After five weeks on the sidelines with a thigh injury, Steve Morison is relishing his new challenge at United. Phil Hay reports.
Frustration is the word which comes to mind when Steve Morison talks about his season. He cannot have felt any differently as he sat through Leeds United’s defeat to Cardiff City on Saturday afternoon.
One of three new signings made by Leeds last week, Morison was denied his debut by the thigh strain which troubled him during January without preventing his departure from Norwich City. United erred on the side of caution against Cardiff but look ready to cut the striker loose at Molineux this weekend.
His fitness levels were sufficient for manager Neil Warnock to include him in training on Friday morning, hours after his transfer from Carrow Road, and Warnock indicated that the call to Morison would be made when Leeds travel to Wolverhampton on Saturday afternoon; a big man for a big occasion and the first of two away fixtures which United cannot dare to waste.
The club’s 1-0 loss to Cardiff upped the ante ahead of back-to-back matches at Molineux and Middlesbrough, bringing United’s campaign to an important juncture. As Leeds attempt to muster their first Championship victory away from home since December 1, the situation could hardly be more stark: lose both games and they will be nine points short of the play-offs, if not 12. The road back from there would seem impossibly long.
Warnock’s hope was that signings like Morison and Stephen Warnock – the left-back brought in from Aston Villa on the last day of January – would lend themselves to more competitive away performances, unlike those seen at places like Barnsley. Morison had a scan on his thigh strain as part of his medical and, provided Leeds are happy with his fitness, it is likely that he and Stephen Warnock will both will be blooded by their new manager at Molineux.
“I’ve had five weeks of getting back fit and I’m just about ready,” Morison explained.
“The club erred on the side of caution (on Saturday) because the last thing they wanted was to throw me in, get me involved and then find that something wasn’t right. It’s given me a few days to get myself perfect and get ready for Wolves away.
“This season’s been very frustrating for me, a change of manager and a change of tactics at Norwich. I didn’t quite fit into those plans but I’ve got a fresh start here. It’s the first time I’ve had to join a new club halfway through the season and I can’t wait to get myself going.”
In a transfer window when he was strongly linked with Nottingham Forest’s Dexter Blackstock, Neil Warnock insisted that among his list of potentially available strikers, Morison’s name topped it.
The 29-year-old is his type of player: strong, dominant and blessed with physical presence. A forward with those attributes was needed once Luciano Becchio – sold to Norwich as part of a swap deal for Morison last Thursday – made clear his intention to leave Elland Road.
Some who have followed Morison’s career say he has more pace and better touch than Becchio but it remains to be seen if he can replace the Argentinian’s goals. Becchio quit Elland Road with 19 to his name this season; Morison’s sporadic involvement under Chris Hughton was such that he has scored only one for Norwich.
Initially, the thought of departing Carrow Road and the Premier League did not sit well with Morison.
“Once you get to that level you never want to leave it,” he said.
“I never wanted to leave Norwich to play in the Championship but then the opportunity arose to play for one of the biggest, if not the biggest, clubs in the Championship. That’s a different kettle of fish,
“The chance came up and the decision was there to be made – do I want to stay at Norwich and fight for my place, which maybe wasn’t there anyway, or come to Leeds, play for a massive club and put the ball in the back of the net for them? I knew which option I wanted to take.”
Both were options that Morison might never have had. He turned professional at a young age with Northampton Town but drifted into non-league football with Bishop’s Stortford in 2004. Goals began to flow and glimpses of his potential led to a transfer to Stevenage Borough in 2006 and another to Millwall three years later. Always a handful, he scored twice for Millwall against Leeds including one goals towards the end of the League One run-in in 2010.
“I started in the professional game, went all the way back out and then had to work my way all the way back up,” Morison said. “I was 25 when I joined Millwall.
“I came into the game late but I’ve been trying to make the most of it ever since. A lot of people said the Premier League would be a step too far for me but I got into double figures in my first season at Norwich. I felt comfortable. Coming down to the Championship, I know I can score goals.
“People interpret how I carry myself in their own way but I’m a confident person and I back myself to be a successful number nine for Leeds. The manager said I was his first choice which was nice to know. I wasn’t aware of that until last week but it made me feel very welcome.”
United’s boss is already contemplating selection problems for Saturday’s clash with Wolves, with Ross McCormack suffering from illness and the usual uncertainty hanging over three players – Tom Lees, Rodolph Austin and Paul Green – involved in international fixtures this week.
The doubt about McCormack underlined Warnock’s insistence that Becchio should only be sold if at least one proven striker arrived at Leeds before the January deadline, and Morison is preparing for his debut against a Wolves side whose season is at risk of imploding and exposing them to relegation.
Asked what the target for the remainder of United’s campaign should be, a confident Morison said: “Promotion. That’s what the manager’s been talking about and that’s what I want.”