GARRY MONK has called on his young brigade of Leeds United players to embrace the challenge of playing in front of one of the most passionate fanbases in the country at Elland Road – and not be intimated by it.
Head coach Monk is counting down the hours until his first competitive home match in charge of United against Birmingham City today when a number of summer signings including Rob Green, Kyle Bartley, Kemar Roofe, Marcus Antonsson and Pablo Hernandez are likely to make their home debuts.
United’s home league form over the past three seasons has been lamentable, with their results on home soil being ranked in the bottom half of the Championship on each occasion.
Last season, the club’s home form was the 19th worst in the second-tier, while 17 teams had better home statistics than United in the previous season of 2014-15 – with Leeds having lost more league games than they have won in each of the past two campaigns.
Fear and trepidation when playing in front of the Elland Road faithful has undeniably been a contributory factor on occasions, for whatever reason – something that Monk is clearly conscious of and anxious to avoid.
With Leeds announcing this week that they have sold 14,300 season tickets, the highest number in 12 years, Monk believes it is up to the players to harness the raucous power of that home support, while accepting that it is a two-way street.
Challenging his players – with many of his newcomers citing the levels of support at Elland Road as being among the chief reasons for signing – to cherish the prospect of playing at home, Monk said: “With the credible numbers that we have home and away, we need to put that fear into the opposition and not put that fear and apprehension into our players.
“(But) It is for our players, not just our fans, to take it on themselves and put it out on the pitch because that is what being a professional footballer is about.
“The higher level you go and the more pressure you have, you must deal with it.
“It goes hand in hand, it is not just the fans who should get behind the team, it is for the players to give the fans something to be proud and also not been scared to play and to bring our crowd with us. It works both ways.
“The players realise that. But I think the fans have to help the players with that.
“We have very young players who aren’t as experienced as some of the fans are in terms of going through seasons and hardships.
“It is important that the fans help them by giving them encouragement and backing them all the time.
“I am sure if we can get that balance right, everyone will be very happy and proud of each other and we will be able to have a good season.
“It is important that we give the crowd performances and ones that they enjoy watching and ones that they feel involved with and the famous passionate and loyal support will be crucial to us this season home and away, (but) especially at Elland Road.
“We need it to be a fortress and somewhere where teams fear coming, not where we fear coming.”
Meanwhile, Monk says he will adopt a cautious policy regarding the fitness of Liam Cooper after the centre-half made his return to action in Wednesday’s cup tie at Fleetwood after missing much of pre-season with a calf issue.
The former Chesterfield defender featured for the opening 45 minutes before being replaced by Sol Bamba, with Monk conscious of the need to ease him back into the fray to avoid any possible – and costly – relapse.
He added: “Giving Liam 45 minutes was always the design as he has only been back training for a week.
“Bearing in mind where his fitness is at and that he has pretty much missed all of pre-season, you have to use your experience in what you do – albeit that he would have loved to carry on and play more minutes.
“We use our medical and physical team here to make sure we have a plan for him, so as not to ‘kill’ him or injure him.”
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