Chris Wood was my man-of-the-match on Saturday. Several of Leeds United’s players were impressive against Hull City but Wood stood out as the lynchpin up front.
I’m pleased to see him have a moment in the sun because I could sense the crowd starting to chip away at him in a couple of our previous games.
He’s had poor days, I can’t deny that, but when things go wrong it’s often the case that the striker who isn’t scoring goals takes quite a lot of the flak – whether he deserves it or not.
On Saturday the team played to his strengths. Wood is big enough and strong enough to play as a lone centre-forward but only if you approach him the right way.
There’s absolutely no point in pinging passes for him to chase into the channels because he doesn’t have the pace to get out wide and dictate the play from there.
Against Hull, the passes to him were direct and accurate, giving him a proper chance to bring the ball down and bring others into play.
More importantly, our numbers in midfield meant that runners were near him or going past him and actually able to make something of little flicks and touches.
Tactically I thought Steve Evans got it absolutely right.
Fair enough, Hull came back into the match in the second half but if Alex Mowatt’s shot hadn’t come back off the crossbar then they’d have been dead and buried by then. That chance and others were an example of the difference the change in formation made – you had Mowatt on the 18-yard line, waiting to strike when the ball fell to him.
When we got our second goal, Lewis Cook hit a volley from the edge of the box and Tom Adeyemi was waiting at close range for the rebound.
It’s the first time in a while when I’ve seen us properly attack the opposition area with bodies, rather than just sticking the ball in there and hoping for the best.
No wonder Wood benefited. On too many occasions he’s been asked to make something of nothing and taken criticism for failing to do so. I’m not saying some of the criticism of him hasn’t been justified.
He’s missed some very simple chances this season and those are the sort of openings you expect any top striker in the Championship to bury.
He could be over 10 goals by now but, in fairness, he’s got seven and his finish against Hull was a good one – getting across his marker and flicking the ball over Allan McGregor.
Where I think Wood can really improve is in the air. He’s a big laddie and it’s easy for people to say ‘why doesn’t he win more headers?’ but if you watch his game, a lot of the headers he tries to win are made from a standing jump.
Big players don’t find that easy because they’re lifting a fair amount of weight.
What I’d like to see him do, especially when we’ve got attacking possession in wide positions, is drop off by another 10 or 15 yards, run in on an angle and try to meet the ball at full tilt.
It’s not an exact science and strikers can spend entire games making intelligent runs which come to nothing, but it’s a bit of gamble which means that if someone plants the ball on your head, you’re meeting it with maximum power.
He can work on that and Wood is still young. Your game’s never complete and on a day like Saturday I saw plenty of potential in him.
He’ll feel much better after a performance like that. At the end of the day, he’s cost big money and this season won’t have gone exactly as he wanted it to so far.
In general, the tactics, the energy and the attitude were spot on.
We needed to find something different and Steve found it. It’s too early, after one result, to say that the team have turned the corner from their inconsistency but the improvement was very obvious.
The challenge now is to repeat the feat.