Success at Leeds United, from Don Revie through to the Howard Wilkinson and Simon Grayson eras, has been built on sound home-form foundations – and Garry Monk’s team is cut from the same cloth. Phil Hay reports.
Simon Grayson knows Elland Road better than any other manager in the Championship and Saturday was a reminder of how the stadium used to work for him.
Preston North End’s defeat to Leeds United turned on chances taken and equally-good chances missed and Grayson, who managed Leeds through more than 160 games until 2012, placed great value on the first goal. United scored it after 18 minutes and Preston were strong-armed out of the game, to the delight of a big crowd. “Against 30,000 it becomes a difficult place to play,” Grayson said.
Elland Road has not always carried that clout and history shows that Leeds get nowhere without an overwhelming home record. There were countless facets to the revolution of coaching and psychology under Don Revie but results at Elland Road underpinned everything he achieved. His squad won 18 of 23 home games on the way to the club’s maiden Division One title in 1969 and did not lose once. Over 10 years in England’s top division, they averaged more than 15 a season.
Garry Monk’s current squad are one victory short of that figure and with two home fixtures still to play, the club’s form at Elland Road represents a spectacular transformation. Their record shows one defeat there since November and only four since the start of the season. It is easy to forget that Monk’s predecessor as head coach, Steve Evans, had the unenviable task of ending a passage of eight months without a home win.
In the Championship, or the old first division, no Leeds squad has amassed as many wins at home since the team managed by Howard Wilkinson won promotion and the title in 1990 with 16 on their record. There have been spells in between, and many recently, where a feeling of malaise at Elland Road gave visiting clubs something to feed on but Grayson could feel the old aura returning on Saturday. Preston are one of several sides who have won the toss and made Leeds play towards the Kop in the first half this season, unaware that a raucous South Stand is as much of a driving force these days. By full-time Leeds had weighed in with a result equalling their biggest home win of the term.
“We love it here,” said Kemar Roofe, who drew first blood against Preston. “I don’t feel sorry for the opposition but they must fear coming here because when you’re walking out it’s an immense atmosphere.”
The statistics underline what Monk said last week about his players “achieving something already which is harder than achieving the opportunity to fight for a play-off place.” Aside from getting the measure of the Championship, the club have tackled some of their own internal shortcomings. Frailty at Elland Road last season was reflected by average crowds of under 22,000, a figure which spoke of disillusionment and a lack of public confidence.
Leeds are averaging more than 27,000 this year and have cleared 30,000 for individual matches regularly. Attractive home form has enhanced the club’s income from match days and with five of their 46 fixtures remaining, it should also prevent the club paying out on a pledge to refund a percentage of season ticket funds if they failed to make the play-offs. “It’s always crucial to have your home form as strong as possible,” Monk said after six straight victories at Elland Road either side of Christmas.
United’s most successful seasons have invariably relied on it and Grayson was at the centre of the best campaign at home for 40 years in 2008-09, the second of three campaigns in League One. Between him and Gary McAllister, United amassed 17 wins at their own ground and remained unbeaten there in league games for 13 months.
Grayson’s captain at the time, Richard Naylor, recently told the YEP: “We were on a roll and in a frame of mind where I never expected to lose, especially at home. I didn’t play in one defeat at Elland Road that season.”
Previously, Leeds had won 15 times at Elland Road on the way to the League One play-off final in 2008 and a tally of 14 carried them to automatic promotion to the Championship in 2010. Wilkinson’s squad famously remained unbeaten at home on the way to the first division title in 1992 and lost only once, to Barnsley, during 1989-90. Prior to that, the club’s only memorable season in the 1980s – their run to the play-offs and the FA Cup semi-finals under Billy Bremner in 1987 – was built on 15 home victories in the league.
United will play twice more at Elland Road before the regular campaign finishes, against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Easter Monday and Norwich City on April 29, the penultimate weekend. In the meantime, Friday’s trip to Newcastle takes precedence, a sell-out fixture against one of the few sides who have taken three points from Elland Road. Two unanswered goals from Dwight Gayle settled the clubs’ meeting in Leeds in November.
Monk was particularly disappointed with that performance, admitting afterward that his players had shown Newcastle too much respect. Friday, he hopes, will be different.
“It’s two big clubs and there’ll be a lot of fans there, a lot of passionate fans,” he said. “It’s one for the players to look forward to. I want them to express themselves and show what they’re good at.”
Newcastle are within touching distance of automatic promotion and Leeds are a handful of points away from sealing a top-six finish but Monk is refusing to look ahead to the play-offs until qualification is assured.
“I’m not going to be any different,” he said. “We want to get the best football out of the players in the next few games. If things change over the next few weeks then we can have a discussion.”