With the stature of Leeds as a club coupled with their current league position, excitement over promotion is inevitable, but Rob Green thinks clear heads are also required for the run-in. Phil Hay reports.
Twenty-odd years in professional football have exposed Rob Green to different forms of pressure.
Seasons where relegation loomed and livelihoods were at stake taught him that chasing promotion was not the ordeal it seemed at first.
He is pushing that message at Thorp Arch as Leeds United enter what the goalkeeper sees as a “14-game season”.
Those fixtures stand between Leeds and an appearance in the Championship play-offs, unless automatic promotion is still within reach, and experience of run-ins amongst Garry Monk’s squad is slightly limited.
Green is a veteran of several promotion campaigns and Eunan O’Kane reached the Premier League with Bournemouth. Chris Wood did likewise at Leicester City and Liam Bridcutt was a play-off semi-finalist at Brighton but many of United’s players are on new ground.
There were hints of a nerves in the past month as performances began to drop off, and successive losses to Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City made a win over Bristol City on Tuesday night essential. Leeds turned in a strong first half and withstood a hard second half to pocket a valuable 2-1 victory.
Monk has tried all season, or at least since United began threatening the top six, to avoid discussing promotion but the atmosphere at Elland Road on Tuesday showed that all eyes are on it. Leeds were not expected to be in the running this season or to last in the way that they have but the scale of the opportunity in front of them is glaring. Six more wins might be sufficient to guarantee a play-off position.
Green, 37, admitted that expectation of a top-six finish was inevitable with the season so far gone. Asked whether there had been an over-reaction to two straight defeats, including a first at home since November, the keeper said: “It’s difficult because the club is the size that it is. You mention Leeds and the history, the stature of the club on a world scene, and it’s something which for the good of football you want to see back in the Premier League.
“The fans have had a long period of suffering here and with all the troubles they’ve been through, to get a glimpse of that tantalising sight can quickly turn into desperation or a bit of pressure.
“It’s one of my roles as one of the senior members of the team to relieve the pressure and explain to the lads that this is fun pressure. This is nice pressure to play under. After six games we were in the bottom three so you’d take being fifth in the league. You’d take that with 14 games to go.
“It’s a really good position to be in and while we’re desperately keen to take the chance, we really need to keep steady heads. We’re in a 14-game season now where we’ve got a bit of a head start on the teams in seventh and below.”
Green’s record is littered with promotion bids, three of them successful. He appeared in a play-off final defeat with Norwich City in 2002, against Birmingham City in Cardiff, before reaching the Premier League as champions two years later. He helped West Ham United through the play-offs in 2012 and won a another promotion with Queens Park Rangers in 2015, again via the play-off final.
“I’ve played in these run-ins a number of times,” he said. “You get to a point where physically you just go from game to game.
“You’re trying to drag yourself up for the next game. You’ve been working constantly for eight or nine months and the finishing line is getting closer but a lot of the time it’s just going to come down to who can scrap out the points. Games which shouldn’t be hard become hard and the games that should be hard don’t. It’s also about trying to alleviate the pressure from the players, the young lads, and tell them that this isn’t like being in the bottom three.
“You’re not costing people jobs here. If you’re playing in the Premier League and you get relegated then you’re looking at the people thinking ‘they’re going to lose their jobs’. This is a different type of pressure and it’s not the end of the world. It’s only football.
“If you’re not going to enjoy these run-ins then there’s no point taking part.
“Having been in much worse positions and much worse scenarios after many, many years in football, that’s what I’ve learnt.”
Green turned in one of his most convincing performances for Leeds on Tuesday night, pulling off crucial saves in either half to keep Bristol City out until the sixth minute of injury-time.
His most eye-catching stop was a quick reaction to claw a header from Milan Djuric, City’s tall Bosnian forward, off his goalline as the visitors began to threaten United’s 2-0 lead.
Djuric was introduced at half-time as City manager Lee Johnson changed his formation in response to the opening goal from Chris Wood and an injury to his top scorer, Tammy Abraham.
The striker went close on a number of occasions before finally forcing a header in off the crossbar with the very last touch of the game.
“Once they started throwing caution to the wind and threw the big man up front, it changed the dynamic of the game,” Green said.
“They’ve got cute players like (David) Cotterill and (Lee) Tomlin and the battering ram in the big centre-forward made it a dangerous combination.
“It was another tough evening, no two ways about it. We got our noses in front but I think tired legs and tired minds came into it
“It was a case of holding on and, after the results we’d had in the last two games, we’ll take a win and move on.
“I played my part and I’m just pleased to get a win and move on to Saturday’s game (at Ipswich Town) looking up the league rather than down.”