GARRY MONK urged Leeds United to forget the bigger picture and enjoy an overdue vein of positivity ahead of another enticing Championship game at Aston Villa tonight.
United’s head coach said he was delighted to see the club show signs of emerging from “several years of suffering” and admitted he did not want premature thoughts of promotion to detract from the form his side are in.
A spate of victories in the run-up to the turn of the year, the most recent a 4-1 thrashing of Preston North End on Boxing Day, has given Leeds a major chance of making the Championship play-offs for only the second time since their relegation from the Premiership 12 years ago.
Their resilience will be examined again this evening against a Villa side that started the season as one of the favourites for promotion but have been fighting to recover from a poor start which cost former manager Roberto Di Matteo his job.
Di Matteo’s replacement, Steve Bruce, has suffered only two defeats since taking charge but one of those came at the hands of Leeds at Elland Road at the beginning of this month.
Results of that nature have heightened optimism about the potential of Monk’s players and Leeds would climb to third place with a win at Villa Park, leaving Bruce’s side trailing 10 points behind in 10th.
Monk, however, refused to place extra significance on tonight’s match, saying: “It’s great to see a young group improving and getting smarter and better but really, everyone should just enjoy it.
“This club have suffered for quite a while now but I believed as a player, and I believe as a manager, that all you want to see is a team who give 100 per cent. Of course you want to see a team win games and win in style but the fans want to see a team who fight for the shirt.
“Whatever will happen will happen. We’re going to fight to put this club back where we feel it belongs and it’s always the ambition of this club to get back to the Premier League. Everyone’s ambitious, but with the suffering the club’s had over a number of years now, the fans should just enjoy it.
“We’ll have ups and downs but seeing a team who want to give 100 per cent – I think that’s why you pay your money and why you support a club. We should all enjoy this team.”
Leeds, who last visited Villa Park for a league game in February 2004, got the better of Bruce’s side in a tight game at Elland Road on December 3.
A second-half header from Kemar Roofe and an injury-time goal from Chris Wood sealed a 2-0 victory and inflicted Villa’s first loss under Bruce in the process.
“We’ve played them already at home, we played well and we deserved that result,” Monk said. “But it’s going to be a totally different game tonight. We have to forget that game in certain respects.
“There are certain things you can take out of it and there were a lot of positives which should give the players confidence but I do think it’ll be totally different. We’re playing at a big stadium against a very good side.
“Teams who come down from the Premier League are expected to bounce straight back. They have the budget, the ammunition and the experience in the squad to do that but it’s not always that easy. Villa’s agenda will be to get promoted straight back out. But we can’t worry about what anyone else is doing.”
Wood, who suffered a hamstring niggle two weeks ago, could return to Monk’s starting line-up tonight after coming off the bench in the Boxing-Day win at Preston.
The striker is United’s leading scorer with 14 goals but Leeds struck four times at Deepdale without him finding the net.
“We work on all the attacking players getting into good positions to score goals,” Monk said. “They’re all capable of it and I’m sure some of the players, they’ll say it themselves, should have had more goals this season.
“The key is getting into those positions and we’ve been doing that. Then it’s about taking your chances and being clinical which we were against Preston. It was pleasing to see. We know we’re capable of scoring goals as a team.”
Midfielder Eunan O’Kane remains on the sidelines with a groin injury but left-back Charlie Taylor could feature at Villa Park after an Achilles problem.