Leeds United have shown maturity in his absence says captain Liam Bridcutt, who after 60 minutes against Reading, is ready to again add his experience to the Whites’ productive mix. Phil Hay reports.
Five days of training after three months injured and Liam Bridcutt was back in the old routine.
The speed of his return of Tuesday, a decision Leeds United were all but forced into, caused a degree of anxiety but open doors at Elland Road are not to be sniffed at.
Bridcutt was as big a signing as any made by Leeds in the summer, the club’s captain of choice after Sol Bamba left and an obvious mainstay in the centre of midfield, but the rules of selection apply to him too.
United flew in his absence, unexpectedly so, but an unplanned appearance at home to Reading will help to put him back in the picture.
The 27-year-old fractured a foot in September and has not played since a 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers, the night when so much turned for Leeds and for Garry Monk.
He resumed full training last week and was due to play for the Under-23s before an ever-careful Monk brought him back into the fold, but he agreed to sit on the bench on Tuesday as Leeds’ head coach contended with a shortage of midfielders.
By the half-hour, Chris Wood had limped from the pitch and Bridcutt was taking the armband from Kyle Bartley.
“It was a bit of a shock,” Bridcutt said. “I’d only trained for five days with the team. It wasn’t the plan to get me back in so quick but it feels good.
“With a few injuries and suspensions I’ve been fast-tracked in. I had five days of training after being out for 10 weeks and now I’ve played 60 minutes-plus. I’m going to feel it but that’s football for you. Things happen. I’m ready to go when called on.”
Bridcutt’s influence in a 2-0 victory over Reading was telling in an unspectacular way, contributing to a performance which was tactically perfect.
Leeds picked off Reading with the opening goal from Wood on 19 minutes and then held their shape rigidly as Jaap Stam’s side looked for answers while exchanging an endless stream of passes 70 yards from United’s net.
Reading came to Elland Road with six victories from seven games behind them but struggled to work Leeds out or change their own approach despite retaining 77 per cent of possession.
Souleymane Doukara’s penalty in the first minute of injury-time put the result beyond doubt.
“We knew that possession-wise they’d be up there with keeping the ball,” Bridcutt said, “but we stuck to our gameplan and we knew we could frustrate them and nick goals.
“It was a very good start from us and one of the best I’ve seen so far. It was aggressive and on the front foot.
“They had a lot of possession but they didn’t really threaten us with it. That’s the way we planned it and worked on it in the last few days.
“He (Monk) showed how good a manager he is and that he knows what he’s on about. Tactically he’s up there with some of the best.
“Sometimes these are the games you look at as the best games and the best results we’ve had. It was an experienced performance from us.”
Monk is not under undue pressure to push Bridcutt further against Brentford this weekend. Kalvin Phillips is available after a one-match suspension and Leeds are still attempting to manage the groin problem bothering Eunan O’Kane, although the Republic of Ireland international has now missed three matches.
Bridcutt’s caution about his own match fitness is weighed against a desire to nail down a place in Monk’s line-up again.
United’s record during his spell of rehabilitation shows only four defeats from 13 league games.
Leeds fought hard to sign him in the summer, persevering through weeks of wrangling over the severance of his deal at Sunderland, but he can sense the competition around him.
“The lads have been doing well and getting results and it’ll be a battle to get back in,” he said. “But I’m up for it.
“I’d love to start (against Brentford).
“Looking at it from a medical point of view, it might not be the best option but if the manager wants me to start then I have to start.
“It means you’re running that extra risk but I’m happy.
“I said when I first came to the club that I wanted to play.”
In four months at Elland Road he has seen a sea-change in optimism and attitude. Leeds were not a happy club when Bridcutt first signed and Monk’s job was rumoured to be under threat on the night when he fractured a metatarsal but Tuesday’s win over Reading spoke volumes about the discipline and organisation Monk has established.
The final seconds brought a desperate goalline clearance from Pontus Jansson, regardless of the fact that the game was already won.
“We were lacking at the start of the season,” Bridcutt said.
“When I came in you could sense the boys were a bit wary. But with the results and performances the confidence has grown and we’ve all matured as a team. It’s starting to show through.
“A few months ago we would probably have lost a bit of discipline (against Reading) and chased the game.
“Maybe last season or a few months ago the Reading game would have been different and we would have lost it.
“It’s a sign of the team maturing.”