The signing of Modou Barrow and Alfonso Pedraza was no more of a challenge to Stuart Dallas than Dallas’ stroke of brilliance at Blackburn Rovers was to them.
There are wingers queuing up at Leeds United after the arrival of two more on Tuesday, and Wednesday night saw Dallas mark his turf.
The Northern Ireland international has been through troughs this season, with no assists until late December and no league goals before Wednesday’s game at Ewood Park, but his 75th-minute strike – a shot across Blackburn goalkeeper Jason Steele, set up by his control of Liam Bridcutt’s weighted cross – was something for Garry Monk to ponder.
It brought relief for Dallas after six in-and-out months and a particularly forgettable weekend in London.
Of the players who started at Ewood Park, only Dallas had been part of the side beaten and humiliated by Sutton United in the FA Cup last Sunday but he found his feet again as a late 2-1 win over Blackburn went some way towards redeeming a bad upset.
It is rather Hadi Sacko – substituted after a fleeting contributing to the first half on Wednesday – whose position might be most at risk when Monk picks his team for this weekend’s derby at Huddersfield Town. Barrow and Pedraza are both eligible and available to make their debuts after joining on loan from Villarreal and Swansea City respectively.
“I love a bit of competition,” Dallas said. “It brings the best out of players and maybe last year I didn’t have that.
“The gaffer’s brought a very good squad together here and everybody has to be at the top of their game. I hope that goal gives me the confidence to push on.”
Monk blamed himself for the defeat at Sutton – only the second time in almost 100 years that Leeds have lost to a non-league club – but the players responsible felt just as contrite.
“It was embarrassing,” Dallas said. “There’s nothing I can stand here and say that would make Sunday better. It shouldn’t have happened
“It’s easy to say we’ll forget about it but it was really disappointing. But you do have to move on and we had put it right (against Blackburn).
“I know myself that the performance (at Sutton) wasn’t good enough. I’ve played the game over and over in my head and I don’t need somebody telling me it wasn’t good enough. It can be sore when results don’t go your way but in this game you don’t have time to dwell. It won’t be forgotten but we’ll keep moving forward.”
Dallas has been trying to take his own game forward all season, never quite able to progress from a summer in which he appeared at Euro 2016 before missing pre-season, or an injury which held him back in October. But he scored one goal and created another in Leeds’ FA Cup third-round win at Cambridge United last month and his finish lit up a bland game at Blackburn, sparking a frenetic finish which no-one at Ewood Park saw coming.
“It’s a relief to get my first league goal,” Dallas admitted. “It’s long overdue and too long if I’m honest. I want to score as much as I can and I know this season hasn’t been my best. I haven’t scored or assisted as much either.
“It’s been frustrating for me and I’m sure it has been for people watching too but I’m my own biggest critic. I’ll keep working hard and hopefully it’s enough to get me on the pitch. If not, I’ll work even harder.
“A lot of people talked about what I had in the summer but I think it’s an easy excuse to blame it on that. I haven’t been as good as what I can be.”
It took more survival instinct from Monk’s players to dig out Wednesday’s victory with an 88th-minute winner from Pontus Jansson. The centre-back headed home a Pablo Hernandez corner five minutes after Elliott Bennett cancelled out Dallas’ opening goal.
Blackburn are second from bottom in the Championship but Dallas said: “If you take your eye off anything in this league you get punished. A lot of people probably thought when their goal went in, that was it. It was a kick in the teeth to concede so late on and maybe people didn’t think we had it in us to go again. But I’m always confident we’ll get one more good chance when we’ve got players who are able to create something magic. From Pablo’s corner, the big man (Jansson) did what he does best.”
In September, back-to-back league games against Blackburn and Huddersfield – played in the space of four days, as they will be this week – were a critical juncture for Leeds and Monk, a period in which United’s head coach resolved to commit to 4-2-3-1 system and trust his plan. A 1-0 defeat to Huddersfield made up his mind and a 2-1 win over Blackburn ensued.
Huddersfield were leading the Championship at the time and took pleasure in adding to the woes of a Leeds team who were in the bottom three. Much water under the bridge has left the clubs side by side in the play-off positions, piling importance on Sunday’s derby at the John Smith’s Stadium, but Monk’s players have not forgotten their previous meeting.
“That wasn’t us at our best,” Dallas said. “It is something we’ve talked about and we want to get revenge on anyone who gets one over on us. Huddersfield’s no different.
“First and foremost it’s a derby and we know what it means to the fans. We know how big it is and we obviously want revenge for them coming to our place and turning us over.
“You’ve got to give them credit, they’re up there for a reason, but we’re a good side too and we’ve got nothing to fear. We know how big Sunday is and if that doesn’t give you a lift, nothing else will. We’re in and around the same place in the league. Sunday is massive.”