Garry Monk and David Wagner had polarised views on who was at fault in their touchline fracas at Huddersfield last month and opinion was divided again after the Football Association called them to heel on Monday.
Wagner, the Huddersfield Town manager, denied one of two charges against him - accepting that he had run onto the pitch to celebrate a late winner but refusing to concede that he had instigated the brawl which followed - and was less than impressed by the two-match touchline ban imposed on him by a disciplinary commission.
The suspension forced him to watch from a distance as Huddersfield were heavily beaten in an FA Cup replay at Manchester City last night and it will keep him in the stands at home to Newcastle on Saturday.
“I don’t agree with it, I don’t like it and I’m not happy about it,” Wagner said. “I think it’s harsh and I don’t understand it.”
Monk, who contributed to a melee involving numerous players and staff by bodychecking Wagner outside his technical area, received a one-game ban for a single breach of FA rules towards the end of an eventful and bad-tempered derby at the John Smith’s Stadium on February 5. He will serve his suspension at Birmingham City tomorrow without complaint or much sense of grievance.
In the immediate aftermath of Leeds United’s 2-1 defeat to Huddersfield, Monk absolved himself of any blame, accusing Wagner of lacking “humility, class and respect”, but he pleaded guilty to the FA charge against him and attended a personal hearing to argue in mitigation that Wagner’s celebration had provoked him. The governing body suspended him regardless, the second time this season that Monk has been banned from his dug-out.
With Pep, we’ve worked together for three years (at Leeds and Swansea City) and we’ve got a very good understanding. Friday will be no problem. It’ll be normal.:Leeds United boss, Garry Monk
Leeds lost on the previous occasion, a 1-0 defeat away at Derby County in October, but Monk said his absence from the touchline at St Andrews would not be an advantage to a Birmingham side who need all the help they can get. His assistant, Pep Clotet, and first-team coach James Beattie will occupy the technical area instead.
“The line’s been drawn and I accept the FA’s decision,” Monk said. “I won’t be on the touchline but it is what it is and I accept it. It doesn’t change the preparation of the team or the preparation I’ll have with my staff.
“I’ve worked with my staff for a long time now and we know what we’re about. The bottom line will always be that you prepare the team as best you can and if the players put their football on the pitch we’ll always be in a position to win games. That lessens the effect that you need to have on the team.
“The players know what they need to deliver at Birmingham and how they need to deliver it. My staff are fully aware of everything and fully prepared for everything. With Pep, we’ve worked together for three years (at Leeds and Swansea City) and we’ve got a very good understanding. Friday will be no problem. It’ll be normal.”
Monk’s anxiety about a diminished influence tomorrow might have been lessened by Saturday’s win over Sheffield Wednesday, a result which consolidated Leeds’ position as probable play-off candidates. A win at St Andrews would leave Fulham, in seventh place, 11 points behind, albeit with two games in hand and a meeting with Leeds to come at Craven Cottage next Tuesday. United’s consistency does not suggest that a gap so big would be relinquished.
Leeds’ advantage over Birmingham is bigger still, a legacy of one of the country’s more inexplicable sackings. City dismissed Gary Rowett in December and brought Gianfranco Zola to St Andrews, seemingly oblivious to a division which showed Rowett’s squad on the fringes of the play-offs. Zola has two wins in 15 games and last Friday’s at Wolverhampton Wanderers was his first away from home. At the time of his exit, Monk called Rowett’s departure “unbelievable”.
“Of course I was surprised,” he said yesterday. “Along with everyone else I think. But that’s football. It happens and it’s not really my business what goes on at Birmingham.
“Gianfranco’s an experienced football man and he’ll be trying to work his way. It’s not been the smoothest of starts but that result (at Wolves) showed how together they are and the fighting spirit they have. I know from watching them over a longer period that they’ve got the quality to be doing much better.”
Monk said he could see differences between the style of Zola’s side and that of Rowett’s, who won at Elland Road in August. Many would say that the difference is marked by a team going backwards.
“They’ve tried to change, with a slightly different approach to what Gary was doing, but within that they still have very good players,” Monk said. “Change takes time. An example is ourselves at the start of the season. We made a change to everything, everything was new, and it takes time. The same applies everywhere.
“The mistake would be to not understand that the group they’ve got have been competing for play-off positions in the last couple of seasons.
“It hasn’t gone as smoothly as they would have hoped since they changed manager but they got a very good result in their last game and that win will give them confidence. It would be a mistake not to think that. But our mentality is very strong.”
Monk again steered clear of speculating about how many more points Leeds would need to be certain of a top-six finish or how safe their current position was.
“As I said before, there’s not one team in this league who’ve secured anything,” he said. “There’s plenty of football to be played and we can’t make the mistake of losing focus.
“These three points are as important as the last three points and we want to keep winning. We need the right mentality.
“Alongside the football side and the tactical side you need the mentality and I think we’ve shown that many times.
“It’s going to be needed for the remainder of the season.”