DESPITE a run of three damaging away defeats for United in the last month, Kemar Roofe insists the club’s form is trypical of the Championship and says the season can still be a success . Phil Hay reports.
Leeds United are not in the business of angling for compliments from Jaap Stam but the Reading manager – so dismissive of their football last season – sees more to admire at Elland Road. “They wanted to change their style,” he said this week, avoiding an incendiary tone. “I’m not surprised by how well they’ve done.”
The change of style sought by Leeds after Garry Monk’s resignation in May was demonstrated by the inclusion of Stam’s name on the shortlist of candidates for a job which went instead to Thomas Christiansen and Christiansen himself has engineered a shift. Stam seems impressed but closer to home, the past few weeks have left many asking which version of Christiansen’s side will come to define his first season as head coach.
There is, on one hand, the free-flowing, overwhelming unit who reached the top of their division after nine games without defeat. On the other is the brittle, error-affected team whose grip on first place in the Championship slipped last month as three successive away losses exposed an element of weakness and fatigue in his squad.
From the perspective of Kemar Roofe, the United forward, the club’s glass is unequivocally half full. Roofe, like his head coach, entered the international break with an appreciation of the issues requiring attention but a table showing Leeds in fifth and four points better off than this stage of last season offered reassurance.
Several of Christiansen’s players spent time away on international duty during the past fortnight but with a full dressing room again, he sat his squad down yesterday morning for a frank discussion about the reasons behind a 3-0 drubbing at Sheffield Wednesday before the break began. Leeds had lost their previous two away fixtures and Pontus Jansson promised to be ready for “a war” at Hillsborough. As Wednesday hit a post and the crossbar in the last 10 minutes, the derby edged closer to a massacre.
At home to Stam’s Reading tomorrow, Roofe expects the result to be different. “We’re confident going into any game,” he said. “We work so hard so it would be silly not to be confident. We just need to put it out there on Saturday, tick all the boxes and get it right.
“We know what we can do and we’re working on our mistakes so we’re only going to get better. I don’t think there’s ever a good time to lose games but it’s going to happen. It’s a long season and we’re still in the mix for where we want to get to. There’s only positivity here.”
The defeat at Hillsborough was the sort of unflattering afternoon which rarely goes down well in Leeds. Roofe insisted he was unaware of any “overreaction” to it – “us players and everyone inside this building, we don’t experience any of that” –but said he continued to feel an optimistic mood in the city.
“When I’m outside of the training ground, talking to all the fans and hearing their thoughts on this season, as a player I’m disappointed that we’ve been losing but they’re not reflecting the same feeling. They’re still upbeat and positive. They’ve got that excitement.
We know what we can do and we’re working on our mistakes so we’re only going to get better. I don’t think there’s ever a good time to lose games but it’s going to happen.Leeds United’s Kemar Roofe
“I’m not sure how many teams have won every game in the Championship. You’re going to win some you’re going to lose some. Hopefully we’ll with the majority and get our promotion.” Leeds finished seventh last season, dipping out of the play-offs in the final month, but made themselves look like automatic promotion material in the first month-and-a-half of this term.
“Why not?” Roofe asked. “But one better than last season is our target and the end goal is promotion, whether it’s automatic or up through the play-offs. It’s been a strong start, definitely. We’ve had a better start than last season.”
The focus on the club’s away form has drawn attention away from an unbeaten record at Elland Road.
Leeds fought out difficult goalless draws with Preston North End and Fulham in August but have taken 11 points from five games at home.
Monk specifically targeted the improvement of very patchy home form, delivering the best set of results in the Championship at Elland Road since 1990 last season, and Leeds have shown much of the same confidence under Christiansen.
For Stam, a total of 85 points and an appearance in the play-off final at the end of the 2016-17 campaign feels a long way away. Reading are presently 20th in the table and yet to take their points into double figures.
“You could have said that about (Aston) Villa but they’re not far off it now,” Roofe warned. “One week you can win, the next week you could lose two on the bounce and drop down.
“There are so many teams with good defences and attacks. This league, that’s why everyone likes it so much. It’s so even.” Leeds faced up perfectly to Reading’s rigid, possession-based style at Elland Road last December, conceding more than 70 per cent of it but winning 2-0. “Hopefully we’re going to get it right to break down their defence,” Roofe said.
“A lot of teams come to Elland Road and (try to frustrate) because it’s such a threatening place for away teams, with the atmosphere and the noise. Reading are going to set up to not lose the game and it’s our job to break them down.”
The 24-year-old, who has scored six goals this season, said the failings at Hillsborough were self-apparent. “The aerial battles, picking up the second balls and the defensive shape as well,” he said.
“The gaffer touched on it all. We had a good start to the game but as soon as the first goal went in, we dropped off.
“That’s not levelled at the defenders. It’s levelled at everyone and we all have to play a part. But there’s nothing we can’t work on or put right.”