EDDIE GRAY says Leeds United have “no decision to make” over the future of head coach Garry Monk and believes the club’s dramatic collapse in the race for the play-offs should prompt greater investment in their squad this summer.
The former Leeds winger and manager played down talk of the Elland Road board moving to replace Monk at the end of his first year in charge, insisting there was “no doubt in my mind” that the 38-year-old had earned another chance to take the club out of the Championship.
Leeds will finish seventh in the table regardless of the outcome of their final game at Wigan Athletic on Sunday after a damaging dip in the last month of the season allowed Fulham to fight back from an eight-point deficit and claim sixth.
Gray said Leeds had “blown their chance” from a position where they “should have made it” but he backed Monk’s claim to an extended contract with the United boss close to the end of his initial 12-month deal.
Leeds have not discussed an extension with Monk or said publicly whether they intend to retain him but a win-ratio of close to 50 per cent and a sustained bid for promotion have increased the pressure on the club to make a long-term commitment.
Co-owner Andrea Radrizzani, who stated in January that he wanted Monk to remain in the job, indicated last weekend that a decision would be taken within the next fortnight.
Monk, meanwhile, insisted after Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City that his own demands and expectations would have to be met before a fresh agreement was reached. Initial talks are likely to take place after the meeting with Wigan.
Gray said: “As far as I’m concerned there’s no decision to make. There’s no doubt in my mind that Garry should be here next season. The job he’s done has been good enough to deserve that. I’d hope the talk of a change is just speculation.
“Last season and the season before, you were going to games thinking so many of them were a waste of time. This season you’ve been going thinking something might actually happen.
“That’s the difference and it’s the first time in a while that people thought this was going to be our year. You’ve seen it in the gates at Elland Road and the atmosphere. The players have blown it in the end but you’ve got to give them credit for going close.”
The pressure was on and when it came to the crunch we fell down. Of the teams who were going for the top six, we were the team who couldn’t cope.Eddie Gray
Leeds succumbed to a severe loss of form in April, relinquishing control of an impressive campaign which has been topped and tailed by two costly months. Monk conceded after Saturday’s game against Norwich that too many of his players “aren’t quite ready for this situation now”, implying that the pressure had told at a time when Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday were reeling off results.
“Personally I think the squad was experienced enough,” Gray said. “There’s plenty in the back five and up front and the team’s not all kids.
“The pressure was on and when it came to the crunch we fell down. Of the teams who were going for the top six, we were the team who couldn’t cope. But pressure is part of football and I don’t think you can blame that alone. With the advantage the club had at the start of April they should have been capable of making the top six but the team were found wanting.
“What Garry’s maybe trying to say in his own way is he’ll need to improve the squad before next season. I’d agree with that. Nerves can play a part but if you’ve got enough quality you’d always be confident of getting over the line.
“The one area of the team that was never settled was the midfield. Across the middle of the park it was always changing.
“If he stays, Garry will want more goals and creativity from there. That’s what I felt was lacking in the crucial moments. (Pablo) Hernandez took some criticism but he was the one everyone looked to for chances. I think over time he put a lot of pressure on himself, always looking to come up with those final balls.
“To go at promotion next season they’re going to have to be better. Take nothing away from the effort and the results but does this squad have promotion in the locker? That’s the question you’ve got to ask.”
A win at Wigan this weekend would see Leeds finish with 77 points. Only once in the history of the Football League play-offs has that total been insufficient for qualification. United finished with 59 last season and won only seven times at Elland Road. Their current home record is their best in the second tier since 1990 but a defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Easter Monday was a critical setback.
“The biggest games are always the games you have to win,” Gray said. “That’s where it became difficult – when the results absolutely mattered. You saw it against Norwich on Saturday. Even the lads at the back, who’ve been superb all season, were under the cosh and making mistakes. The goalkeeper (Rob Green) has been man-of-the-match a few times and that tells its own story.
“It’s disappointing because we should have been in there but Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham did what Leeds couldn’t and ground out results when it mattered. You have to say that on that basis those two teams deserve to qualify and you didn’t hear Garry complaining about luck on Saturday. He knows that when it came to it the squad wasn’t quite good enough”