GARRY Monk says his Leeds United squad are ahead of schedule after 22 games but are determined to improve even more heading into the new year.
Monk’s men bagged their seventh victory from their last nine league games with Saturday’s 1-0 win at home to Brentford, achieved thanks to Kyle Bartley’s 89th-minute winner.
The triumph elevated the Whites from sixth to fifth – guaranteeing a place in the play-offs over Christmas ahead of Boxing Day’s trip to 11th-placed Preston North End.
This, after a frustrating start to his tenure as Leeds head coach; United were third-bottom after six league games following a 1-0 loss at home to Huddersfield Town on Saturday, September 10.
Fourteen weeks later, the Whites sit fifth, and only leaders Newcastle United and second-placed Brighton have accumulated more points over the last 16 games.
After always insisting that progress would take time, Monk admits his side’s development has taken place at a quicker rate than he expected – but United’s head coach knows that the best is still very much yet to come.
Assessing United’s position and development after 22 games, Monk admitted: “I think we are ahead of schedule.
“You are trying to cram everything in in a short space but I would say this young group has had to deal with a lot in a short space and they are fighting through it.
“You will get ups and downs but I guess we probably are ahead of schedule but I guess you would rather that than not be.
“We are in a good way and we want to get better and that’s good as well.
“The group want to get better and they are not happy with winning that game (against Brentford on Saturday) in terms of wanting to get a better performance out of themselves.
“You could hear it in the changing room afterwards so that’s a good sign and all of those things are good signs – it’s the standards that we set and they are the ones that have to adhere to it but they are also the ones that have to set it.
“It’s good to hear them feeling like that and talking like that although three points and a clean sheet is obviously very satisfying as well.
“There’s a lot of improvements to go and we’re going to keep working as hard as we can on all them.”
United’s players were given a few days to rest and recuperate after Saturday’s win against Brentford but the Whites will return to training in midweek ahead of Boxing Day’s trip to Preston.
Leeds will also be training on the evening of Christmas Day – with Monk keeping his fingers crossed for a week of healing first.
Chris Wood missed Saturday’s clash at Elland Road with a hamstring injury while Pablo Hernandez was also not ready to return from his recent hamstring problem and also missed out. Eunan O’Kane also missed the Bees clash with an ongoing groin problem.
Charlie Taylor picked up an injury to his Achilles in Saturday’s victory against the Bees, while captain Liam Bridcutt has only recently returned from a three-month lay-off after breaking a bone in his foot.
Right-back Lewie Coyle is nearing a return from a knee injury.
Monk reasoned: “We have got a little break now before the next game and it’s important that we recoup and recover the players and then we are ready to go for this next busy period.
“It would be nice to get a few players out of the injury room and back into the squad and hopefully we can do that in this period because we are going to need everyone. But all in all, in this period that we have just had I think the players have done very well in that and they deserve a lot of credit.”