Leeds United: Pecking order relative in Championship says Green

Goalkeeper Rob Green and team-mate Marcus Antonsson.
Goalkeeper Rob Green and team-mate Marcus Antonsson.
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The pecking order of the Championship dictates that winning at Carrow Road beats winning at home to Burton Albion.

Rob Green spent 10 years as a professional with Norwich City and knows from experience that they are rarely adrift in this league. Leeds United’s tally of one victory from 11 visits to Norwich goes back far enough for Green to have played against his current club.

On paper, a result there tomorrow would catch more attention than last weekend’s defeat of Burton – newly-promoted, unfancied and working on a miniscule budget – but Green remembers 2011-12, a season when West Ham United were supposed to run amok in the Championship. At Upton Park, West Ham drew almost as many matches as they won. It took the stress of a play-off final to see them out of the division.

So Norwich at Carrow Road: a bigger or more telling fixture than Burton at Elland Road? “No,” Green said. “It’s the reverse. Games like Burton are as tough if not tougher than your Norwichs. At West Ham, when we got promoted, we drew so many games at home. Everyone made it hard for us. Everyone came to Upton Park and enjoyed playing there. It highlighted the difficulty of this league.

“Yes, you’ve got teams who are going to be strong and teams who are going to be higher up the table but the expectation was there for us to beat Burton. Each game brings its own challenge and the good thing is that our results show we’re changing, adapting and improving.”

Leeds, after six victories from nine matches, are in fine fettle and threatening the top six. Norwich, in contrast, have had a sorry fortnight and not only by the standards of the Championship’s upper end.

Beaten at home by Preston North End and then by Leeds in the League Cup, they lost 5-0 at Brighton last Saturday, an appalling scoreline against a direct competitor for automatic promotion. There is talk now about Alex Neil’s future as manager. City’s captain, Russell Martin, struggled to contain himself as he slated the effort at The Amex. A goalkeeper with Green’s background knows what these periods feel like.

Norwich are carrying more pressure than Leeds this season, much as Leeds are never free of it. Neil possesses a large wage bill and a squad which did not feel the pinch of relegation from the Premier League. Leeds, under Garry Monk, are a squad in their infancy. Yet four points separate the clubs and United go to Carrow Road as the team in form. Since finding a way to the top of the league, Norwich have shown none.

“It’s a very different premise here to what Norwich have got,” Green said. “We started from scratch with a new manager having to do a lot of work recruiting and building a side.

“You see the size of Norwich’s squad, the strength in depth. The beauty of parachute payments now is that you can hold onto players for one or two years and really give it a go. We played them in the cup 10 days ago and they left 12 players behind. When the games come thick and fast in December and January, that’s when it can really pay dividends. They’ll be looking at the top two for sure.

“The league’s so topsy turvy. You can’t really fathom it out sometimes. They’ll put (Brighton) down as a one-off and they’ll want to scratch it off, prove a point. But it’s not something we’ve talked about, them being under pressure or anything like that. They’ve got so many quality players that they could field two teams. Whoever feels pressure (tomorrow), that’s purely down to individuals.”

It has not weighed on Monk’s players for a while or not obviously. Leeds have mastered the art of shading games in the Championship; rarely cutting loose or going to town but so often in a position to make the most of a 10-goal striker in Chris Wood.

“The start of the season was difficult but once we started buying into what the manager wanted us to do, it started paying off,” Green said. “We had issues defensively which we addressed. After that, it’s not rocket science. If you don’t concede you can win by the odd goal and a lot of our games have been won or lost by one goal.

“My mum and dad watch most games and they say ‘we’ve not seen a lot of saves from the keepers’. I think that shows how tight it is. But with Woody, we’ve got a centre-forward who can score goals. That’s critical when it comes to taking advantage.

“We’re happy with where we are but our own expectations we’ve kept in-house and we’ll carry on doing so. We’ve got our own aims and our own targets which you’ve got to have, or else you lose your way.”

It stands to reason then that the feeling at Leeds after 15 games must be better than the mood at Carrow Road, given the expectation surrounding Norwich.

“In this league, once in a blue moon someone runs away with it,” Green said. “Other than that, if you’re in the mix come March then you’re happy. After 15 games yes, you’re looking at ‘X’ amount of points but it’s a long season. If Norwich are going through their dip then they’ll say ‘fine, we’ll go through that and come out the other side’. It’s a long old grind.”

Green, who left Carrow Road in 2006 and joked that “some of the people watching (tomorrow) will never have seen me play for Norwich”, can feel something growing at Leeds. Between their results and the announcement on Wednesday that this month’s game against Newcastle United will attract the first capacity crowd to Elland Road since 2011, there is a temptation to think that United are taking off.

“Taking off almost means we’re on some sort of exponential curve towards stardom,” Green said cautiously. “But the club have been through such a difficult period over such a sustained amount of time so to have a period of relative success enables them and the manager to create a new culture. It creates a new way for the club to view itself – and to be viewed. That’s an important part of it.”