Garry Monk said Leeds United’s 2-0 victory over Aston Villa was a deserved reward at the end of a “massive week” as he admitted again that injuries were stretching his resources to their limit.
Leeds followed up a commendable performance in Tuesday’s League Cup quarter-final defeat to Liverpool with a resilient win over Villa at Elland Road, riding a substantial absentee list which left Monk with only 18 players to pick from.
A persistent groin strain affecting Eunan O’Kane – an injury which saw the midfielder substituted early at Liverpool –forced him to pull out of the Villa match and an ankle problem affecting Liam Cooper brought youngster Tyler Denton onto the bench.
United continued their surge up the table, however, with a 10th league win of the season on Saturday, climbing to fourth and extending a rich vein of form which has made light of Monk’s selection issues.
Captain Liam Bridcutt – missing since September with a fractured foot – was due to return to full training this week but Pablo Hernandez could be missing until after Christmas with a hamstring strain.
Monk was critical of parts of Leeds’ display on Saturday, accusing his team of being “passive” until Kemar Roofe opened the scoring on 68 minutes, but United’s head coach said: “All in all this week I have to be pleased. It’s been a massive effort from everyone.
“The 18 we had out there are the only 18 players we have in the first team.
“We need bodies back on the pitch and bodies to help the squad. We’ve been unfortunate with injuries.
“We work on plans for the players and we’re happy with where we are physically but we have to try and avoid contact injuries because we can’t afford any more of those.
“(O’Kane) was close but he felt he wasn’t ready or fit enough to contribute to the game. We left him to decide and you don’t want any players going on with doubts about anything. We have to be 100 per cent.
“The 18 there were the fit ones but whoever goes on will give their all.”
Writing in Saturday’s programme, Bridcutt said: “I’m really happy to be back out on the grass.
“For me this has been one of the longest periods on the sidelines.
“I’ll return to full training next week and I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
In the absence of O’Kane and Bridcutt, Monk paired 18-year-old Ronaldo Vieira with 21-year-old Kalvin Phillips in the centre of midfield and watched the pair battle Villa into submission. Phillips was named as man of the match. Monk laid into his players after seeing Leeds’ first home game of the season end in a 2-1 defeat to Birmingham City, ordering them to toughen up, but he said Saturday’s win over Villa was another example of the growing maturity amongst his squad
“It’s something I spoke about after the Birmingham game,” Monk said.
“Naivety and apprehension were holding us back.
“I talked about young players growing up very quickly and since that point they’ve taken it on board.
“Trying to take fear and apprehension out of them is never easy but giving them confidence to compete against teams like (Villa), who have vastly more experience, is an important process.”