Leeds preview and pubs: Monk magic gives United promotion chance
Leeds are having their most successful season for six years and look a good bet to make the play-offs.
With seven matches remaining, they are six points clear of seventh-placed Sheffield Wednesday and apart from a trip to Newcastle, have no matches against anyone else in the top six to play.
Since returning to the Championship from League One in 2010, they have only mounted one other promotion challenge – in that first season when they finished seventh, three points outside the play-off places.
They have finished between 13th and 15th in each of the following five campaigns, so this year has been a welcome upturn in fortunes.
Their success has been largely based around their home form – the third best in the division with 13 wins and three draws from their 20 matches at Elland Road. Their away results have also been respectable with eight wins and three draws from 19 games on the road.
After a shaky start which left them 17th after 13 games, Leeds have not been out of the top six since the end of November.
Since then, they have only lost five out of 21 matches, with Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Reading ending an unbeaten run of seven games.
A big part of their success has been the form of striker Chris Wood, currently the top scorer in the Championship, with 24 goals from 34 full and three substitute appearances in the league.
Leeds are bidding to return to the Premier League after a 13-season absence.
They were founder members of the competition and won the last old Division One title before the renaming of the divisions.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Garry Monk was appointed as Leeds manager in June, replacing Steve Evans in the job.
Monk, who was in charge of Swansea for 18 months, is now Leeds’ longest-serving manager since Brian McDermott, who was at the helm from April 2013 to June 2014, and is the sixth full-time head coach appointed by the club’s owner Massimo Cellino.
He spent most of his playing career with Swansea – playing more than 250 games in an 11-year spell, mostly as captain, and leading them from League One to the Premier League, picking up winners’ medals in the League Cup and LDV Vans Trophy along the way.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Leeds had the perfect Christmas present when we met in mid-December earlier this season as Kyle Bartley headed a last-gasp goal to give them a 1-0 win over us at Elland Road – the first time they had beaten us in the league in seven meetings since March 1954.
Last season we earned a 1-1 draw in Yorkshire in mid-September with a debut goal by Marco Djuricin being cancelled out by Mirco Antenucci for the side then managed by ex-Bees boss Uwe Rosler.
The home game on a Tuesday night in January also ended 1-1 with Sam Saunders’ first half strike being cancelled out by substitute Mustapha Carayol late on.
BBC Leeds’ Leeds United commentator Adam Pope explains the secret behind manager Garry Monk’s success so far this season, what went wrong for Toumani Diagouraga at Elland Road and recalls eating some unusual pub grub on his first-ever visit to Griffin Park.
Q – What were the expectations for Leeds at the start of the season and was there a belief that a serious promotion push could be mounted? Do you think they have what it takes to win the play-offs?
A – No way, my personal expectation was for a 12th-placed finish. The play-offs would be a real bonus really because nobody envisaged a promotion push this season.
The thing with Leeds is that the play-offs have never been kind to them, they have lost four – in 1987, 2006, 2008 and 2009 – and people fear that history will repeat itself. But I think this squad has a different mentality and are coming into form again. They are damn difficult to beat, so for me I think they have what it takes to do a play-off campaign. They still have an outside chance of second, but I do think they are well equipped for the rigours of the play-offs.
Q – What has Garry Monk managed to do that the other string of recent managers haven’t?
A – His big word is focus and he has the brilliant ability to separate himself from the circus often associated with Leeds and has concentrated on the things he can control. He has been helped by fact that Massimo Cellino, relatively speaking, has taken a back seat as has the new co-owner. Garry does not involve himself in the politics of the club at all and the big thing is that he has coached players to improve themselves – I include Rob Green in that as he is a better keeper than when he arrived here, after making a shaky start.
He has made astute loan signings – Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson in particular, who have been outstanding at the back. Ronaldo Vieira is an 18-year-old who does not look out of place and is every bit as good as players like Lewis Cook and Sam Byram, who have come through the academy.
He has also forged genuine unity in the squad, which was a split dressing-room for some time, got rid of bad eggs and also I would say he managed to connect players back with the fans.
The real turning point in the season was when they played Norwich in the League Cup. Through injury, Leeds were down to 10 men in extra-time but beat them on penalties. At the time they had been through a bad patch and were coming out the other side and although the crowd was only 20,000 there was a massive bond between the players and fans that night because it was so dramatic.
We are now regularly seeing 30,000 crowds at Elland Road and there is a genuine feeling that fans believe in this squad of players in a way that I’ve never seen in the 11 years that I’ve covered them.
We were last in this position in 2005/06 and that was a better squad with the likes of David Healy, Rob Hulse and Richard Cresswell, but the belief that they could go all the way was fading by this point. This year they are under the radar and as they are not favourites to go up, they could actually do it and it would be a remarkable story. Garry Monk has produced a winning culture – he is defiant, hard to beat and has humility and he has done very well.
Q – What has made Chris Wood click into gear this season as compared to 2015/16?
A – Because he is the fittest he has been and has been relatively injury-free compared to the hamstring problems he had last year. At the beginning of the season he was cocking his ear to the crowd when he equalised against Fulham and he is a player who has divided opinion, but Garry Monk got him some self-belief and he has developed into a proper centre-forward, showing aggression we haven’t seen before, and he is a real handful for centre-halves.
I’ve always liked him and he has always done well wherever he has gone. If he misses chances it does not bother him and his contribution to the team is huge beyond the goalscoring – he is definitely now the player we thought he could be.
Q – How is Stuart Dallas doing and why didn’t things work out at Elland Road for Toumani Diagouraga?
A – With Stuart Dallas, nobody really feels he has fulfilled his potential at Leeds, yet everyone has a lot of time for him. He does the defensive side really well but his goalscoring return is a frustration. Nobody has a go at him and the only slight moan is that he is a bit quiet at times. He is never faulted for his industry and effort but we have only at best seen 75 or 80% of him. He has genuine competition from the likes of Hadi Sacko, Kemar Roofe and Souleymane Doukara and even people who are not natural wingers can get in ahead of him. He will admit he has not been at the level he should be.
Toumani Diagouraga played the first game of the season at QPR and Garry Monk decided more or less straight away that he couldn’t play in his 4-2-3-1 system. He felt he had better equipped players and Leeds are blessed with defensive midfielders, so that decision was taken very quickly. It always looked like he would move on in January and he did, saying there were no hard feelings and that’s football. He certainly had not played really badly during his time at the club.
Q – Do you have any good or bad memories, or have you been involved in any unusual incidents, of previous trips to Griffin Park, or in home games against Brentford, either for work or as a fan?
A – The first time I went to Griffin Park in League One I was in the Magpie & Crown, a proper Brentford pub, and was doing reports from there chatting to some locals when some guy comes round with a basketful of shrimps!
The feeling I get watching football at Brentford is how I remember it from growing up watching Everton and Liverpool in their prime – it’s just how football should be really.
I also remember a shocking pitch when Mark Warburton was in charge.
Q – What do you remember about this season’s pre-Xmas game at Elland Road?
A – It was like our home game with Burton at home and shows how leeds have developed because we never used to kill off those sorts of games. The Kyle Bartley header to win it at the end typifies Leeds this season – they go right to the end with high energy levels.
Q – Apart from Wood and Dallas, which other Leeds players should we watch out for?
A – Pontus Jansson was surprisingly left out against Brighton and then went and played for Sweden during the international break. He has become a cult hero with his own song and is also an entertainer. Pablo Hernandez very much seems to be the man at Elland Road games but has not been so good away.
Charlie Taylor, who was out for a long time with an Achilles injury, is such a good player and a very hard defender to get past. He hasn’t signed a new contract and is Premier League class.
Q – Which Bees players will you be wary of?
A – So many players – Sergi Canos, Josh McEachran, although I know he is injured, and I really used to like Romaine Sawyers and Jota is also one I’ll watch out for.
Leeds played a 4-2-3-1 formation in Saturday’s defeat at Reading.
Former England international goalkeeper Rob Green (ex-Norwich, West Ham and QPR) continued his run as the club’s only league ever-present this season.
Gaetano Berardi (ex-Sampdoria) was at right-back, in the absence of the suspended Luke Ayling (ex-Bristol City), who is eligible to return on Tuesday, homegrown Charlie Taylor at left-back and on loan Swansea defender Kyle Bartley, who has only missed one Championship game this season, was in central defence with Liam Cooper (ex-Chesterfield), who continued in place of Sweden international Pontus Jansson, on loan from Torino, who was out with a hamstring injury.
Liam Bridcutt (ex-Brighton) and Ronaldo Vieira (ex-Benfica) were just in front of the back four, behind an attacking on loan midfield trio of Hadi Sacko, from Bordeaux, on the right, Spain Under-21 player Alfonso Pedraza, from Villarreal, on the left and Pablo Hernandez, from Al-Arabi, in the middle.
Up front was New Zealand international and, as mentioned earlier, the Championship’s top scorer Chris Wood.
Ex-Bee Stuart Dallas, who was part of our promotion-winning squad in 2013/14 and played a key role in our first season in the Championship the following year, was an unused substitute at the Madejski Stadium.
Also remaining on an attacking bench, containing no defenders, were goalkeeper Marco Silvestri (ex-Chievo), Republic of Ireland international midfielder and former Northern Ireland Under-21 player Eunan O’Kane (ex-Bournemouth) and on loan Swansea striker and Gambia international Modou Barrow.
The subs who did get on were midfielders Kemar Roofe (ex-Oxford) and Kalvin Phillips (a former trainee) and striker Souleymane Doukara (ex-Catania).
PUBS IN BRENTFORD
For Leeds fans coming down, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming.
There are now only three pubs around the ground, following the closure of the Royal Oak.
The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal is the other option.
Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is the Beesotted pre-match pub. This boozer & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other .. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.
The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields (it’s a much better pub crawl route getting off at Northfields than South Ealing) before making your way down to the ground (normally stopping off at The Globe and Lord Nelson en route).
There is also a pub right by Brentford station always referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman can probably hold 15 of you at a push. The Brewery Tap is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit the brand new boozer One Over the Ait right on the river – beside the bridge. There are loads more too.
A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many many more too if you have a look around.
Parking is pretty easy away from the ground going up towards and over the A4 Great West Road (ie. North) via Ealing Road or Windmill Road.
You can check out details of how the tube is running on Transport for London’s website here.