Pawel Cibicki appears to have sprung out of nowhere, but fellow Swede Pontus Jansson knew that it was only a matter of time before he started to deliver – with his precision right foot. Phil Hay reports.
PAWEL CIBICKI took eight days to move from the furthest reaches of Leeds United’s squad to somewhere nearer the front of the queue and Pontus Jansson felt his time was coming.
The club sought Jansson’s opinion before signing Cibicki in August and were told the forward would be worth a go. His last two performances suggest that he was.
Cibicki and Jansson have known each other for years: fellow Swedes and natives of Malmo who find themselves together again at Elland Road. Cibicki was round at his compatriot’s house for dinner on Saturday, a way of Jansson repaying the free-kick which laid on the winning goal against Norwich City a few hours earlier.
Jansson has been a point of support in the weeks when Cibicki seemed to be going nowhere.
Injuries helped to open the door to a league debut at Queens Park Rangers 10 days ago but as Thomas Christiansen said after United’s 1-0 victory over Norwich, Cibicki was ruthless in making the most of it.
One assist against QPR was followed by another on Saturday as his 41st-minute set-piece – one of several examples of a cultured delivery with his right foot – found Jansson waiting to dispatch a glancing header.
For the first time, Cibicki has begun vindicating the £1m-plus spent on him at the very end of the summer transfer window, shaking off the unassured nature of prior appearances in the League Cup.
He had Under-21 caps with Sweden on his record and ample titles and honours at Malmo but his initial transition from the Allsvenskan to the Championship was no easier than Marcus Antonsson’s 12 months earlier.
“When they asked me about him before they signed him I knew he was a good player,” Jansson said. “Sooner or later he was going to perform for the club.
The position he’s in now I’ve been in too. You work hard and sooner or later you get a result. You can see the result for Pawel.Pontus Jansson on Leeds United team-mate Pawel Cibicki
“The first months were tough for him but I tried to be positive and motivate him all the time. I’ve known him since he was a kid in Malmo so I’ve always been good with him and a big brother for him. I always said to him ‘you have to work hard’. The position he’s in now I’ve been in too. You work hard and sooner or later you get a result. You can see the result for Pawel.
“He’s been good in training and he was positive. I’m proud of him and I’m really, really happy that people can now see how good he is.”
Christiansen elected to play Cibicki over Pablo Hernandez against Norwich, protecting Hernandez’s troublesome hamstring until later in the game while rewarding Cibicki’s contribution at Loftus Road a week earlier. Dead-ball deliveries have long been one of Hernandez’s strengths, something Leeds made much of last season, but Cibicki’s precision was notable before half-time against Norwich. Ayling had failed to tuck away a free header set up by the Swede before Jansson scored the only goal.
“We knew he could do this and we knew it was a possibility for us to use this,” Christiansen said. “It was always my idea to let him start from the beginning.
“He’s hungry now. He hasn’t been in the team but this is his second game and he’ll improve for sure. He made the assist with the set-piece but he also won many challenges. His anticipation was good and he’s intelligent. He’s a player that we expect a lot from.”
Leeds’ 1-0 victory, the club’s 11th win of the term, required some disciplined defending and a sliver of fortune when an inventive strike from Norwich’s Alex Pritchard came back off the crossbar in the second half. Felix Wiedwald played his part with two big saves from Pritchard, holding his nerve seven days on from an outing at QPR which provoked another unflattering mistake.
Jansson said he sympathised with the goalkeeper, who was dropped by Christiansen for seven games at the start of October. Jansson also lost his place around the same time on the back of some mixed performances. Wiedwald has been the target of more criticism this season but another clean sheet against Norwich took his own tally to eight.
“I was in a tough position a couple of months ago,” Jansson said. “He was the same when he was dropped and Andy (Lonergan) came in and did well. That’s always tough – when someone says you are the first keeper and then they take you out.
“He had to work hard but he’s been positive since that happened. All people make mistakes and you have to focus only on the next situation in the game. He’s very professional and he saved a couple of good chances (on Saturday). That was important for us.”
Leeds have the play-off places in their sights after a fourth victory in six matches. Sheffield United are going backwards having lost their impetus and a win over Hull City this weekend would move Leeds ahead of either the Blades or Villa, or both if those clubs fight out a draw at Villa Park. United would be returning to the top six for the first time in almost two months.
Jansson has made a point all season of trying not to think too much about league positions or permutations.
“I said at the beginning that we should not talk about it (promotion) too early and not talk about points,” he said. “When we weren’t winning games we always had our focus on the next one and now that we’re winning we also have to have focus on the next game. It’s maybe a bit of a boring answer but that’s how it is.
“Hull’s a tough game but we should win it because at home we are strong and we know we can beat anyone. Focus on that one and if we take three points we are going to be in the play-offs. But that’s not so important right now.”