International duty has taken New Zealand and Chris Wood to the United States for a friendly in Washington tonight and Leeds United do not expect him back until the early hours of Thursday morning.
The striker will be assessed when he reports into Thorp Arch but it goes without saying that Leeds have no intention of resting him at Derby County on Saturday. Wood is an integral part of the plan at Elland Road; no longer the maligned figure who struggled through the early weeks of the season.
United coach James Beattie, an England forward in his time, has watched Wood closely and drawn the conclusion that at his best the 24-year-old should be “destroying teams at this level”.
“We’re trying to get that belief into him,” Beattie said. “His reputation as a striker should precede him.”
Across the Championship, and closer to home, that reputation improved in the second month of the season. Wood has gone from enduring friction between himself and Leeds’ support to scoring seven times and helping Garry Monk’s tactics to click. His destructive performance against Ipswich Town last month had Ipswich’s manager, Mick McCarthy, holding his hands up in admiration.
“There’s a lot more to come from Chris,” Beattie said. “He’s a really nice lad off the pitch but I think he can be more aggressive on it and you’ve seen a bit more of that recently.
“He’s got all the physical attributes he needs and in our system he’s got a certain role. As a lone striker it’s important that he stays high up the pitch and forces the opposition back. It might mean that he doesn’t see the ball for 15 minutes but the key for him is not to get frustrated or be tempted to come deep. All that does is clutter up the space in midfield.
“Everybody’s seen a good improvement but Chris Wood at this level should be destroying teams. He’s so physically strong; a beast, really. I wasn’t as big as Chris but I know that defenders playing against me knew they’d get a whack. They knew they’d be in for a game. Of course there are areas where he can improve but he sees that himself. He’s a very coachable player.”
Wood’s minor spat with the crowd at Elland Road, a gesture after his late equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Fulham in August, seems a long time ago. August in general seems far behind Leeds after their seven matches between the first two international breaks of the term yielded five wins.
Beattie said: “It’s no coincidence that the harder you work, the luckier you get in front of goal. Chris is doing a great job and I think he can be as good as he wants to be.
“He’s a big boy, a mature guy and he understands that there’s pressure on him to score goals. There’d be something wrong if people weren’t judging him to some extent on his goals. Initially I don’t think the fans helped him but he’s turned things around and if you’re scoring goals the fans will like you. If you’re not, they probably won’t. I know that as well as anyone.
“Inadvertently, they (the fans) might actually have motivated him to prove people wrong. The best thing you can do in football is do things that people say you can’t.”