It was natural for Leeds United’s players to see the end of their two-match tour of Ireland as the end of the particularly hard yards but Garry Monk stopped that idea from floating after Saturday’s win over Shamrock Rovers.
“This is where it starts to get more competitive,” Monk said, “even though it has been already. This is where the players need to start stepping up and focusing on what they’re being asked to do.”
He reminded them in the dressing room that their rest would be brief.
United’s head coach took two victories away from the trip to Ireland, two wins from his first games in the job at Elland Road, and the only caveat for him was that a rusty Leeds team should always have beaten the two sides who hosted them in Dublin.
A Shamrock Rovers line-up loaded with teenagers fought gamely at the Tallaght Stadium but they were camped a long way from goalkeeper Rob Green throughout and out of their depth when it came to threatening goals. It was, still, a big step above the walkover of FC Gherdeina in 2014
Leeds scored three times, struck the woodwork three times and gained pass-marks from Monk for dominating a game they ought to have dominated. It was more controlled and one-sided than their victory at Shelbourne last Wednesday, United’s first friendly of the summer, and Monk knew in advance that Shamrock Rovers would not commit a full team to Saturday’s game having hosted Dublin rivals Bohemians in Tallaght the previous night.
The tour of Ireland, in any case, was more about the work carried out by Monk behind the closed doors of the FAI’s headquarters. He was frank in admitting that as a new head coach, as a new broom, he needed training sessions more than he needed fixtures and two weeks on from the start of their trip to Dublin, his camp has a happy air about it. Monk’s signings seem integrated and as settled as they could be so soon after signing. One of them, Kemar Roofe, outshone everyone in the first half in Tallaght. Another, Marcus Antonsson, found the net twice.
“At this moment it’s very difficult to say how much we’ve improved but what I do know is that the work we’ve done is exactly what I wanted,” Monk said. “I can see the details I’m looking for. In terms of then and now and how much better we’re getting, that’s probably for you guys to judge as the games go on but in terms of myself, I’m pleased with certain elements.
“You have to be a hard taskmaster. I want perfection or to get as close to it as I can. The players know it. I said to them at the end ‘good work these two weeks’ but we’ll be back in (this week) and we have to be ready to go again.
“Pushing forward is the key. There’s no short-term to it. We don’t just turn up tomorrow as a better team. We have to stay focused.”
Focus was not an issue on Saturday, even though Leeds sensed from an early stage that Rovers’ youngsters had their work cut out. Antonsson scored after just seven minutes, tapping home from 10 yards out after teenage midfielder Ronaldo Vieira – a player who Monk and his coaching staff have taken an immediate shine to – stole possession on halfway, tore down the right wing and slipped a pass into the box.
The goal, a low and well-taken finish, was Antonsson’s first since joining Leeds from Kalmar on the second day of pre-season. He was used to scoring goals in Sweden, in the middle of a hot streak when United bought him, but the strike pleased him. “I am very happy about it,” Antonsson said. “People can say it’s only a friendly but it felt good to be scoring.”
The traffic was one way and Chris Wood clipped the outside of a post before a chipped pass by Jordan Botaka drew Trevor Clarke into fouling Roofe with a high foot inside Rovers’ box. Wood took the penalty and knocked it past goalkeeper Barry Murphy, establishing a 2-0 lead after 31 minutes.
Early in the second half, Antonsson scored again when Charlie Taylor’s teasing play on the left wing drew a flicked header from Wood which Antonsson nodded in at the far post. Monk made two changes at half-time, removing Roofe and Kyle Bartley, and sent on nine more substitutes after the hour but the direction of the friendly never changed. Matt Grimes rattled the underside of the crossbar from long range and Hadi Sacko – a source of pace on the right – was twice denied by saves from Murphy.
“It was definitely an improvement on Wednesday (at Shelbourne),” Monk said. “It was good to end two really good weeks with two wins. Even though I’m not so focused on the results, wins give confidence to the players and it was important that they saw improvement from Wednesday. There was more team ethic out there than I saw on Wednesday – a little bit more cohesive.”
With Guiseley and Peterborough United to come at the end of this week, Monk is waiting now for the transfer market to crack again.
Leeds completed six signings in the the first two weeks of pre-season but have not made further progress since selling Lewis Cook to Bournemouth and abandoning their interest in former Watford centre-back and free agent Joel Ekstrand. The YEP understands that United have made enquiries about right-back Conor McLaughlin, a Northern Ireland international who played in Euro 2016 alongside Stuart Dallas. McLaughlin is on the books at Fleetwood and the Lancashire club are anticipating a bid from Leeds for the £300,000-rated defender, despite the presence of other right-backs at Elland Road. Though Gaetano Berardi missed both friendlies in Ireland, Monk expects him to recover from a minor injury soon.
Long-time target Anthony Limbombe, meanwhile, is fighting to escape Dutch club NEC Nijmegen after another flurry of speculation about his future.
NEC rejected a bid from Leeds for the winger last summer but United owner Massimo Cellino retained an interest in him and Limbombe’s relationship with NEC is deteriorating rapidly. The club announced over the weekend that he had walked out without permission on Friday and ordered Limbombe to report in by 9am this morning.
“The squad needs more strength,” Monk said. “It’s a very long season, a lot of games and I don’t feel we’re quite at full strength.
“But as I said before, the club know that and I’m sure in the next few days and weeks we’ll strengthen and you’ll see new players coming in.
“You identify targets, which we have, and you work on them.
“If we can get them done then we’ll get them done but transfers aren’t always quick or smooth.
“The club are trying as hard as they can.”
Leeds United: Green (Turnbull 65), Purver (Coyle 65), Bartley (McKay 46), Bamba (Diagouraga 65), Taylor (Denton 65), Vieira (Mowatt 65), Grimes (Murphy 65), Botaka (Phillips 65), Roofe (Sacko 46), Antonsson (Stokes 65), Wood (Doukara 65).
Shamrock Rovers: Murphy, Clarke, Webster, Gibbons, Hanney, McCabe, Bulger, Purdy, Boyd, McCaffrey, Doona.