Manager Garry Monk admits his players were drained after their win over Burton Albion after a tough week which brought three wins and saw them close the gap on their rivals. Phil Hay reports.
It is not so long – less than a fortnight, in fact – since Garry Monk was tipping Norwich City for the Championship title. If some at Carrow Road appreciated his confidence, they are unlikely to share it now. On the contrary they might think that the timing of Leeds United’s trip to Norwich this weekend is perfect timing for the visiting club.
City were top of the league in mid-October, narrowly outpacing Newcastle United, but the past two weeks have exposed some definite vulnerability.
Monk’s squad got the better of Alex Neil’s in the League Cup last Tuesday, deservedly surviving a fourth-round tie despite falling behind twice and playing out extra-time with 10 men.
Either side of that breathless contest at Elland Road were defeats to Preston North End and Brighton – the latter ending in a severe implosion.
Norwich lost 5-0 at The Amex on Saturday while Leeds were closing to within a point of the play-offs with a persistent win over Burton Albion. Monk was able to talk of attitude and character, while Norwich complained bitterly of a lack of both on the south coast. As recently as last month, City were 10 points ahead of Leeds and apparently above United’s level. In a short period of time that gap has been cut to four.
Monk, however, was unwilling to read much into the crushing result at Brighton or to see any advantage in it as Leeds prepare to travel to Carrow Road. United’s head coach knows how Neil feels having managed a Swansea City side who were routed 5-0 by Chelsea in January 2015. Swansea redeemed themselves with eight wins from their next 14 league games.
“Whether it means anything for us I don’t know but to look at it from the other side, they’ll probably come out of that very determined to put some things right,” Monk said.
“I’ve been on the end of a 5-0 loss and I know that in the next game you feel very determined.
“But it’s an important week for us and we’ll concentrate on ourselves. It’s not about Norwich. Its about us trying to do our best in every single game and trying to put our best football on the pitch.”
Norwich’s captain, Russell Martin, cut a furious figure as he spoke to the media at The Amex, saying certain players “gave up” and admitting the debacle was worse than any he had answered for in almost seven years at Carrow Road. Four of Brighton’s goals came in the last half-hour.
“Too many lads gave up, it’s as simple as that,” Martin said. “We need to take an honest look at ourselves. We keep getting told we’re Premier League players and all that but it counts for nothing if you can’t fight and win a battle.
“First half we’re okay, they didn’t have much. But to capitulate like that in the second half is humiliating. If it doesn’t hurt people enough then they need to look at themselves, as simple as that.”
Leeds did their soul-searching in the first month of the season. Since then, Monk has had little reason to question his players or himself. United’s League Cup win over Norwich – a match settled by a penalty shoot-out after Monk and Neil both made eight changes to their line-ups - fell in between hard league wins over Wolverhampton Wanderers and Burton and Monk saw signs of fatigue in the tail-end of the Burton clash, in part because of the drama of their previous meeting with Norwich.
“When you experience emotional highs, sometimes it’s very hard to be at your maximum in the next game,” Monk said. “The whole group’s affected, even if they haven’t (played).”
His side succeeded in digging out three points through a Chris Wood penalty and an injury-time strike from Souleymane Doukara but it pleased Monk to be free of a midweek game in the lead-up to the Norwich clash. Aside from international breaks, Leeds have played on a Tuesday or Wednesday night without fail since the season began. Norwich away, in the first week of November, is their 20th competitive fixture.
“It’s the first time this season without a midweek game so I’m not sure how we’re going to cope,” Monk joked. “We’re quite used to having short turnarounds so it’ll be interesting to see how the players are this week.
“But you could see that physically and mentally we were on the edge (on Saturday) after giving everything. You could see that we were very tired towards the end. Our strength of character got us through again and that was pleasing to see but for sure, the players earned a little rest. Then we’ll be ready to work again because we’ve got an important game coming up at the weekend.”
Monk used virtually every fit player in his squad during the past three games and emerged with three wins regardless.
Clean sheets against Wolves and Burton saw Leeds through tight fixtures and goals from Wood in the meetings with Norwich and Burton took him to double figures for the season.
“You want your strikers to be scoring goals, you want your defenders to be keeping clean sheets and you want your midfielders to be doing a bit of both,” Monk said. “The whole team are contributing and you saw last week that the whole squad was used. Everyone contributed to a big week.
“They’re making good steps but my demand is always more. That’s not just for the sake of it but because I think this group can get better. It’s my job to try and get that out of them but they’re working really well.”