It did not take Pontus Jansson long to sense the need for urgency at Elland Road; a few minutes into his league debut for Leeds United he was gesturing to the Kop and revving the crowd up, embracing the spirit of a Yorkshire derby.
Leeds lost Saturday’s meeting with Huddersfield Town – their fourth league defeat of the season – but Jansson’s influence in the centre of defence was one of the few things for Garry Monk to enthuse about.
United found a way of managing set-pieces – a source of endless problems in August – and the goal, when it came, was a fierce strike from Aaron Mooy, converted from fully 25 yards out.
On a mediocre afternoon, Jansson finished Saturday’s derby with the most impressive statistics among Monk’s players, including a tally of seven clearances as his 6’5” frame tightened up Leeds’ backline, and the on-loan Torino defender is settling in for a run of appearances in the starting line-up.
He confirmed over the weekend that a tally of 20 outings this season will secure him a permanent transfer to Leeds.
Monk held Jansson back for a short time after his arrival from Italy, using him in a League Cup win over Luton Town but naming him on the bench for last month’s Championship game away at Nottingham Forest. A 3-1 loss at the City Ground, invited by two goals scored directly from corners, caused Monk to rethink his defence and bring Jansson into the fray.
“I was expecting to start,” Jansson said after the defeat to Huddersfield. “I had a good chat with Pep (Clotet, United’s assistant) and the coach and I’ve had good training sessions. I felt I did well in the League Cup against Luton and I was ready to start.
“For me it was my first game at Elland Road and there were a lot of feelings. I feel really good to be here and really good to play for this club. It’s special to be at a new stadium but of course it would have been even better to win the game. I’m a bit sad and angry after that.”
Saturday was a tense afternoon, capped by a tetchy interview conducted by Monk with the BBC at full-time. United’s owner, Massimo Cellino, was reported to have entered the dressing room after the match to admonish the squad for their performance but sources at the club have denied those claims. Cellino, however, is understood to have walked in at half-time to shake the hands of the players and wish them luck.
In an interview with the Swedish media a fortnight ago, Jansson described Cellino as “the king”, saying he spoke to the Italian at length before agreeing to join Leeds. Jansson, who made Sweden’s squad for Euro 2016 but did not play in the tournament, moved to England with the intention of winning a full-time contract after his career with Torino came to an abrupt halt.
Jansson suffered a knee injury last year but finished the Serie A season in Torino’s side and expected the club to offer him a new contract. His previous coach, Giampiero Ventura, then left to manage Italy’s national side and Ventura’s replacement, the colourful Sinisa Mihajlovic, saw no role for Jansson in his plans. Torino ramped their transfer business up a gear by signing Joe Hart on loan from Manchester City.
Leeds arranged a deal with Torino which will see Jansson earn a permanent contract if his appearances this term number 20, an unusual and somewhat arbitrary clause which could kick in before the turn of the year.
“It’s true,” Jansson said. “I’m really happy to be here but I’m not thinking about that at the moment. I just want to play games. We’ll see what happens.
“For me this was my first 90 minutes in three months so I feel happy to have made it and I feel really good. My knee is good now, I had a good game. I’m happy and I have to keep it going. Huddersfield didn’t create too much. We had a good focus defensively but as a team we have to focus on playing more football than we did.”
Leeds’ defeat to Huddersfield heaped the pressure on tonight’s meeting with Blackburn, one of two sides below United in the Championship. Simon Grayson’s Preston North End are the other.
Monk was happy with his defence at the weekend and is unlikely to make changes in that area but United’s lack of creativity was telling. Having given midfielder Eunan O’Kane a few more days to settle in, Monk is highly likely to blood his new signing at Elland Road this evening.
Blackburn’s defence has been more porous than Leeds’, leaking 13 goals in six league games, and they are the only Championship side without a win.
Striker Anthony Stokes is out for two weeks with a knee injury and will not be involved tonight. Charlie Mulgrew is also expected to be missing after suffering a calf strain in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Queens Park Rangers.
Monk’s players were called into Thorp Arch on Sunday to train and review the defeat to Huddersfield. Jansson said the result was in part down to a lack of conviction in possession.
“We have to believe in what we do,” he said. “More players have to want the ball. We have to believe and play from the back. We have a lot of good players.
“We can be angry and sad but after that we have to start focusing on Blackburn. Of course it’s an important game but it was an important game we lost (on Saturday). We have to do everything to win now.”