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Leeds United: Jonny's pride at captaincy role

Stockport County are all that stand between Leeds United and a new club record for the most successful start to an English campaign. On top of that proud distinction, Jonathan Howson would delight in the knowledge that he captained Leeds through it.

The midfielder was entrusted with the armband at the start of the season, and the month behind him could not have been kinder. Howson was thrilled to be nominated for the role at the start of August and, as he readily admitted after Saturday's victory at Colchester United, the responsibility is easier to bear when a team enter the type of purple patch that Leeds are ensconced in.

At some stage in the near future, possibly as soon as this weekend, the task of deputising for Richard Naylor will conclude with the return to fitness and contention of United's club captain, but Howson is on the verge of vacating the armband with a perfect record to remember.

Naylor's involvement against Stockport is far from certain, in spite of the international call-ups that have robbed Leeds of central defenders Patrick Kisnorbo and Rui Marques, but manager Simon Grayson planned to assess his condition closely this week, and Howson accepts that his time as captain is likely to end imminently. In any case, his only priority was ensuring that his spell of leadership coincided with a steady period of results.

By the time he makes way for Naylor, both he and Grayson are likely to conclude that the club's form has been better than that. Saturday's win in Essex was their seventh of the season, one short of breaking the record set by United in 1973 for successive victories achieved at the start of a term.

That record will fall to Grayson's squad if they produce a 14th straight home league victory against Stockport – a sequence at Elland Road which is also threatening to improve historical statistics – and Howson said: "It's great to have the captaincy when the season's going like this.

"Luckily enough we're getting results at the moment and if we keep going like we have been then I won't have to worry about anything. I've said before that, as a Leeds fan, captaining the side is a massive personal achievement, and my only hope is that we can keep getting the wins to go with it. I'm blessed to have the armband.

"But Nayls is the club's captain and I don't mind standing in for him. I've enjoyed it but if he's back this weekend to captain the side then I won't be grumbling about that. My only worry from the start has been winning games."

Howson was not the most obvious of candidates to replace Naylor when the defender's back operation ruled him out of the first month of the season.

The likeable 21-year-old was the youngest of all the players selected by Grayson for United's 2-1 victory over Exeter on August 8 and part of a squad which included Patrick Kisnorbo, Andrew Hughes, Michael Doyle and Andy Robinson, senior professionals who have held the armband for one club or other during their careers.

Grayson had hinted at Howson's future selection by using him as captain during United's first pre-season friendly at York City and retaining him in that capacity for most of the summer, and his choice of deputy for Naylor has been an immediate success.

The midfielder's outing at Colchester last Saturday was his 21st consecutive start under Grayson, the longest period of sustained involvement he has ever experienced at Leeds, and his influence in the centre of midfield has been positively affected by his installation at captain.

Grayson said: "Jonny's got some fantastic qualities and he's taken on the armband without thinking about it. He's always had a mature head on his shoulders and it wasn't a problem for him to accept the responsibility that comes with being captain, on the field and off it.

"If anything, he seems to have thrived on it and he's another player who's hit some very good form over the past month. Like all the other players, he knows how important his performances are because him and Michael Doyle have got Neil Kilkenny breathing down their necks.

"He's not necessarily the obvious choice because he's not quite as vocal as a Richard Naylor but you get different types of captains and not all of them fit the same mould. Some like to rant and rave, some like to organise but you get others who lead by example with their performances. Jonny's a perfect example of that because his game is all about covering every blade of grass and using his technical ability to keep us on top. It's worth remembering that he's still young at 21.

"Ultimately the captaincy is just an armband which somebody wears and that alone doesn't win you matches. Everyone needs to play a part in pulling people along and getting the best out of each other. But the qualities a good captain shows can only help the team as a whole and Jonny’s shown himself to be very capable.”

Howson epitomised the calm mood that Grayson has encouraged in his dressing room by commenting that Leeds’ perfect league record would “count for nothing” if their season lost its way, and United’s manager admitted that he was having few problems containing the optimism of his squad after the club’s best start to a term for 36 years.

Grayson said: “As a staff, we try to keep them level-headed.

“But they’re an honest bunch anyway and there are one or two players in the dressing room who would be very good at bringing others down to earth if their feet ever left the ground.”

 
 
 

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