Seasoned goalkeeper Rob Green has never before been at a club as ‘desperate’ as Leeds is for success. But that’s been tempered by rising standards on the field and expectancy off it. Phil Hay reports.
The days where eight months passed without a win at Elland Road seem far behind Leeds United. Garry Monk’s side are shedding points away from home but four straight victories have helped them turn a sharp corner at their own ground.
Saturday’s loss to Derby County, a fourth away defeat, was tempered by a sense of reassurance in returning to Elland Road tonight. Monk felt tension and anxiety when he first stepped into the home dug-out in August but Leeds flexed their muscles last month, beating Blackburn twice and overrunning Ipswich before edging out Barnsley on the first day of October. “I think you can see the difference,” Monk said.
In the eyes of Rob Green, United’s experienced goalkeeper, that difference is simple: better results which naturally breed optimism. Green’s career has played out with clubs who at certain stages were fixated on promotion from the Championship – Norwich City, West Ham and Queens Park Rangers – but the desperation in Leeds feels unique to him.
It was that desperation, the strain of 12 long years in the Football League, which heightened the criticism of Monk’s players during the first few weeks of the season. They were booed off at Elland Road after losing to Birmingham City and again after a derby defeat to Huddersfield Town but one breathless win over Blackburn on September 13 was all it took to restore some confidence in Monk and his tenure as head coach.
Against Wigan Athletic this evening, a club in the Championship’s bottom three, Leeds will attempt to register a fifth straight win at home. Brian McDermott put an identical run together in 2013 but the search before him goes back, as ever, to Simon Grayson.
“There has been a change and you can feel it,” Green said, “but winning obviously helps. Let’s not beat around the bush. Winning games is a big factor and there’s no doubt that when results go against you, especially at home, the tension starts to creep up a bit. Regardless of how well you’re playing, people look at results.
“In terms of the atmosphere, it’s quite simple: people want to come and enjoy football. They want to see a team who are competing, giving everything but above all winning games. It’s human nature. Football’s harder to enjoy when it’s not happening for you and we’re on a good run at the moment. We should feel confident about playing at home.
“For me, the atmosphere’s realistic. No-one’s going to play a perfect game of football every week and no-one’s going to get everything 100 per cent right. We aren’t Barcelona and the supporters who come to Elland Road aren’t watching (Lionel) Messi. With Messi, he misplaces one pass and everyone raises their eyebrows. Obviously we’re striving to be as good as we can be but you need standards which are high but realistic. It feels like the balance is right at the moment.”
Where Green and Monk saw an imbalance at Derby on Saturday was in United’s failure to take the game to Steve McClaren’s side until the final half-hour. Leeds contained Derby comfortably for 56 minutes but fell behind when substitute Johnny Russell buried the rebound from a corner. Monk admitted afterwards that his team had “failed to do enough good things with the ball.”
Recent fixtures at Elland Road have been different. Leeds beat Ipswich 1-0 but produced 16 efforts on goal and ran the game from the kick-off. Barnsley was a tighter affair but United sealed a 2-1 win by turning the screw at the start of the second half. Even at Derby, efforts from Kyle Bartley and Marcus Antonsson came back off the woodwork but neither Monk nor Green made much of an attempt to argue with the result.
At full-time on Saturday, the league table was largely unchanged from United’s perspective. They remain four points below sixth place and six above 22nd. Tonight’s opponents Wigan are yet to win away from home and have taken one point from six away matches. If scoring goals is a slight issue for Leeds, 12 in 12 games and five of those from Will Grigg suggests it is no less of a problem for Wigan manager Gary Caldwell.
Green is optimistic that the run at Elland Road will continue unchecked. “We’re enjoying playing there,” he said. “As a player I think the crowd are very honest with you. If you leave everything on the pitch they’ll stick with you. Most of the time they’ve seen us do that at Elland Road this season. But you can’t fool anyone and as much as we know when we’ve not been at it, they do too.
“There’s always an appreciation of your effort and your performance, provided you perform to a certain level. It’s not like some clubs.
“I’ve played at clubs where you get booed off for winning games. You win a game but you get booed off because you’re not winning in the right way, or something like that.
“I’ve never felt that at Elland Road but there are certain standards. The fact that we’ve been hitting higher standards in the last month is probably proven by the atmosphere.
“This is a club and a fanbase who are absolutely desperate for success.
“I know everyone says that but from my point of view, I feel it more so than any club I’ve ever been with before. Winning games feeds that desperation and you quite quickly feel it turn into expectation. But we’re in a good place.”