Thomas Christiansen hit out at criticism of Jay-Roy Grot after the striker was jeered by sections of the Elland Road crowd towards the end of Leeds United’s win over Norwich City.
Grot became the target of sarcastic taunts during a short substitute appearance on Saturday having struggled to influence a tight Championship match.
The 19-year-old Dutchman was thrown on with 81 minutes played as Leeds fought to protect a 1-0 lead given to them by Pontus Jansson’s first-half header. Grot’s outing continued a slow start to his career with Leeds which has seen him fail to score in 15 appearances – all but two off the bench – and show few signs of settling in the Championship.
Leeds paid £750,000 to sign him from NEC Nijmegen on a four-year contract in August, investing in a Holland youth international who had been close to a move to Fiorentina earlier in the summer, but he is yet to impress and touches and attempted headers were the subject of ridicule on Saturday.
Christiansen, whose choice of more experienced forwards has been affected by injuries to Caleb Ekuban and Pierre-Michel Lasogga, used Grot as a replacement for Samuel Saiz as Norwich pressed for an equaliser.
United’s head coach voiced his annoyance at the reaction to Grot’s appearance and defended the teenager, saying: “I think we have a problem (when people) criticise one of our players. We speak about having to stay together so we stay together with the best or the worst, whatever. Always together.
“He’s the same as all the players. All of them are important to me and he will be too.”
Grot’s only starts this season came in the Carabao Cup and despite his young age, Christiansen has resisted the option of using him in any development squad matches.
The Leeds boss has been equally protective of goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald recently, sparing the German from criticism after a bad error at Queens Park Rangers last weekend, and Wiedwald repaid his faith with two important saves against Norwich.
Christiansen insisted he had felt no need to give Wiedwald his backing in private following his blunder at Loftus Road, saying he left the management of the 27-year-old to goalkeeping coach Marcos Abad.
“I didn’t speak to him,” Christiansen said, “but also when he does good saves I don’t usually speak to him (about those). It’s the same situation. I have a goalkeeping coach who knows how to handle the goalkeepers. He knows what to say.”
Grot’s battle to impress the crowd is in contrast to the recent emergence of Pawel Cibicki whose free-kick on Saturday laid on the winning goal for Jansson. Cibicki was a peripheral member of Christiansen’s squad until receiving a rare chance at QPR but he was preferred to Pablo Hernandez against Norwich and caught the eye with another effective display. Hernandez, who had been suffering from a hamstring problem, appeared from the bench late on.
“Pawel has gone from being out of the list, the 18, to being in and having the possibility to be in the first XI,” Christiansen said. “He won that opportunity and he grabbed it.
“Pablo came from a muscle injury and I didn’t want to risk him from the start. I wanted to put him on in the second half when there were moments to control the game a little bit better.”