Leeds United: Hard work paying off for Grimes after shaky start

Matt Grimes
Matt Grimes
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They say that no-one is more critical of a footballer than a footballer himself and Matt Grimes lays the blame for his form squarely at his own door.

The midfielder wanted a move to Leeds United when he took it in July and saw it as a route to a full season of appearances in the Championship. With November coming, he has started only one league game.

The feeling at Thorp Arch, not only in Grimes’ head but in the minds of his head coach and the backroom staff, is that Grimes, an England Under-21 international, is better than this. Garry Monk told him so when he addressed concerns about the 21-year-old’s body language at the start of the season. Used in Leeds’ opening match at Queens Park Rangers – a gruelling 3-0 defeat in which Grimes lasted for an hour – he did not figure in the Championship again for another seven weeks.

More recently, Monk’s faith has returned to the extent that Grimes is more of a fixture in matchday squads. He started and finished Tuesday’s epic League Cup win over Norwich City, albeit while missing a penalty in the shoot-out which took Leeds into the quarter-finals.

“It was a difficult start for me,” Grimes said. “I’ve spoken to the manager about getting back to the level where I think I should be and I’ll say first hand that I wasn’t right at the start of the season. For whatever reason I wasn’t quite on it. It wasn’t happening.

“The manager could see me getting frustrated so he pulled me to one side and said ‘look, I don’t think you’re quite at the level I know you can play at’. I said ‘fair enough, you’re right’. All I’ve been doing since then is working hard. He knows and Pep (Clotet) and James (Beattie) know the level I can get to. They’re helping me to get there.

“It’s very frustrating and probably most frustrating for me because I’m not hitting the heights I know I can get to. You want to impress people and get people to speak fondly of you and I’ve not been doing that. But I’m getting back to more of the player I know I can be. So I’m happy.”

It was Monk who took Grimes to Swansea City from Exeter City in 2015, paying £1.75m for him, and Clotet and Beattie worked closely with him at the Liberty Stadium before that coaching team were dismissed en masse last December.

“He was one of three current or former Swansea players who came to Leeds after Monk’s appointment as head coach, accepting a one-year loan.

Aside from his form, Grimes has found what others like Marcus Antonsson and Kemar Roofe have found: that Monk’s preferred formation is making certain positions highly competitive, and none moreso than the centre of midfield.

Grimes said he had never regretted moving to Elland Road. “Weighing up the options before I came, having worked with the gaffer before and having heard what I’d heard about this club, I always felt it was a good fit,” he said. “It just didn’t click for me at the start of the season, which I was disappointed about. But it’s one of those things. You have to pick yourself up.

“I’m feeling more like myself now and hoping to really perform. I feel like I’m getting back to my best every day. I like to play in the two, holding, but I also like to play as a 10 as well.

“If we’ve got a lot of the ball and really dominating, I like to play in the 10, creating chances and making things happen. But I like to drop in too, get the ball from the back four and start attacks. I’m not fussed.”

Grimes smiled ruefully when asked about his missed penalty on Tuesday, a wild hit which carried over the crossbar and allowed Norwich to briefly draw level in the shoot-out after two misses of their own. It brought to mind the old saying about everything that can go wrong does go wrong, although far better for Grimes was the sublime pass which teed up Leeds’ equaliser in extra-time.

“I don’t know,” Grimes said. “I take penalties a lot, I practice in training and I’ve got my way with them, so I felt confident stepping up. It just wasn’t to be I guess.”

The midfielder drew a line quickly under that as he and Leeds have drawn a line under the epic defeat of Norwich. Neither Grimes nor Monk were interested in speaking about the quarter-final draw against Liverpool, preferring to look at tomorrow’s league game against Burton Albion and leave Anfield for another day.

“It’s important to be able to do that,” Grimes said. “Win, lose or draw, and with Saturday-Tuesday games coming up all the time, you need to keep your head down and always think about what’s coming next.

“If you have a great game, you draw a line under it. If you have a bad game, you brush it under the carpet and try and improve. You don’t have any time to dwell on things.”

The trip to Anfield is a month away with four Championship games scheduled before then.

“There’s a long way to go so we’re not really thinking about that. We just want to focus on the league.

“When it comes we’ll obviously cross that bridge but, at the moment, we’re 100 per cent focused on the league.”

Nigel Clough’s Burton could be mistaken for a soft touch having failed to win away from home this season.

Grimes dismissed that idea, saying: “We need to approach the game the way we’ve been approaching every other game.

“There’s a great confidence in the group.

“We feel that, on our day, we can beat anyone. But it’s certainly a game we’re hoping to get three points from.”