The past week-and-a-half has done a good job of blowing Leeds United out.
At Ipswich Town they were 45 minutes from creeping to within seven points of the play-offs. Five days later, by the end of a 2-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, they were 13 points back and in the process of selling Sam Byram.
Byram left Leeds for West Ham United on Wednesday, finalising a transfer which was widely telegraphed but nonetheless aggravated old wounds and old grievances. These have not been United’s finest hours but Stuart Dallas, their Northern Ireland winger, was anxious to make the point that the season is not yet beyond the end of January.
Dallas, like everyone else at Elland Road, can see that the Championship table is unflattering but Leeds play Bristol City tomorrow, visit his old team Brentford on Tuesday night and travel to Bolton Wanderers in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday week. His hope is that the week ahead can have a very different effect.
“Nobody here has said anything about giving up,” Dallas said. “Nobody’s giving up here. It’s only January and as you’ve seen, a couple of results can get us back up the table. You can be assured that nobody’s giving up here.
“To talk about giving up would be strange because in a week’s time we could have six points and be looking at the play-offs again. Football can be strange. Things happen, people come and go. We’ve just got to pick ourselves up and go again.”
Whatever else has been said about Byram’s transfer, it could not be claimed that the deal was a shock. The 22-year-old was out of contract at the end of this season and had rejected offers to extend his deal. Leeds made public their plan to sell him this month and accepted a £3.7m offer from Everton before West Ham moved in for a player who, in ideal circumstances, they would have recruited next summer.
Byram, with 143 appearances, had the most of anyone in the existing squad at Leeds. His departure leaves Luke Murphy and Alex Mowatt as the most experienced in the context of careers at Elland Road.
“I don’t think there’s been much of an effect,” said Dallas, when asked how the transfer had gone down with the players Byram was leaving behind.
“Everyone wishes him well and he’s still regarded here as a close friend but I don’t think it’s had an effect. We move on, that’s part and parcel of football. Players come and go.
“It was well publicised, well talked about, but to be fair to Sam he came in and worked hard every day. He was playing well. But he’s gone and we move on. This is about us as a team. We’ve got a very good squad here, capable of being better and higher in the league.”
Bristol City, on paper, looks like a good place to start again. The club are managerless after sacking Steve Cotterill and in the grip of the Championship’s relegation. John Pemberton, the former Leeds player, will handle them as caretaker at Elland Road tomorrow. His first result was a remarkable win over Championship leaders Middlesbrough last Saturday.
United’s head coach, Steve Evans, has identified a problem with games against teams at the lower end of the division. United lost to Rotherham United in November and scraped a 1-1 draw against MK Dons on January 2. Evans wondered after that stalemate if his players were struggling to raise themselves against sides they expected to beat.
“If you look at the results, you could say that’s the case, but I can only speak from my point of view, and I prepare the same for every game,” Dallas said. “You give everybody the same respect, but at the end of the day, teams should be coming to Elland Road and fearing Leeds United.
“We’ve certainly picked up a bit at home but our form could be better. Against Derby [a 2-2 draw on December 29] we could have hung on and that would have been a massive result for us. But I’m still positive. I still think we can put another run together.
“I’ve seen people writing us off because of where we are, but put a run together and anything could happen. We’ve got a really good squad here and we’ve got a huge month coming up. We’ve got Bristol City then Brentford and then the cup game. Get three positive results and we’ll be looking up.
“I’d never say [the play-offs] are unrealistic. I think you’ve got to be realistic in the sense of where we are in the table. It’s going to be tough and we definitely need to put a run together. But there’s no reason why we can’t.”
Leeds should have striker and top scorer Chris Wood available at Elland Road tomorrow for the first time since he tweaked a hamstring in the 2-2 draw with Derby. The club have looked light without him and short of players to feed on service from the likes of Dallas and recent signing Mustapha Carayol.
“As a winger you’ve got to create chance and put the ball in the box, and I think Woody’s a different type of player to Souley (Doukara) and Mirco (Antenucci),” Dallas said. “Having Woody back is a bonus. He’s one of our main players.”