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Patience - A Virtue Not Appreciated Enough

Article by Stephen Barry

After a sterling defensive rearguard action failed to yield 3 points at Craven Cottage, a mood of unerring defiance permeated the 7200 Leeds fans. The habitual concession of a wonder goal from Tom Cairney’s deadly left foot need not have felt like the dagger in the heart that it might usually have done. The incessant pressure Fulham had piled on Leeds since a bizarre opening own goal from Tim Ream eventually culminated in a deserved leveller, leaving Leeds on the cusp of play-off qualification and Fulham with a lot of work to do to make up ground. A maximum of 4 wins from 10 will be sufficient for Leeds to negotiate their path safely to the semi-finals. This weekend they will now be focusing on exacting revenge against a QPR side languishing in mid-table. Leeds go into the game on the back of a superb run of 8 wins from 9 at Elland Road, Cardiff City the only side to take anything from there since Newcastle strolled to victory in November. With Leeds’ defence so strong at Elland Road and QPR having conceded 50 goals altogether it represents another strong chance to strengthen their grip of a Top 6 spot while maintaining an interest in automatic promotion.

How differently things may have transpired. Rewinding the clock back to the opening day at Loftus Road, Leeds fell apart in an utterly insipid performance. One goal down inside 4 minutes they contrived to produce a display short of fight and quality as QPR romped home to an easy 3-0 win. It had many fans suffering nightmare flashbacks to the prominent parts of Massimo Cellino’s reign, the ruthless hiring and firing of managers which had created a total lack of stability at the club. Many felt that Monk was under threat and it was reported that Cellino wanted to sack Monk during the EFL Cup game at Fleetwood 3 days later. Leeds eventually scraped past the League 1 highflyers on penalties. The Championship campaign after 6 games left Leeds on 4 points in the relegation zone and with David Hockaday & Darko Milanic sacked after near identical poor runs of form, many could be forgiven for believing that Monk would become the next statistic that the entire country would mock.

It hasn’t worked out like that. A critical late winner from Kyle Bartley against Blackburn earned Monk a reprieve and he has not looked back since. Steve Evans served for less than a year under Cellino and in doing so became his longest serving manager. Little surprise then that Leeds had finished no higher than 13th in his time as club owner. However, there were signs during the summer that Cellino was mellowing as Monk presided over a host of new arrivals, with no journeymen from Serie B in sight. It enabled Monk to stamp his authority on the club. A poor pre-season hindered the team during its inevitable slow start but Monk has shown he is the right man for the job. Young, hungry and talented, much like the squad itself. Whereas Birmingham have trailed off after Gary Rowett’s sacking, Leeds look a near certainty now for a Top 6 finish and have gone from strength to strength. They are enjoying the clear benefits of having consistency of training methods and team selection.

Chris Wood also finds himself at the top of the Championship goalscoring charts, eclipsing the tally set by £10m man Dwight Gayle. With 22 goals, Wood has played a pivotal role in transforming Leeds from perennial also-rans to a major force in the division. Despite a promising 13 goal tally last season in a side that created few chances, Wood was targeted by sections of Leeds’ support. His absence for 2 months caused United to stagnate and without him up top Leeds lacked an out and out centre forward. Monk brought in Swedish striker Marcus Antonsson to alleviate the pressure on Wood but has found himself on the bench for the majority of the campaign. Similar to Ross McCormack in 2010/2011, Antonsson finds himself a victim of circumstance. The decision to settle on a 4-2-3-1 formation has helped Wood thrive, with much more service into the box now from wide areas.

A key appointment in the summer, former England striker James Beattie is widely credited with the vast improvement in Wood’s game. He now uses his burly physique to bully opposing defenders and is the one player in Leeds’ squad deemed as irreplaceable. Souleymane Doukara has stood in for Wood on a few occasions this season but he doesn’t come close to replicating his impact. Just like with Garry Monk, Wood has got better as the season has gone on and is testament to the notion that patience is a virtue for any side with aspirations of promotion.

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