Leeds United earned a 1-1 away draw against Aston Villa tonight. Are they finally on the right track for a return to the Premier League?
What was the worst day in the history of Leeds United? Was it getting relegated from the Premier League in 2004 after a financial nightmare? Or was it when they went into administration in 2007 and were deducted 10 points to be relegated to League 1 and then faced a further 15 point deduction as they would start bottom of the third tier of English football? Or was it the nightmare three years they faced in the doldrums of the lower leagues? Was it even more recently after having seven managers since the unpredictable owner Massimo Cellino took charge in 2013?
Daniel Taylor wrote an article in The Guardian back in 2014 entitled ‘Leeds United is the story of how not to run a football club’ and he certainly isn’t far off the mark. Aside from Newcastle, Leeds are by far the biggest club plying their trade in the lower leagues and not a TV appearance goes by where pundits fail to hit on the infamous clichés associated with the club…
“It wasn’t that long ago since Leeds were in the Champions League semi-final.”
“Hopefully the glory days are coming back sooner rather than later.”
“Leeds have such a good fan base, they deserve to be in the Premier League.”
Leeds weren’t a million miles away from promotion back to the top tier under Simon Grayson back in 2011 after having an impressive team that included players like Robert Snodgrass, Max Gradel and Luciano Becchio but this year represents the first season that Leeds may actually threaten to make the playoffs or more and would be their first top-half finish since back in 2011.
But what has changed in the fortunes for Leeds this season that has them lying in fifth place? Leeds have won eight of their last ten league games with the two losses coming against runaway leaders Newcastle and Brighton. A rich run of form is one thing but there is reason in the run.
For one, Leeds are looking more potent in attack having scored 30 goals in 23 games, a stat that may not be impressive compared to the rest of the league but a 4-1 win against Preston showed the step forwards Leeds have taken since the start of the season. Last year’s disastrous league campaign saw the side only score 50 league goals and Mirco Antenucci was top scorer with 10 goals in all competitions throughout the whole season but fast forward seven months and Chris Wood has already scored 13 goals.
Lacking creativity over the last few years, you would be hard-pressed to find a Leeds fan that can think of a standout player over the last five seasons that hasn’t recently left the club. Lewis Cook and Sam Byram were two fan favourites that departed in the past 12 months and Ross McCormack was the last star striker for the club but he joined Fulham in 2014.
Yet, the summer was full of a number of coy transfers with Hadi Sacko joining on loan from Sporting CP and Oxford winger Kemare Roofe joining on a four-year deal as well as Pablo Hernandez joining on loan also.
The recent run has been a product of each of those three footballers settling in nicely to the side, Hernandez recently returning from injury. Roofe scored a pivotal goal in a 2-0 win against Aston Villa in what kick started his season and the weekend’s win against Preston was among his shining moments with two assists and a goal to his name. Sacko has also been among playmaking duties having also turned a corner in recent weeks.
The side haven’t had the same level of creativity since Snodgrass and Gradel played on opposite wings at the club and fans have now come to expect goals from the side having scored 14 goals in their last eight league games, a welcome improvement to their lacklustre start to the season in front of goal.
But Leeds have an all-round good core, attacking aside they are impressive in midfield and defence also. Liam Bridcutt signed in the summer and was installed as captain and has formed a formidable central midfield partnership with 21-year-old youth product Kalvin Phillips and Irish international Eunan O’Kane.
And Leeds fans have a new fan favourite and possibly the most popular since Ross McCormack in central defender Pontus Jansonn. Currently on loan from Torino, he was named in The Guardian’s list of most eye-catching players in the Championship with the newspaper describing him as “a cult hero”.
For years Leeds haven’t had a solid defender, Patrick Kisnorbo is one that comes to mind after his FA Cup heroics against Manchester United back in 2010 but before that you would nearly have to go back to the Premier League days before a defender was as popular amongst fans as the Swede is.
And Jansonn is in the strongest Leeds back four in recent memory and boast the 5th best defence in the league, a welcome stat amongst long term followers who are inclined to see their side leak too many goals.
In fact, Leeds have had the 10th and 11th worst defence in the league over the last two seasons respectively and even under Grayson conceding had been a problem. But much like this season has gone, things seem to be getting better.
A squad with a welcome amount of depth, youth and experience is among the most complete the Yorkshire club has had. With talks of Cellino possibly selling the club, there seems to be an air of stability around the club.
Of the seven managers Cellino has worked with, Monk is already the fifth longest serving and, as is to be expected, if he retains his job until late February or early March he will become the longest-serving under the Italian owner.
For once, things are looking good for Leeds. Financial stability has been somewhat achieved, a manager has finally seemed to find his footing and there is a squad of players who are finally there to win instead of making up numbers. It could be possible that the glory days in which many a pundit have alluded to are not so far away anymore.
Read More About: Championship, Chris Wood, eunan o'kane, Kemare Roofe, leeds united, lewis cook, Liam Bridcutt, luciano becchio, massimo cellino, max Gradel, Mirco Antenucci, pablo hernandez, Patrick Kisnorbo, Pontus Jansonn, Premier League, robert snodgrass, ross mccormack, Sam Byram, simon grayson