Numerous players and managers at Leeds United talk about making Elland Road a den of hostility but few in recent years have found a way to make it happen.
Eight months elapsed without a home win last year but, after two away matches and an eventful start to this season, Kemar Roofe is looking forward to embracing the ground. Back-to-back home fixtures, starting with Birmingham City tomorrow, look to him like an opportunity to “get the season up and running.”
Leeds gave their campaign some momentum on Wednesday by surviving a League Cup-tie at Fleetwood Town, but a first league victory would be more of a step forward for head coach Garry Monk. Monk was encouraged by the win over Fleetwood and pleased to see his players salvage a game they could easily have lost, but the Championship is United’s real playing field.
“We’re hopeful we can kick-start our league campaign now,” Monk said.
Last Sunday brought about a 3-0 defeat to Queens Park Rangers and as poor a start to a league season as Leeds have had in years. Roofe, who made his competitive debut in that match after his £3m move from Oxford United, was as surprised as anyone by Leeds’ inability to live with QPR or dictate the pace of the game.
“Sunday was disappointing but these things happen,” Roofe said. “We didn’t intend for it to end up like that and it did hurt us. We were back in the next day and working hard to put things right and fix it.”
Leeds’ first-round tie against Fleetwood was not without errors but United were more dangerous up front, helped by a lively performance from Roofe, and dominant for much of the tie.
Having relied on a 90th-minute equaliser to keep them in the competition, their place in the second round should have been secured without the need for a penalty shoot-out.
Rob Green won that shoot-out with a full-strength save from Fleetwood’s Eggert Jonsson.
“The celebrations were great,” Roofe said. “We have to stick together, all of us – fans, players, staff, everyone at the club. We all want the same thing. If we stick together we can be a massive force.
“The main thing was getting through. Cups are all about the result, not so much the performance. It’s all about who gets over the line with a victory.
“We needed the win after what happened on Sunday. Fleetwood was massive because we had to show that our hearts were in it. They got the first goal and it would have been easy for a team to drop their heads after that. But we showed character and got back into it.”
It is players like Roofe who have reassured Monk in a difficult first week of the term. Pablo Hernandez also oozed ability on his debut against Fleetwood and Marcus Antonsson and Alex Mowatt made the most of appearances as substitutes.
Alongside defensive concerns, Monk has positive options for tomorrow’s meeting with Birmingham rather than dilemmas forced onto him by poor form.
Birmingham’s visit to Elland Road will be followed by Fulham’s appearance in Leeds on Tuesday. United are 24th in a league table which holds no relevance after one match, but Roofe would like to see points on the board.
“We’ve got two home games coming up and that’s perfect timing,” he said. “We want to get the season up and running now and to play in front of a big crowd at home. Our fans can put fear into the opposition and that would be amazing.
“I’m developing as a player and this is a big club to join. It was a big part in why I came to Leeds. At Oxford we showed how together we all were because we got performances and results and we achieved stuff. We want to do the same here.”
United’s players took the brunt of criticism after their defeat to QPR and there were murmurings of discontent from the stands as Leeds fought a 1-0 deficit at Fleetwood, amid clear signs of division over owner Massimo Cellino. But the successful fightback galvanised the away crowd and a clinical performance in the penalty shoot-out gave the atmosphere a shot in the arm.
Monk said: “It’s a very young group of players here. I keep saying that but it’s the truth.
“Sunday hurt us and we wanted to put it right.
“It’s not easy going to Fleetwood. Everyone expects you to get an easy win, but you’ve seen in this round that already nine Championship teams are out.
“I’ve witnessed the support here from the other side and I knew how good it was. It’s going to be vital to us but what they have to try and do is help this team – put fear into the opposition, not into our players.
“It’s also for our players to take it on themselves. That’s what being a professional is about and the higher level you go to the more pressure there is. It goes hand-in-hand. If we can get the balance right, everyone will be happy and we’ll have a good season.
“We’ve got young players and some of them won’t be as experienced as the fans in terms of going through seasons of hardship.
“At the end of the games you can say what you like, but at Fleetwood we had a difficult start. If you keep believing and keep supporting, you’ll see what they can produce.”