United’s experienced former England keeper says he does not expect there to be any hangover from the defeat by non league Sutton United when they play Blackburn Rovers tonight. Phil Hay reports.
To the question of what effect Leeds United’s defeat to Sutton United will have on tonight’s game at Blackburn Rovers, the answer might be none. The humiliation felt on Sunday as a non-league upset befell Garry Monk was confined to a group of players who retreated to the sidelines at full-time
Monk made 10 changes at Sutton, picking apart his usual line-up and exposing Leeds to a sorry FA Cup exit, and he will make at least as many at Ewood Park as Leeds try to isolate Sunday’s 1-0 loss in amongst a cast-iron run of Championship results. “The players who start at Blackburn don’t need to respond to Sutton,” said Eddie Gray, a one-time FA Cup winner with Leeds. “The players who start at Blackburn have been in great form in the league, three defeats in 15. Sutton was nothing to do with them.”
Monk would prefer to draw a line as conclusively as that tonight. His line-up at Sutton was made to look abject and disorganised but the performance and the surrender to a part-time club was badly at odds with the season as a whole. Leeds were fourth in the table before last night’s Championship games, 26 points above Blackburn.
Monk journeyed to Lancashire with his players yesterday looking for the resumption of normal service.
Rob Green, United’s first-choice goalkeeper and one of the players omitted against Sutton, said the idea of Sunday raising the pressure on tonight’s match was more of an external viewpoint. “From an outside perspective, maybe,” he said, “but internally, no, I wouldn’t say that. It might sound like a stupid statement but we go into every game 100 per cent determined to win so we can’t be any more determined.
“The manager made the decision to play the team he played. We’ve got games coming up which are important and it’s a busy February. With the players we’ve got and maybe haven’t got, you’re looking to share the workload out.
“Also, everyone knows what’s needed on the pitch. We all get coached the same way, we have a continuous message and if we implement it then, regardless of the side we put out, we should be a challenge for any team. Sunday was disappointing in the way we failed to do that as a squad.
“You see when we get it right what we can do. You see what happens. Days come when it doesn’t go perfectly but we learn and we move on. It’s not something we’ll be dwelling on.”
Monk line-up at Sutton included centre-back Paul McKay and winger Billy Whitehouse, two 20-year-olds plucked from Leeds’ development squad for unheralded debuts. Both were dragged far from their comfort zone by an aggressive and ambitious Sutton performance. Green, the most experience member of Monk’s squad, said: “If anything it makes you realise how tough it is in full-on, competitive football. If you’re taking an consolation then maybe there are some lessons to be learned there.”
United’s squad trained yesterday afternoon before leaving for Blackburn in the final throes of the transfer window. Green, who described deadline day as an event “happening to probably less than one per cent of the footballing community” and “just another day at the training ground”, preferred to reflect on the win over Blackburn on September 13 which dramatically reversed Leeds’ nervous start to the season.
A late Kyle Bartley header earned United a 2-1 win at a time when Monk was strongly rumoured to be facing the sack. The game hinged on two crucial saves from Green with the score at 1-1, one of which denied Sam Gallagher from point-blank range. Leeds were on the verge of dropping to the foot of the Championship that night. They have lost only five league games since.
“Looking back at it now, it was the turnaround,” Green said. “It was a tough game and a game that got nervy towards the end, one we had to see through, We’ve had a few of those this season and more often than not come through the test.
“It was one of the points of the season that let us look upwards. As we started to win games we said ‘let’s chalk teams off as we get above them in the table.’ We’ve carried on doing that and we’ll carrying on trying. Admittedly there’s a bit of a gap between us and the top two but we’ll strive to catch them.”
Coyle, whose side have been in relegation trouble since the start of the season and are 23rd in the table, claimed yesterday that Green had deserved a red card in the opening minutes of Leeds’ September win for a foul on Gallagher outside his box.
Green dismissed the comments, saying: “I used to watch him play for Bolton as a full-blooded centre-forward. I remember him leaving a few challenges on keepers. If you’re talking about going for the ball in an honest effort to win it and a player getting sent off for a clash of bodies, each game will end up with five players on the pitch.
“He can talk about that as much as he likes, I’m sure it’s stuck in his head but we were grateful for the three points and we will be (tonight) if and when we win.”
Leeds’ FA Cup exit had no negative impact on ticket sales for Ewood Park with nearly 6,000 sold. Blackburn’s surprising win over Newcastle United at Ewood Park on January 2 stands out in amongst a barren streak of form but Green said: “Ewood Park’s always been a tough place to go. It’s always been a tough game.
“It’s one of those grounds which is difficult to play. It’s always a dark, gloomy day but we’re on a good run and we’re in good spirits. Look at the teams we’ve played and you’ll see that some of the tougher and tighter games have been the games against the teams down the bottom. Look at Rotherham, where we were 2-0 up against 10 men. You’d have said that should have been a cruise. At home to Wigan who are down near the bottom and Blackburn themselves.
“That’s the Championship and that’s the spectacle – you can’t put your hand on your heart and say 100 per cent ‘this team’s going to win.’ Maybe with the squad they’ve got Blackburn feel they should be higher up the league. But it’s a tough league and a tough old season when you’re down near the bottom.”