Leeds United chairman Ken Bates was surprised to hear his manager claim that “the season starts here” in response to the takeover of the Elland Road club
“The season began in August,” said a typically bullish Bates. But three months into the Championship term, Neil Warnock’s remark was a metaphorical reaction to the end of a period of crippling doubt, and others around him felt the same.
For very different reasons, so did Paul Green.
Less than a week before GFH Capital sealed its buy-out of Leeds, Green made his first 90-minute appearance for the club, starting and finishing a gruelling defeat to Millwall.
He shared Warnock’s need for encouragement last month and only now can the midfielder say that his season at Elland Road is up and running.
The knee injury suffered by Green on the first day of the Championship term was indicative of the intense disruption suffered by United since the campaign began.
He was missing for nine weeks and did not start another game until October 23 when his unremarkable contribution to a 1-1 draw with Charlton Athletic led him to ask Warnock to sharpen him up by allowing him to play in a number of youth-team matches.
In addition to Green’s injury, Leeds have endured extended spells without David Norris, Ross McCormack and Rudolph Austin.
Other players have dealt with more minor problems and recurring niggles, the usual effects of competitive football.
It did not strike Warnock as at all unsurprising that when his squad crept as close to full strength as it has for many weeks last Saturday, United gave Huddersfield Town the runaround.
Green was influential in that victory as he had been in prior wins over Crystal Palace and Leicester City – a feisty presence and a suitable partner for the young and supremely talented Sam Byram on the right-hand side of the field.
It was precisely what Warnock expected of Green when he signed him from Derby County in June and an example of what Leeds have been missing during the 29-year-old’s slow recovery.
“I was gutted to get injured in the first game of the season,” Green said. “I’d worked hard in pre-season and got myself sharp so to be out for nine weeks was tough.
“I came back for the Charlton game but I didn’t feel properly sharp so I asked the gaffer if I could play in a few reserve games to get me right again.
“Millwall was my first 90 minutes and I really feel like I’ve kicked on from there.”
The midfield which Warnock put together at the start of United’s sequence of wins – Jerome Thomas on the left wing, Green on the right and Norris and Michael Tonge in central positions – was almost chosen by default.
Warnock looked at a squad weakened by the loss of Austin to injury and Michael Brown to a one-match ban and decided that employing the attacking mentality of players like Green and Norris was by far his best form of defence.
Norris, like Green, suffered from impact of a torn thigh muscle sustained at the start of September. He underwent a month of rehabilitation and is only now beginning to look like an essential fixture in United’s team.
Warnock said: “We missed Green and Norris with their injuries so early on. We were unfortunate to lose them together. It took a lot of legs out of our midfield.
“The enthusiasm of someone like Green is great. He’s got weakish ankles and knees but he’s such a committed player that he’s going to get knocks. Norris is the same. But you look at the squad and it seems quite healthy now – and we haven’t got Austin back yet.”
Green also paid tribute to Norris’ form, saying: “Having him in there is good.
“It gives us energy and you need that in the team. You want players getting forward and giving you something different. It’s worked well for us.”
Green’s return to the fold came at a time when United’s meandering form and elusive takeover posed searching questions about the likelihood of the club competing for promotion from the Championship.
But the Republic of Ireland international said: “I always felt we could push on. Reading went up last season and I don’t think they started to push properly until this stage.
“I’d like to think we can do the same. Three wins on the bounce threw us right back up there.
“Coming into training, the lads are buzzing now, and going into games you don’t think you can lose. It’s a nice feeling to have.
“We’ve got the Christmas period coming up when games come thick and fast and it’s a time when you can tally up a lot of points. We’ll be looking to do that.”
Green has long been recognised as a central midfielder and he left Derby in the summer in part because of irregular opportunities in his preferred position.
At full strength, United have a glut of options in that area and Green’s effectiveness as a winger in the past fortnight will not dissuade Warnock from fielding him there.
Green and Byram worked Huddersfield’s defence skilfully last weekend and were two of the most impressive players on an afternoon of consistently high performances.
Byram has been the revelation in Warnock’s squad this season, an academy product who had no profile at all before United’s manager decided to take him south for the club’s pre-season tour of Devon and Cornwall.
The teenager agreed a three-year contract with Leeds earlier this season but interest in him from Everton primarily, but also Liverpool, is an open secret.
He is likely to be the one player who United fret over when the January transfer window opens.
Green said: “Even in pre-season and in the friendly games you could see he was going to be something special.
“He’s played in nearly every game this season and that shows what you can do with plenty of hard work.
“He’s always out there (on the training ground) with the ball at his feet and his touch is fantastic.
“If he continues developing like he is at the moment then he’s got special things ahead.”