Leeds United: Hard graft is key to Snodgrass revival

Robert Snodgrass in match action against Blackpool FC. PIC: Dan Westwell
Robert Snodgrass in match action against Blackpool FC. PIC: Dan Westwell
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Moments of inspiration from Robert Snodgrass have been ones to truly treasure during Leeds United’s Championship tenure – you sort of grow accustomed to them.

Who can forget that magical waltzing run and finish at Bristol City in February? Not to mention the torturing of visiting Coventry defender Jordan Clarke which bordered on the cruel the previous week.

In terms of the present, the silky Scot has shown reassuring touches of his consummate class in the past month or so against the likes of Cardiff City, Coventry – again – and Portsmouth to warm the cockles of supporters.

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But delve a little bit deeper beneath the inspiration and you will find a granite core of perspiration to marry with his trademark guile.

When questioned about the winger’s impressive form recently, Simon Grayson revealed that he had a honest chat with Snodgrass – someone who “cares passionately” about his game – in the aftermath of United’s sobering 3-0 Carling Cup exit to Manchester United in September.

And on the evidence since, the words of wisdom have clearly paid off on Snodgrass, whose early-season form was affected by a disrupted pre-season and a few back spasms, with the advice taken aboard.

Grayson said: “Snod’s whole-hearted and he’s looked closely at his game. I had a chat with him after Manchester United and he’s back playing with his usual confidence.

“There’s no doubting Snod’s ability with the ball. But sometimes he can think too deeply about the game. That’s what I thought he was doing when he wasn’t producing performances.

“Sometimes players can think a bit too much, rather than doing what comes naturally.

“Most players are honest and they know themselves when they’re not at it or not producing performances as they can. They don’t need anyone to point that out to them. But Snoddy’s a big talent and you knew it’s only a matter of time before he’d be back to his best.”

Offering his own take, Snodgrass, speaking after Sunday’s win at Leicester, added: “I’ve needed the match fitness and game time and I worked through a few things in training to help me and I’ve worked very, very hard. It’s an old cliche, but if you work very hard at times, you tend to get your rewards. I firmly believe in my own ability when I’m match fit that I can do a job.

“I’ve worked as hard as anybody in the team and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about – helping your team. It’s not about individuals, it’s about hard work and effort; that’s what gets you promoted.”

Snodgrass’ graft helped play its part in Sunday’s thoroughly disciplined victory against the Foxes – a performance in which every manjack of the visiting line-up played their part in with cohesive United looking a rounded team perhaps greater than the sum of their parts.

In terms of a successful template, it looks like being the way forward for Grayson’s troops, who have employed a structured 4-4-2 this season as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 system, which gave the likes of Snodgrass, Max Gradel and Jonny Howson a freer attacking licence in 2011-12.

As results go, the outstanding team display in pocketing three points at the King Power Stadium was United’s stand-out one of the season, taking into context the disastrous 90 minutes which preceded it against Blackpool.

The changing wheel of Championship fortune saw them draw upon their reservoirs of character to conjure a major morale-boost heading into the international break, with United hauling themselves off the canvas after taking a real haymaker last Wednesday – while getting back in fans’ good books in the process.

Within the team highs, there were several individuals who applauded the large 3,300-plus contingent of United supporters who had extra reason to be satisfied after tough times so far this season.

And few would begrudge the likes of Andy O’Brien, Patrick Kisnorbo and Leigh Bromby giving a particularly hearty punch in their air at the final whistle, with each stepping up to plate to help secure a precious victory, which could be a seminal one in the context of Leeds’ season.

On a landmark result, at a venue where United had failed to triumph in six previous visits since City make the short hop from Filbert Street in 2002, Snodgrass said: “I think it is (a stand-out result) on the back of a 5-0 defeat at Elland Road. Leicester has also been a very, very tough place for us to come over the past few years and we’ve struggled to beat them. We did well to come and get a result and we’re delighted.

“Sometimes, results are about timing and we timed the win well to go into an international break. Hopefully, we can get some injured players back and fitness (work) into some others and we’ll be in good shape before another run of games.

On United’s fluctuating recent experiences, Snodgrass added: “That’s football, especially in the Championship. Some teams who put runs together are expected to win certain games and they lose.

“It doesn’t matter what the result is; every game you lose is low. You are down, but it’s up to yourself to try and pick yourself up and that’s what we did.

“The games come thick and fast at times in this league and give you a chance to put disappointments behind you and I firmly believe we did that.

“We were very resilient at Leicester and did well. I think it was up to us to show the fans that if we didn’t have a man sent off and didn’t make mistakes, we’d hopefully have a right chance. We showed that with a great team effort.

“I thought the two centre-halves were terrific; just superb. I also thought the goalkeeper (Alex McCarthy) came in and looked first-class.

“That’s almost the core of the team and I think when that is right, the defence takes care of itself.”

Paul Heckingbottom.

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