How Leeds United cured their travel sickness

Neil Redfearn has transformed Leeds United's away form.
Neil Redfearn has transformed Leeds United's away form.
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IN the famous words of Mark Twain, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

It is something Leeds United know plenty about following a thoroughly topsy-turvy 2014-15 campaign when the Whites have obliterated one set of truly awful figures in the most head-turning way possible.

When supporters glance at Leeds’s away results so far in 2015 and crunch the numbers in comparison to the first half of the season up until the end of 2014, they are entitled to shake their heads in total incredulity.

More especially when you factor in United’s wretched travel sickness throughout the last calendar year.

Leeds have made eight Championship road trips this year with their haul of 17 points already equal to the tally they amassed from 23 league away games in 2014, with less than three full months gone in 2015.

Their haul of five league away wins this year already eclipses their 2014 statistic of four, with their total of 17 points on the road currently the equal best in the whole country along with Norwich City.

Only Liverpool, Southampton and Bury have conceded fewer goals on their travels this year than Leeds, who have shipped five in eight matches, with the Whites’ having netted 13 times.

That goals for tally is bettered only away from home in 2015 by Norwich (16), Bristol City (15), Watford and Chelsea (both 14).

It’s all far cry from the first half of 2014-15 when Leeds mustered a meagre six points from 12 away games up to and including the December 30 loss at Derby County to end the old year.

Across 92 clubs in the Football League and Premier League, only Blackpool (5) and poor old QPR (0) had slimmer pickings on their travels.

Some transformation then, especially given that limp loss to end 2014 at the iPro Stadium when anyone present was entitled to think where Leeds’s next away win was coming from.

Managers and coaches who rise to the occasion amid something resembling a crisis to find a solution earn the professional respect of their peers and the gratitude of supporters in equal measure - think also Brendan Rodgers’ recent transformation of Liverpool.

The work of Neil Redfearn, Steve Thompson and the United players in curing the debilitating travelsickness which was ravaging the season says plenty about the sense of collective spirit and the vibrant heartbeat running through the Leeds squad at the minute.

Mighty oaks grow from small acorns and while the 1-1 draw at Bolton Wanderers on January 10 was not exactly an earth-shaking result, it possessed substance and provided a platform.

Leeds were resolute and hard to break down with that performance providing the template to follow, while delivering the first real injection of confidence against a Bolton side who, at that point, hadn’t lost at the Macron Stadium in seven games since October 4.

In its aftermath, Redfearn tellingly spoke of the side ‘defending well as an 11’ and looking more balanced with and without the ball, with that 4-2-3-1 team shape having served him and his side pretty well since.

Leeds, in short, have been hard to beat - if all else fails, get back to basics and all that and don’t over-complicate things.

That sense of mental toughness and resoluteness reached its apex at Middlesbrough on February 21 against a Boro side unbeaten on home soil since the end of August 30 and chasing a sixth successive Championship win at the Riverside.

That outstanding victory, thanks to Alex Mowatt’s early strike, made the Championship sit up and take notice, with Rotherham manager Steve Evans going as far as to say it was the best result recorded by a second-tier side so far in 2014-15.

After that win, Redfearn again spoke of his side being tactically balanced, with ‘a Leeds United player in the way at every turn’ and also alluded to his side learning through adversity, which was again a very pertinent observation.

Redfearn said at the time: “We’re a young side with a bit of adversity and we’ve learned in adversity.

“They’re close as a group and you can see that. They block, tackle and chase for one another and they’ve got a successful team feel about them. They’re going to get better and better.”

And it has with few more sweet wins along the way in a season which at its halfway point looked nailed onto become a relegation battle, with Leeds instead vanquishing any such notions and now attempting to end the season with a wet sail.

United’s away haul has included a first win at Reading since 1987 and first success at Fulham - Ross McCormack et al - in thirty years and perhaps most deliciously of all, a victory at Huddersfield Town to help clinch a first double over the Terriers since April 1939.

While form away from Elland Road has formed the bedrock of United’s upturn, overall statistics in the round for Leeds, home and away, in 2015 also hold considerable weight and point at a big upturn.

Leeds have won eight out of 15 Championship matches this year, taking 28 points.

Only Norwich (33), Watford (28) and Boro (29) - all firm contenders for automatic promotion - have better statistics.

With a run-in on paper which sees Leeds face just two sides in the mix for promotion in Norwich and Wolves, there seems to be no reason whatsoever why momentum cannot be maintained.

All things being equal, Leeds should record their best Championship points tally and finish since the ‘nearly’ season of 2010-11 when Simon Grayson’s side ended the campaign in seventh spot with 72 points.

A tally in the mid-sixties region by season’s end would represent a meaningful season’s work from where they were and give plenty to build on next season when Leeds will be seeking to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Bournemouth, Boro and to a slightly lesser extent, Ipswich.

All had encouraging final thirds of last season and perhaps it is no coincidence that each are at the sharp end of proceedings 12 months on.

That should be United’s aim in 2015-16.

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