Noel Whelan: Promotion is attainable for Leeds United if players buy in

Noel Whelan former Leeds United player and new Evening Post columnist.
Noel Whelan former Leeds United player and new Evening Post columnist.
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The former Leeds United striker is the Evening Post’s latest signing. Here is his first column of the season.

It has been a positive summer for Leeds United and the signing of Chris Wood has been the headline one for me.

Chris Wood

Chris Wood

It seems like the club want to finally move forward and give it a good go this season. That is all Leeds fans want to see – that we are spending a bit of money and giving it a bit of a go and getting players who can be here for three or four years.

There is more optimism than there has been for the past couple of seasons at Elland Road because we are putting our money where our mouth is a little bit.

Instead of just getting loans and average players who are not really going to make much of a difference to us, we have gone out there and spent some money to give ourselves half a chance on the likes of Wood. That’s what we need.

I think Wood will be a great asset for the club and if we can keep him fit and scoring goals, then we will have a good season.

Looking at Wood, I have seen him play a few times. He’s a strong boy who can hold the ball up and run in behind and he’s good in the air too.

Ahead of the summer, I thought we’d need to spend money on a few areas if we are to make an impact and one area was certainly up front.

If you are going to be challenging in this division, you have got to spend good money and we have with Wood.

There is pressure on him, but it’s good pressure and you need people with the right attitude to step up and relish it.

Because the rewards at the end of the season if you deal with it properly and are consistent enough are huge for everybody.

Hopefully, Wood will be the centre-forward who bangs in 20 goals for us. That’s what we need.

There is always pressure on a striker and you are in one of those positions where the spotlight is always on you, along with the goalkeeper’s.

One miss and it’s your fault and one poor goal that you let in, its your fault and you lose and win games in those positions.

But no matter what striker you bring in, we will need to get the service to him from the wing and if Stuart Dallas can provide the crosses, there’s no more excuses there.

He is the out-and-out winger we wanted and with him on one wing and Sam Byram on the other, we have two dangerous players on each side of the pitch who can score goals as well.

But the rest of the players need to also realise that we need a contribution from all 11 players who start games, and the entire squad throughout the season.

I do think the key for us for the season is keeping as many of our main players as fit as we can and playing week-in week out.

We need consistency in terms of the team and formation, it’s the same for most sides in the Championship.

Many don’t have big enough squads or the luxury of having seven or eight quality players to come in who they can choose from.

Maybe one or two who have come down from the Premier League such as QPR will have that quality across the squad.

But for us, it’s important that the core of the team is fit and avoids long-term injuries.

For me, Lewis Cook is the one that we really need to keep fit for the whole season, in particular. I love the way he plays football and the range of his passing and movement.

He’s tenacious when he needs to be and has got a little bit of something about him and we missed him in the later stages of last season when he was injured.

He makes a difference.

You need your special players like Lewis. But as a team, you also need that mental strength and attitude in your head of not getting beaten and being consistent.

Sometimes, it isn’t about the prettiest play, but having that little bit of steel and never-say-die attitude and saying: ‘Listen, we aren’t coming away from here with nothing, we are getting something.’

I think we lacked a little bit of that in the group of players last season when to be honest, we were all a little bit too nice, for me.

We want to play football the right way and I am all for that, that’s great. But sometimes, you have to fall out with each other and I don’t think some of the players wanted it enough.

When you are losing games, you can see some people have a row and that isn’t a problem to me because I am the sort who would be wanting to fight people because I want to win and not lose.

You can be mates afterwards, but if something needs saying, you have got to get it out your system or people aren’t going to learn from your mistakes.

If you show you want things enough, that attitude breeds as well and it’s like a disease.

If you get ten players having that mental toughness about them rather than going through the motions and saying: ‘Ah well, we’ve lost’, that’s what you need.

Players need to buy into everything and not realise they are here for a jolly-up. They are here to do a job.

If you want to do a job someone else, do it here first because if you do that, a club will come in with £2m or £3m and we can then get someone else in for you.

All players need to buy into what we are trying to do and achieve as a club.

Looking at last season, the formation was good for the players we had. But I just felt that people like Mirco Antenucci and some of the other strikers were doing far too much work outside of the box.

They were never in the places you needed them to be in when the crosses were put in.

Strikers need to be in the box; that’s where you score goals. It’s no point doing all the horrible work running the channels when there’s no-one in the box.

Uwe Rosler is the new man in charge and I don’t like to judge managers until the end of a season ideally.

But nowadays, it’s all about the nitty-gritty of results.

He has to be given a fair crack of the whip and at the moment, it seems he is being given a helping hand in terms of the players he wants to bring in.

There’s positivity before the start of the season and our opener is against a team who have come down from the Premier League in Burnley, who are one of those sides who I think will have that mental toughness and we saw last season that they had those players who can dig in when they needed too.

They seem to have a group of players and manager who have that belief and toughness about them.

Burnley will be hard to beat and it’s a very hard test and good one in terms of finding out where we are.

But I do think promotion is attainable for Leeds this season.