor Orta, whom is largely responsible for the current identity of the squad.

Too many of Orta's signings - with the exception of the gifted Spaniard Samuel Saiz - have failed to hit the heights that the club and fans want to see. It therefore remains to be seen whether Heckingbottom will have free reign in the transfer market once the season ends or whether - like Christiansen before him - he will remain largely at the beck and call of those above him.

What Leeds fans can expect

Whilst Leeds have sold many of their best players in the past - Chris Wood, for example, springs to mind - Heckingbottom is unlikely to face any high-profile departures like those he experienced at Barnsley with the likes of Hourihane and Winnall. Heckingbottom therefore has a squad at his disposal that is settled with a host of young players waiting in the wings.

Whether or not the former Barnsley player can get anything extra out of a squad that is littered with the recruits of former managers remains to be seen.

Heckingbottom does however, have a rapidly-growing reputation. For example, he worked wonders at Barnsley in the development of a number of stars. Premier League duo Mason Holgate and Alfie Mawson were both graduates of Heckingbottom, likewise, Birmingham's Marc Roberts and QPR's Josh Scowen came through the Barnsley setup under Heckingbottom's watchful eye. There is a key reason for this; his man-management is rated so very highly by former players with Heckingbottom able to get the best out of the players at his disposal. This could make the difference for United as they look to resurrect their play-off hopes.

Or, it could, at least, instil the confidence in the side for a play-off charge in 2019.

Heckingbottom has all the necessary attributes to succeed at Leeds; he can be firm, but also very calm with his players depending entirely on what is being played out in front of him. Whilst in charge of Barnsley, his team was organised and liked to play on the front foot, with a high press all over the pitch which is inevitably what Leeds fans want to see too.

But, most importantly, Heckingbottom can now concentrate on football. Before Barnsley's Chinese takeover around Christmas time, Heckingbottom was also involved in the running of the club - mainly performing administrative duties - meaning his focus was somewhat lost from the footballing side of things.

At Leeds, he does not have to worry about the goings on behind the scenes, leaving Heckingbottom to do what he does best - coaching the team.

Going forward

Before Heckingbottom took his first training session at Thorp Arch, the 40-year-old held a team meeting in which he called for his team to be aggressive "with or without the ball". Leeds, however, have been punished in the past few months for being over-aggressive; in Christiansen's last five matches, four United players received red cards. Christiansen was perhaps losing control over his side's attitude, Heckingbottom meanwhile, has attempted to tap into the players' passion on the field by giving them the belief that they can use their aggression in a controlled manner to win games.

And, in his first interview at the club, the former Barnsley coach described the upcoming block of fixtures, comprising of trips to Sheffield United and Derby County, as season defining. “What have we got to lose?” he said - arguably music to many Leeds' fans ears. Though Heckingbottom lost his first game in charge against the Blades, his impact on the side was evident, particularly in the second half. Something was quite obviously said in the sheds at half-time as a goal in the 47th minute from German striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga brought Leeds instantly back into the game.

Leeds do however, have too many passengers in the side at the minute. Kalvin Philips, Eunan O'Kane - whom gave away the penalty which Blades' striker Billy Sharp dispatched in the 73rd minute - and Kemar Roofe - substituted at half-time - have all looked bitterly disappointing in recent weeks.

And, all of Heckingbottom's strike power on the bench came in the form of just one player - Pablo Hernandez - a player whom Heckingbottom has said Leeds cannot rely on to pull something out of the bag.

It will be a true test of Heckingbottom's mettle to see whether or not he can turn around Leeds' slump in form and whether or not he truly can get the best out of the players at his disposal. A straight-talking, passionate, vibrant, young Yorkshireman, Heckingbottom does have what it takes to get Leeds back to the promise-land, but, perhaps the end-of-season run-in comes too quickly for that to happen in 2018.

Click here for Leeds Rugby League pieces