The reassuring thing for Garry Monk, in light of the speculation about his job last week, was the sound of players queuing up to fight his corner after Saturday’s win at Sheffield Wednesday.
Chris Wood described Leeds United’s head coach as “unbelievable” and Charlie Taylor laughed at the idea of Monk running into trouble after four league games. Kalvin Phillips went further, calling the rumours a “load of gibberish”. Dissenting voices were hard to find at the end of the club’s first league victory of the season.
Only one voice counts when it comes to the fate of head coaches at Leeds, but sources close to Massimo Cellino were quick to deny claims on Thursday that a slow start under Monk had already irked the notoriously-impatient Italian. Monk bought himself credit with a rousing performance at Hillsborough, smoothing over a taxing fortnight.
“At every club there’s pressure to win games,” Monk said. “Everyone will face that. But we feel no pressure.
“This is the job, the sport and the life we lead. We don’t listen to outside influence. We listen to ourselves and we trust ourselves. Everyone at the club is supportive of each other.”
A potentially bad month will look like a promising one if Leeds finish off August with a League Cup win at Luton Town tonight and another result away at Nottingham Forest this weekend. Phillips, who is in contention to start at Kenilworth Road as Monk considers changes to his team, was pleased to see United’s squad ease any strain on their head coach with a disciplined victory over Sheffield Wednesday.
“Obviously he’s been put under pressure,” Phillips said, “but I don’t think it’s job-threatening after two games. It’s just a load of gibberish, isn’t it? He’s a great manager.
“The result (at Hillsborough) was well needed but it was a great performance. The lads dug deep and after the draw we got at home to Fulham, you could see the confidence running through the side. The potential here is good and we should be challenging for a top-six spot. This is what we’ll need to do all the way through the season – fight for those points. I think we can do it.”
Taylor, who played a part in Leeds’ first goal at Hillsborough and remains in the thick of Monk’s plans despite his desire to leave Elland Road in this transfer window, was equally non-plussed by talk of trouble facing Monk in the early weeks of the term. Cellino has previous on that front, having sacked David Hockaday and Uwe Rosler in the opening stages of the past two campaigns but Taylor said: “Whatever has been said, it’s four league games into the season. We’ve got to be given time and you’ve seen now what we can do. Wednesday’s home record is good, they were up there last season, so to turn them over is excellent.
“He (Monk) is very good. He really goes into detail with his tactics prior to a game and we’ve got a great backroom staff. They’re really thorough and precise with what they want and with their game plans. Everyone is learning off them.”
Taylor, in spite of his contract dispute with Leeds, remains the only senior left-back on the books at Leeds and – as he did for Rosler and Steve Evans last season – is likely to fight through game after game, including tonight’s trip to Luton. Monk, however, plans to use his squad to counter a month in which United will play seven times in 20 days.
Phillips, who signed a new three-year contract last month, is an obvious option in the centre of midfield. Pablo Hernandez and Kemar Roofe are others who might start this evening. Phillips has been in and out of Monk’s line-up so far – given starts against Fulham and at Fleetwood Town in round one of the League Cup but restricted to a few minutes as a substitute at Hillsborough – and the signing of Liam Bridcutt has drastically heightened competition in his position.
“Liam’s a great signing,” Phillips said. “I played with him a couple of times last year and he’s the eyes and ears around the midfield. With me being so young, he helps me out.
“I’m very happy here. I come in every day and work hard and hopefully I’ll get a chance to play. Obviously I only had a five-minute spell at the end of the game (at Hillsborough) but every minute counts.”
United’s recent record in the League Cup has been patchy and their appearance in the last eight under Neil Warnock – a campaign which ended in defeat to Chelsea – stands out amongst several mediocre years. Leeds were beaten in the second round under Hockaday in 2014 and failed to make it over the first hurdle under Rosler last season.
It took an inspired equaliser from Marcus Antonsson, scored on 90 minutes, to avoid a defeat to Rosler’s Fleetwood Town two weeks ago, and United’s reward for a penalty shoot-out victory in Lancashire was a long trip to Kenilworth Road.
As venues go, Luton has created a few ghosts for Leeds. John Carver’s spell as caretaker manager and his prospects of landing the job full-time were destroyed by a 5-1 defeat in 2006.
The spirit drained from Dennis Wise after a frustrating 1-1 draw in 2008 – inflicted by a last-minute concession – and the former Chelsea midfielder did not manage Leeds again. Within 48 hours, he had taken up the role of director of football at Newcastle United.
Leeds, however, have confidence to feed off after their victory in Sheffield and Phillips said: “It would be nice to have a good run in the cup. It would be good to win this and get a good team in the next round – Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool. Any of them.”
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