Back at the end of March, in what must seem like another lifetime, Ross McCormack was asked whether his transfer from Cardiff City to Leeds United had been the success he expected it to be.
“I played 80 times in two years at Cardiff and I came here because I wasn’t playing often enough,” he said. “In a way I’m in a worse situation at Leeds because I’m not really playing at all.”
The caveat in McCormack’s remarks was his stoic insistence that he “still had time to change that”. Seven months on, and with the club he left in 2010 due at Elland Road tomorrow, his situation could not be more different. No longer does the Scot find himself ticking over in United’s reserves, waiting for the chance to shine.
For a while, his goalscoring record at Elland Road was comparable to that of Billy Paynter, the striker sent to Brighton on loan by Leeds on Thursday.
Nineteen barren appearances were followed by a winning goal against Burnley in early April, an effort which effectively opened the floodgates either side of the summer. Eleven more finishes, and 10 this season, have allowed his career at Elland Road to begin in earnest.
McCormack proved during his two years with Cardiff that he had the consistency of a 20-goal striker when given the chance to start regularly. The forward has no doubt that an ever-present record this season is responsible for his sprint to double figures before the end of October.
“It’s just a matter of playing games,” McCormack said. “If you look at it, I scored 23 goals for Cardiff in my first season there. In my second season I didn’t play regularly and the goals didn’t come.
“It was kind of the same with Leeds last year. I couldn’t get into the team and I couldn’t get myself going. But I’m playing every week this season and already on 10. I’ve found before that goals come through games and confidence, and that’s what seems to be happening with me. Confidence definitely breeds goals.”
A sign of good form in a striker is when three games without a goal constitutes a drought. McCormack’s most recent finish came via an improvised overhead kick at Doncaster Rovers, and Coventry City, Peterborough United and Birmingham City achieved what few other Championship teams have by constraining the division’s joint-leading scorer.
Between August 16 and October 1, McCormack scored in six successive league fixtures, giving him the chance to set a club record against Portsmouth. He drew a rare blank on that afternoon at Elland Road and complained to Simon Grayson in jest after United’s manager substituted him 20 minutes from time.
“There are no targets for me,” McCormack said. “Or no targets when it comes to goals. Basically I just want to stay in the team because, needless to say, that didn’t happen for a long time.
“I’m a striker so I know what my job is but my first thought this season was to get a place and then keep it, nothing more.
“I’m in a good place and it makes a change from where I was. The reason I put so much hard work in during the summer was because I wanted the gaffer to give me a go.”
That opportunity has given McCormack the confidence to say that his transfer to Leeds in August of 2010 was an astute decision on his part. The wisdom in leaving Cardiff was never in question at a time when McCormack sat on the periphery of a squad which was overloaded with strikers and attacking players, but it has taken the best part of a year for a productive relationship with Leeds to develop.
McCormack avoided an untimely reunion with his former club last October after injury prevented him from taking part in United’s 4-0 defeat to Cardiff at Elland Road. He played in a 2-1 loss in the Welsh capital two months later – one of only six games he started last season – but might feel tomorrow’s game is his first real opportunity to show Cardiff what they are missing.
His spell with Cardiff was not without controversy and his relationship with the club suffered amid claims that he had submitted a transfer request in the summer of 2009 – a claim which the striker strenuously denied – but McCormack said: “What I’ll say about Cardiff is that the fans there were always brilliant with me for as long as I was there, just as the supporters at Leeds have been too. It’ll be a bit of a special day for me and a hard game as well.”
Meetings with Cardiff usually are. United’s eight encounters with City in the Championship have yielded two draws and six defeats and created a record which was bound to be revisited ahead of tomorrow’s match. That record bodes less well than United’s standing inside the Championship’s play-off places, a position which Cardiff do not hold.
Leeds were denied a share of second spot by their 1-0 defeat to Birmingham at St Andrews on Wednesday night but McCormack said: “To be fifth in the league with two home games coming up (against Cardiff and Blackpool) is encouraging. If I’m being honest, we’d have taken that at this stage after we started the season with two defeats.
“Losing your first couple of games doesn’t do you any favours but we’re in a good position and we’ve been climbing the league for a while now.
“In the Championship, being in the top six is a great position for any club. The division’s too hard for anyone to say they should definitely be up there and if you’re in the top six then you’re doing well. By finishing there you’d be doing something right.
“But once you find yourself in the top six, the automatic reaction is to think about going one better. You can’t help that and I really think we should strive to get into the top two if possible. We’re not very far off and anything could happen from here.
“The defeats we’ve had against Cardiff are all in the past. They don’t really mean anything. We’re a new team, a fit team and a young team. We work well together and we’re not going to lose to them just because we’ve got a record of losing to them. We’ll take the game to them.”