Garry Monk warned the Championship that there was more to come from Leeds United after his players ran riot in a brilliant Boxing Day win at Preston North End.
United claimed an eighth league victory in 10 games with a flurry of first-half goals at Deepdale, picking off a Preston side who finished the match with 10 men after former Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford was sent off after just three minutes on the pitch.
Beckford received a straight red card for aiming a kick at Leeds defender Kyle Bartley moments after appearing as a substitute with Preston already trailing 3-1.
Simon Grayson’s side were facing defeat after conceding three times in 14 first-half minutes as Kemar Roofe, Hadi Sacko and Souleymane Doukara set the Whites up for a resounding result.
Beckford’s dismissal allowed United to turn on the style in the closing minutes and a late goal from Pablo Hernandez, scored on his return from a hamstring injury, sealed a 4-1 scoreline, sparking rapturous celebrations among a packed away crowd of more than 5,000.
The victory strengthened Leeds’ hold on a Championship play-off place, taking the club past 40 points amid growing confidence in their chances this season, and Monk said he is confident of seeing further improvement among his players in the second half of the term.
“I thought we were excellent,” said United’s head coach. “This was always going to be a difficult place to come to, especially physically. They use a lot of long balls and that was something we worked on. We needed to earn the right to play and to score the goals we did because they’re in good form. We needed fight and spirit to outwork them. Doing that on their patch is difficult but we managed.
“As a game and a performance we controlled it from start to finish. We deserved the goals we got. I still think we could have done better and we’re still improving but step by step, every time the players go on the pitch they get that little bit more confident and they’re learning from mistakes in the past.
“This is a good Christmas present for our fans. You looked at that whole (away end) full up and you wanted to give them something to be happy about.”
Monk insisted he had not seen the incident which led to Beckford’s dismissal on 69 minutes. The striker caught Bartley in the face during a melee which followed a clash of heads between the centre-back and Luke Ayling.
Grayson expects Beckford to receive a four-game suspension having only just returned from a ban imposed on him after a bizarre fight with team-mate Eoin Doyle in a defeat to Sheffield Wednesday earlier this month. Grayson said: “Sometimes in the heat of the moment you do things you shouldn’t do.”
Monk, whose side remain fifth in the table, said: “I didn’t see it. Kyle jumped into the back of Luke Ayling and there was a clash of heads. I was only concerned about that.”
United are days away from the start of the January transfer window and while Monk confirmed that discussions were ongoing at Elland Road about prospective signings, Leeds’ head coach said he was “very happy” with his existing group of players.
“There are a couple of areas we need to help,” Monk said. “The club are fully aware of that and we speak internally all the time.
“But I’m very happy with the squad. Age doesn’t matter to me in terms of trusting them and selecting them but talking in terms of experience, some of the players haven’t had a lot. You can never quite tell how they’ll get through games but even when they’ve suffered they seem to be learning very quickly. Step by step they’re doing it.
“We talk a lot about mentality and belief and we won’t get carried away. There’s a long way to go and we’re literally halfway now. Anything can happen and the biggest fight for this group is to keep showing the same mentality.”