AHEAD of Garry Monk’s press conference at Thorp Arch this afternoon (1pm), the YEP’s Lee Sobot looks at a few key issues Garry Monk might address in front of the media at Thorp Arch.
Dealing with Liam Cooper’s ban
Undoubtedly top of the agenda with the centre-back handed a six-match ban by the FA for stamping on Reece Oxford in Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Reading. Cooper’s ban started with Tuesday night’s clash at Brentford and the defender will now miss all but one of United’s last six remaining regular Championship games. His omission has left Leeds with only two natural centre-backs in Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson – and Jansson himself is two yellow cards away from picking up a three-game suspension for 15 bookings. Right-back Luke Ayling can also play at centre-back but it’s obvious that Leeds can ill afford any more problems in defence, and definitely no more issues with Jansson who was mysteriously dropped by Monk for the recent win against Brighton.
The defender was also set to be only named among the substitutes for the clash at Reading but then pulled out of the squad on the morning of the game with a hamstring injury. With Cooper banned, Jannson returned to the side against Brentford but United’s defence looked uncharacteristically all at sea.
United’s poor form
Leeds are yet to lose three games in succession under Monk but that will change if Preston bag a victory at Elland Road on Saturday. And there’s no denying that United are struggling to find their best form at present, as was very obvious in Tuesday night’s extremely disappointing 2-0 loss at Brentford. The Whites have won only one of their last five games and have picked up just five points from their last possible 15.
With six games remaining, the fifth-placed Whites still have a five-point gap back to the teams outside of the play-offs – led by seventh-placed Fulham – but Saturday’s visitors Preston are creeping up under the radar under former Leeds boss Simon Grayson and the Lilywhites are only three further points behind Fulham in eighth.
United are also three points clear of sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds are still long odds on to finish in the play-offs – no bigger than 2-11 and as short as 1-10 – but those odds will soon be slashed if performances don’t improve.
It’s only fair to highlight some glorious positives because Monk’s Leeds, are, after all, enjoying their best season ever since relegation from the Premier League in 2004. And Monk has again been nominated for the latest Championship manager of the month award – for March – along with Aston Villa’s Steve Bruce, Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Paul Lambert and Bristol City’s Lee Johnson.
Leeds went unbeaten through March, with wins at Birmingham City and at home to Brighton sandwiched by a 1-1 draw at Fulham and a goalless stalemate at home to QPR.
It is the third time this season that United’s head coach has been in contention for the Championship award with Monk losing out to Newcastle United boss Rafael Benitez in October and Brighton’s Chris Hughton in December.
Championship top scorer Wood is also up for the March player of the year award, alongside Preston striker Tom Barkhuizen, Bristol City defender Aden Flint and Queens Park Rangers midfielder Luke Freeman.
Wood – who netted four times in March – was also named Championship player of the month for January and could scoop an even bigger award this weekend.
The forward is on the shortlist for the Championship’s player of the year award and will discover the outcome at the EFL’s annual ceremony in London on Sunday night.
Wood is doing battle with Newcastle striker Dwight Gayle and Brighton winger Anthony Knockaert. Monk, Wood, and Leeds in general have had a fantastic season, but now need one final push to seal their play-off spot.