Before Tuesday night, Stuart Dallas’ form was indicative of Leeds United’s form as a whole. Dallas struggled to get going as Leeds struggled to get going and it was players like him, the more experienced breed, who Garry Monk looked to for inspiration over the weekend.
Against Blackburn Rovers, Dallas looked better and Leeds looked better. The Northern Ireland international came away from Elland Road believing a 2-1 victory, sealed by a late Kyle Bartley header, would “get us going again” as Monk bought himself some necessary breathing space.
There was some who thought Tuesday’s match was win or bust for Monk, in light of Leeds’ poor start to the season and the tendency of club owner Massimo Cellino to dispatch head coaches at the first sign of trouble. Rumours abound and on an evening when both Monk and Blackburn manager Owen Coyle were feeling the heat, Steve McClaren was spotted in Elland Road’s East Stand.
For 10 minutes after Blackburn equalised in the second half, there were hallmarks of the loss of composure and nerve which ultimately did for Uwe Rosler, Darko Milanic and David Hockaday at Leeds but United dug in gamely and saw off the Championship’s bottom side when Bartley struck from close range on 87 minutes.
Dallas, who made only his third league start of the campaign as Monk turned to the more proven members of his squad, described speculation about Monk’s job as “nonsense” and said too much was being made of the table after seven games. As with Rosler, there is no sense of a loss of confidence in Monk among his players; only the acceptance that the club’s performances have not clicked in the early stages of the season.
“I don’t read the newspapers,” Dallas said, “but obviously the fans have a lot of expectation here. There are maybe people who’ve brought speculation about the manager but it’s nonsense really.
“He’s a good manager and we’ve bought into what he’s doing. I can only see us getting better. This is a big result for us and it gets us going again.
“We’re obviously disappointed with how we’ve started the season but confidence is a big thing and confidence comes from winning games. We’re buying into what the manager believes in. Maybe it doesn’t show at times but we’ve got to be patient.”
Dallas has been asked to show personal patience after an in-and-out start to his second year with Leeds. The former Brentford player enjoyed a memorable summer, representing Northern Ireland at Euro 2016 before marrying his partner and heading for a honeymoon in Las Vegas, but he looked some way below par in United’s opening games.
Monk gave him time off after the Euros and allowed him to miss most of pre-season in the hope of allowing Dallas to recuperate but he limited the winger’s appearances last month, saying Dallas was out of sorts. The winger did not make the squads for league matches against Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest or Huddersfield Town.
Monk, however, promised that the 25-year-old would be a “big player” over the course of the season and Leeds benefited from his energy and drive after he was recalled for Tuesday’s clash with Blackburn.
“It (the summer) took a lot out of me but I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” Dallas said. “My performances early doors hadn’t been good enough.
“I’m my own biggest critic and obviously I needed a rest. I worked hard on my match fitness and on my sharpness. You could see towards the end (against Blackburn) that I hadn’t been getting regular game time but the gaffer’s shown a lot of faith by putting me back in.”
United dominated all but a short period of the clash with Blackburn but a match between two sides who started the night in the Championship’s relegation places was predictably nervous. With Bartley’s winner behind them, Leeds head to Cardiff City next, a club who they beat away from home for the first time in more than 30 years last season and a ground where Monk will draw plenty of attention.
The 37-year-old is synonymous with Swansea City and synonymous with the shift in power which saw Swansea eclipse Cardiff in South Wales by climbing from League Two into the Premier League. City’s initial form has been worse than United’s and they fell to 21st place after losing to Preston North End on Tuesday.
“There’s a bit of relief for everyone,” Dallas said after Bartley’s late winner. “Blackburn was one of those games we weren’t going to go out and win three or four-nil. We just had to be patient and keep moving the ball. It’s a big result for us.
“We need to get a bit of momentum going and we went to Cardiff last year and we came away with a great result. There’s no reason why we can’t do the same on Saturday.”
After Tuesday’s meeting between two sides in the bottom three, Saturday is a clash between two sides in the bottom eight but Dallas said: “What are we, six or seven games in? To start talking about relegation is silly.
“Obviously we’ve been disappointed that we haven’t been able to get results but to talk about the relegation zone is silly. We’ve given ourselves a platform now and something we haven’t had this past couple of seasons is a four, five, six, seven-game winning streak. That’s something we need to do.”