DCSIMG

Leeds United: Does Scotland call up beckon for Snodgrass?

"How is this lad not in the Scotland squad?" asked Andrew Hughes as he walked past Robert Snodgrass in the tunnel at Coventry City.

"He's the best player in the Championship."

Praise as high as that is a matter of opinion.

Recently, Snodgrass has not been so much as the best player in the Leeds United's team.

But there are few at Elland Road who do not believe him to be an international-in-waiting when form and fitness fight his corner.

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Afternoons like Saturday, when Snodgrass skilfully influenced a victory over Coventry, raise the question of why Scotland would look much further for the imagination they seem to lack.

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The 23-year-old is not willing to give it much thought. His involvement in United's Championship schedule has been too brief, he says, to warrant talk of international caps.

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His performance at the Ricoh Arena reminded Simon Grayson of the asset he lacked too often in the first two months of the season.

"It's the best game he's had for a number of weeks," said Grayson, mindful that Snodgrass has only been available for a matter of weeks.

The winger's appearance on Saturday was his eighth, and the sublime

goal he scored in the 40th minute his second.

"It's been a bit of a nightmare," said Snodgrass bluntly.

His limited involvement is the legacy of a knee injury suffered in July, one which Snodgrass struggled to be philosophical about. He was hurt in a friendly against SK Brann, the victim of a needlessly aggressive tackle by striker David Nielsen.

Nielsen, a trialist, promptly left Brann without a contract; Snodgrass went home with one leg in a brace. He was not seen again until September.

Even after appearing in a goalless draw at Doncaster Rovers, Snodgrass still had time to serve. He was sent off against Sheffield United a week later and completed a one-match ban during United's infamous defeat to Preston.

It is no surprise to him or his manager that it has taken until the early weeks of November for the winger to truly shine, but his manipulation of Coventry resonated in United's dressing room.

"He's top drawer," said Paul Connolly, the club's right-back. "Injury affects everyone and it definitely affected him. There wasn't a player in better form during the summer, but it's obvious that he's starting to click."

Snodgrass was more cautious, admitting that his form would be better judged over a longer period of time, but the features of his game which established his reputation in England – a creative touch and a habit of scoring goals – were evident in Coventry.

His cross in the fourth minute gave Jonathan Howson the chance to draw first blood, and Snodgrass' 20-yard finish in the 40th minute was the champagne moment in a compelling five-goal fixture which Leeds shaded. Hull would have no excuse for allowing him the freedom of Elland Road tonight.

"The next couple of weeks will show if I'm back to 100 per cent," Snodgrass said. "The injury set me back a couple of months and the

challenge at times like that is to recover properly.

"You need mental strength when you're out and physical strength when

you come back. The reward for all the hours of hard work is being in the team and being able to complete 90 minutes.

"I was actually out for a shorter time than I expected. To start off with, we'd planned for longer. That was a bonus and it kept my head up. I really thought the injury was going to be serious.

"When you're out for a while, it takes time to get your fitness and your sharpness back. I need to keep building from here, just to make sure I stay in the team, We've got a big squad with loads of competition."

The former Livingston winger missed the first eight games of the season and was sent off on the day of his first start. The resulting suspension tormented a player whose patient comeback had taken eight weeks. The only consolation was that it spared him from any involvement in United's infamous defeat to Preston North End.

His reintroduction gathered pace last month and his contribution at Coventry was in keeping with the performances which earned him the YEP's player of the year award at the end of his first season with Leeds. It was always likely that a display as lively as Saturday's would prompt discussions about a Scotland call-up.

A knee injury came between Snodgrass and his international debut 13 months ago and the landscape north of the border has shifted since then.

George Burley – the coach who planned to play Snodgrass in a friendly in Japan – lost his job late last year; his successor, Craig Levein, is yet to bring the winger on board. But the recent call-up of QPR's Jamie Mackie proved that Levein was prepared to look to the Championship for prospects.

"I've said before that the only thing I'm going to concentrate on is getting my fitness up," said Snodgrass. "If it (a Scotland cap) comes, then it comes. The manager decides who to call up and you respect his decision.

"I've had no approach from him and I'm only thinking about doing as well as I can for Leeds.

"There are dreams you have about what you'd like to happen in your career, but you don't think about stuff like that too much. You get on with your job and my main aim is to get Leeds right up the Championship table."

The past fortnight has made a significant difference on that front, lifting Leeds from 16th to eighth after successive defeats of Scunthorpe and Coventry.

Tonight's visitors to Elland Road are without a win in seven games and starting to wonder if a tussle with relegation lies ahead, Snodgrass and the players around him will need no encouragement to examine Hull's potentially fragile exterior.

"Snoddy's coming back from injury, but he's finding his feet again," said Grayson. "In the first half (at Coventry), he was a key player for us. I hope this sets him up for the rest of the season."

 
 
 

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