Leeds United summer transfer's patience is finally rewarded and Whites’ Mr Calm comes in for praise
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Javi Gracia's calm touchline presence is so important for Leeds United, especially in these highly pressurised relegation battles. When you look on the sidelines and you do as a player, you look to your manager at certain times for guidance, if he's losing it then it filters through to the rest of the team. I look down at the technical area and Javi Gracia is involved in the games, you can tell he's feeling it but at the vital times he controls himself well. There's no doubt that transfers on and whether it's a message or a calm observation he's the one that can deliver that, because he's composed. He’s Mr Calm.
Quite how he managed that at Molineux I don't quite know. The game down there last season was pretty exciting but this one even topped that. The importance was arguably even greater. I think the way the lads went about it was really good and at the end, looking at the two XIs and the two managers, it was us who kept our heads in what was an absolutely crazy game. We didn't do it straightforwardly, of course, with all the ups and downs, being 3-0 up and thinking we would be fine and all of a sudden we found it really difficult to control the game. It led to a crazy ending and excellent goal from Rodrigo at the end to seal the deal. It's such an important victory, not only for the league table but for belief in what they're doing. That was the biggest thing as we head towards the end of the season.
And we did it without Tyler Adams, whose injury absence is a blow, on a number of levels. Tyler is one who sets the tempo in games and when I played for Leeds David Batty did that. It could be an early challenge or something that sets a marker down. Tyler is that player for us and incredibly influential in the midfield area. Tyler brings something that others in the midfield haven't got, so he is going to be missed. We've got a bigger squad now and when you looked at the bench at Wolves there were options, Gracia could change it in different ways. And when it comes to leadership we've got Liam Cooper coming back and his influence, even from the bench, will help. One or two others, Robin Koch and Max Wober for example, are now standing up.
There were so many really, really good performances. I was delighted in particular for Rasmus Kristensen because although it will have been good to hear that praise from his manager, he wants to feel part of things. He's been really patient, understood what's going on and then comes on at Wolves to score a huge goal. Without the sort of character he has, those moments are difficult.
We've wanted more goals from different positions and we got two from right-backs on Saturday. Luke Ayling's Robbie Keane celebration seems to get slower as the years go past but it always makes me chuckle and it was wonderful to see again.
Something else that stood out to me was the all-round togetherness. Wober and Koch at the back were superb again but it was such a team performance. They put everything into it and took plenty of knocks - Jack Harrison was a prime example, everything was scratched or bleeding or bruised. Patrick Bamford looked a bit sharper, fitter and stronger. From the outside it looked like these guys are believing in it and giving it their all.
The reward was the league table at full-time. We know that a couple of bad performances will have us back down there again but it feels huge to move up so far. I've never known a season so like it, with the table this tight. I always see March as the business end of the season, this is where you really need to stand up and be counted. This is when you can make a difference, but it's never usually possible to make this much of a difference, jumping five places with one win. Psychologically the win and the move up the table is really important. The mentality that comes from being 14th, compared with second bottom, could be massive for us. Arsenal will be very difficult but we go there now with renewed optimisim and the two after that are vital.
Gracia now has two weeks to work with the non-internationals in his squad. He's talked a lot about finding balance and I think that balance is different from game to game, depending on what the opposition do and how they do it. I looked at that Wolves game and at times, even when Jack scored, we had five or six players in the box. Junior Firpo is flying up and down the left hand side as well. The balance is something you always work on in order to give you options and that's what I think Gracia will do during the break, rather than just looking at a plan for the next game. He'll be looking at the next three or four, and ways that we can play in those games. On the evidence so far he's a manager who is comfortable mixing things up. For a coach who hasn't had the luxury of a pre-season, this little break now will present a big opportunity to hone his ideas with the players left back at Thorp Arch.
After that we really are into the thick of the relegation battle and it's impossible to predict.
Going on what I've seen, Southampton were incredibly poor at Elland Road and we went a couple of goals up at their place and I still don't know how we didn't manage to take all three points. They're certainly struggling, then you look at Bournemouth although they've shown a few signs of life. After that it's so difficult to call. There are so many teams in it and as soon as you start writing one off they suddenly begin to fight back and pick up a few points. I'm quite sure a few teams have done that with us, too. Now they'll be looking and thinking 'wow they've gone to Wolves and scored four and taken seven points from the last 12 so Leeds aren't going down.' That's going to change from week to week. What we've got to do, while others go up and down, is keep cool, calm and collected and trying to do those right things Gracia wants to see, and I'm sure results will come.