They wouldn’t say so publicly because footballers never do, but Leeds United’s squad will have looked at Newcastle dropping points to QPR and thought ‘nice’.
We’re at that stage of the season where little things count and there was a late swing on Wednesday night with Leeds nicking a win at Blackburn and Newcastle conceding a late equaliser.
I was at St James’ Park and I had a feeling beforehand that QPR would go there, play a certain way and get a result. Newcastle didn’t get out of second gear; ponderous in possession and pretty susceptible to counter-attacks.
When they’re back at full strength then the likelihood is they’ll finish top two or top but I don’t think the battle for automatic promotion is as clear as it was in the autumn.
What I’m really saying is that the top two aren’t untouchable from Leeds’ point of view. The club’s victory at Blackburn was a significant result in a few ways.
First of all, it came at the death and it sounded like it came in spite of the performance. You can’t underestimate the energy you get from late winners or the way they push you on.
But it also came after Sutton United and an FA Cup defeat which people were rightly embarrassed about.
When you lose to a team like Sutton, you can’t talk about weakened line-ups. Yes, Garry Monk left key players out and fair play to him for taking the blame for that, but away at Sutton there’s no such thing as a weak Leeds United. It’s simply Leeds United, the club and the name.
That’s what Sutton got the better of. The players will know deep down that they fell a long way short there and whatever the line-up on Wednesday, Blackburn became a pressure game.
Blackburn have some quality in their squad, more than a team in 23rd position I feel, but there’s no doubt about it when you go to Ewood Park, there’s a general malaise about the club which comes from the ownership.
The irony of Leeds heading to Blackburn and acting as an example of how to turn around a big disconnect between a club and their fanbase won’t be lost on anyone, least of all anyone who follows Leeds, but if you’re going for promotion Blackburn is somewhere you want to win.
Pontus [Jansson] sticking that header in was beautiful timing. If I was in the dressing room I’d be bouncing on to Huddersfield on Sunday now.
From experience I know that Leeds love sticking one over other clubs in Yorkshire and probably Huddersfield more than most.
They’re heading into that derby with the aim of kicking on. It’s a very different mentality to going there needing to bounce back.
Considering how it went in the first month of the season, it’s almost strange to think of Leeds as being ‘okay’; to think of them as being well on course for the play-offs at least. But the process is a lot more intricate than that.
There’s a lot more to getting it right than simply showing a manager patience.
Obviously a club with no patience won’t give a manager any chance at all but it isn’t Garry Monk’s presence at Thorp Arch which is doing this. It’s all the machinations involved in drilling things into a team who know exactly what to do in every situation.
That’s a huge skill and a hell of a challenge which Garry’s handled brilliantly. It almost does his performance an injustice to say that he’s benefited from time. It’s more a case of Leeds benefiting from his attention to detail.
They’ve also benefited from flying under the radar this season. They’re doing what Sheffield Wednesday did last year. When Carlos Carvalhal went to Hillsborough I heard loads of people saying ‘who’s this guy?’ or ‘gone by Christmas’. Then they slipped quietly into the play-offs, like Leeds have done under Garry.
There’s always a weight of expectation at Leeds, even when you’re fighting against minus 15 points, but I still feel like the club are in a can’t-quite-believe it zone – enjoying the ride and enjoying the chase. That’s a great frame of mind to have.
As for Newcastle, who at the moment are the team for Leeds and others to shoot at, I’m not sure. It seemed strange for Rafa Benitez to be complaining about their transfer business in January. When you’ve done as many deals as he did last summer, and spent as much money as he did last summer, surely January is about numbers and getting bodies through the door, finding enough cover to compensate for fitness, form and all that.
Did they really need Andros Townsend? I don’t think so.
But the fact that Benitez was looking at him tells you that he doesn’t think Newcastle are home and dry.
We’re talking about five points between them and Leeds now. It’s absolutely not unattainable.
Upcoming Sky-televised fixtures:
Tonight: Sky Bet Championship, Wigan Athletic v Sheffield Wednesday (7.45pm Sky Sports 1).
Saturday: Sky Bet Championship Nottingham Forest v Aston Villa (5.30pm Sky Sports 1).
Sunday: Sky Bet Championship, Huddersfield Town v Leeds United (noon Sky Sports 2).